DIY Lightening & Balayage - What I Use

I've been coloring/bleaching my own hair for over ten years now.  I was born a blondie and stayed that way until about middle school, when my hair slowly started darkening. 

My mom liked big hair.  It required a whole lot of Paul Mitchell mousse and hairspray and lots of backcombing and I've never fully recovered from the trauma...neither have my lungs.  😱

In high school, I started going to a salon on my parents dime for highlights and then paid for my hair to get cut and colored at a salon for a couple of years during college...until I couldn't afford it anymore.  You might know those financially tight college days.  They're fun, right?  Nothing like working an entire summer and then budgeting for several months over a school year with just that cash to teach you about adulthood, right?  ;)  I paid a friend a few bucks to highlight my hair during that time after my bank account told me I couldn't do salons anymore and also colored it darker for that au naturale look for a few years in there.  

After college, before Anthony and I were married and I was living rent-free with a good job, I went back to the salon but then we got married and started paying two sets of student loans plus a mortgage and it turned out I preferred spending money on decorating and fixing up our first little house vs. those increasing salon prices.  But, I still liked coloring my hair.  What a conundrum...  #inserttheeyeroll

So, I started out using blonde box dyes to lighten my hair, not knowing much about the whole process and just hoping each time that I'd get pretty close to what the picture showed on the box front...spoiler alert, I never quite hit the jackpot.  I could get my hair maybe three levels lighter with one box application but I always skipped the toning step after because I had no clue what toning was.  And, as it turns out, toning is so important.  Lightening my hair takes out the pigment but leaves me pretty brassy.  It's the toning that gets rid of the brass.  It's a whole scientific process that I had no clue about until Sylvia brought it to my attention within the past couple of years.  Here's her video explaining it all.

As it stands today, we don't have extra money laying around for me to go to a salon, we just don't.  It would cost me $150 every 8-10 weeks to maintain what I've got going on on my head.  Would I go to a salon if we were swimming in a large budget pool every month?  Absolutely.  It's not the easiest thing to color my own hair and the idea of relaxing in a big vinyl chair while someone else did it is quite appealing.  Of course, I could just stop coloring it altogether and let my natural color grow out but it's just too much fun.  ;) 

Over the past few years, I've learned A LOT about highlighting/bleaching your own hair thanks to the gem that is YouTube and a thousand question texts to my pro-stylist cousin Kendra (thank you Kendra!) and I've nailed down a good system and products that really work for me.  And the best part?  It only costs me $10 to color my hair each time I do...which is about every two-three months.  So, if you've found yourself in the same budget boat as we are - that tiny rowboat - and you have a hankering to or already are lightening or coloring your own hair but looking for some new products, this post is for you.  ;)

Eventually, I hope to get the whole process on video - as awkward as I'll probably be - but until then, these are some good resources:
= Brad Mondo just posted this video recently and it's packed with good info and is a must-watch.  Plus, he's funny.  I appreciate him sharing the wealth as a professional hair stylist.  One commenter under his video wrote, "He knows he can't stop us so he's decided to help us.  What a legend."  Agree, agree, AGREE!  
= If you're a first-timer, Jillian's tutorial is what you need.  She uses the teasing method and it's probably the most fool-proof way to get the balayage look.  She's really great at explaining and showing what she does and also talking about the mistakes she's made for you to learn from.  The one thing she's missing that could make her whole process a little easier?  A balayage board.  :)  
= I started doing my own babylights after watching Sylvia's video.  
= I have had a wild idea to go platinum maybe once or a thousand times but Anthony vetoes me every time.  BUT, if he didn't mind so much, I'd pull up Jill's tutorial and blog post and go to town.  No painting or teasing balayage either but it would be fun to go super light for a little while.

These are the things you'd find if you stepped into my bathroom makeshift salon while I'm touching up my blonde do: 

Pssst, some of the links below are affiliate links which means that, if you click over and/or make a purchase through the link, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.  All of these links will lead you to things we actually paid for or that are similar to the item we paid for in case ours is thrifted/sold out/secondhand.  This extra money helps us with the costs of running the blog.  Thank you for your support and for fueling our love to share all things DIY! 

1  //  An old button-down shirt - Old because it won't matter if you get bleach all over it (which you will) and button-down because you need to be able to get it off easily when you're done processing and need to hop in the shower.
2  //  Schwarzkopf Blond Me lightener plus 20 volume developer (also in 30 volume) - I've got a few things to say about this stuff.  First of all, it's a professional product which means that it's really only supposed to be sold/bought by professionals and not available to the general public.  But yes, it's on Amazon (because everything is on Amazon).  A professional might tell you that it's ... (aka, fake) but I can tell you that what I used is the real deal and incredible.  I bought from the seller in the link above.  I can't promise that all Amazon sellers are selling the real Blond Me though.  I had been using this bleach for several years and, I don't know if my hair has just changed with age or hormones or post-babies but it has and this lightener just wasn't lifting like it used to.  It was getting frustrating.  I'm in a hair chat group on Facebook though in which Blond Me lightener was thrown around as a good one and so I took the plunge and man, I'm so glad I did.  It's really, really awesome stuff.  My hair is a natural level 5ish and it takes it right up to a 9 or 10 with 45 minutes of processing time.  And, this sounds crazy, but my hair feels 1000 times better after coloring than it did when I was using the Kaleidocolors.  This lightener has a built-in bonder - which is supposed to strengthen the hair during processing - and so I'm guessing that is why my hair feels so great after.
3  //  Balayage boards - These changed my hair-coloring life.  Seriously.  It helps tremendously to have a hard surface to "paint" on so your hair isn't flopping around everywhere while you try to brush color on.  For a long, long time, I used the lid of a Swiffer wet pads container.  It worked but the boards are a definite upgrade. 
4  //  Foils - I used to use regular old tin foil from our kitchen roll and it worked, but then I graduated to actual hair foils and they just make things easier.  They're pre-cut so you don't have to spend time tearing kitchen foil (which didn't always take the straight path) and they're not quite as thick as kitchen foil so they're easier to handle.
5  //  Shower cap - Once you're done putting the lightener in your hair, you'll want to cover it to keep it from drying out.   
6  //  Bowl and brushes - These might be obvious but the bowl is to mix the lightener and developer in and the brush is to apply the mix to your hair.  Some people use their fingers instead of a brush so maybe try both ways to see what works best for you.  (Psst...if you go the fingers route, grab some gloves.)
7  //  Toner and 10 volume developer - The T14 works for me but I've also heard great things about this toner.  It's another professional-only product so what you find online might not be the real deal.  As soon as it's back in stock, I'm going to grab some to try.  I'll update the post with my findings.  :)
8  //  Fanola No Yellow shampoo - I've tried a handful of purple shampoos but this one takes the cake.  I only tone once after lightening and then this keeps the brass away until the next time I color.  I only use it maybe once every 3-4 washes and when I do, I leave it on for about five minutes before rinsing.  If your hair is tending more brassy orange than brassy yellow, they also make a No Orange shampoo.  Plus, there are masks in both the No Yellow and No Orange but I haven't tried either though I'm intrigued.
9  //  It's a 10 leave-in conditioner - I should do more for my hair in the way of masks and moisture/conditioning treatments...but I don't.  I do however use this religiously after every wash and not only is it the best at detangling (my hair gets pretty tangled after washing) but it might be the only thing keeping my hair healthy as it can be with the processing it goes through.  A tip - dilute it with water.  It's really thick stuff as far as a spray goes and I experimented with filling an empty bottle with half of the It's a 10 and half water and that's the norm now.  It seems to work just as well.  So, one bottle lasts me at least a year...which is fantastic because it's not the cheapest leave-in conditioner I've ever used, but it is the best and I've been using it for several years now.  

Tips & Tricks
1.  A full-length, over-the-door mirror hung behind you helps a lot to see the back of your hair.  We don't have an over-the-door mirror currently so I pull the back up and forward to paint, but we used to and it was a lot easier.
2.  Use clips, claws, or hair elastics to hold the hair that's not getting colored out of the way.  I should've put these in the above list because they're pretty necessary but they're also something most everyone has on hand so, yep, grab some of those too.
3.  Before you begin, grab a brush and brush out your entire head of hair so there aren't any tangles your coloring right over - they could leave you with spots.  Also, if your hair is naturally curly like mine, it helps to straighten after the wash before you color/bleach - so wash your hair, straighten it, wear it straight for as long as you go between washing, and then color/bleach.  Never wash your hair right before you color for your scalp's sake.
4.  I lighten my hair over the course of a week or so.  I'm always afraid I can't work fast enough (because I can't) so I lighten the bottom first, wash it out, wear it, lighten the middle section before the next time I wash my hair, wash it out, wear it, and then lighten the top section before the next time I wash my hair, wash it, tone it, wear it.  My hair is obviously, already light on the ends so doing this in different time frames doesn't really show.  If you're lightening for the first time and lighten in different time frames, people might be able to see that your bottom layer is lighter for a few days but I'm sure there are ways to disguise it more, like wearing your hair up in a messy bun for a few days.
5.  Find a friend to help!  Multiple hands on deck are great for speed and the back of your head!

Questions?  I can't promise I know the answer but you can always hit the contact button in my menu bar or leave a comment!  I know I linked to a few YouTube video's above but really, it's a rabbit hole you can really hop down to find even more help.  Thank goodness for it.  :)

Good luck!  ;)

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diy balayage

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