How to Bleach Long Hair (Without Going Orange)

If you started off with a dream of a head of long, cascading, pure white shimmering hair and have ended up with a head of dishevelled, bright orange horror, you may be surprised to know that it’s the length of your hair that’s the issue, not the colour.

Over the years, I have received so many distressed emails and messages from people who have taken that ultimate home colour suicide mission; they’ve attempted to transform their long, dark brown hair to white blonde in just one session.

But the reality is, perfect artificial long white blonde hair is grown long, but never bleached long. Here I’ll explain why…

Longer Hair Is Stressed Hair

A common trick celebrities and influencers use on social media to say they’ve switched their long dark hair to light blonde is to put on a long platinum blonde wig and pose for a selfie. This fools product companies into issuing press releases detailing how you can achieve this shade in your own hair, while getting them lots of likes and shares. But don’t believe everything you see on Instagram – lightening the colour of longer hair is not that simple.

Remember, that lovely long hair did not just appear on your head this morning. The hair you see and feel may have taken years to get from inside your follicles to hitting your shoulders and beyond. During this time it has endured washing, blow-drying, heat styling, maybe even chemical colouring, and of course all manner of weather conditions. To suddenly subject this hair to strong bleaching chemicals is going to evoke extreme stress to the hair fibres.

Without a doubt, the most traumatic process that long dark hair can go through is being bleached lighter. What’s more, if your natural hair colour is darker than a medium blonde, it will require a prolonged bleaching development to get the hair to a pale yellow shade that will then tone to white. If you are very dark, the hair simply won’t lift to a pale yellow in one lightening session, and will require a subsequent treatment.

Longer, darker hair is just not strong enough to withstand this level of colour lifting and will often buckle at around the bright copper level – leaving you with dry, orange hair!

The Secret to White Blonde Lies at the Roots

Ever wondered why those with very short or cropped hair seem to switch to pure white and silver shades instantly? It’s simply down to the fact that bleaches and lighteners lift fastest on root hair, nearest the scalp. This is because the scalp emits heat, which boosts the lifting action of oxidizers (such as bleach powder and hydrogen peroxide). Plus, the root hair is brand new, strong and healthy – meaning it can withstand chemical treatment far better than hair further along in the growth cycle. When those with very short hair use bleach, they find the lightener lifts fairly steadily and evenly to a pale yellow that will tone easily to white.

The same principle applies to achieving a long head of healthy, bleached blonde hair – you need to focus on the newer hair first. Lightening just the dark roots every four to six weeks will slowly begin to create a pure light blonde base within the hair. Over time, these bleached roots grow down, so each time only the new roots are lifted.

As this light base takes over the hair lengths, you can tone and condition to maintain the shade, but re-bleaching simply isn’t necessary – which means the hair is not required to withstand any further harsh chemical treatment.

By contrast, attempting to bleach long dark hair from roots to ends all at once is a minefield. Sure, those roots will lift as explained previously – but on the mid and lower lengths, no lifting acceleration occurs as they’re too far from the heat of the scalp. Worse still, the age of this longer hair means it tends to lift very unevenly, leaving greater levels of natural red pigment exposed and non-lightened. This kind of full head lightening attempt on longer hair is what causes a result of light roots and orange mid-lengths and ends.

Transition Slowly From Dark to Light

Don’t lose hope – transforming from a long dark haired brunette to a Lady Gaga-style blonde may be problematic, but it is doable. However, it is important to manage your expectations and do it correctly. All you need is patience – here’s your step by step guide…

  • Start with a balayage
    Use a non-ammonia lightener and lift the lower mid-lengths and ends to a rusty, warm dark blonde and tone. The initial goal is not to be a pale blonde, but instead to implement a dark blonde/light brown multi-tonal effect.
  • Lilacs and Lavenders Are Your Toning Saviour
    When you first lift the lower lengths and ends to implement the balayage foundation, you will see a lot of warm pigment exposed. This is normal, so don’t fret – simply overlaying a lilac or lavender toner or pastel shade will really help. I always find lilac neutralises that rusty balayage tone well, and produces a lovely dark, dusky beige effect in a lightened brunette base.
  • Keep Conditioning and Restrict Heat Styling
    After the first balayage, keep on conditioning and restrict all uses of damaging heat – sorry, but flat irons and tongs are banished. Spend a good few months applying protein conditioners to the hair to strengthen, and only use non-peroxide/ammonia toning shades, to keep the warm hues at bay and your transitional deep beige shade intact.
  • Take Your First Step to Blonde With Highlights
    After several months, I always recommend visiting a salon and asking for a full head of foil highlights. With the balayage foundation in place, adding highlights to this mix will now move your shade from being a dark blonde/light brown to a definite multi-tonal medium blonde. Once you have the highlights applied, keep the lilac tone to the hair as you will still have a degree of underlying warmth – switch to using only a purple shampoo to cleanse. At this stage, your hair colour will transition from a deep beige to a cool orchid blonde.
  • Make the Leap to Full Blonde
    Eight weeks after your highlights, return to the salon and ask for a full regrowth lightening. At this stage, your dark roots and top sections are going to lift to a pale blonde quite cleanly. You will have some slightly darker panels running through the lower lengths, but from this point your hair will appear to be long and light blonde. From here, just keep toning the hair platinum (to remove any yellow hues) and lightening the roots every four to six weeks. Don’t forget, you must not use direct heat on this hair and you need to keep conditioning to make sure it stays healthy. As the months go on and the new roots are lightened further, the hair will take on an ever cleaner, white blonde feel.

Never Attempt to Bleach Your Roots Yourself

As big an advocate as I am of home hair colour, I never advise people to bleach their roots themselves. The risk of overlapping onto previously lightened hair is far too great when you conduct your own regrowth lightening, and doing this will almost certainly cause snapping and breakage.

If you want to maintain long, white blonde hair, you will need to visit a salon regularly for regrowth lightening. If you have a friend or partner who has an eye for detail, you might be able to trust them to apply the bleach or lightener correctly (as long as you mix the product). There are plenty of videos on YouTube which demonstrate correct regrowth application, so make sure you show them this first. Also, use a small tint brush, as larger brushes are more likely to cause overlapping.

A clean light blonde is indeed doable on even the darkest natural shades. However, never forget the key is a combination of patience, transitioning and controlled lifting over months, not weeks. As with natural blondes, artificial long, light blonde hair is a shade that is grown, not achieved instantly.



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Scott Cornwall