Hello, my name is Erin Jahns, and I bleach the hell out of my hair. It’s been going on for 15 years (I’m 26, and my first-ever color job was in fifth grade), and despite the amount of turmoil my strands have endured, I plan on being as blonde as physically possible until my dying day. Or, at least, until my hair goes white—we’ll see what happens first.
But first, some context. As a baby and through most of grade school, I was as blonde as blonde could be. Of course, at the time, I couldn’t have cared less about the color of my hair, and if anything, I probably wanted blue, glitter-streaked highlights like the Spice Girls or edgy black lowlights à la Christina. The only reason I begged for highlights when I reached the fifth grade was that I thought I’d look “glamorous” (lol), and it’s what all the cool girls were doing. So naturally, I begged my mom and dad for an appointment until my mom finally acquiesced and brought me along to her next salon appointment.
Peroxide zebra stripes were my first foray into the world of fake blonde hair, and from that day onward, I never went back. As I got older, my natural baby blonde turned into dirty dishwater, thus my foiling sessions became increasingly regular and increasingly hard on my hair. By the end of high school, I was asking colorists for full bleach and tones (so I was 100% bleached versus just heavily highlighted), and by the time I got to college, it’s fair to say my hair was in a legitimately sorry state. Not horrible, but on the brink of disaster if I wasn’t ultra careful with how I cared for and treated it. Am I doing a good job of foreshadowing my impending hair doom?
Most people, at some point in their life, will have some kind of hair disaster. And while I had hoped I’d gotten mine out of the way in 1997 when my sister took me for a bowl cut at Kid’s Hair, I wasn’t so lucky. During my sophomore year of college, I experienced what my family, friends, and I refer to as “The Bleach Apocolypse of 2013.” After receiving a full head of highlights at a highly regarded salon in Minneapolis (where I’m from), I was left completely unhappy with the color. The end result was an ashy, mouse-like shade of brown with weird tones of blue and purple (probably from some kind of toning mishap), and I was beyond confused how the colorist had managed to stray so far from the bright, buttery-white blonde I’d always been.
In a panic, and because I had spent over $300 for said color, I begged her for options as to how she could fix it immediately. In hindsight, I should have sucked it up and sought out a different professional at another salon weeks later, but I had worked myself into a state and was completely desperate for an immediate solution. Also panicked (and a tad annoyed), the colorist told me the only way she could transform me into the bright blonde I wanted was to re-bleach over all of the highlights she had just foiled. (If you’re cringing, you should be—that’s legitimately the worst thing you can do to freshly weakened, colored hair, and her right to color hair should be revoked.) But, as I said, I was panicked and immediately accepted her offer even though she should have known better, apologized, and sent me home.
Fast-forward about one and a half hours later, and I was sitting in my car, bawling my eyes out with a wet, tangled, bleached-off disaster on top of my head. The bleaching was an entirely horrible idea and as the colorist washed my hair and attempted to comb through it, I watched in terror as fists of hair quite literally fell off my head. I know it might sound silly, and there are certainly larger world issues than a bleached hair disaster. At the time, I truly thought I was going to have to shave my head, and as much as I admire stars like Joey King, Charlize Theron, and Natalie Portman, I’m not an actress, and I don’t have the cheekbones.
Of course, the trials and tribulations I faced post-apocalypse are long and detailed enough for a novel, but long story short, I was, in the end, able to salvage my blonde hair. I poured hours and hours into research, babysitting check after babysitting check into rehabilitation products, and even more hours and babysitting checks at a different salon, getting trims, treatments, and consistent TLC. (The morning after the disaster I went to an Aveda salon where—I kid you not—I became a staff project and am still remembered to this day.)
It took about three years for my hair to bounce back, and up until a year or two ago—right around when I moved to L.A. to become a beauty editor—I was convinced my hair would never be the same. I still struggled to grow it out, and even though I had cut back on my highlight appointments (I think I went at least six months without getting so much as close to heat or peroxide post-trauma), colorists never seemed to get the tone right and my hair perpetually felt like straw.
Until, that is, I met my two fairy hair godparents, celebrity hairstylist Cervando Maldonado and celebrity colorist Cassondra Kaeding. I met Cervando week one of my job as assistant beauty editor for Byrdie, and (bless him to infinity) he’s taken me under his wing and helped bring my hair to health and lengths I never thought possible as a blonde. He’s the only one I’ve let touch my hair, style- and cut-wise, since arriving in L.A., and I credit his amazing snipping genius and practical hair tips (get yourself avocado or coconut oil and apply it to your ends as much as possible) for reviving my hair over the past two years.
That said, even though my cut and length were on the right track, I was still consistently frustrated with my color (even in as star-studded of a town as L.A.), and it wasn’t until Maldonado introduced me to Kaeding at his West Hollywood salon, 454 North, that I truly felt I had found my long-lost color soulmate. I’ve met countless celebrity colorists thanks to my day job, but Kaeding is one of the most sought-after colorists in the industry right now, and she’s also a complete and utter perfectionist when it comes to her art, technique, and reputation as a colorist. In short, she’s the only kind of person you want to entrust your fragile hair with.
