Got rid of my white hair (neat science video): SCIENCE! Friday

Today, I bring you… hair science!

No more white hair for me!
I had to dye my hair darker again because it’s time to renew my passport, and if you look different to your old photo, they make you get people to sign that they’ve known you for x amount of years.  I don’t want to have to do that, and because of our racist immigrant laws in this country, I have to produce my passport every time I go for a job interview, to prove I have the right to live and work in the UK.
Since I’m renewing it because of my name change, it seemed prudent to give them as little as possible to say “you’re not the same human being as the person on this passport, your name and face are different.”
Because of some weird trick of my face shape, I look totally different when I change my hair colour, so I have had to get rid of the silver hair.

I did a little tutorial of how I did it, and then today I’ve done this science video – for SCIENCE! Friday – explaining how hair dye, bleach and coloring all work on the hair and why it’s important to put the red back in with a permanent red dye.

I’ve done a full explanation of the science in a video, the gist of it is written in the rest of this article (but since I don’t script my videos, it’s slightly different in the wording, although the science is the same), there’s diagrams and everything!  I’ve explained it all in the most straightforward way possible, so if you love science as much as I do, and love hearing it in plain English, it’s a really interesting watch!

https://youtu.be/4d4G_z4Dvdc

If you like my youtube channel and find it relevant I’d love it if you could subscribe!

So how do you get rid of white, silver or platinum blonde hair?
Those of you who are astute will know that colour remover isn’t how to get rid of silver or white hair – it has, effectively, already had all the colour removed by the bleaching process, that’s why it’s so light.

To get rid of white or silver blonde hair, then, you need to put the colour back in. That’s what I explain in the wrecked your hair article – I haven’t actually wrecked my hair this time, but the process is the same (the results are much faster and better on hair that wasn’t wrecked).

So here’s what my hair looks like now:

My hair is this colour now.
My hair is this colour now.

As you can see, it’s not my best hair colour because it really doesn’t suit my skin tone (I need a bluer red and this is an orangey red), so I now (after it’s settled for a week) have two options:
I can either dye my hair a dark true-red red, or I can stick with the plan and go for brown.
Either will probably wash out in 2-4 weeks to a color I don’t like any more. So I’m thinking brown for the passport pictures, then let that wash out a bit, then true-red red.
I’ve never been a proper red before, I’ve only been ginger for years and years then dark brown for 6 months before I whitened it.  Oh and a bunch of temporary rainbow colours from time to time.

Since I’m basically artificially reconstructing the core of my hair, I need to stick with warm colours so blonde is off the menu for a while.

How does one artificially reconstruct their hair core, you ask?
The video I linked to above (which I made today) is a model showing what hair looks like when it’s been bleached. The loss of colour molecules is only part of the problem – the shaft now has holes burned in it where the chemical has gotten into the shaft to do its work and the colour molecules have departed (this is the same in any hair colourant – that’s why when you dye your hair dark brown or black loads of times, then use colour remover, instead of going to your natural colour, it turns a pale caramel type of colour).

When you add a new color to that, it packs the inside with color, but because of the holes in the hair shaft (which are irreparable) the color washes out easily. Not only that, but it’s designed to go on hair with color molecules in it (because normally you’d put it over your natural coloured hair), so it tends to be designed to simultaneously lighten the existing molecules and add some new pigment molecules, but there aren’t usually enough new pigment molecules to produce a realistic result on very bleached hair. And each time you use it, it burns more holes in the hair shaft.

In the process of artificially reconstructing the hair, then, you can do more damage if you’re gung ho about it which is why I’m going slowly, letting my hair recover each time (it doesn’t heal itself, but it does get its protective oils back over time, and they are way underestimated as to how useful they are) and gradually building up to the color I want.

Once it’s been done, it obviously can’t be bleached again past a certain point, because the bleach will keep blasting open the shaft which will eventually turn the hair to jelly, at which point you just have to cut it off. This has never happened to me.

Why am I so focussed on red, you ask?
It’s standard hairdressing knowledge that in order to move someone’s hair from blonde to brown, you have to put the red back in first. This has to be done with permanent colour (I’ll explain why below) and it has to be done because the blue molecules are smaller and have been mostly unaffected by the bleaching, they’re the last ones to get taken out (when hair is bleached, it goes through these stages: black> dark brown > caramel > weird orangey colour > weird bright yellow > pale yellow > white. If your hair’s not black, it picks up to the nearest stage on this sequence, eg if you’re a natural blonde, it will go weird bright yellow > pale yellow > white depending on when you wash it off).

To make your hair pigment, “nature” (or whatever) throws together a bunch of melanin (yes, vaguely something to do with melatonin) of different shades (it comes in 3 colours), and the combination of those 3 shades and the quantity of individual molecules are what produce your hair colour.

To restore the hair to a believable darker colour, then, you have to go through the other colours and replace those first. I could have replaced the yellow before the red, but most hair colourants to achieve blonde hair are either semi-permanent or have very aggressive developer (to get lighter results for darker hair), so doing that would blast holes in my hair shafts like there’s no tomorrow, and not really put much colour into it for the trouble, so I went for a yellowy-red instead of a true red, and that’s why I always go to ginger instead of bright red (ginger has the red and yellow molecules in it, bright red has very few yellow molecules) for the first thing I do to my hair after I’ve had it very light blonde for a while.
And that’s why, now, I can either let the red build up to restore my hair or I can make it brown to restore it. If I hadn’t bothered with the red, the brown dye would most likely give my hair a disgusting green tinge.
And that’s why I don’t say I can “repair” it (because nothing does that, hair is dead when it grows out of the scalp, you can’t “heal” a dead thing), I say “restore” or “fix” because I can make it look like it’s fine, but if you put my hair under a microscope it would probably look awful.

