How to lighten hair without damage (and what to do if it's too late)

Whether you want just a few baby highlights, a subtle sun-kissed look or a full-blown platinum makeover, lightening your hair in any capacity can potentially wreak major havoc if you’re not careful.

But according to celebrity colorist and balayage expert Abby Haliti, whose client list includes Olivia Palermo, Sigourney Weaver and Rita Ora, it is possible to get the lighter color you want without leaving behind a tangled mess of broken straw-like hair … as long as you take the right approach.

Haliti, who recently opened Abby Haliti Salon in Maplewood, N.J. and works a few days a week in New York City, believes when it comes to color, less is more. So before you beg your stylist to bleach your hair that trendy white-blonde color you saw on Kim Kardashian, read Haliti’s tips first.

Fox News: What’s the number one rule people need to follow when lightening their hair in order to prevent damage?

Abby Haliti: Have patience, take it slow, and remember that sometimes, less is really more. We’re exposed to so much now with social media, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the latest trends and feel like you need to have your hair just like, let’s say, Olivia Palermo, but there’s always more to it than what you see online. I’ve had clients who expect to look like Olivia Palermo after one session, and that’s just not how it works. You can get to where you want to be, but if you want to prevent damage, take it slow. As I always say, Rome wasn’t built in a day — neither is the perfect balayage.

Is there a general guideline for determining how much lighter someone can go?

Ultimately, I would say to do what makes you happy and comfortable. If you’re genuinely unsure and want to take precautions, determining the undertones of your skin can help you decide. Picking a tone that is opposite of your skin’s undertones can be used as a general guideline.


How frequently can someone bleach their hair without totally destroying it?

It all depends on a variety of factors (mostly what state your current hair is in), but I would say about six to eight weeks if you really want to be safe. Once you have new hair growth, the bleach should only be applied along the new hair.

Can someone devoted to blow-outs and heat styling realistically lighten their hair?

Sure, but taking the proper precautions to keep your hair healthy and moisturized is important in this case. Adapt to your needs. If you heat-style nearly every day and bleach frequently, incorporate more moisturizing products into your routine. And obviously stop if you notice that your hair is becoming damaged. Personally, I would recommend bleaching less if you’re devoted to blow-outs and heat styling.

Celebs are always posting dramatic hair transformations on Instagram … one day they’re dark brown, the next they’re blonde. How do they do it without causing all their hair to fall out?

Costly products! Treatments! Wigs! Celebs have access to many more expensive things that can help mitigate damage as much as possible, and even though those transformations seem abrupt, sometimes those changes took hours to achieve. Also, celebrities have personal assistants and hair stylists who are there with them every step of the way. And remember, social media doesn’t always show the entire picture. Certain products and treatments can make hair look very shiny and “healthy” temporarily, when in reality the hair can be damaged.


Are there any warning signs someone should look out for when visiting the salon?

If a colorist says a brunette can go platinum in one visit, run, because that’s probably not someone with your best interest at heart. Look out for any stylists who sound unsure of the advice they’re giving you, or who don’t give you any feedback at all. A colorist should work with you, and help you determine what is best, and make sure that you’re aware of any risks that you’re taking. Personally, I have turned away clients who wanted drastic changes such as that. Healthy hair is my number one priority.

What are some steps a person can take to keep their lightened hair healthy?

Don’t overdo it with the color and heat styling. Allow your hair some time to recuperate from any recent color treatments. Find a good stylist who cares about the health of your hair. Don’t be afraid to get treatments done, like Olaplex or Milbon, especially moisturizing ones. And make sure you get your hair trimmed regularly. Most importantly, find a shampoo and conditioner (preferably sulfate & paraben-free) that is meant for colored hair.

If someone has already damaged their hair from over-processing, what can be done to help it recover?

If your hair has become damaged and you’d like to fix it, patience and willpower is key. It’s better not to bleach or heat-style for a few months and eventually resume, rather than continuing to make the problem worse until there’s no hair left on your head. Getting your hair cut regularly is crucial when it comes to repairing hair. Look into products that have healing properties. Almost treat it like skincare. Don’t be afraid to throw on a moisturizing hair mask when you feel like you need it. Definitely stay away from any more coloring until your hair is repaired. Choose a shampoo and conditioner that are sulfate-free and don’t shampoo your hair too often as this strips away all of your natural oils. Honestly, if you don’t know where to start, find a good hairstylist who can help guide you on what to do when it comes to repairing your hair.


And if you’ve already done the damage, try these products to avoid wreaking more havoc and bring some life back into your hair.

Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer, $399; at Sephora

It's a 10 Haircare Miracle Silk Hair Mask, $36; at It's a 10 Haircare

IGK Bad & Bougie Amla Oil Deep Repair Shampoo and Conditioner, $25 each; at IGK

Ouai Treatment Mask, $32; at The Ouai

Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Strength + Moisture Leave-In Mask, $28; at Sephora

R + Co Park Ave Blow Out Balm, $29; at R + Co