Me in my goldie-locks phase - before chopping it all off
I've been colouring my hair for a looooong, long time. I believe i haven't seen my natural colour, other than roots, for about 20 years. I've been a brunette, a redhead, a raven-haired seductress, a golden-locked girl next door and a platinum ice-queen.
For me, it's easy - i trained as a hair colourist many years ago and i keep up with the latest trends. Most importantly, i do not use boxed hair dyes.
Let me say that again, as it bears repeating - i do not use boxed hair dyes.
Boxed hair dyes tend to contain more ammonia, have shite shade selections, and in the long run will cost you more if you want to colour like a pro and use a mix of more than one shade. It is more damaging to the hair and the results are unpredictable. This is especially true if you're going blonde. Trust me, the cool, platinum shade of blonde on the box of L'oreal is NOT going to be the result you get - more likely you'll be a jolly shade of orange.
Girl, i know you can afford to not look like a Brassy, Hot Mess!
These days, it's easy to get professional hair colour on the internet - many offer good brands like Goldwell Topchic (arguably the best of the best - their colour selection is stunning, and it's in my top three, for sure). Another brand i really love is Davines Colour Mask, and Redken is stellar for reds and browns. You can - fairly easily -find a reputable seller on ebay, or buy from online vendors like Killerstrands.com, beautyencounter.com, brightonbeautysupply.com and sleekhair.com. I've successfully ordered from all of these, and Beauty Encounter will often have sales on their professional colours, saving you a TON of money if you colour your hair regularly.
I'm going to put up some pics of me in my different Blonde Incarnations, with a bit about each shade and what i used. But first, a little about the Level System in hair colouring; it's important to know this stuff so you can have some idea of where you're starting from in relation to how blonde you want to go.
I got the following charts from Haircolorcode.com and Killerstrands.com - which is a GREAT resource for those of you who need a little education and assistance going blonde on your own. You need to match your NATURAL colour-level (or level of lightness/darkness) to the chart, and you'll know where you are on the spectrum, and what your underlying pigments are. This is important when choosing hair colour.
For instance - i am a natural level 7/8. Many people fall somewhere in between the scales, and i'm one of them. My roots are a solid level 7, but once they grow out several inches, the shaft of my hair is more like a level 8. This is normal - generally speaking one's roots will always be about a level darker than the lengths and ends.
Now, on the 2nd chart, the levels 6 through 9 look almost identical, at least on my monitor - but the first chart is pretty accurate, and you can google The Hair Colour Level System to find many charts. It's good to study a few.
Anyway, as you can see on the chart, my underlying pigment, that is the colour my hair will "bleed through", so to speak, when i'm lifting it with colour or bleach, is gold. Now, MY hair is naturally a bit on the strawberry-blonde side, so i will get more of a very light orangey-gold when lifting. So, if you've ever taken an art class, you'll know that BLUE cancels out orange - and violet cancels out yellow. And red cancels green, etc. This is crucial information when picking either a hair colour or toner, if you're bleaching.
It all depends on what you're going for.
Let's start with bleaching.
Contrary to popular belief - not everyone needs bleach to get a very light shade of blonde. If you're a level 7 or above, you can use a high-lift colour with 40 or even 30 vol. developer and get a nice, ultra-light shade. More on that in a bit. But if you want to be white-blonde, or platinum, you will need the bleach.
Now, most people don't want Tweety-Bird yellow hair - an unfortunate mistake a lot of people make when bleaching hair out. But you might want something with a bit of a nice gold-undertone. For someone with a bit of the ginger in their hair, like me, your hair is going to be pulling a lot of gold to begin with, so you'll need to neutralize the yellow a bit, even if gold is your desired end-result. ALWAYS TONE YOUR HAIR.
I happen to enjoy going a bit wild with my hair, and in the above photo i used bleach to get my hair extra-light - i bleached it until it was the colour of the inside of a banana peel (light yellow). Then, i mixed a neutral toner with a bit of gold toner for a nice, light-gold shade.
