Hair

Everything you need to know before going platinum

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Champagne. Pearly. Snowy. Flaxen. White. Silver. Ash Blonde. Gray. Platinum.

Whatever fancy name you have for it, platinum is just one of those cool colors that never goes out of style. So many factors set it apart from other chic hair colors out there, one being the fact that platinum hair just exudes a maturity and uniqueness that literally pops out in a sea of brunettes and honey-blondes. But it’s not just creamy colors that captivate the eyes; any manner of pastel or Kool-aid shades are like special gems lying in the dirt of traditional beauty standards.

But, that unicorn hair you’re sporting is not going to magically appear on your head without some mane-tenance issues.

Whether you’re just now considering taking the ice-cold hair plunge or have already done it and want to go on to bigger and better things, I’ve been right where you’re at.

After ten years of dying my hair blue-black, burgundy red, chili red, and achieving a nice shade of auburn, I bucked up and decided two things: one, I needed to cut my long, thick hair because it was just not working for me anymore, and two, if I ever wanted lighter-colored hair I would have no choice but to bleach it. I had previously “stripped” my hair, taking just the color out, but that process didn’t even work. Apparently, coloring your hair blue-black several years doesn’t make it easy to change colors.

I was faced with the realization that I would have to either (a) go back to dark hair or (b) damage my hair to make it light enough for virtually any color to take and be a “true” color.

See, once hair has been processed so many times, color layered onto other color—even if that color has faded—will not be a true shade because the prior color process will make it darker. It’s one of those mysteries of hair that I have come to just accept and move on from. And if you’re at this crossroads in your life as well, you’ll have to get over it with me.

Hair stylists are not magicians—your hair history matters

This extremely useful article from TeenVogue features some tips and suggestions from Michaella Blissett-Williams, owner of 718 salon. “Hair that has been heavily processed might need to keep color applied longer because it’s further from its natural state,” she explains.

There, that’s an expert telling you that the thousands of dye you put in your hair as an emotional teenager will do you no favors when it comes time to graduate to a more classy, but still edgy, look.

Hair color is by no means an exact science. Even if you have the best inspiration pics all conveniently located in a nice folder on your phone, like I did, you have to realize that you’re not always going to be able to achieve that exact shade of rose gold as the girl in the filtered, unrealistic, and possibly photoshopped Insta pic. Your natural color and how many processes you’ve had makes a difference.

Of course, you can always let your roots grow out, chop it all off and start fresh with “virgin” hair. Or you can bleach it, deal with hair that feels like straw for a little while, and then chop it off like I did.

Bleach, tone, strip: What does it all mean?

Before you bleach your hair, you may never know what hair toner is or what it does to your strands. Bleach itself may just be a cleaning agent you’re scared of splashing in your eye (from personal experience, even the tiniest drop burns). And “stripping” may just be a salacious word you’re not likely to use in everyday conversation, but it’s one that you may hear frequently in a salon.

So, what’s the difference between bleaching and stripping? And what the heck does toner even do? (Spoiler alert: toner sucks.)

Bleach

Oxidizing agents. Hydrogen peroxide and ammonia. Sounds scary, but that’s what has to go into your hair if you want to get that Kylie Jenner “rose gold” look.

Pigment has the same effect on our hair as it does with our skin and eyes. Darker hair has more melanin and lighter hair has less.

Obviously, the darker your hair, the more bleach you’re going to need to apply.

By doing this, you’re removing the melanin from the hair follicle completely, causing it to look white or grey because of the way light is moving through it—fun fact, melanin-free eyes are blue for the same reason, just like the ocean-sky effect, etc. Instead of just coating the follicle with pigment, permanent artificial hair color opens up the shaft, breaks down the natural pigment, and slips in some molecules that combine to form a particular color. Temporary hair colors, like Manic Panic, don’t permanently change the pigment and wash out, which is why so many teenagers are walking around with aqua hair without the fear of commitment attached to it.

To get any hair color to a lighter pigment, the bleach has to go into the shaft and break down the molecules into components that will wash out, leaving it pigmentless. This weakens your strands because it removes fatty acids, causing permanent damage.

There are some products you can use to fix some of the damage, such as the L’Oreal Paris Advanced Haircare Total Repair 5 Damage-Erasing Balm—because I love L’Oreal—that contain ceramides which are basically synthetic fatty acids.

But, nothing will ever repair your hair fully, which is why it is so IMPORTANT to only bleach your roots each visit. That way at least your brittle ends won’t flake off.

It sounds dramatic, but take it from me, your hair will not feel the same until you let it all grow out and cut the bleached part. My hair hates me because I’m about to bleach it after just getting to that point myself.

