In absolutely no way is bleaching and coloring your hair at home an activity for the faint of heart. There's a reason these types of hair services are left to the professionals: They're hard, and the margin for irreparable error is astronomically high. There's also a reason so many of us do it ourselves anyway: The end result can look so cool... if all goes as planned. Because quarantine has kept me out of my usual salon, I, like many, have been left to my own devices to color my hair in the confines of my bathroom. Remembering how my previous self-bleach sessions ended in clumps of lost hair, this time, I asked Brad Mondo, professional hairstylist and founder and CEO of XMONDO Hair, for virtual help.
At a combined 11 million followers across his infamous YouTube channel and TikTok, Mondo is essentially the internet's f(h)airy godmother. He bestows his infinite hair-coloring wisdom upon the masses. He understands how tempting an at-home dye job can be, and, perhaps most importantly, he'll react to your video with the praise or constructive feedback you deserve. After reacting to almost 200 at-home haircuts and hair-color sessions on YouTube, and even more on TikTok, Mondo has seen it all — good and bad — and he knows better than anyone the traps you can easily fall into when lightening and coloring your hair at home.
Since quarantine began and hundreds of people flocked to TikTok to show off their self-applied chunky highlights and bangs, I desperately wanted one hairstyle for myself: the e-girl chunky highlights trend. Spotted on celebrities like Dua Lipa and Bella Thorne and on dozens of edgy TikTokers, the trend involves thick, face-framing chunks of color in sharp contrast to the rest of your hair's color. It's almost like you wanted to dye the rest of your hair that color, too, but you got tired halfway through. A mood.
A fan of the e-girl trend himself, Mondo virtually walked me through every step of the process to ensure my e-girl dreams didn't morph into accidental baby-bang nightmares. In fact, Mondo says a virtual hair consultation is a good practice to keep in mind if you aren't comfortable heading back to the salon yet. "I think a lot of [stylists] do offer that. Even learning how to touch up your roots, they can show you how to do that at home, and they can also send you color so you can have all their supplies that they use in the salon at your own house," he says. "If you don't know if [your stylist] offers that, I would just call the salon and say, 'Hey, is this something that would work out?' I'm sure any hairstylist will be fine as long as you're paying them for their time."
After a few hours of cramming for my own bleach-and-color session with one of Mondo's instructional at-home-color videos, I looked at myself in my bathroom mirror, wondering WTF I was doing. I began the process with dirty hair, a helpful choice if you plan to chemically treat your hair at home since the natural oils will protect it. Using the pointed end of a tinting brush ($5, Amazon), I parted my hair down the middle. Then, I sectioned off 2-inch sections of the front of my hair, from my roots down to my ears; secured them with hair clips; and brushed the rest of my hair into a low ponytail to keep it away from the action.
Wearing my coloring cape ($10, Amazon) to protect my clothes, I readied my bleach mixture, using equal parts L'Oréal Technique 30-Volume Oreor Creme Developer ($8, Amazon) and L'Oréal Quick Blue Powder Bleach ($25, Amazon). You should always follow the instructions of the powder bleach and developer you use, but a general rule of thumb is to mix them until you achieve a paste-like consistency. Mondo says a mixture that's too watery is one of the most common mistakes he sees with at-home bleaches. "[People] mix the lightener to be so liquid-y that it's not even really bleach at that point. Then, they apply it, it dries out immediately on their hair, and they wonder why it's still orange," he says. "You have to really cake lightener on there in order for it to work."
Because my natural hair is on the lighter side, Mondo recommended I use a 30-volume developer. A 30-volume developer will lighten your hair a bit faster and more intensely than a 20-volume developer would, but not as drastically as a 40-volume. "A lot of people will use 40-volume or 10-volume to lighten their hair," he says. "Neither of those are necessarily good. A 10-volume will not lighten enough, but 40-volume will lighten too much, causing a lot of breakage."
Starting with one side of my hair, I used the end of my tinting brush to further divide the 2-inch chunk of hair into a single, paper-thin section, which Mondo stresses to ensure the bleach mixture reaches every single strand. The most important part of the entire process, Mondo says, is to ensure you don't apply bleach over already lightened hair. Doing so will weaken those strands further, and you'll have found yourself in breakage central.
With the tiny section of hair in one hand, I shimmied a sheet of hair foil ($16, Amazon) underneath it with the other hand and anchored it down with the same strand. I applied a generous amount of bleach with the tinting brush down to where my pre-lightened hair started, careful not to overlap. I then folded the foil twice toward my root, with my blonde ends hanging out the sides. I repeated this process on both sides of my head until I had about 10 little hair burritos lining my forehead — a really cute look, honestly.
I waited like that for a total of 40 minutes, periodically checking between the foil to assess how light my hair was getting. Because bleach processes faster at your roots thanks to the heat from your head, I waited to apply the mixture there until about halfway through the process time. To do so, I pulled the foils off a bit early and applied the mixture with the brush directly to my roots. Mondo suggests allowing the bleach to process in a shower cap, which I did. An even cuter look.
At the end of 40 minutes, I pushed away the bleach mixture with my fingers to see my hair lightened to a pale yellow — the color Mondo says you should wait for so your color choice appears vibrant and true-to-color. On that cue, I hopped in the shower to thoroughly wash out the bleach mixture. For me, this meant shampooing and deep conditioning twice to remove any trace of the bleach's grainy texture. A quick, rough blow-dry with cold air later, and I was, quite frankly, terrified.
I quickly realized my newly bleached hair had lifted pretty significantly... to a lighter blonde than my ends. I feared this would cause the color to appear incredibly blotchy and uneven. Despite my sheer panic in that moment, I forged on, hoping a generous glob of color would even everything out.
I mixed two parts of Arctic Fox's Frosé Semi-Permanent Hair Color ($17, Arctic Fox) with one part of the brand's Girl's Night Semi-Permanent Hair Color ($17, Arctic Fox) in my mixing bowl, and applied the color incredibly generously all over my lightened hair in small sections. I then twisted the colored hair into a bun atop my head, clipped it in place, and waited 35 minutes. After, I hopped back into the shower, but only to rinse the color out — no shampoo, conditioner, or any other product that could fade the color.
To my surprise, my instincts were right. "Your roots are gonna be a little bit lighter, just because that's the newly bleached part," says Mondo. "As you wear it, everything will adjust and oxidize to the same color." Post-blow-dry, I had the even, vibrant, chunky highlights of my dreams. The pink-and-purple mixture transformed into a deliciously deeper shade of pink that complemented my lighter skin tone beautifully. I felt every bit as stylish as Dua Lipa, minus the brilliant singing voice.
Because I used a semi-permanent color, meaning one that only coats my hair's cuticle instead of penetrating it, my color will last for about 10 washes, fading with each one. Until then, catch me on TikTok dancing and lip-syncing my way through my very best e-girl fantasy. As for what Mondo thought — of how well I tackled the process and my end result — be sure watch the video above.