Bleach Shampooing: Is It As Gentle And Effective As The Internet Claims?

Join me as I try this at-home hair-lightening method for the very first time! (Please? I'm a little scared.)
Publish date:
June 7, 2013
bleach, hair color, DIY, shampoos, deep conditioners, wella, ojon, developers

I put a lot of effort into the stuff I write for xoVain. I LOVE IT. I get to be the writer, hair and makeup department, art director, model, sometimes photographer and do all the post-production myself. I get to plan and make lists and do trial runs. I have total creative control, which is heaven for a type-A weirdo like me.

This article is a bit different, though. I started doing something beauty-ish and then said “Hmm... This seems like something I should write about for Vain. I will take some pictures as I go and hope for the best.”

There was no planning or testing, no fancy photoshoot, no waiting for the light to be perfect. I shot as it was happening, and I wrote the story in my head as I went.

Crazy bananas, guys.

So now let’s talk about bleach shampooing.

You all know what my hair looks like: depending on the light, it’s a brown-blonde with orange or yellow undertones. This is five weeks after it’s last colouring:

I’ve been dyeing it myself for about two years now, and things have gotten a little out of control. Thanks to last summer’s ombre, my hair is mad bleached and damaged at the ends, which means that it takes colour differently at the tips versus the roots. The colour also fades LIKE CRAZY, leaving behind orange and gold brassy nonsense.

To combat that, I started dyeing it a little darker, which left behind more brassiness, and so the cycle continues. I don’t trust box dyes so I use Wella Color Charm (which Kara also recommends--you can get it at Sally) and a 20 volume developer.

Because we have no beauty secrets at xoVain: my previous recipe is three parts Wella Color Charm 7A (the A is for ash), one part 6A, and two capfuls of violet drabber.

My hair underneath is darker, and it was originally dyed with a 5A. This was meant to be a dark ash blonde but came out chocolate brown. Hair is weird sometimes.

I’d had enough of all the fading and the brassy nonsense, so it was time for a change. I decided to take my hair from a 6.5A on top and 5A underneath to a straight 7 all over. I wanted to enhance my hair’s natural propensity to turn golden in the sun, so I added one part 7NG (the N is for neutral and the G is obvs for gold).

But of course, removing permanent colour and going lighter means bleach. I didn’t want to do straight bleaching again because A) it makes me look like Alle Lannister (UNCOOL), B) it hurts my scalp, and C) I don’t really want to damage the bits of my hair that are pretty healthy.

So I was looking for a way to lighten it that didn’t involve those bogus “colour strippers” or a $300 trip to the salon.

That’s when I stumbled across shampoo bleaching on the internet. Also known as a bleach bath, this is basically mixing shampoo in with your bleach to dilute it, then slapping it on your head. The internet said that this is much less damaging to your hair than normal bleaching, and I was like, “I’ve got nothing to lose. Let’s give it a shot!”

A warning: BE CAREFUL IF YOU ARE GOING TO MESS AROUND WITH BLEACH. It has the potential to be very bad times! Read the instructions carefully, check your hair frequently, and do a patch test first. Bleach can turn hair funny colours, give your scalp a rash or chemical burn, or make already processed hair break off. PLEASE BE MINDFUL.

Mum-style PSA over. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Powder bleach. Please please please don’t buy a light colour box dye and think it’s the same thing. It isn’t. Actual bleach is the only way to go here. I bought this blue-tinted stuff instead of my usual plain white because the internet said it would help cancel out orange tones in my hair. OK, internet, I’m trusting you.

  • Developer. I’m using 20 vol. Probably don’t use anything higher than 30 unless you’re a professional.
  • Shampoo. The internet was conflicted on this. Sometimes it said to use a special “clarifying” shampoo and sometimes it said it didn’t matter, as long as it was clear. I had this L’oreal stuff in my shower, and I figured it would work.
  • A punk rock unicorn. Duh.

You will also need:

  • Gloves. For real.
  • A plastic container to mix your stuff in. NO METAL. Bleach and metal are mortal enemies. They are like Khan and Kirk, only with fewer Moby Dick quotes.
  • Something to measure your ounces with. I have a plastic measuring bottle for this.
  • A showercap.
  • A crappy t-shirt that’s easy to get over your head (and that you also won’t mind ruining if you get bleach or dye on it).
  • A crappy towel you don’t mind ruining.

