Back in 2015, I did some homework and after careful consideration and a trip for supplies, I did my very first bleach bath to lighten my hair so I could apply a really great shade of red that would really pop!

Disclaimer: I am not a hair dresser. I don't even play one on TV. I am just a radio personality who likes to color her own hair from time to time.

Kat's Hair
Photo: Kat Mykals

I have always wanted a bright vibrant head of red hair... or purple... or fuchsia. The problem is my hair is naturally pretty dark. I have tried red and even fuchsia in the past without lightening my hair and it always ends up looking auburn. So to achieve the vibrancy that I have been craving, I needed to lighten my hair. After a considerable amount of "homework," I decided that I was going to try my hand at a bleach bath, also sometimes called "soap capping" or a "French Shampoo."What is consists of is wetting your hair prior to lightening and using shampoo to created a diluted bleaching mixture. First stop: Sally Beauty Supply to get the supplies that I needed that I did not already have on hand. You can get your supplies anywhere that you choose, including online. Sally is just the most convenient for me. Also, you can use whatever brand of products that you wish. I use Ion because I know what to expect with it, and it is my "usual brand" for my DIY hair color activities.

Hair Supplies
Photo: Kat Mykals

Things you'll need:

  • 1 oz Package of Ammonia Free Lightening Powder (see it here)
  • 8 oz bottle of 20 Volume Sensitive Scalp Developer (see it here) You can use 20 or 30 volume, but bc I am not a professional, and I wanted to lighten slowly to avoid damage, I went with 20 volume
  • a new pair of reusable latex gloves
  • package of 3, processing caps
  • 2 oz box of color - for me, this time, I went with Ion Color Brilliance Demi Permanent color in RV6-6.5 (see it here)
  • One condition packet for post-color treatment (or post lightening if you don't want to add new color over lightened hair)
  • Plastic color mixing bowl (Never, ever use metal)
  • Color brush to apply your new color (you won't need this for the bleach bath itself)
  • Plastic Beaker I use this to measure my developer and my shampoo
  • Shampoo - try to use one that is translucent rather than opaque. I just used my usual shampoo from Ulta. I like that it's paraben & sulfate free and it smells great.
  • A plastic cape and/or old T-shirt
  • Towels that you don't mind messing up. Hair bleach will also bleach your clothes and towels.
Bleaching Hair
Photo: Kat Mykals

How to Bleach Bath:

  • Start by wetting your hair in the shower and then towel dry. You want it damp but not dripping.
  • Mix your lightening powder with your developer in your color bowl, per the instructions on the packet. For this one it was a 1:1 ratio and my lightening powder came in a one ounce packet so I measured out 1 ounce of developer and mixed together.
  • Measure 2 ounces of shampoo and combine with your lightener/developer mixture. Mix well
  • Using gloved hands, start applying the mixture to the ends of your hair (yes the ends not the roots) and work your way up avoiding the roots.
  • Work in sections until all of your hair (except the roots) are covered
  • Now work the mixture into your roots. The reason you save the roots for last is that the heat from your scalp will actually cause the mixture to process faster. So to keep from having really light roots and darker mid-shaft and ends, you save the roots for last.
  • Put on a processing cap and wait
  • Check your hair every 5 minutes by scraping off a bit of the mixture to avoid over processing.

I left the bleach bath on my hair for 20 minutes, at which point I rinsed everything out of my hair to reveal my new lighter hair. If you are only lightening, and do not plan to color over top, go ahead and condition your hair now. Apply a heavy conditioner that will restore some moisture to your hair. While the bleach bath is said to be more gentle than traditional bleaching methods, you are still bleaching your hair and it will inevitably be dry. Lather the conditioner, slap a new, clean processing cap on there and have a cup of tea. Then rinse in cool water and style like you normally would. If you plan to color over top, keep reading.

Bleached Hair
Photo: Kat Mykals

It turned out a bit like a caramel blonde. I was not trying to achieve anything like blonde bombshell. I was only wanting to lift a couple of shades so that the red would pop when I applied it. I consider this a successful color lift. My hair did feel drier than normal because I just processed it, but it wasn't awful. Since I planned to color it red, I did not condition before drying my hair. My next step was to apply my red RV6-6.5 Ion Color Brilliance Demi permanent. I followed the instructions included in my color, mixing (again in a plastic color bowl)  a ratio of 1 to 1. Since the color comes in a 2 oz tube, I used 2 ounces of developer. I did use 20 volume developer for this as well. I applied the mixture to my hair using the color brush. This time I started mid-shaft, working my way down and again saving my roots for last. Once my hair was coated in color mixture, I put on a clean processing cap and waited...

Red Hair
Photo: Kat Mykals

And waited... I left the color on my hair for the recommended amount of time according the the instructions. I then rinsed my hair under cool water until I had all of the product out of my hair. This is where I slathered on the conditioning packet and slapped on yet another processing cap (these were 3 for $0.99) and waited...

I left the conditioner on for about 15 minutes. I wanted to give my hair as much moisture and nourishment back to it as I could. My hair is normally very soft and very silky. I wanted to make sure it was still soft. After 15 minutes, I once again rinsed my hair in cool water. I towel dried, and then I used my blow dryer to finish drying my hair so I could see the finished results. The left is how the color looks under my bathroom lighting. The right is outside in natural light.

Photo: Kat Mykals


I am very pleased with the overall results. I finally have the really vibrant red hair that I have always wanted and it didn't break the bank or wreck my hair. I will definitely keep this technique in my arsenal of hair DIY.

April 3, 2017 Update:

Pink Hair Don't Care
Professional color using Pravana Vivids courtesy of Lacy Kennedy/Photo: Kat Mykals

While the red turned out fabulous and there was minimal damage to my hair as a result of the bleach bath, I did ultimately end up having to go to a salon to get my hair done because I did not take into account the fact that I would have to contend with new growth (re: dark roots!) I stuck with the red for quite a while. In fact for well over a year I had beautiful red hair. About 3 months ago, I decided to get a little more adventurous and went back to the salon. I did a magenta with a shadow root. Once that grew out and faded a bit, I opted for all over fuchsia - because I've always wanted to and I. Love. It!!! Now, as far as the bleach bath goes, if you are confident in your ability to lighten your own new growth, the bleach bath may be a good option for you - if you're not, it may be best to see a professional!


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