Bleach and Anemia Destroyed My Hair — Here's How It Looks So Good Today

Four years later, and my hair is only now getting back into shape.

I used to be a blonde vegan.

During my sophomore year of college, I bleached my hair. My childhood hairstylist (who also happened to be my childhood best friend's sister) never let me lighten my hair beyond a caramel color during my middle and high school years. During that time, I tried everything from blue-toned black, to shining auburn, to dirty blonde, to rurple (my friends' loving moniker for my red-purple period). But, my soul always longed for platinum, the color of my idols: Marilyn, Gaga, and Elle Woods (at least in the musical version). Give me platinum or give me death... I mean, brunette.

My newfound New York City freedom led me down the yellow brick road to a fancy 5th Avenue salon, where I spent more of my hard-earned money than I probably should have trying to make all of my blonde ambitions a reality. I figured if I was going to take such a risk, to lighten my warm chocolate shade to almost-white, I should entrust my life to a seasoned professional. However, although my heart was in the right place, the wizard couldn't have been more of a sham behind the curtain.

I wish I could remember the name of the salon so I could warn you lovely readers against the dangerous hair deathtrap that this place was. They promised to bleach my hair to perfection in one (long) sitting without doing much damage. If Present Day Kim heard this, she would go screaming from the gilded doors of this hellhole into the streets, never to look back. I now know that lightening processes take time, and even with the perfect waiting period, they can still cause excessive breakage in the hair.

But Baby Kim didn't know. Baby Kim was naive, trusting, and wanted platinum hair real bad. So Baby Kim stayed.

As the bleach stayed on my scalp, my skin started to burn. A lot. More than it probably should have. The stylist assured me that the pain was normal; the pain was beauty. Hours later, I left with what I wanted: platinum blonde hair. But I also left with bloody scabs on my scalp that didn't disappear for months.

I truly did love my fleeting time being blonde. However, about a year and two touch-ups later, after my hair had unintentionally broken from boob-length to bob-length, I went back to black.

Shortly after bleaching my hair, I went vegetarian, and, shortly after that, vegan. My best friend and roommate at the time, Hannah, had been vegan for quite some time and was completely healthy. A combo of animal empathy and longing for clean living led me to become vegan. It was a crash course. I didn't have much knowledge on the subject, and I have always been a terrible cook. My overwhelming school and rehearsal schedule only left me small moments to grab a salad from the nearest dining hall or deli.

I soon noticed that my hair was falling out in fistfuls. Small bald patches were showing up on the crown of my head — enough for me to panic. Enough for me, as a 20-year-old female, to try Rogaine.

I'm the first to admit that I'm vain. I've always taken pride and pleasure in my hair and makeup rituals. Today, I'd proudly wear a wig if need be. But at the time, as a heavily insecure, recently-single college sophomore, I panicked.

I went to a doctor (thanks to the hair-loss combined with a generalized feeling of exhaustion and physical weakness) who promptly took a blood test. A few weeks later, I was diagnosed with anemia. It's something I've always had, but it was aggravated by going vegan without the proper diet and nutrient regulation. The doctor told me my iron levels were dangerously low and that, if I didn't change my diet, the lack of hair would be the least of my worries.

Because I couldn't afford the time to research how to eat properly, nor the dietician to figure it out for me, plus the fact that I was in a complete panic over what was happening on my head, I resentfully went back to my pre-vegan eating routine.

My anemia soon went back into check, but my hair did not.

Here I am, four years later, and my hair is only now getting back into shape. I used to have a lot of medium-thickness hair, and now I have a good amount of thinnish hair. I think the combo of bleaching and anemia did me in. My hair is better than it was, but I've abandoned the hope of it ever going back to "normal." I've just accepted my new normal.

I'd love to say that I took special care of my hair during the recovery period to help facilitate the process, but I did not. I continued to use hot tools in a sad attempt to make my hair look fuller. I dyed my hair, but darker colors, focusing any bleaching and extreme coloring on the already damaged tips. I tried to make up for the lack of hair by styling it in cool ways, which, maybe wasn't the best idea.

However, in the past year, I made a few changes to my routine that significantly improved the condition, growth, and appearance of my hair.

Here are the seven secrets I swear by.

If you want to dye your hair crazy colors, or if your hair is recovering and you're longing for thickness, utilize clip-in extensions.

I have three pairs of extensions: one Bellami black-to-blue-to-ice-blue pair that my best friend five-ever Glendyn dyed for me that I wore into extinction; one Bellami black-to-blue-to-purple-to-pink pair that I hand-dyed and wear on special occasions; and one actual-hair-length VP Fashion pair in black-brown that Glendyn cut to look as natural as possible.

The Bellami extensions are as soft as butter. They're pricey, but if you're going for a longer, more luscious length, they're worth it. I'm a perpetual diva when I wear them. They give that wind-blown effect without the glamour fan.

The VP Fashion ones are a little bit dryer, but significantly more affordable and definitely the go-to if you're looking to increase the appearance of volume in your hair. When I first purchased them, they smelled a little like wet dog. After the third washing, the smell (luckily) disappeared. Blessings.

I wear extensions 90% of the time, just like I wear false lashes 90% of the time. I do not recommend this for everyone. However, my extensions make me feel more confident and powerful by giving my hair the little bit of volume I've lost, so I figure, why the hell not? If that's what makes me feel awesome, then cool.