I timed this bleach shampoo for when my glamourous locks are at their greasiest. Natural oil is super-good for bleaching because it helps minimise the damage to your hair. When Kara wrote about maintaining platinum blonde, some of you guys said in the comments that coating your hair in coconut oil an hour ahead of time does something similar. I didn’t have coconut oil, so I just had to trust that my natural head-grease would be enough.

Mix up your stuff in the plastic bowl. The ratio you should strive for is:

  • one ounce of bleach (usually one packet)
  • one ounce of developer
  • two ounces of shampoo

If you have super-thick or long hair, you will probably need to double this. When you’ve mixed it all up, you should have a potion that looks something like this.

The internet was conflicted on whether your hair should be wet or dry for application. I split the difference and made my hair damp…

...and I can definitely tell you: WET. Put it on wet hair. It is so much easier.

There are no fancy application tips. I flipped my head upside down over my bathtub and slopped handfuls of shampoo bleach in. I rubbed it all around like I was washing my hair, and it looked like this when I was done:

Then I gathered it up into a shower cap and sat on my bathroom floor. Because I was only looking to go one to two shades lighter, I set my timer for 20 minutes.

There are a lot of variables when it comes to how long you should let bleach process. If your hair is already light, you’ll probably need only about 15 minutes; if you’re using a stronger developer (I don’t recommend this unless you really know what’s up) then you may need less than 10; and if your hair is very dark, it may need to sit for half an hour.

There are very few hard and fast rules, and that’s frustrating. I say that you should use common sense--go for the least amount of time possible and add more as needed. You can always sit for longer, but you can’t turn back time if you go for TOO long. Check your hair frequently to make sure it’s lightening the way you want and it isn’t feeling “gummy,” which is a sign of superdamage.

Usually, when I bleach my hair, my scalp gets quite sore and angry at me. My skin doesn’t burn or bubble up, but it hurts, and I’m always very glad to get it off. This shampoo bleach mixture did not feel like that. In fact, it didn’t feel like anything--which is freaking WONDEROUS.

When I scraped bits of the bleach off to check how it was processing, my hair felt like my hair (rather than being sticky or unusually dry). I give the process itself two very enthusiastic thumbs up for ease and comfort. Fine family fun.

This is what I found when I rinsed my hair…

I apologise for not having a photo that shows the variety of shades and tones that were the final result; I’ll just have to describe it with words LIKE AN ACTUAL WRITER, OMG.

My virgin roots were lightened about half a shade. My grays--of which I have many--were unchanged, which sucked. My ends, which were the most bleached and processed, were about two shades lighter and a yellow blonde. The majority of my hair, though, was the gingery colour that you see in the picture above (thanks for NOTHING, blue bleach) and A LOT of the pre-existing colour was removed. The big surprise was that the very dark layer of my hair underneath lightened about two shades and ended up almost the same orangey shade as the rest of my hair.

If I wanted to lighten my hair further and pull out more of the colour--I may still do this--I would have waited a day and then repeated this process. Even though bleach is damaging by its very nature, this is pretty gentle and I know my hair could have taken it. I probably could have inched my way to silvery platinum hair in a month, were I so inclined.

I also suspect that this would be a really good way to remove semi or demi-permanent hair colours. I had purple hair for two months around Christmas, and it took two weeks of daily washing an a full bottle of dishwashing liquid to strip it out. This would have been MUCH quicker and easier.

I went ahead and dyed over it with my custom mixed Wella Colour Charm medium blonde (one bottle 7A, four teaspoons 7NG). Because it has been through quite a bit of stress, I used Ojon Rare Blend Deep Conditioner to make it soft and shiny again.

This is the final result. I’m a very happy camper.

And maybe you’re thinking that this isn’t that impressive, but this is the colour it was the day after I last dyed it…

So even though that faded, there was still a lot of residual dark to remove.

My final verdict: Shampoo bleaching is great if you want to lighten your hair slowly and gently. You’ll have to repeat the process for big results, but if you want a gradual lift without mega-damage, this is a godsend. If you’re a DIY hairdye enthusiast (like me), this is a really good trick to have up your sleeve, and I’m happy I know how to do it now.

I know some of you guys are hardcore bleach shampoo enthusiasts, so tell me: What’s your method? Do you use this to bleach your roots? Have you used it to strip colour? How long do you leave the bleach mix on? Did I do OK for a first-timer? Should I make a Star Trek reference in every article I write, or just some of them? TELL ME EVERYTHING.