DIY: Lightening Your Hair


Co Schifris

Disclaimer: Please know that this does not replace going to a salon and getting it professionally done. This article was fact-checked by an actual hair stylist before being published. Please read this entire article before attempting to do this, and think seriously about whether or not you want to do this yourself.  This is a semi-permanent decision (at least until your hair grows out).

One of the most common misconceptions about hairstylists is that their do is not hard. Quite the opposite. If you search “hair fails” on the internet, you will get darn near five million results on YouTube alone! So, if you are wanting to color your own hair, I suggest that you read this article and follow its instructions as closely as you can. This is a very tricky, risky thing to do on your own, and if you do something wrong… Well, you could become five million and one.

There are eight steps if you have “virgin hair” (hair that has never been colored before) and nine if you are using bleach. Let’s get into it:

Step 1: Prepping Your Hair for Coloring

A very important thing to remember: you should NOT wash your hair for several days before coloring your hair. This is because the sheer amount of chemicals you are sending into your hair follicles are also making their way down to your scalp and can cause quite a bit of damage. The natural oils in your hair that stay if you don’t wash it will help to protect your scalp.

Another incredibly important aspect (which you have hopefully already figured out) is to always cover your space! This can get really messy, and the point of hair dye (other than temporary hair dye) is to DYE whatever it touches.

After you have finished these two steps, it’s time to move on to prepping your actual hair. Start by brushing it, slowly and carefully. If you have matting or any tangles, it can cause spotting in your hair, and trust me, most people cannot pull off that look. After you’ve made sure that your hair is completely knot-free, section it into four sections.

How to section hair or divide the hair when coloring

A common mistake that is made at this point in time is to wet your hair. That is NOT a good idea, because hair is more fragile when it is wet. Also, the oils that you have purposefully built up to keep your scalp protected do not work as well when your hair is wet.

Step 2: Mixing Bleach/Color

First and foremost: know what you’re buying! The first think you need to get is developer. Here is some insight into what to buy:

If you get a 10 developer and have darker hair, be prepared: all it will do is darken the shade. This means that it might not show up well on your hair, especially if it’s a darker color. In fact, it is not suggested to bother using 10 dye if your hair color is brown or darker. If you want something a little bit stronger, go for the 20 developer. This will lighten the shade of your hair by one or two levels. There are 10 levels of hair color: Level 1, which is black hair; Level 2, which is considered the second-darkest shade of black; Level 3, which is a brownish-black, and so on all the way to Level 10, which is white/platinum. If you want to make your hair a darker shade of blonde, use a 30 developer. If you’re looking to go all the way to white or platinum, use 40 developer. Be warned, however: 40 is very strong!

Another thing to remember: 20 developer is most often used for highlights, while 30 developer is used for regular lightening. The main thing to worry about with 40 developer is that it dyes fast.

If you have colored your hair before, mix bleach with your developer! Now, let’s move on to step 3:

STEP 3: Where to Start

     Before you start dying, it’s important to start at the midsection and ends, then color your roots about 10-15 minutes after finishing the midsection and ends. If you start at the roots, you will get something known as “hot roots,” where the heat from your scalp causes your roots to develop more. This gives the roots at the top of your hair a different color than the rest of your hair. It’s the same with lightener.

However, if you have already colored your hair and are just looking for a touch-up, do any spots that are fading, not the whole head.

STEP 4: Application Method

     It’s time for the moment we’ve all been waiting for: actually dying your hair!

To start, make sure that you have gloves on. Then, with permanent and semi-permanent color, mix the developer and the hair dye. To make sure that you don’t use too much or too little developer, reference the back of the box that you got your dye in. It should have the ratio of developer to color required. If you are using bleach, make sure that you are using enough lightener as well. Less lightener doesn’t mean that it will be less powerful; it will just give you places with less coloring than others.

Let’s go back to the sectioning diagram.

As you start out, begin in sections 3 and 4. Start in the bottom areas, so hat you are not having to flip over colored hair in order to color more of it. Make sure that you are really coating every single strand of hair. Work it in as well as you can. You should only work on sections 1 and 2 when you are finished with the back two quadrants.

If you’re using bleach, make sure that when you are finished you spray some water over your hair and then put a bag over it. Bleach affects your hair more if it is moisturized. Please also remember that bleach does NOT lather, and no matter how hard you scrub, the bleach is not going to foam up like soap. Also–please don’t use shampoo with bleach. It doesn’t help, I promise.

And whatever you do, if you are using bleach, do NOT comb or brush the hair with the bleachy solution still in it. Your hair is in a very fragile state right now, and it isn’t a good idea to put strain on it.

STEP 5: How Long to Leave the Color On

Please do exactly what the directions say. That is very important, since the amount of time you want to leave the color on for will vary from brand to brand. Generally, you can get away with just leaving it on for 45 minutes to an hour.

Please check on your every 10-ish minutes, though, because this is a very risky process and you need to make sure your hair is okay. You do this by taking a piece from the back of your head, preferably lower down, and pulling on it lightly. If it doesn’t break or stretch, you are probably fine and can leave it on. If not, let’s go ahead and quickly move forward to step 6:

STEP 6: Cleansing

Make sure to wash the back out before the front. In fact, after you have washed out the back 2 quadrants, wait approximately 10 minutes before washing out the front. The only time this is not applicable is if your hair broke/stretched when you tested it. In that case, go ahead and rinse your hair out with lukewarm water. Make sure you don’t scrub your scalp, since this can damage your hair. It is in a very delicate state right now and it can cause your hair to break or come out even more.

In order to get everything out, you will have to wash your hair about 2 times. Condition the hair or use a hair mask on it to nurture it back to health. It’s been through a lot today. Now, for the permanent colorers among us, it is time for the last step:

STEP 8: Evaluating the Situation

Is your hair stringy or falling out? Then don’t do more lightener! If you think that your hair can handle more lightener and needs it, then go ahead! Now, if you are using permanent color and not bleach, you’re done! Great job!!


Toner is a very tricky thing to take care of. Please know that permanent color is  not a toner. It lifts and deposits, whereas toner lays on top of your hair. Also, don’t use box dye! You have already lifted your hair color. It is mixed with a toning developer, which usually comes with your toner. Do not use t18: it is not a toner! Purple shampoo is also not a toner and will cause spotting! Use a level 10 toner with a toning developer.

This is where it starts to sound confusing. Make sure that you have a color wheel! If your hair is looking orangey, then go across the wheel to the opposite side. On the opposite side is blue. This means that you will want to use a blue toner. Leave the toner on for however long the directions say too. Not more, not less. Toner does not lighten your hair, it brings you to the right TONE of the color you have already achieved.

And congratulations! You’re done! You rinsed out your hair, you dried it, you styled it… And hopefully it looks amazing! If it doesn’t… I did my best to fact-check this, and talked to several hairdressers to see whether I was correct, and I’m pretty sure I did alright. So… Don’t blame me.

Bye, wonderful people! Have a wonderful rest of whatever part of the day is left for you!


Thank you to How to Fix Hot Roots and Avoid Them …,,re%20applying%20the%20color%20treatment.,, Hairdressers Guide To Coloring Your Own Hair And Not Ruining It – YouTube,