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The Highs and Lows of Being Bleach Blonde

If beauty is pain, platinum hair is the goddamn masochism Olympics.

04.11.17
Sable Bleach Blonde Man Repeller

The year was 2015. Korean model Soo Joo Park had been named a face of L’Oreal Paris. Her hair was platinum and, at that moment, I just knew mine had to be, too. This impulse led quickly, with little-to-no council, to the salon where, head set ablaze with bleach, I silently screamed my way to the hair of my dreams. It was life-changing.

I’ve always had the deepest black hair. Looking in a mirror and seeing, essentially, a millennial, dragonless Daenerys Targaryen in the reflection, filled me with the triumphant glee of defying genetics in the name of self-determined vanity. It was at once an instant accessory and a bold identity statement – unnatural-looking, for sure, but that was the point. I never hated or disliked my natural hair color, but I’ve felt like the leveled-up version of myself since becoming platinum. That said, being so next-level is not without painstaking maintenance and care. Below, five things to know before you take the plunge.

You’re going to need a bleach budget.
Platinum is expensive, no matter how fancy a salon you choose to go blonde in. It’s always a double-process, and double the process means double the price (unless you have a friend do it at home in which case, god speed). Set aside a few hundos for this initial dive and then at least another hundred every four to six weeks for root touch-ups. Gasp you may, but I don’t know why anyone would assume looking mythical was affordable in the first place.

Prepare to cross a chemical river of fire.
Have you ever lit your head on fire? No? Me neither. However, getting your hair bleached for the very first time is probably not too far off. You think I’m being dramatic, I know. But to you I say, HA. Bleach on a virgin scalp sears for however long it takes to lift those roots several layers to platinum. Your colorist will tell you not to wash your hair for a few days prior to let the natural oil buildup form a protective layer, but honestly, this doesn’t help much. You can also massage a bit of coconut oil onto that noggin, but overall it’s just going to burn. I’ve done this twice in my lifetime, and each time it was a testament to my divine will and supreme vanity. If beauty is pain, platinum hair is the goddamn masochism Olympics. Good news though — it doesn’t hurt nearly as much getting your roots touched up afterwards.

Get used to the feeling of straw attached to your head.
You know the part in Season 5 of Buffy when Hell-goddess Glory brain-sucks Tara, rendering her a babbling echo chamber of who she once was? Hair that’s been scared white with bleach is essentially a husk of its former pigmented glory. That is to say, it looks like hair but feels more like straw in hair’s clothing. Sure, there are things like Olaplex to quell the damage, but unless your hair is rather light to begin with, Olaplex can only do so much. No matter how many times people say bleach is damaging to hair, no one really seems to grasp this notion until they are running their fingers through damp elastic noodles post-shower and buying coconut oil in bulk to sate their eternal dryness.

Platinum upkeep is like having a very high-maintenance show pet living on your head.
This is the best metaphor I can think of when asked if it’s difficult to maintain super-blonde hair. Just think: salon visits every five to six weeks for root touchups, expensive hair products to tone and condition these forever-thirsty golden snakes attached to my head, a tricky washing schedule and frailty when it comes to heat styling (which should not be done frequently). But it looks glorious and is a dream to style. I’ve always had thick, straight hair that would barely hold a wave, let alone a curl. Once bleached, it had so much more volume and body. I could twist or braid it and it would accept the wave pattern until it got wet again.

It looks really, really good when done well.
For all the above-mentioned grievances, I’ve come to celebrate platinum blonde as my final form, at least for the first half of my life (assuming we’re working off a hundred-year life expectancy here). More fun? Debateable. Truer to my chosen method of self-expression? Very much so. I mostly wear black and enjoy the bright halo of platinum atop the stark backdrop of my wardrobe. It’s its own accessory, and depending on the makeup I choose, I can go ethereally divine or sharply terror-glam. Seriously, it’s more versatile that one might assume!

Platinum is a lot of work, sure, but if you looked in the mirror, freshly silver-haired and thought, “Yup, I’m a goddamn goddess,” you’d accept the upkeep as just another chore to maintain your divine presence. Honestly, some folks commit hours to perfecting their complexion, or daily heat-styling, or traveling far and wide for the most alluring babylights. We’ve all got our beauty commitments. Should you choose to cross that chemical fire, I’ll be there waiting to slow-motion-jump high-five you at the finish line of the beauty Olympics.

Photos by Sable Yong and Roberto Machado Noa via Getty Images; collage by Edith Young. 

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  • Elinor

    I wanna go platinum so so so badly.. and nearly drooled over this article…

    But realistically I just don’t have the maintenance in me and couldn’t bare to be a bad platinum. Solid brunette I will remain 🙁

  • Cay

    Sable! I’ve missed your writing.

    • Sabletoothtigre

      Hello!

      • yeeees I’m so happy to see you here!!

    • prairie dogs

      I got so excited when I saw Sable’s face on MR this morning!!

    • Ash

      Ditto!