Unlike that colorist back in 2013, Kaeding actually told me she wouldn’t touch my hair with any kind of color during our initial appointment (she’s all about integrity and refuses to administer any risky behavior that could weaken or damage susceptible strands) and despite my disappointment, I waited an additional three weeks on top of the 10 I’d already waited so she could wield her magic. And, wield she did. Not only did Kaeding give me the best blonde hair job of my entire 26 years, but she also kept literally every single hair on my head. My strands have never been so long or so blonde, and everyone I see and talk to (even other celebrity hairstylists and colorists) are truly in awe of how healthy my hair is despite how bleached it is. Kaeding is talented enough to create an enigma out of me, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
To celebrate, and because I get so, SO many DMs and questions about how to fix bleached hair, I’m using my own experience as a forever blonde (I refer to myself as an unofficial official color expert) and Kaeding’s legitimate expertise to provide a complete—and hopefully helpful—guide for blonde haircare below. Ahead, all of our combined best tips for how to care for and fix bleached, post-apocalyptic blonde hair. Keep scrolling!
The very first order of business post-bleach-apocalypse back in 2013 was a haircut. The stylist I saw said that although they would give me a protein and moisture treatment to help stop the immediate breakage (my hair kept falling and falling), I would continue to shed, so the best thing I could do was to part with as much length as I could emotionally handle. Not only would the cut help even out the look of my hair, it would also help prevent further splits and snaps. At the time, he chopped my boob-length hair to my collarbones, and I was diligent about coming into the salon for trims every month or two.
Years later, my cadence is every three months or so, and I make sure to see the same stylist (Maldonado) who knows my hair’s history and my goals for length and thickness. My hair has never been so long or as thick, and I attribute that in part to my consistency with trims—even if it’s just a dusting off the ends prior to a coloring appointment (which Kaeding always recommends pre-bleach).
Please learn from my mistake here, and before you go in for color with a new professional, stop by the salon for a consultation. Not only will you get a feel for the colorist and see their other clients’ hair, you’ll also be able to make a game plan with them to ensure you get the exact color you want without sacrificing the health of your hair. As I mentioned above, the first time I was booked to see Kaeding, I was scheduled for an allover highlight, but when I went in to see her, she had me go home and grow out my hair for another three weeks and said I’d be better off getting a bleach and tone rather than highlights considering how blonde I wanted to be and how inconsistent I’d been with different colorists since being in L.A.
“We decided to take the bleach and tone approach because during our consult you expressed that the color hadn’t been quite right,” she explains. “There were some gold undertones you weren’t fond of that needed to be eliminated, and your hair was in good enough condition. I knew that I would be able to go through, take my time, and get you to the desired bright blonde you have always wanted!”
Again, please learn from my deadly error, and do a lot of research when searching for your perfect colorist and don’t solely rely on a salon’s name or owner. I’ve seen more colorists and been to more salons than I could count on my fingers and toes, and just because a salon is owned by a famous name or has a “good reputation” doesn’t speak to every single stylist or colorist housed there. (Although I can vouch for everyone at 454 North—its team is heaven-sent.)
Even being in an industry city like L.A., I’ve had some pretty terrible experiences and some pretty terrible color. When I met Kaeding, it was like a breath of fresh air. She took her time, she was relaxed, and I felt safe in her hands. She also came recommended by Maldonado, whom I 110% trusted, and her Instagram showcases a lot of her work so I could rest assured she was well-versed in the color blonde I was hoping for. Bleaching is a really intense (and scientific) process, and going to the wrong person can be the do-or-die factor when it comes to both the color and integrity of your hair.
“Bleaching is really tough,” Kaeding agrees. “It’s easy to over-process the hair, which will cause extreme dryness or even breakage. My advice to other colorists is to take your time, do the work, and absolutely don’t rush. If both time and care are put into the application, your hair will stay healthier and longer, which means you can stay blonder longer.
“What I did was coat the previously bleached, highlighted hair with Redken’s All Soft Heavy Cream Super Treatment Mask ($22). This helps the new bleach I was going to be applying from overlapping onto the old, pre-lightened hair. I only applied bleach to the regrowth, and I put about a four-inch-long piece of cotton between each thin section, which acts as a barrier so the bleach doesn’t expand onto old blonde and also helps absorb any excess bleach.”
Hair masks are a major part of bleached hair recovery, and I try to do one every single week (bearing in mind I only wash my hair twice a week), so basically every other wash. I rotate between Olaplex’s Hair Perfector No. 3 ($28) and any of the seven formulas below depending on what my hair needs. If it feels like it’s dry, I’ll pick one that’s more moisturizing; if I feel like it’s weak and prone to snapping more than usual, I’ll grab one that has more protein and is geared toward strengthening.
Kaeding is also on board with my hardcore masking habit and recommends a once-per-week cadence to her clients. She loves Redken’s Color Extend Blondage Mask ($29), which also helps brighten and maintain lightened hair.
Aside from shampoo, conditioner, masks, and my beloved air-dry spray (shown above from IGK), the only products I ever use in my hair are heat protecting and detangling leave-in conditioners, serums, and clear oils. After I unwrap my hair from the turban, I’ll smooth a nickel-size amount of hair oil (always clear if you’re blonde!) into the entire length of my hair, and then I’ll spritz through with my leave-in. If I feel like my hair needs even more TLC, I might use another specialized serum or cream, but it’s just as needed, and again, just depending on what my hair is feeling and looking like. My favorites are below!