I’m going to start off by saying I am in no way a professional. I’ve had no formal training, and if you’re a beginner or just want a second opinion, you should consult a salon professional before attempting any of the methods I’ve tried. I tend to throw caution to the wind and learn by experience, as opposed to going by the book or taking anyone’s word for it, and have rarely had mishaps that were beyond something I had the ability to correct.
I decided to try going for white hair not only because I’m a fan of the look, but also because the character I’m cosplaying at SJ7 has white hair, or at least my version of her does. I always imagined my Renegade Commander with silver white hair, even though the closest in game hair model to this color is in ME3, and is more like a silvery blue/grey color. If you’re familiar with the Mass Effect franchise, you know that when Cerberus rebuilds Shepard after she gets spaced, she has implants that affect her appearance in a
sometimes always terrifying manner, if she chooses to exhibit “mean” or negative behavior. I thought, why did the changes have to end at her scars and eyes? Why couldn’t her natural hair also be effected by the implants? I digress.
After doing some online research on forums and the like, I put together a plan, stirring in my own knowledge of do-it-yourself hair, and adding a grain of salt for everything I read; as you know, you’re going to get a lot of snotty feedback if you ever try to research ways to dye/bleach/alter your hair by yourself, from cosmetologists and plain old civilians that “know best.”
Pretty much since adolescence, I have done everything to my own hair myself; cutting, trimming, layering, dyeing, and bleaching. Not only because its cheap and relatively easy, but also because I hate being judged and misjudged by cosmetologists. No flaming necessary, I know they’re not all asshats, but I’ve met quite a few, and I just don’t like dealing with them. It’s not for me; I like being able to control what I want done to my hair, simple as that, and the only time I’ve ever had a haircut/hair disaster was as the result of someone else styling it, so I don’t bother with it anymore. They’re the professionals, and at the end of the day, they usually know best technically speaking, but everyone is different, and you can’t apply the exact same hair techniques to everyone. I digress, again. I’ll probably be doing a lot of that.
I decided to move forward with the lightening to white over a period of several months, because I had that long until SJ7, and wanted to give myself plenty of time to work the kinks out and correct any problems I ran into. I started in March or April, and am just finished now, in July. You can move faster if you wish, but be warned that you may severely damage your hair. If you have dyed your hair recently, especially a dark color, you may have to use a dye stripper before you bleach; bleaching wont lift the color, in most cases. In mine, it was fine, because though I had dyed my hair that hadn’t grown out, it was a long time ago, and despite everyone telling me that it still wouldn’t work, it worked just fine, and that’s why I don’t take hair advice as gospel. I also didn’t want to risk using a dye stripper, because they’re super drying and about as damning as using bleach itself.
First, I was going to have to bleach my hair. My natural hair color is red; not ginger red or strawberry blonde, but a dark, woodish red, and has somehow remained very resilient and healthy despite everything I’ve put it through. This may be due to the fact that I rarely straiten, and never blow dry. For the initial bleaching, you’re going to need a few supplies. You can pick these up at any salon beauty supply store, but I use Sally’s, because they’re all over the place and generally have everything I need. For the first bleach, you will need:
- A plastic mixing bowl
- Disposable or reusable salon gloves (I use disposable nitrile, because I hate latex)
- 30 volume developer
- Lightening powder (buy the biggest tub you can afford, trust me, you’ll use it)
- An application brush, like the black ones you get in dyeing kits
- A regular comb, and a wide toothed comb to help distribute your conditioners and bleach/toning mixtures
- (Optional but recomended) Red/Gold color correcter (you add this to bleach/toner mixtures to eradicate red/gold tones in your hair, which bleach wont lift. This is why your hair turns orange/brassy when you bleach it)
- (Optional) Vinyl salon cape to protect yo shit
- (Optional) Disposable plastic hair caps
Do yourself a favor and invest in some good, quality conditioner, and leave-in conditioner, because you’ll need them. I use Bed Head’s Moisture Maniac, and Got2Be’s Smooth Operator for my leave-in. Also pick up some Purple SHAMPOO. I capitalize shampoo, because the conditioners aren’t worth it, in my opinion. What this does is tone your hair in between bleach and toning treatments, removing warmer yellow tones from blondes; promoting cooler, platinum shades, and keeping brassiness at bay. I’ve been pleased with Clairol’s Shimmer Lights, but recently upgraded to Catwalk’s Fashionista violet shampoo. You will need to get the purple shampoo! Trust me!
I chose to use 30 vol. for my first bleach, because I needed to lift quite a few levels, since my hair is medium/dark. Even if your hair is darker, never use 40 vol. because its essentially Clorox. This is where I agree with the professionals, it’s not worth it! Don’t do it. The brand doesn’t matter, but I usually use Clairol Soy Plex or just regular Clairol developer. The brand of Lightening powder doesn’t really matter either at this stage, but my favorite so far is Clairol 7th Stage. I have yet to see it in a big tub though, only in 99 cent packets, but hey, its cheap, and it works!
