Sunday, June 17, 2012

White Hair Tutorial

So you want white hair...

After reading hoards of white hair "how-to" articles and constantly being asked about my own hair, I've decided to finally write my own tutorial.  Through years of trial and error, working in a beauty supply store, and speaking with hair dressers, I've discovered some great products and methods for achieving bright white hair.  As a natural redhead, i know firsthand how pesky those warm/brassy tones can be. While other tutorials are out there, I feel none really address the fact everyone's hair is different. What works for one person may not work for everyone.  Although this article is a bit wordy, I've tried to take a variety of needs into account.  That being said, this look isn't for everyone.  All hair reacts to chemicals differently. I've heard from various natural "black heads" that they've bleached their hair pale no problem, and others not so easy.  Unless you are experienced with hair color and know your own hair's limitations, I would not attempt this on any hair darker than a level 5 (medium/dark brown). 

A Few Disclaimers

- I am not a hairdresser, just a hair enthusiast.  While I have achieved white hair with the instructions below, I am in no way guaranteeing the same results for everyone.  Dye at your own risk.
- Some of the toning techniques I list are rather 'strong' (concentrated color that may be too ashy/cool for some tastes).  Toning results also very individually depending on hair's level, porosity, and overall condition.  I personally do not mind my hair holding some cool or blue tones for a few days (after all, I work in the beauty industry which isn't very conservative) but others may be horrified.  When you're experimenting to find out what works, it's best to be open minded about the results. Or plan to play when you have a few days free to hide inside.

Brief Explanation:

For hair color novices I thought I'd give a quick explanation of some terms I use frequently.  Understanding the science behind hair color is extremely useful for any hair dye process

Hair color- The combination of level and tone

Level- Level is the darkness of the hair.  The chart below is a universal guide.  Level 1 (black) is the darkest and level 10 is the lightest (pale blonde).  Level 12 is now becoming more prevalent in many color lines.  That is essentially the level we're aiming for.


 Tone- Defined as warm, neutral, or cool.  For the purpose of this article, warm (yellow) and cool (purple) are combined to create white.  Great advice for any toning process is do not pick the color you want your hair to be as a toner.  Rather pick a tone that, combined with your current color, will create the color you want.  

Bleach- A chemical process that removes some or all of synthetic or natural color.  Its side effects include lifting the cuticle and making hair more porous.

What you need:

Since this is a two step process, I will split the products you need into two sections: lightening and toning. For hair level 9 and darker, I recommend following the lightening instructions first. If your hair is already bleached to a pale yellow or is naturally extremely fair, you can skip straight to the toning.  Since all hair is different, I will also give multiple options so you can customize the process to best suite you.

- Dust-free blue powder bleach for on/off scalp lightening
My recommendations are Prismcolors Blue or Blue Flash (available at Sally Beauty Supply) or Wella Blondor (available to licensed professionals)
- 30 or 40 volume creme developer
 40 volume provides the quickest and strongest lightening action, yet is also extremely damaging on the hair.  For darker or red toned hair in good to great condition, 40 volume is probably the most efficient option.  For lighter (level 7 to 8) or stressed hair, 30 volume should be adequate.  For very light blonde that only needs to be lifted a level or two, 20 volume developer will work just fine.  To maintain the integrity of the hair, always use the lowest level possible that will still give you the results you want.
I am listing several options but you really only need to choose one toner.  Whether you choose semi-permanent or permanent depends on your preference and your hair's condition after the bleach process.  While permanent will last longer, it is not always worth the extra dryness it may cause since it requires peroxide.  I've found it's best to touch up brassiness on a weekly basis than to live with fried hair for months. 

- Semi-permanent toners
Manic Panic Virgin Snow (available at Sally Beauty Supply) lasts 4-8 shampoos and will actually improve the condition of the hair since it fills in and seals the cuticle.  Sebastian Cellophanes in Pearl Blonde (available to licensed professionals) is slightly more concentrated than Manic Panic and lasts a little longer.  Also acts as a gloss and leaves hair in better condition.
- Permanent toners
With permanent toners you will need a developer.  The brand will state which volume they recommend.  I like to use a 5 or 10 volume developer since they're more gentle, regardless if a higher volume is recommended. Wella ColorCharm in T18 (formerly White Lady) is one of the most popular platinum toners around.  It's inexpensive and available at Sally Beauty Supply.  May leave hair ashier than wanted, but a few shampoos will fade it to a bright white.  Paul Mitchell Ultra Toner Platinum (available to licensed professionals) is a great, gentle permanent toner.  It brightened and removed brassiness without leaving excessive drab tones.


1.  Using a bowl and brush or bottle, mix the bleach and developer according to the ratio listed.  It is usually 1:1, or 2 oz bleach with 2 oz developer.

2. Apply to dry hair and make sure the whole head is saturated.

3.  Allow to process for 20 to 50 minutes.  however, the visual results are more important than timing.  hair will go through various stages of orange and yellow.  once it reaches an extremely pale yellow (think the inside of a banana peel), it is finished.  If 50 minutes has passed and hair is still orange or dark yellow, it may need to be bleached a second time.  Bleach becomes inactive after about an hour.

4.  Rinse out. Use a gentle shampoo and really hydrating conditioner.

5.  Now it's time to tone the hair.  Regardless if you're doing semi-permanent or permanent, leave hair damp.

6.  If using a semi-permanent toner, you will apply it to DAMP hair as is (no mixing required).  If using a permanent toner, you will mix with developer according to the directions listed (usually 1:1 or 1:2 ratio) and then apply to DAMP hair.  Make sure hair is saturated.

7.  Timing is extremely important with permanent toners.  If left on too long, you may have to live with blue or violet toned hair for a few days.  Go by visual results rather than a timer.   It is unlikely you would have to leave a permanent toner on longer than 20 minutes.  Some may process under 5 minutes.  Monitor the hair closely.  With semi-permanent toners I prefer to let them process as long as possible.  They fade quickly, over toned hair can easily be remedied with a couple shampoos.  A metallic conditioning cap will also help expedite the process when using a semi-permanent toner.

8.  When hair is a bright white shade, rinse toner out.

9.  Deep condition hair to seal cuticle and replenish moisture.  A protein treatment may also be a good idea.  I recommend a leave-in treatment and some kind of oil as well.

Color Maintenance:
Maintaining white blonde hair is an art in itself.  After a few washes, toner will fade and color can turn brassy.  Fortunately, there are many great products out there to prevent yellowing.  Purple shampoo will become your best friend.  Great affordable options are Shiny Silver and Clairol Shimmer Lights (both available at Sally Beauty Supply).  Paul Mitchell also makes a great sulfate-free platinum shampoo.  Purple conditioners are available too, but usually that's overkill.  Too much purple additive will turn hair a drab silver.  I recommend using purple products once or twice a week. If hair is extra brassy they can be left in to sit for a few minutes.  When my hair needs an extra dose of toner I like L'Anza's purple shampoo.  It is SUPER concentrated and deposits more than anything else out there. You may even need to use a regular shampoo after to remove some of the ash.  I highly recommend it as a non damaging toning option, though.  Another damage free, temporary toner is the old lady go-to, Roux Fancifull in Ultra White Minx.  It comes in a rinse-in formula and a mousse.  Both deposit a translucent violet that rinses out after one shampoo.

Condition Maintenance:

As I've previously mentioned, bleach is damaging.  Over processed hair is protein depleted and overly porous.  It has poor elasticity and breaks easily.  The texture may be kinky and frizz like with a dull surface.  A combination of protein treatments and deep conditioners can help bring softness and manageability back.  A gloss serum or treatment oil will revitalize shine and bring life back into the hair.  Check back soon as I'll be listing my favorite products and reviews in a separate article.

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