  • Emily Huggins

    I’m a platinum blonde though I don’t get my roots done every month as I’m lucky enough to have a hair colour that takes really nicely to the bleach. I sometimes really love the look of roots growing back in, but things start to get pretty weird when you’ve got two different hair types to take care of at the same time.

    • Sabletoothtigre

      I love a grungy root look too! But the longer they get the more annoying it is for my colorist to touch them up so I try not to pain her too much.

      • kjrobot

        I used to love my roots being long – thought it was kinda rock ‘n’ roll. Don’t do it people. It is the one way for sure to completely screw up the color no matter how much you pay to get it done. You’ll end up with different tones of platinum or a yellow ring. Not cute.

        Trust me. I’ve done it. Ruined it. And I’ve been doing it for yeeeaaarsssss.

  • Amelia Diamond

    “Platinum upkeep is like having a very high-maintenance show pet living on your head.” I love this. Fun life hack if you have always wanted a pet but can’t in your small NYC apartment!

  • mcv123

    RELATABLE! I’ve had the same platinum(ish) pixie cut for… jeez, almost 10 years, and it’s just so ICONIC and feels so ME that I don’t know how I’ll ever switch it up. I fantasize about buzzing everything off but I feel like if I do that I won’t be able to go back to the wallet-pain of bleaching….. but then who would I even BE if I wasn’t blonde?! God. *money flying away emoji*

  • traces of light

    Sable! So good to see your writing on here! <3
    As someone who's been bleach blonde (with a short dalliance with pink last winter) for almost a year, I'd like to add a few things from my own experience:
    I had read another article Sable wrote after going blonde, and was scared of the pain during bleaching, but believe it or not, my scalp did not hurt. at. all. There was an itching that lasted for about five minutes, but then I was fine. Same with touch ups. I think my scalp is just a trooper.
    Also, I went from dark brown hair to almost white in one process! I had been told before that this might not be possible, but when it came down to it, my hair lifted a lot better than expected. This is most likely because my hair is rather fine (as in thin), and so the bleach doesn't need to penetrate as deeply, but I just wanted to note that the constitution of your hair CAN make a difference.

  • Alice

    I unashamedly admit to bringing a photo of you when it was platinum and grey to my hairdresser and she told me it would take a lot of time and hair frying so I gave up.
    I’ll maybe go platinum blonde one day (I purchased a giant tub of bleach for unrelated purposes).

    also YAY SABLE I MISSED READING YOY

  • ValiantlyVarnished

    Sable, may I recommend applying a very thin layer of petroleum jelly to your scalp before your bleaching sessions? It’s what black women have been doing for eons when we get our hair relaxed (which also can burn the scalp). It creates a nice protective barrier for the scalp.

  • Millie Lammoreaux

    Hi, I’m living for that Buffy reference!

  • starryhye

    SABLE!!! So awesome to “see” you here! Looking gorgeous as ever 😀

  • Rheanonn Perez

    THANK U FOR THIS i’ve been thinking about going blonde for a while. like u said it will be expensive & painful but also worth it 🙂 need to start budgeting for those $100 salon visits lol!

    frheak.net

  • kjrobot

    You must tell us where you are you getting your hair touched up for only 100 dollars? I’ve literally never paid under 200 in NYC. And that person messed it UP. It’s usually between 3 and 5 hundred.

    Help me, I’m poor.

    • Sabletoothtigre

      lol it’s not exactly one hundo exactly but I see Elizabeth Hiserodt at Cutler Salon in Soho and she is a goddamn chemical sorceress! Also is great to chat to about horror films, which we both enjoy.

      • kjrobot

        I mean, anything under 2 hundos is still magical. You are a priceless gem for replying. From one bleached mental patient to another.. may the good hair gods (and conditioner) be with you.
        I wrote on an article with product tips on a competitors’ website (so I will not be an ass and link). But I can list them here if anyone is interested.

    • Bo

      I only pay around $120AUD for my bleach touch ups, which probably translates to around $100USD. But then again, my stylist is in a small rural town in South Australia and operates out of an old bank building (her discreet area for waxing and whatnot is in the old walk-in safe!) so I’m guessing the metropolitan NYC premium added to any sort of cost of anything is at play here

  • razeit

    I love Sable. More beauty from her please!

  • Bo

    Word to those who want to to platinum but not endure the scalp burning (I did it before and it’s not so much burning as just fucking itchy. nonetheless skin cancer is notoriously hereditary in my family so i feel I’m strongly invested in avoiding damaging my skin even more than the everyman) so I am craftily avoiding the root pain with my hairdresser to !incrementally! bleach it back to platinum. Every time I go there she adds another head of platinum highlights, the benefits being 1) using this method, the bleach doesn’t actually ever touch your scalp, but just go right up to it, so no skin damage or sensitivity, and 2) the entire head of hair isn’t being fried at once, but is sort of slowly being reacquainted to the platinum bit by bit. It makes repairing the damage and mitigating the straw-like result much easier.
    It’s not the instantly dramatic bleach effect but that’s fine with me. I’ve done that before when I was 23 and wanted everyone to look at me all the time and now I just want to be sort of surprisingly platinum one day but generally the same person. Consider it a sort of holistic approach that keeps your strands intact. Mind you, my hair is naturally dark blonde/light brown so the platinum highlights don’t look too jarring against the currently remainder of natural colour – this mightn’t look as chill if you have much darker natural hair.