The bottles and packets generally have directions for how much of each product to mix together, but if they don’t, it’s almost always 2 parts developer to 1 part lightener. Sometimes it’s equal parts, but not often. Always read the instructions! If you invest in bigger bottles of developer and tubs of lightener, which I recommend, because it’s cheap and you will use it, you may have to do the measuring yourself. I just use a tablespoon. 2 tablespoons = 1 ounce. With the Red/Gold correcter, again, check the dosing instructions. Mine was 15 drops per ounce of total mixture. You can add this right into the developer/lightener mixture.
Mix together and apply! Developing times will vary from person to person, and you can always wipe some of it off of your hair to check the shade you’ve achieved at any point. Try and do your roots last, because heat develops the bleach, and there’s more heat the closer you get to your scalp; you don’t want your roots to be a drastically different color than the rest of your hair. This is also why you can use the plastic caps to trap heat on your head and speed up development. You can also utilize a hair dryer to help, but I never do, mainly because I don’t own one. After the first bleach, I went from this:
If your hair is orange or darker, like mine is here, you can wait and try and tone it lighter with purple shampoo, or wait a few weeks and bleach again, which is what I did, because I wasn’t aware purple shampoos existed at this time. If your hair was already light/blonde to begin with, you probably wont need a second bleach, and can start toning treatments. (More on toning in a bit)
For my second bleach, I waited about two weeks, but don’t tell your cosmetologist I said that, because she’ll probably slap us both. Hey, I did it, and my hair is fine. Like I said, use your own discretion, everyone’s hair is different.
This time I used a 10 vol. developer, because my hair was already so light and porous from the first bleach. Erroneously, I tried to us Manic Panic’s Virgin Snow toner to remove some more brassiness after my second bleach, which I don’t recommend, because its useless. Doesn’t work.
3-4 weeks later, I did my first real toning treatment. Toning is different than bleaching; instead of stripping the color from your hair, it takes the color that stripping caused and kind of “directs” it, depending on the shade of toner you buy. You use it like you would bleach, in tandem with lightening powder. If you’re going for white, you will need to do this (in my experience). Some folks say toners aren’t needed; that you can just bleach and get white with purple shampoo over time. I got better results with the combination of toning treatments and using purple shampoo. You can move forward however you wish.
I was recommended the Blonde Brilliance line, which I have been very happy with, because they’re not as damaging, and mix together into a creamy liquid, as opposed to some toners that mix very chunky and are hard to apply. I got the Blonde Brilliance 15 vol. developer and Violet Creme lightener. It comes in a tube, as opposed to a packet of powder. Read the directions and mix/apply it just like bleach, still using the color correcter, but pay attention to the toner.
You don’t have to leave it on as long as you do bleach; I’m a habitual over-developer, and ended up over-toning my hair to purple, because my hair was still porous from the 2 bleaches. It was like, sad, old lady purple, but I wasn’t worried about it and it washed out in about a week.
After that, and a few weeks of purple shampoo, my hair turned out like this:
A very light/wheat blonde. I was happy with this color, and left it like that for some time.
Now, in the middle of all of this, I had to do my roots twice, and unless you have light hair naturally, you probably will too. For my root treatments, I use a 20 vol. developer because again, my roots are dark. I used Clairol Soy Plex 10 vol. developer mixed with what was left of my 30 vol. from my first bleach. You can do this by mixing equal parts of 30 and 10 to make 20, or just, you know, buy a bottle of 20 vol., but I’m a big fan of waste not want not. Your roots will need to be developed for much less time than regular hair. Use the same methods as a regular bleach, but only get the roots. Try not to get much on your other hair, because it will turn it yellow/brassy. I try to coincide root days with tone days, so you can tone your now lighter and probably brassy roots. When I did my final root/tone, I picked up the Blonde Brilliance Ash creme developer instead of Violet, because I wasn’t getting quite getting the results I wanted with Violet; I was getting wheat/platinum, and I wanted silver/white. So I mixed with my remaining 15 vol. developer after I had done my roots and towel dried. Again, I left it on far too long and turned my hair GREY. Like, dark, fireplace ash grey. At this point I had 2 days to SJ7, so I went into damage control mode. I rinsed and shampooed with lava temp water, 2-3 times. The hot water causes your hair’s pores to open and release any color there, helped by the shampoo. (You can do this any time you over-tone, I just wasn’t worried about it when I turned my hair purple and let it wash itself out, as I mentioned) If you do over-tone, I don’t recommend using your purple shampoo for a few days. During the whole process I don’t suggest you wash your hair everyday, either. You can condition ’till the cows come home, but I shampoo every other day, and sometimes not even that often. The last tone resulted in my finished product:
Excuse the scary makeup, that was for my FemShep costume. I am absolutely happy with my results, and they were just what I was going for for my character. I get compliments on it all the time, and hopefully this tutorial will help you achieve similar results. Happy bleaching!
Also, here is a link to my cosplay page if anyone is interested in seeing the finished costume, or more pics from SJ7: