Bring on the baby bleach

Yes, the ‘b word’ can be scary, but it shouldn’t necessarily put you off your dreams of a brighter barnet or crazy colours. Layered Online looks into the rise of gentle bleaches…

Bleach is scary. There, we said it.

There’s no getting around it – we all know that bleach is bad for your hair. Yet we’re still happy to straighten our strands daily, even though we know that, without proper care, that’s not a good idea either. And as temporary pastel tones step out of the trends category and into the norm, more and more of us are heading to the salon for a full head of bleach, despite knowing what it can do to our hair.

“The most popular services for us in-salon all involve bleaching,” says HX Hair owner, Heffy Wheeler. But while bleach is still popular, Heffy has found more of her clients are becoming more concerned with how they can keep their locks healthy, while on their “lightening journey”.

So while the demand for bleach and lighter locks is still there, as the wellness and self-care trends march on, we’re becoming more conscious of the chemicals in our life. The good news is that the latest incarnation of bleaches are also developing alongside the trends.

“Bleach or pre-lightener is definitely evolving to meet demand, with manufacturers now producing products that cause much less harm to the client’s hair,” says Stuart Matuska, Toni&Guy technical artistic director. “There are low-ammonia bleaches for those with lighter natural bases, and other pre-lighteners that are designed for freehand techniques, specifically formulated to lift with more control and slowly to protect the hair.”

Hair: HX Hair

The likes of Olaplex and Smartbond are also filtering into our hair jargon, designed to help strengthen hair during the colouring process.

These days, salon owners are regularly facing a Catch-22 situation. Do they turn away teary customers desperate for more colour, for fear of irreparable damage, only for them to go somewhere else who won’t care as much? Or do they suck it up, take the job and try to minimise the damage?

Sophia Hilton, owner of Not Another Salon and all-round colour genius, has been busy concocting new methods of lightening hair without having to resort to bleach. By using certain high lifts and light blonde tints she found that she could create a base to take on vivid colours without having to completely strip the hair.


“This is not always simple and it’s certainly not suitable for all clients or all shades,” she warns. “When #antibleach is right, it’s amazing! Now, two years on, we have clients with all sorts of colours – pink, green, purple and yellow – but with the added bonus of having healthy hair for the first time in their life. Our #antibleach option has been a life saver for those in desperate need of alternative thinking.”

Back in the day, gentler bleaches never had the ‘oomph’ needed for lifting many levels, but this is changing. Davines has just released its Century of Light range, designed for softer lifting that’s delicate even on sensitive scalps.

“Gentler bleaches are now just as effective and this is due to the formulation and to the technology inside: being gentle is a plus not a minus in terms of performance,” says Laura Luciani, technical marketing manager at Davines.

IdHAIR educator, Lesley Stitt, believes clients are becoming less hesitant to get their hair bleached as the technology evolves.

“There are definitely gentler bleaches out there, such as IdHAIR’s Bleach Me Gently bleach, which lifts up to six levels (plenty for someone with dark blonde hair). It is ammonia free and so it does not swell the hair shaft,” says Lesley.

But for all this, we can’t forget that what we’re putting on our heads still has to be treated with respect and caution. “From my perspective, I’m afraid bleach is bleach,” says Tracey Devine-Smith, global ambassador for Affinage. “There are no ‘gentler bleaches’ in my opinion, but gentler developers or gentler approaches to bleaching in general.”

Suzanne Alphonse, Wella Professionals education manager, agrees: “When you have a ‘gentle’ bleach, you have to consider what ingredients are used and what ingredients may have been substituted to make it ‘gentle’.” However, “there is definitely a place for having ‘gentle’ bleaches for those clients that want subtle sun-kissed results instead of the extreme lifting and making hair as white as it can go – this is where the misconceptions around bleach come in.”

In fact, gentler bleaches, bonding additives and high lift alternatives have led to one unforeseen complication: misuse or overuse, resulting in MORE damage to someone’s hair rather than less. “In my opinion, the many great products available now that help tackle the damaging effects of bleach almost gives licence to be liberal with bleach,” says Tracey. “We are seeing an increase in damage due to younger, less experienced stylists thinking that adding a ‘plex’ product eliminates damage.”

Hair: Hooker & Young

For Wella Professionals’ Suzanne, a good colourist should be able to work with any bleach and get a good result because “it’s about understanding the product, understanding the hair you’re putting it on and also working with a precise, neat and thoughtful application”.

As always, it’s down to the stylists’ training and up-to-date education to deliver the most user-friendly colour. Kai Wan, owner of P.Kai Hair, has seen his bleaching services grow as a result of the increase in confidence when using bleach, and this comes down to training. “Education is leading to more colourists taking more care with their choice and strength of peroxide and opting for safer, lower per cent strength and longer development times for more control over the lifting process,” he says.

Jack Howard at Paul Edmonds, adds: “In this very competitive market where people have super high expectations, application is king and sets you apart.”

Celebrity hairdresser and associate at Josh Wood Atelier, Jason Hogan, stays away from the word ‘bleach’ completely when talking to clients, using ‘lightener’ instead. “I think the word bleach has become vilified and immediately conjures up images of brittle, inelastic, candy floss-esque barnets in the minds of clients.”

And let’s not forget that a colourist can only do so much – once home, fans of bleach have to be responsible for maintaining their hair health and this starts with choosing the right shampoos and conditioners. Look for sulphate-free shampoos and conditioners that use key words such as ‘moisturising’, ‘nourishing’ and ‘hydrating’ that won’t strip your colour.

“Clients are now much more receptive to colour maintenance at home, so those bleached strands are much better off,” adds Jason.

So there you have it. While you still want to make sure bleach is being handled by a pro with experience in the latest products and techniques, steering completely clear of the B word isn’t always necessary. Baby steps!

Hair: Linton & Mac