I’ve been a blonde for most of my life, save a few accidents where I decided to go dark/strawberry/auburn. I actually went dark red solely to be Jessica Rabbit for last Halloween. It was a smashing success, but I don’t look good as a redhead. Mostly, I stayed within the confines of wheat blonde with honey and platinum highlights, but after a terrible bust-up with a boy, I told my hairstylist, “Bleach it! Let’s go as white as we can.” I’d always wanted to be Monroe blonde, and since I’m lucky enough to possess hair strong as a horse’s mane, the damage was minimal.
My hair was platinum blonde for almost a year, and I miss it every day. The security guards in my work building would yell “Marilyn!” at me each morning. People remember a platinum blonde. Sparkling white hair makes you feel happy and glamorous. It attracts a ton of attention, almost as if you’re wearing a halo. And once you go blonde, you can never really go back because there will always be that person who says, often unsolicited, “I liked you better blonde!”
While I was platinum in 2011, I learned a TON about haircare. I (timidly) bleached my own roots, toned the yellow out and even trimmed a few dead ends. I would still be a white-blonde today if I wasn’t obsessed with growing my hair out.
In case you’re thinking about bleaching, here’s what you need to know.
The first time
Don’t do this yourself. I don’t care if you can box dye your hair like a pro. You cannot bleach your hair white yourself. Get thee to a salon!
If your hair is light, it will be relatively easy. If it’s dark, expect to come back for a few sessions and maybe have light-orange hair for a few days. A good hairdresser will know how much bleach your hair can take. If they say it needs several processings, trust them.
Bring a photo or express clearly how pale you’d like to be. You can go ice white, bluish white, ivory white—just like wall paint, there’s no such thing as plain white hair. Mine varied between ivory and ice, depending on the day.
Bleaching your hair can be an expensive undertaking at first, but trust me and go to a professional. It’s better to spend the money and come out with the hair you wanted than mess it up yourself and have it fixed.
The most important thing to have in your platinum kit is a good purple toning shampoo. I’ve tried enough to know that Clairol Shimmer Lights is the best.
I actually learned about purple shampoo from my dad, whose hair is an enviable bright silver. When your hair is bleached that pale, some yellow brassiness will inevitably creep in. The violet in toners counteracts that ugly stuff. I am a wheat blonde again, but I still throw Shimmer Lights into my rotation a few times a month to brighten my overall tone.
The only downside: it stinks. Just use a heavily scented conditioner to mask the smell, and you’ll be fine. Also, do not leave your shampoo on longer than about three minutes! Your hair may turn a bit blue!
Another must to maintain that perfect white-blonde is an intense toning session when purple shampoo simply won’t kill the brassy pest. If you’re not familiar with the ins and outs of home hair dye, do your first toning session at your salon. It shouldn’t be that expensive. Get your stylist to show you the basics so you can do it at home; it’s not very complicated.
Wella’s Color Charm White Lady/T18 toner has a cult following because it does exactly what it says: makes your hair white. This stuff is not bleach, just toner.
You mix one part (read: bottle) to two parts developer (20 vol. is what I used) and it turns a lovely shade of violet. Apply it to your hair for a few minutes (I went six or seven), and after washing and conditioning as usual, you’ll emerge with crystalline shine and pure white hair. I bought this stuff in bulk.
I guess it goes by “Lightest Ash Blonde” now, but if you ask anyone at Sally for White Lady, they’ll know what you’re talking about.
Another less intimidating toner to try is Manic Panic Virgin Snow. All you need to do with that one is slap the whole jar on your head and let it sit for about a half hour. It’s vegan!
Watch what you put in your hair. Styling aids like hairspray can contribute to buildup and brassiness. Most companies have started offering blonde-friendly products.
Keep it trimmed
Guess what: Bleach is bad for your hair.
Sucks, right? This means that if you’re bleaching on the reg, perhaps every six weeks like I did, your hair is getting fried. Usually, I would just do my roots to avoid damage to my fragile ends, but sometimes the whole head needed to be done. Regular trims are necessary when your ends start looking like a broom.
Condition, Condition, Condition
You cannot slack on conditioning as a platinum blonde. Moisturize your hair in some form every day. I cannot stress this enough!
I used plenty of different masks—even the $1.50 Palmer’s Coconut protein pack from the drugstore. You shouldn’t wash your hair very often when it’s that pale (use a sulfate-free shampoo if you can), so try to do a mask with every wash.
Once or twice a month, I’d liquefy some coconut oil, apply it to my sad, thirsty ends, wrap them in Saran wrap and a towel, and watch a few episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. My hair rejoiced.
I would also coat my dry hair with an oil like Kerastase Elixir Ultime, twist it up into a coil and leave it to soak for a day or two.
Condition from the inside, too! I took prenatal vitamins and evening primrose oil capsules.
Fight the real enemy: your roots
Personally, I hated having pure white roots. My scalp scared me. I liked a little bit of regrowth, but I bleached my roots about every six weeks. I only did it myself twice because I’m kind of a chicken.
I always kept developer on hand—usually a bottle of 20 vol. and one of 30. Because I have a lot of hair, I would use two packets of bleach.
I found it helpful to do my roots with a friend’s help because they can reach those places on the back of your head that you can’t get at without extensive practice. They can also keep an eye on the changing colors of the bleach and help you wash it out quickly.
How much bleach you need and how long you leave it on depends on your hair’s natural color and texture. I generally left mine on 10 to 20 minutes. I always did a toner afterwards to make sure everything matched, but sometimes when you’re a platinum blonde you may find there’s a rainbow of hues in your hair, from a stubborn brassy yellow to a hint of blue. It happens. You’ll figure out the right bleaching and toning rhythm for you.
Work with your hair’s natural texture. In a nutshell, don’t heat-style very often.
I had a keratin treatment right after I went platinum, and I loved it. It kept my coarse, wavy hair straight and silky so maintenance was minimal. But when it faded after a few months, I stayed far, far away from the curling wand and the flat iron. If you hair is curly, wear it curly.
Keep in mind that excessive bleach can change your hair. I noticed a slight change in my wave patterns after my platinum days were over.
When your hair looks lackluster, get a glossing treatment. Usually they’re about $10 as an add-in at the salon, but you can also get them at the drugstore. A gloss will seal any split ends and impart a nice shine to your bleached hair, which can sometimes get a bit dull.
Platinum Blonde Life
Your light hair will glean a lot of compliments and attention. Men will seek you out and catcall you more often because your head is like a bright light they can’t help but follow. If you’re unwilling to deal with that, don’t go platinum.
Same goes for spending a lot of money. Conversations I had often went like this:
Person: Is your hair real?
Me: Real expensive.
It is expensive; supplies add up, as do regular visits to the salon. I probably spent $300+ to bleach and then maintain my white hair.
I salute all of those folks who can DIY everything hair related and I’m jealous of y’all, but I always felt most comfortable letting an experienced stylist handle most of my platinum doings. (That’s probably because when my friends and I dyed our hair from a box in 11th grade, I ended up with orange roots and green ends.)
People will call you Marilyn or Gwen. People will ask to touch your hair. Sometimes you might be too zealous with your toning and end up lavender. You may regret going so pale when your hair feels crunchy.
But then again, you may not.
This article originally appeared on xoJane.