Toner

Basically, you bleach it and add toner to take the brassiness out.

Sounds simple right? That’s because it is sinfully simple.

Your stylist will likely use a brand like Wella Color Charm Toner, add some additives like Cooling Violet, and viola! Your yellow hair is a nice cool-toned blonde, ready for the next round of bleach and/or that perfect pastel you’ve been waiting for.

But so many of us don’t even know what toner is or how it’s used well enough to save the money. If we knew how cheap the products were and how easy it was to apply, we would all be doing it ourselves.

Disclaimer time: Toners are kind of funny and may not act the way they should. In my own experience, after my second round of bleach, an ash blonde toner turned my hair a muddy grey, so be careful with them (just make sure you don’t have some important event planned for the next day…). Also, they can be used in more capacities than just to cancel out unwanted brassy yellow, gold, orange, and red tones in bleached hair, and a lot of stylists use it to create a seamless look on hair with highlights. They can do a lot of good things, but a frustrating part of getting platinum hair is when your stylist only ever wants to use toner to get your hair ash blonde.

Whether it’s because they’re afraid to fry your hair completely, or there’s just some secret to the reason why no one has ever used permanent color on me, I only ever had toners used on my hair when it was bleached. I eventually gave up and tried darker colors, but I never understood why I couldn’t achieve that perfect white hair despite spending all of the time and money on bleach and toners.

Now, I hate toner.

Stylists charge you more than the process is worth and you only have the color you want for maybe two weeks tops. Then it’s just a disgusting yellow that no amount of Shimmer Lights or Ion Cool Blonde toning shampoo and conditioner—requirements to keeping up platinum hair—could cancel out. Not to mention, Shimmer Lights smells not-so-good, does absolutely nothing in the way of providing shiny, healthy-looking hair, and is more expensive then Ion. But maybe it works better.

Stripping (your hair)

Anyone with an extensive hair history knows this already, but I’ll say it for the people in the back: nothing except for bleach can make dark hair light. Nothing. There may be products like Splat Midnight Hair Color that promise to change dark hair into ruby, amethyst, and indigo shades with one application, no bleach required, and no strings attached, but so far there is nothing on the market that can turn your hair white.

If you have colored your hair for any time at all, whatever color that may be, it would serve you well to remove that color in a non-damaging way before bleaching your hair several pigment levels. If you’ve dyed your hair dark brown, black, stripping the color out and lightening it back to your normal shade, may reduce the amount of high volume bleach necessary.

Get ready to spend some $$$ on platinum hair

If you’re not ready to take the plunge and spend serious cash on platinum “Elsa” hair, you may want to avoid the salon at all costs. In case you didn’t realize, these processes aren’t cheap.

The unfair reality is that we ourselves could reduce the cost of our haircare if we would only take the bull by the horns and do it on our own. We are not incapable of lightening and coloring our own hair, but there’s that fear of the unknown that drives us to the stylist’s chair every four weeks and makes us hand over $200 a pop for bleached roots and toner like the complacent zombies we are.

Seriously, hair stylists charge upwards of $40 just for toner, which we all know fades after two weeks. Fewer people know that it’s cheaper to buy the toner from a store like Sally’s Beauty Supply and put it on their hair themselves. Unfortunately, at least in my past experience, toner has been necessary because for some reason no stylist wanted to try white permanent hair color.

And don’t even get me started on the amount of hours and hundred dollar bills it takes to achieve even a brassy yellow color. I bleached it to a warm blonde with cool ash tones when it was still past my shoulders, chopped it off, toned it with ash toner and got a muddy gray only for my stylist to tone it again with a warm blonde so that it looked normal. The next time I got back in that chair we spent hours bleaching my roots, lightening the rest of my strands with a lower volume developer (maybe 20), and then toning it to an ash blonde that was still not white. I never really got that snow white look I wanted, and, by the time of my next appointment, my hair had been a disgusting yellow for two weeks.

It was enough to make me want to give up and go pink. Which wasn’t cheap either.

My long history with hair color and my more recent hairscepades has been enough to burn me with professional hair stylists and even with the idea of platinum hair—done right, that is. I’ve gone back to my roots (literally) with dark hair over the summer, but now I find myself right back in the same place of wanting lighter colored hair (this time, terra-cotta red). Which means I will have to bleach my hair. All. Over. Again.

Only, this time, I won’t be spending $200 every four weeks.

Bleaching at home: What do I recommend?

Personally, the last thing I’d want to do is tell anyone exactly what technique to follow or whose DIY Youtube videos to watch. I’ve watched them all but I still have yet to bleach at home, probably for the same reason you have: fear.