I've had the tape-in extensions before, but they started to become pretty gnarly a couple months in. Clip-ins take three minutes to get onto my head and they don't give me a 24/7 headache like the tape-ins did. Extension are my forever friend.

Shampoo less. Dry shampoo more.

I used to wash my hair every day. My scalp is flaky yet oily, and my actual hair strands are as dry as a Saltine Cracker in the middle of the Sahara Desert. Over-washing my hair dried out the body of the strands, leaving my hair not only brittle, but dull as well.

Once I started to use Batiste Dry Shampoo and actual shampoo every fourth day (yeah, I know), my hair become much stronger, shinier, and healthier. I know hair-washing daily is very seductive, but having restraint has shown its rewards.

Sulfate-free shampoo, I choose you!

Growing up, my mom told me all shampoos were the same, no matter what magic properties they claimed to contain. In my not-so-vast experience with hair, shampoos do range in purpose, and the results can be tangible and visible. Many ultra-cleansing shampoos use sulfates to achieve a deeper clean, but the good ones will contain ingredients to replenish the hydration the sulfates might strip from the hair.

Once a month (or when my hair is feeling extra grimy), I'll use a deep-cleaning shampoo with sulfates (like the Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo, which is intense but gets all of my product buildup out) once a month, and go sulfate-free the rest of the time. I stay sulfate-free mostly because I don't want my hair to fade because I do dye it.

Personally, I use OGX Anti-Breakage Keratin Oil Shampoo and Conditioner.

Use salon dye so your hair doesn't "die."

I lived off of box dye during my impulsive, teenager years (which my aforementioned hairstylist absolutely hated). After one unfortunate deep, flat black box dye, I attempted to lift my color and my hair turned a gross, puke-y brown-green. It was not a cute look. I had to have my hair follicles filled (whatever that means) before I was able to switch up the color again. From my understanding, filling was adjusting the actual undertone of my actual hair to its former glory after my box dye disaster, so that way it looked healthy and multifaceted rather than flat and radioactive.

But remember, using salon dye doesn't necessarily imply spending beyond your means. Whenever I have the funds, I spend on a professional. However, when times were tight and I needed a change, I've purchased a Wella blue-black dye and developer, mixed the proper proportions together, and have dyed it myself. The cost was pretty much the same as boxed dye and I had much better results.

Hair products can be your best friends.

I had never been big into using hair products, most likely due to the fact that I never really needed them before. During this time, when my hair was looking really thin at my scalp, I started using the Bumble and bumble Soft Black Hair Powder.

This spray has disguised my hair thinness and made it look much thicker, even during the worst of the recovery phases. The powder sticks to my scalp, allowing any patches to appear filled in. The dryness of the powder helps to lift my root and prevents the hair from laying too flat.

This is truly my must-have product. I can't live without it. I pretty much use it just after washing and I'm good for the next few days. This is the product that gave me the confidence to go about my day during the worst phases of my hair loss.

Speaking of products, I swear by hair oils.

My scalp is super-oily by nature, but the shaft and ends of my hair are perpetually broken, dry, and frizzy. I use Marula Daily Moisture Mist after showering, while my hair is still damp. This marula-oil-based leave-in conditioner also serves as my heat protectant before I blow-dry my hair (because I am impatient and never wait for it to dry).

After styling, I use either Tacha Gold Camellia Oil or Living Proof No Frizz Nourishing Oil. Both feel super-lightweight on my already-thin hair and keep my extreme frizz at bay. Once a month, I do an overnight treatment with Trader Joe's Organic Coconut Oil, which leaves my hair feeling soft and supple for days. I wash the buildup out of my hair, skip conditioner, slather the coconut oil onto the ends and shaft of my hair, put on a shower cap, and sleep on it. I just wash it out the following morning. Because the coconut oil is so deeply hydrating, I can really only do it once a month without it weighing down my hair.

Find your tools of the trade.

My blowdryer is BaByliss, and I've had it for years. It dries my hair extremely quickly, and it's trustworthy. I appreciate the fact that it hasn't broken, even though I don't really treat it with love and care.

My hair curler, however, is the love of my life. After I clip in my extensions, I use my Paul Mitchell Neuro Unclipped 1.25" Cone (which is basically a tapered wand) to create my signature retro-inspired curls. After blowdrying my hair, I start curling the front pieces of my hair, which I then bobby-pin up so they can set. For the rest of my hair, I work from the nape of my neck upward, and let the curls cool in compressed ringlets.

Once I've finished curling all my hair, I unpin my front pieces and run my fingers through the whole thing to loosen the curl. If I want more of a wave, I'll comb through everything with a paddle brush. The days I don't wash my hair, I only curl the pieces that haven't retained the style from the previous day. I keep the curler wand at 365 degrees. I seriously do not know what I'd do without it.

And if you're forgetful (like myself) and accidentally leave it on, you don't have to worry! The curler automatically shuts off by itself (and you can even customize the settings).

I wish you all happy, healthy, shining, gleaming, streaming, flaxen, waxen hair!

  • Have you ever had a disastrous salon experience?
  • How have you overcome major hair damage?
  • What's your favorite hair-inspired song?