How to Fix Bleach-Damaged Hair

Christina Grasso
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How to Fix Bleach-Damaged Hair
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Photo: Imaxtree

By the time I hit elementary school, the white-blonde hair I’d had my entire childhood began to fade into darker blonde. And ever since then, I’ve strived to be as blonde as humanly possible—all while still maintaining my status as a person with hair on her head. As you can imagine, it’s a very delicate balance: Taking any kind of drastic measure to lighten hair has the potential of damaging its health and integrity—and, you know, making it all fall out in clumps—so while I’d continue to get more and more highlights, I was still convinced that my hair was never blonde enough. It was exactly as similar to body dysmorphia as you’d imagine. Fun times!

There was only one thing left to try: the double process. And let me tell you, it’s not for the faint of heart. About three years ago, I went for it. And until very recently, I enjoyed every minute of it. I loved my platinum hair so much I could’ve easily written a whole goddam Broadway musical about it, complete with high-kicks and jazz hands and Showtunes about peroxide. But it was an unrequited love. Instead, my hair actually kind of hated me, which I suppose is fair because I put it through a lot. Maintaining it truly became a second full-time job: Aside from pricey salon visits every four to five weeks that involved sitting for several hours with bleach that burned my scalp (beauty is pain, right?), my hair required constant maintenance with a regime that included at-home treatments, purple shampoos, oral supplements, silk pillowcases, spells, and lots of Olaplex. (OK, maybe no spells, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t consider it.) But it felt worth it to me because the color—or lack thereof—suited me well, if I do say so myself, and quickly became my identity.

MORE: How to Care for Platinum Hair

But then it started breaking off and falling out. The hair that remained was crispy and lifeless, like a dead maple leaf at an apple orchard in October. Crrrrrunch. It would stand straight up in a ponytail, not as a result of witchcraft, thank you, but because it was completely dead. And despite having put great thought into a double-process for a couple years before taking the platinum plunge, I never stopped to consider how I might find my way back somewhere down the line if and when I got sick of it. This was mostly because I always thought I would just keep on bleaching it until it turned white naturally someday. And also because I was 24 and YOLOing.

After consulting several hair experts within the past few months, it was confirmed that my hair was indeed on death row so I needed to act fast, lest I go bald, or wind up with an unintentional mushroom cut at the very least. The jig was up. So, step one was a healthy trim from Anh Co Tran, who is truly a sorcerer with scissors. Then I linked up with celebrity hairstylist Daniel Villano, of Frédéric Fekkai Fifth Avenue Salon, who worked his magic over the course of several hours in the hair chair. And I have to say: I went into it fearing the worst, not because I didn’t trust his ability (his client roster includes Michelle Obama, so like, OK), but because I am an anxious person and I’ve watched a lot of “Full House.” (If you remember Uncle Jesse’s Spray Guard 2001 and Gibbler’s dye job, you may understand my fear.)

Thankfully, by the grace of the hair gods and Villano’s prowess, everything went swimmingly. “As a colorist, I  try to layer color to achieve the most dimension, this is key in creating beautiful, natural looking color,” he said, who carefully blended my ashy, dark-blonde roots through the ends leaving me with a more natural, lower-maintenance looking blonde that will grow out rather seamlessly.

MORE: A Definitive Ranking of the Best Purple Shampoos and Conditioners

However, the process is hardly finished, because my hair is still dead for the time being. “Normally, two factors primarily determine how long it will take [to fully restore hair]: structural damage to the cuticle and inner cortex, or loss of cuticle and proteins in the cortex,” he said. “Structural damage can be healed to an extent with treatments and bond multipliers. However, loss of the actual cuticle or structure of the cortex, means there is not much hope for repair. You’ll have to grow it out and that usually takes a few years.”

So, I’m probably looking at a matter of years before I can enjoy a long, thick ponytail again (that doesn’t stand at attention when I whip my hair back and forth). But in the meantime, Villano left me with a few pointers: “First, try to avoid high heat paired with alcohol-based drying products–the two together are disaster waiting to happen. Secondly, it’s important to condition multiple times a week to help restore the damage. Use a moisturizing product 2-3 times/week, such as Fekkai PrX Reparatives Intensive Fortifying Masque, and one protein treatment a week.”

It’s now been a few weeks since I’ve gone to the darker side, and to be completely honest, it’s been tough (#firstworldproblems, I know) because my hair is still fried, it’s just darker. But in time, as Villano told me, it will recover. For the time being, I’m doing everything I can to help my parched strands in hopes that something will help speed up the process. I’ve started taking Viviscal, I apply an Olaplex treatment once/week, and do deep conditioning masks 3-4 times/week. (I’ve been rotating between Kérastase Résistance Masque Thérapiste, Davines Alchemic Conditioner Silver, and Leonor Greyl Masque Fleurs de Jasmin.) I also slather it with oil every night (my favorite right now is by Ouai), and continue to sleep on a silk pillowcase. So, I think I have all my bases covered, but if none of this seems to help my next step is the spell book.

Click through to see a small snapshot of my journey—and then maybe rejoice that your hair probably isn’t *that* dead.

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The Before
The Before

It didn't look so bad, right?

Photo: instagram / @thepouf
The Before
The Before

False. What we have here is hair more broken than Seether and Amy Lee.

Photo: instagram / @thepouf
The During
The During

If I look completely frightened here, well, that's because I was.

Photo: Christina Grasso
The After
The After
Photo: instagram / @thepouf
The After
The After
Photo: instagram / @thepouf

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