Then we have the ever-coveted Platinum and Silver:
Wella Color Touch 8/81
If you want to go all the way and be a silvery, platinum-blonde like me in the photo above, you'll need a silver toner after getting your hair to a nice, light yellow shade with the bleach. La Riche Directions carries one, and works quite well (and conditions your hair)- but it fades relatively quickly.
What i found to be the absolute best silver toners are Davines 11S, Goldwell Topchic 11SV (technically not toners but high lifts mixed with 15 vol. developer as opposed to 30 vol.), and Wella Colour Touch in 8/81. The Wella will make your hair S-I-L-V-E-R. The Davines is more subtle and "natural", i suppose - and can be used for that white/platinum end result. I ended up using it as both a high-lift colour with 30 vol. developer and then to refresh as a toner using 15 vol. This is something that works for ME, because my natural hair is so light to begin with.
Results in below photo with Davines 11S when used as a toner on pre-lightened, bleached hair:
Davines Mask Colour 11s. Pardon the horrifying red, shiny face. It was like, 1,000 degrees out that day
If you are a level 7 or above, you can probably achieve that with a 20 vol. peroxide and bleach - but you may need to do it twice. Unless you've got stubborn or ginger hair, in which case you will probably have to use a 30 vol. Generally, i hated having to bleach twice, as the mid-shaft of my hair is stubborn AND ginger-y - and instead opted for the 30 vol. I watched it carefully, used PROFESSIONAL CREAM developer. Cream developers have more conditioning agents in them and you're less likely to fry your hair to kingdom come.
However, if you're a level 6 or below, you'll definitely need a 30 vol. developer, and if you're a level 3 or below, possibly even a 40 - although i don't recommend that for first-timers. AT ALL. It's extremely strong and can literally burn off all your hair. I have used it once or twice with high-lift - NOT BLEACH - and it still fried my hair in the end.
If you have dark hair, the 30 vol can most likely get you really light - definitely into the gold-yellow stage. You just need to be very patient. If your hair is a level 3, for instance, you won't achieve a platinum blonde in one go. You'll have to bleach it, tone it, then let it rest for a month. Then the next time bleach it again, at the roots, then at the very end of processing-time, run it through the ends for a VERY short time, preferably right before you jump in the shower so you can wet it and emulsify the bleach though your hair until eventually you've reached your desired shade. After that, only bleach the roots. Repeated bleaching-overlap will fry your hair.
And always, always TONE your HAIR, for the love of God!
Toners: these are my favourite part of the whole process of lightening hair. Even if you're doing a high-lift as opposed to bleach, you'll still likely need a toner to cancel out any residual Tweety-Bird from your strands.
An old stand-by is the ubiquitous White Lady from Wella. I used to use it, but frankly there are so many better options that are less damaging to the hair than this one. It calls for a 20 vol. developer, for one thing - which can just fry the hell out of your hair if you've just bleached it.
From my high-school days, i still like Virgin Snow by Manic Panic, or the White toner by La Riche (very similar to Virgin Snow). It conditions as it tones, and your hair will be WHITE. However it does fade quickly.
La Riche Directions White toner on pre-lightened (i.e. BLEACHED) hair, with an aqua-blue/green streak
Redken Shades EQ is fabulous - if you mix the 9g with the 9v in equal parts, you'll get a nice, balanced, neutral-cool tone. They also make a 9T and 9S, which are cool metallic shades. I have not tried these yet.
My current go-to toner/blonde colour in general is a newish line out by Wella called Illumina. Killer Strands just started carrying it a while back and i was one of the guinea pigs that tried it out first.
I LOVE. This. Hair colour.
It makes your hair SO shiny, it's unreal. It's claim to fame is that it will leave your hair "like virgin hair". This is pretty accurate. Below is a photo of my hair after my most recent retouch; now, i no longer bleach my hair, but the very, very tips - say the last 1/2 inch or so - has old bleach on it. Then i began using a high-lift, which is on the majority of my hair - and finally, the last inch of growth is just a level 9 Illumina shade, processed with 30 vol for one hour. It gave me incredible lift, INSANE shine and beautiful colour - but that was a bit of trial and error at first.
Look at the freakin' SHINE - especially in that top photo!