  • Fezzers

    SABLE.

  • Mila

    deep web for platinum blonde inspiration, here i come!

  • Christina L

    Sableeee, yasssssss 🙌🏼

  • Lil

    “Looking in a mirror and seeing, essentially, a millennial, dragonless Daenerys Targaryen in the reflection, filled me with the triumphant glee of defying genetics in the name of self-determined vanity.”

    ^One of the main reasons I went blonde… F you non-blonde genes! Haha

  • Maggie Lanham

    Everything here is so unequivocally true! I just had my roots touched up and the whole time I sat there cursing myself for spending more money, time, and pain on this hair endeavor and then as soon as the stylist blow-dried it and I saw myself in the mirror I was like, “YUP. This is me. DOI!” So worth it – love being platinum!

  • CatMom

    Yes – except the pain. I didn’t go quite to platinum, but I didn’t find it too painful. But oh my god, the price – mine cost $500 before tip every time I had it done. Fully, fully worth it, but it is expensive.

  • tequilamockingbird

    some kind lovely stylist poured splenda onto my scalp the first time i bleached my hair & it helped *a ton* w/ the pain. i’m really curious about why that works chemically & also about who first thought to try that. like, did they know enough chemistry to believe that it would work? did they just try it on a random whim?

    • Sabletoothtigre

      I’ve heard of this! (way too late though)

  • Holly Laine Mascaro

    “A millennial, dragonless Daenerys Targaryen” – nicely done

  • I’m going to dye my hair black soon after three months of bleaching it because the maintenance is just too much! I’ve always liked my black hair, so I’m glad to be returning to it.

  • Inaat

    YES to everything. I have always colored my hair darker than my natural hair color and turned platinum some months ago. I love it, I have volume, and I have never received so many compliments before, ever. I also kinda feel I can pull off leopard pattern clothes now, so another plus.

  • I’ll be a party pooper and say that going back to my dark brown natural colour was the best decision I made in years. (Which reminds me, I need to change my avatar). I finally love my natural hair. I have this red undertone which is a bitch to get rid of without turning strawberry blonde, which meant more money, more chemistry and more shitty looking dry hair. Also, after a few blond years I started having this annoying feeling of being fake and trying too hard (which leads me to Leandra’s ‘Why I Stopped Caring About Being Cool’ article.) ) Your blonde looks delicious tho. x

  • Suzy Lawrence

    “I don’t know why anyone would assume looking mythical was affordable in the first place.” Amen. #screwem

  • Kay Nguyen

    You look so good with bleach blond hair <3

    https://www.myblackcloset.com/

  • bleach blondes are my favorite specially in summers.
    https://www.femaleadda.com/trends/Benefits-of-Sleeping-On-Your-Left-Side/9862

  • CaseyHipp

    Didn’t read yet…I had to make my way to the comments quickly to share in the excitement of seeing Sable at ManRepeller!!!

  • pterridactyl

    This is giving me such conflicting feelings. I’m currently very slowly growing out my natural colour (fingers crossed for 90s CK model dirty blonde) but forever dreaming of hitting the bleach…..

  • Why bleach when you can wig?
    Wigs > Hair Damage

    • foofymac

      wigs are seriously uncomfortable for one. They are hot and they are itchy even if you buy good ones let alone cheaper ones. Also, they have to sit on top of ur head so never quite look real unless u spend a lot of time w hair nets and bobby pins… AND if u want one thats made from actual human hair its very very pricey. I bought a shortish one from a high end wig store and it set me back four hundred dollars and it was synthetic. To get one the same in real hair would have been more like fifteen hundred bucks. yep.

  • Anna Hashizume

    This article is spot on! I’m half-Japanese and I started bleaching my hair in September. It DOES feel like fire the first time and I DO feel like a goddamn goddess when I’m done! Loved this xo

  • Angela

    Comments:
    1. YOUR CHEEKBONES ARE A DREAM. Damn gurl. Yes.
    2. Im constantly seesawing between wanting to be platinum and not wanting to have my hair on fire. This was helpful. Thank you

  • Meg S

    I recently went platinum from my natural dishwater blonde with a grown out babylight balayage. For this reason, my original bleaching process happened it one night (and was surprisingly painless!) but, I was left with a yellow tone on the lower half of my head where the hairdresser did not want to cause too much damage to my previously highlighted hair. I went back 3 weeks later and had the entire head rebleached to even things out. It’s been a few months now, and I personally prefer the Swedish baby look of freshly bleached roots on myself, but totally underestimated the damage this new love affair would cause my wallet.

    After one hour of root touch up though…My love and faith in platinum is renewed again.