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To Bleach or Not to Bleach Your Hair - Part 9

 *Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog. If you see this on another site, it has been stolen!*

No one messes up their hair more than with bleach.  I can’t say I am perfect in this category.  I have messed up my hair many times with bleach to the point I had to cut my hair to an inch in length!  But this was long ago, and I didn’t know anything about bleaching and how it changed the hair.  For you my cult readers, I am explaining everything about bleach so you won’t end up at a beauty supply shop on Sunday with orange hair, hoping on Monday (workday) that you will have normal color hair!

What happens if you subtract color from hair? Bleaching is exactly that, you are breaking down the melanin granules in your hair, you are lifting the pigments out.  Bleaching your own hair is not easy because unlike haircolor which will evenly color the hair, bleach can result in unevenness if not done well.  Also, if you don’t work fast, one part of the head will end up lighter than the rest.  Bleach also dries easily and will slow down the process.  If it is too dry, you have to reapply.  You also need to part the hair sections evenly each time or the bleach won’t penetrate evenly.  Bleach is a pain but people will still do it, including me!

Choosing your Developer and Where to Start

Check out this post: What is the Difference Between Hair Color and Toner

I would work with 20 volume and nothing higher unless you have quick hands.  You can also dilute the volume to 15 and make a separate batch.  The hair that you bleach first preferably starting at the crown and going down the back will have the 15 volume. The front area will use the 20 volume and since the back area has been bleached first with lower volume, it should end up the same as the front.  This is all for timing and speed.

Bleaching is subtracting color from your hair.  You are also weakening your hair because you are removing the pigments in it. 

Bleaching has seven stages:

  1. Brown
  2. Red Brown

  3. Red
  4. Red/Orange
  5. Orange
  6. Yellow
  7. Pale Yellow

Bleach Levels

Notice there is no blue, that is because like mentioned before, blue is the first to leave the hair.  The strongest cool tone leaves the hair first, leaving you with all the warmth to deal with.

Red becomes pretty dominant.  This is where the trouble begins for most.  I say most because some have very little red pigment in their hair and the bleaching process will take them straight to the yellow stage.

A natural blonde will have an easier time with bleach than one with black hair or dark brown.  A medium redhead will have less problems also.

Let’s start with black hair.  Black hair has blue pigment in it.  Bleaching will remove the blue and will bring it to the first stage of brown. Remember this— The remaining pigment content or RPC?

  • Level 1-Black = Blue (brown) 

  • Level 2-Black/Brown = Blue Violet (brown) 
Level 3-Very Dark Brown = Violet (brown) 

  • Level 4-Dark Brown or Dark Redhead= Red Violet (brown) 

  • Level 5-Medium Brown or Medium Redhead=Red (brown) 

  • Level 6-Light Brown or Light Redhead= Red Orange (brown) 

  • Level 7-Dark Blonde = Orange (brown) 
Level 8-Medium Blonde = Yellow Orange (brown) 

  • Level 9-Light Blonde = Yellow (brown) 

  • Level 10-very light blonde/white (not grey) = Yellow White (brown)

Notice the blue exists in Level 1 and Level 2, once you get hair past this level, you are dealing more with the violet at Level 3 thus bringing the hair to the first bleaching stage of brown.

First level of Bleach - Brown


Now, the journey of the reds begin.  For black hair or dark hair, there is a lot of red.  Level 3 starts the red because of the violet (red + blue) and only until you reach Level 9 are you really free from it.

Second Level of Bleach - Red Brown

Red Brown

Third Level of Bleach - Red


Fourth Level of Bleach - Red Orange

Red Orange

Fifth Level of Bleach - Orange


Sixth Level of Bleach - Yellow


Seventh Level of Bleach - Pale Yellow

Pale Yellow

For many, people start to panic when their hair reaches the red/orange stage which in the RPC (Remaining Pigment Content) mode you are still dealing at a Level 6, the light brown level.  The bleach has probably been on for about 45 minutes and you think it isn’t working.

Well, you could be right, the bleach may be too dry to work.  You would have to make a fresh batch and reapply.

Or your hair hasn’t even passed the red/orange stage and the bleach has to be on LONGER!  Once you get beyond this stage, the rest can be smooth sailing and has to be monitored.

Each level will weaken the hair by weakening the bonds which give the hair strands its strength.  Going from black to complete blonde can be done but you will face the consequences of breakage no matter what.

Bleaching and Color

Once you have bleached your hair, you will have to add color.  Bleaching alone doesn’t leave a pretty color, it gets brassy.

This is where toner and now more common where a demi-permanent hair color is applied.  You can use permanent hair color at a low volume like 10.  However, demi-permanent hair color actually will become permanent due to the porosity in your hair after bleaching and it is less damaging.

General rule: bleach only to the level of the haircolor you want to achieve.  You don't have go from black to pale yellow to become a light redhead.  You only need to go from black to the bleach level of red or red/orange.

Bleach Level Chart

Let's say you have Level 4 haircolor (dark brown).  Looking at the chart above, you have a violet brown.  You want to turn into a Level 8 Medium Cool Blonde.  You are jumping up 4 levels which means you could try with a haircolor and 40 volume peroxide.  HOWEVER, since you are starting and going through many warm stages of lightening hair and want to end up with a cool-toned blonde.  The haircolor route will most likely be more frustrating.

Brown to Cool Blonde

Going back to the chart, Level 4 has red violet and you want to go up to a Level 8 which has yellow orange as the RPC (remaining pigment content) or what makes the hair the yellow brown (blonde).  Now, check the horizontal row of the 7 Stages of Bleach.  There is an orange level and a yellow level.  I would go past the orange level and just try to achieve the yellow since you want a cool-toned blonde.  Bleach up to the yellow level.

Next, add in the color to make yourself into a medium cool-toned blonde.  Remember, you have to neutralize the yellow tone you have lightened yourself up to.  Choose a Level 8 blonde with with a violet in it.  This will give you a cool-toned blonde.

Neutralize to Cool

You could also enhance the yellow by adding more yellow and turn yourself into a medium golden blonde.  Just pick the color in the Level 8 but with a gold base.

But wait, what happens if you want to be at the same level but want to change the tone.  Let's say you are a Level 6 Light Red and you want a Level 6 Light Cool Brown.

Changing the Shade

Staying at the Same Level

Being a natural redhead means you carry a lot of red pigments in your hair and warmth.  Using a regular box of haircolor and trying to neutralize the red may be hard.  To be a true cool-toned brown at the same level means you have to get rid of the red.

Getting Rid of the Red

Looking at the chart at the 7 Stages of Bleach (horizontal row), all the red is gone when it reaches the yellow stage. (Orange still contains red.)  Bleach your hair up to the yellow stage.

Neutralize to a Cool Brown

After that has been done, choose a level 6 brown with a cool base (Violet).  The violet base will neutralize the yellow and also add some blue (cool) tone to it giving you a cool tone light brown.

Get it? Simple! Just use the chart as your guide!

Grey Hair
Check out this post: The Bleaching of Gray Hair

Grey hair can be bleached and it becomes easier to color since the hair is softened and the color is evened out.  However, getting the grey hair to be penetrated by the bleach may take longer or may be more difficult than expected.

The rules for grey hair depend on the amount of grey you have in your hair.  If you have some of your natural haircolor left, you have to decide if you are going to lift that haircolor to the bleach level you want THAT color to be.  Or are you going to just lift it just a bit and use the haircolor and peroxide volume level to lift it to the actual end level you want it to be.  

You see since grey hair is so resistant, bleaching will lift it and open the hair shaft.  The color you use afterwards can be stronger in the peroxide volume than a person with normal hair.  You are better off using a permanent haircolor and not a demi-permanent.  Grey hair needs that extra boost all the time to allow maximum color penetration.  And, always remember you need to use the N series plus the enhancing haircolor to achieve your end result.

  • Use 20 volume
  • Make sure if you are coloring on scalp, use a bleach for on-scalp bleaching
  • Start at the crown and go down the back, this area is the darkest
  • Make sure you section the hair evenly to allow the bleach to penetrate evenly

Application is important.  Please, check the comprehensive guide on how haircolor works.  I can't suggest a set time for bleach and for each level because it will be different for each person.  You will have to find out and if you reach the level you like, write down the volume of peroxide, the method of application, the time left on the head, reapplication, etc.  This will be important when you retouch.

As with any hair coloring method, stay out of the draft of an air conditioner or heater.  The A/C will slow down and/or dry the process while heating can lead to uneven bleaching with the warmth.

Bleach is definitely a risk and eventually, if you do it too much, your hair won't be able to take it any longer.  The only way to fix it is to cut it off!  Thus, the reason why many celebs have their short haircut moments!

Bleaching to Remove Color

You can use bleach to remove color.  I would only use it if you are going lighter, you don't need to remove color to go darker.  The less you do with your hair, the less damage it will become.  If you are wanting to remove color, I would use a low volume peroxide not only to monitor the progress but to prevent further damage.  I honestly would use a 5 or 10 volume peroxide mix.

*Disclosure: I don’t claim to be some great hair guru.  I just like to explain difficult beauty stuff.

Read by the Intelligent! Uncredited, copied, and plagiarized by the idiots!
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