You mentioned semi permanent colours – I’ve been told they’re really good for my hair, why don’t you use those instead?
Semi permanent colours only affect the outside of the hair shaft. They don’t have the chemicals they need to penetrate the shaft and add colour to the inside. If you imagine my white hair is an empty drinking straw, the semi-permanent is like getting a felt pen and colouring the outside of that straw – it won’t make it more stable on the inside, and the hair is still left too fragile.
The permanent colours put the pigment inside the hair shaft – so they’re less “healthy” if you have perfect, undyed hair, but they’re more “healthy” if your hair has no pigment in the middle.

I cant visualise all this crap about molecules, can you explain it with some diagrams?
Yes!  Here’s a video I made, that explains it with diagrams and a whiteboard (in case you missed it above):

Wrecked your hair with bleach? Fix it!

Hair: How to fix hair that’s turned to chewing gum

Your hair was this colour, now it's stretchy and ruined?  I have the answer.
Your hair was this colour, now it’s stretchy and ruined? I have the answer.

You’ve washed the bleach off, you’ve conditioned, you’ve looked in the mirror. It might not even be a particularly light shade of blonde. Somehow, your hair has become super-stretchy and doesn’t flex back into shape again very well when you run your fingers through it.

This is NOT going to help if your hair is coming out in clumps. The only thing that’ll help there is a pair of scissors. Sorry, but you need to be honest with yourself about the current state of your hair before you do this.

If your hair is worrying you with its poor condition, but isn’t actually breaking apart yet, this tutorial is for you.

Firstly, I’ve got some bad news for you: You are probably not going to be able to stay completely blonde. At this stage, you have almost completely bleached the core out of your hair. It’s unstable, and isn’t going to withstand staying in this state for long. Think long and hard (but not for too long) about whether you need to follow this tutorial or whether a deep conditioning treatment will help.

Is this method for you?

1. When you last washed your hair, how many hours did it take to dry?

2. When your hair is wet, does it stretch then stay stretched after you let go of it, only returning to its shape gradually, if at all?

3. Have you bleached your hair in any of the following ways (or more than one of these):

a) Left the dye on for far too long?

b) Used a 40 vol peroxide with a bleach on light blonde hair?

c) Didn’t wash the bleach out properly before drying or straightening (flatironing)?

d) Bleached it too many times in a relatively short time period (more than 3 over 2 weeks, depending which products you used)?

e) Bleached it too many times over a longer time period (three times or more per month for more than three months)?

f) Used a product not intended for hair e.g. bleached with kitchen bleach, toilet bleach, household bleach etc even just once?

g) Used blonding/lightening spray on light blonde bleached hair?

If you answered yes to any of the statements in question 3, and your hair is taking more than 3 hours to dry after washing, and it’s stretching as described in question 2, you need this tutorial.

Disclaimer: I am not at your house assessing the state of your hair, nor do I know the state of your scalp. This is your judgement call, but if your hair is wrecked anyway, and your only other option is to cut it off, this might be a helpful last resort. Obviously, like with any dying process, this could make your hair worse, and you may have to do this several times over a period of months to get a colour to stick.

1. Get your hair dry, carefully.
If your hair isn’t dry right now, get your hairdryer and blow dry it on a low setting. Once your hair is dry it’s in a more stable condition. For now.

2. Put longer hair in a gentle plait, until you’re ready to work with it.

This method is used to protect hair extensions at night time, and is equally useful for your own hair when it’s damaged like this. It will help avoid that pesky tangling that constantly happens to over-bleached hair.

3. Decide how dark you can stand to go.

Look through the shades of hair dye that are available (don’t buy any yet), and decide on a level of darkness. The darker you go, the stronger your hair will be, but it will take longer to get it there.

4. Buy the reddest permanent dye you can find, that is not darker than the shade of brown you picked in step 3. If you are choosing between two shades of red, ignore the box and choose the darkest. This is because most of this red will wash out in a couple of weeks, tops. Don’t choose anything weird or unusual, this is not a good time to experiment. I used the auburn shades of Nice ‘N’ Easy when I did this. Don’t expect the colour to come out as strong as it does on the box, you will probably have to repeat this a few times.

5. Make sure you’ve waited at least a week since you last bleached/toned/coloured your blonde hair, and follow the instructions to apply your darker shade.  While you’re waiting to colour, treat your damaged hair like antique silk.

6. When you rinse, expect most of it to go down the drain. Your hair will come out a mousey colour, probably with patches that are redder than other bits. If this bothers you, now would be a good time to bring back the bandanna or crack out a hat or headscarf.

7. Use that conditioner that came with the dye. Leave it on for twice as long as it says, and at least 10 minutes.

8. Dry very carefully, don’t rub when you towel dry and don’t use the full heat from the hairdryer.

9. Repeat this process every 2-3 weeks (don’t do it any more regularly than this) until the colour sticks inside your hair.

10. Congratulations, you have just artificially re-created the core of your hair, using artificial pigment molecules. Your hair will be stronger now, although it won’t be the way it was before you dyed it. I found when I did this several years ago, that when I tried to bleach it a year later, it was still not in a suitable condition (luckily I did a test strand because I was NOT ready for that jelly that my strand test turned into), however, it did buy enough time for roots to grow through so I could at least sport a lovely bob 18 months after I wrecked my hair, without having to cut it all off before that time. Try to take better care of it, it’s still very fragile underneath.

When I wrecked my hair, it took about 6 months to get it to hold this colour.
When I wrecked my hair, it took about 6 months to get it to hold this colour.