Will I burn my scalp? Will my hair fall off? Will the permanent hair color take? How long should I wait between bleaching and toning before applying permanent color? Will I have to bleach it more than once for it to take effect?

These are only questions my stylist can at least try to answer, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

If all you want is just a nice, solid crazy color like purple or dark blue, go use Splat and save yourself the heartache and money. But if you’re like me and want to try everything, from blue black to pink to platinum, bleach is the only way to go. And you can either fork out over a thousand dollars every six months on haircare, or you can take your strands in your own hands.

Ultimately it’s your decision…

…But if you want to color your own hair, here’s what I say

Warning: There are a lot of people out there who think they know what products to use and how to use them, but one company has at least tried to make it really easy for people looking to constantly change their appearance.

Manic Panic sounds like the kind of company created to pander to youths, Goths, and Emos, and it surely is. But while they may not be “mainstream,” they do sell helpful Manic Panic Bleach kits that can make going platinum super easy.

In it, you’ll find what you need: brush, hair cap, gloves, 30 volume cream developer, and bleach powder. Curiously, there’s no bowl, so you’ll want to either buy one in a store or use a plastic bowl at home, preferably one that you don’t eat out of. Following directions is simple enough, especially if you’re ever just bought hair color from the box at your convenience store and dyed your own hair that way (I have also done this when going an unnatural red for a few years).

The only tricky part about this is whether or not you want to use 30 volume developer (for extra lift), or the less-damaging 2o and 10 volume cream developers. If your hair is a higher level brown, then you will definitely have to use 30 and maybe even 20 in a second application (this is where I was at). If you’re a medium to light brown you may get away with using 20 and 10. If you’re blonde, you have it best of all of us and could probably do one round of 20 or several rounds of 10 volume developer for a lighter lift in color.

Now comes the harder part. As soon as you’ve followed the directions (TO A “T”) and your hair is bleached, you may scream. Seriously, your hair will be yellow, maybe even orange. At this point, you’ll have no choice but to use toner, as they are a necessary component to cooling those brassy tones.

For platinum, you’ll want to use Wella brand in an ash blonde tone and add the Cooling Violet additive. When you mix up the toner, you’ll have to add a volume developer to it because toner is liquid, so make sure you either use the toner in the kit or a good brand like Clairol. If this doesn’t work and you get a color that looks like mud, the only thing you can do is use a warmer blonde toner. At that point, wait a few days and then try again with the lightest ash blonde you can find (like the one I already mentioned) and add the Cooling Violet additive to it as well. None of these products cost that much and while you’ll use a whole Wella Charm box of toner, the violet additive will last longer because it uses only capfuls. Developer will last longer than toner, but you might have to buy two bottles depending on the length of your hair. You can always return unopened products you don’t need/use from the place you bought them, although online sites like Amazon may have the best prices.

Once your hair is as light as it can get from bleaching and/or toning, just buy any box of color with the shade you prefer and have at it.

Occasionally you will need to go to the salon to get your hair cut, unless you’re one of those who even likes to do that by yourself. And, occasionally, you may find that your color is not taking as well as you’d hoped it would, be it platinum or even a dark shade, and you may be tempted to go back to $200 hair colors. This phenomena is because color layered on top of other color darkens hair. Permanent hair color by itself can never lighten hair, so if you find your pigment darker and more muddy than you planned for, it’s time to bleach again.

Of course, if you stick with platinum, you’ll have to do this each time no matter what. Bleaching the roots and lightening the rest of your already light head with 10 volume developer, followed by cool-toned ash blonde toner and permanent color, is just the name of the platinum game.

Last thoughts: Should you or shouldn’t you?

Ultimately, hair is hair. It can change, and it can grow back. The value our society places on hair dates back to a time when women were marked by their long, luxurious locks, and the idea that men prefer women with lengthy hair today still persists.

Whether there is truth to that or not, our hair is our crown, and like everyone vain enough to have a crown, we want ours to look like we want it to. It’s time we stop worrying about what other people think about the color or length of our hair and worry more about what makes us happy.

Is long hair getting in your way constantly? Cut it off! Is it too thick? Get a shorter style that’s more manageable! Worrying that a platinum shade may contrast badly with your skin tone? Don’t.

Just like black hair, or the rare natural reds, platinum-colored hair is striking and eye-catching. It’s one of the most unique colors out there, and it will give you an air of grace, maturity, and confidence—if you’re patient enough to maintain it.

Sara is an editorial intern from MTSU, and an almost double major in journalism and English because she can't make up her mind. When she isn't studying or trying not to die on highway 840, Sara works on her novella and her thesis on Gothic Victorian literature, showers her dog with kisses and waits for the next Lana Del Rey album. While watching American Horror Story on repeat.