As you can tell in these two photos, the tips are pretty damn white. I'm not going for WHITE anymore, however the very ends don't grab tint terribly well. Except with Illumina. They turned VIOLET. Like, grey-violet. Not cool.
But it's FINE. o_O
In the end, i had to remove the tint with ION's colour-remover - a non-bleach remover that won't kill your hair. If you've made a mistake - USE THIS, do not use a colour-remover with bleach, for God's sake! Color Oops is a drug-store version of this, it just smells worse. Then i mixed a level 9 neutral shade instead of a violet - which is something i HIGHLY recommend if you have over-processed, over-bleached hair. There is a delicate balance that bleached hair maintains, and once you've bleached it one-too-many-times, it tips that delicate balance, and that violet toner which made your hair so PERFECT before will now turn it into a lilac mess. Unless you want lilac hair, which i've done and loved but only when it's ON PURPOSE, you want to avoid this.
For the most part, though, the colour is INCREDIBLE, even for hair that is both bleached AND high-lifted on different parts of the hair - with the very roots not even high-lifted, just a level 9 violet-neutral Illumina blonde.
Right now, it's so perfectly balanced that it looks more or less neutral-gold in warm lighting, and cool/platinum in cool lighting. Which is my ideal shade and what i seem to look best in.
I've achieved that perfectly-balanced tone with only a couple products:
With bleach: Manic Panic Virgin Snow; Directions White toner; Davines 11s; Illumina 10 Gold-Violet mixed with 10 Neutral; and finally, Redken Shades EQ in equal parts 9V/9G.
If you're already a dark-to-light blonde level 7 and above:With high-lift or just using a level 9 or above and 30 vol. developer, again i've achieved that perfectly balanced neutral, close-to-platinum with Illumina 9N mixed with 10 Gold Violet; Davines 11s; and Goldwell Topchic 12SB (silver-beige).
After-care: Now that you've lightened your hair to resemble some Anime character or Marilyn Monroe, your hair is VERY DELICATE. You'll need some good products.
Shampoo - I only shampoo maybe once a week - and i use something gentle, made for coloured hair. Kerastase Chroma-Care line is AMAZING. My hair feels wonderful after i use it. Pureology makes a line for platinum hair, both conditioner and shampoo are very nice. The shampoo has a bit of greenish-blue tinge to it, which isn't as strong as a regular colour-depositing shampoo but works well for maintenance. Also, look for shampoos with a high content of Argan oil. I also recommend a colour-depositing shampoo, especially if you have cooler-toned hair. It will cut down on how many times you need to tone your hair in between touching up your roots. I believe you can still find my very favourite L'oreal Colorist, formerly ArtTec, at Sleek Hair - and you can always find it on ebay. I like to mix the Lemon Flower and White Violet to get that balanced, neutral blonde i'm so crazy about. I learned about mixing them as a colourist-student - it works beautifully. At Sally's, you can get Shiny Silver if you are just using violet. Golden blondes will definitely benefit from a gold colour-depositing shampoo as well. It will keep your hair gold, not brassy. Davines makes an entire line of coloured shampoos AND conditioners.
Conditioner - Even if you don't shampoo every day, you MUST condition every time you wet your hair. I mentioned my favourite, Kerastase Chroma-Care. That's the HG of conditioners. Davines also makes some very good ones ( i like the Momo line), as does Pureology - the Pure Oil and Nano Gold as well as the Platinum are all really amazing. Redken is also excellent - their All Soft is what i'm using now.
Treatment - Redken's Extreme line is your best friend. It has protein, which your hair needs. Don't use protein every day, though - once a week is good. Any more than that can actually backfire and snap your hair off. But you need it in moderation. Other days, use the Butter Treat. Also very good are Goldwell's leave-in treatments for colour-treated hair. Pureology makes great leave-in treatments from their Platinum line. And of course, Kerastase leave-ins are all really good. Just look for colour-treated/damaged products.
It can be labour-intensive, but if you want really good blonde hair, it's possible with a little education, common sense and quality products.
I hope this post wasn't too confusing! But feel free to ask if you need any help getting blondified. :)