When people aren’t trying to grab my hair while I walk through bars, or call me the ‘Black Khaleesi’ (yes, this happened”>, some people offer a much less annoying fascination with my hair, simply asking how I keep my blonde hair so soft and healthy after years of bleaching it.

The first time I bleached my hair was in the early 2000s, you know, that weird era when Alicia Keys wore a gown over jeans on the red carpet, non-black pop stars started trying to wear box braids, and before Kanye had fallen into the sunken place? My motivation to go lighter came from Queen Bey, and while I knew I would never be able to hit a note or dance on a chair like her, I was determined to have her honey blonde hair.

I started with just a few streaky highlights, another questionable trend of the early 2000s, and over the years I experimented with how much color I could get away with, still staying true to the Beyoncé, honey-blonde tones. On top of that, I also followed the trend that every other preteen at the time was participating in, and began straightening my hair. I refer to this time as when I joined Kanye in the sunken place.

It took me awhile to notice that my hair was starting to look and feel damaged, and I assumed it was the bleach. The mix of bleach with daily heat was not nice to my fine 3b/c hair, and I decided to stop coloring my hair in high school. Unfortunately, the damage remained.

Peep those damaged flyaways above. “Oh no baby; what is you doin?”

During college, I dyed my hair blonde by balayage for the first time. By then, I knew better than to straighten my hair daily, but my curl pattern had become looser and damaged after years of heat application, motivating me to still occasionally straighten it. Still in the sunken place. My hair wouldn’t grow, I had flyaways everywhere, my curls had loosened to a funky wave pattern, and the blonde would go brassy due to the damage. From here, I decided to take a break from coloring my hair for the second time.

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My curls were looking like overcooked ramen noodles at this point!

In addition to no longer coloring my hair, I also stopped regularly applying heat to it. It took about two years for my curls to return to their natural 3b texture and fullness, and for the first time in years, my hair looked and felt healthy again. I also began to pay attention to my diet, what products, and routines worked best for my hair, and which styles protected my hair, something I never paid mind to in previous years.

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Around the time Beyoncé dropped her first surprise album, my blonde bug was coming back. I went to my hairstylist Minnie, and told her my concerns of ruining my curl pattern like I had in the past, to which she responded that bleaching your hair blonde is much easier when you are starting with a healthy head of hair. She insisted on a few preventative and sustinitive tips that remain staples in my hair regimen today.

1. Stay away from heat.

Stop straightening your hair. Stop blow-drying your hair. Stay out of the sun if possible, or bring a hat if you plan to be in the sun all day.

Once I stopped straightening my hair, my hair grew faster, it was easier to detangle, softer, stronger, and more full. My stylist would mention how healthy my hair looked, and how much easier the color was lifting each time I came in. I still straighten my hair a few times a year for fun, but I no longer rely on that look to feel beautiful.

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2. Olaplex.

If you are familiar with beaching hair, you have most likely used or heard of olapex. Olaplex is an additive to the bleaching process that helps prevent your hair from breaking and restores bonds that have been broken, helping to retain your natural pattern and health.

“One of the biggest concerns with color treatment is compromising the curl pattern. This is because usually when you bleach and color the hair, bonds are altered and broken, creating unavoidable breakage to the hair. However, with Olaplex you can leave bleach on the hair longer, and instead of breaking and damaging the hair, you’re actually keeping it in a better condition to achieve even healthier hair.” -Pekela Riley

3. Purple Shampoo.

Purple shampoo is a densely pigmented purple colored shampoo that helps to tone bleached hair. I use Pravana Perfect Blonde line at least once a week, or whenever I feel my hair looks a bit brassy. Most purple toners tend to be really drying on my highly porous curls, but Pravana’s addition of a conditioner and toning masque have been the perfect solution. Over the summer, especially if I avoid my own advice and stay out in the sun all day and expose my hair to UV rays, I rely on my purple toning treatments to correct any color damage that may occur from sun exposure, hard water, chlorine, or natural causes.

4. Deep Condition.

After chemically bleaching your hair, the chemicals can create small holes in the cuticle, meaning many people with bleached hair have high porosity. If you have high porosity hair, these holes can equally let in too much moisture or lose moisture quickly, and can leave it prone to frizz and tangling in humid weather. To combat this, I refresh with a leave-in conditioner and water daily, and do a deep conditioner every week. My holy grail deep conditioner is Ouidad Curl Immersion Triple Treat Deep Conditioner. Formulated with coconut, grapeseed and avocado oils, this conditioner leaves my hair crazy soft and has greatly reduced the time it takes to detangle my hair.

I always allow my deep conditioner to sit in my hair for about an hour, distributing it evenly through my hair with a comb, rolling my hair into a bun on the top of my head, annd doing something super productive- like stalking my curl crushes on Instagram.

After years of coloring my hair, I finally have a routine that works. And while I may not look like Beyoncé, I definitely feel like a “Grown Woman” now that my hair looks as good as I feel.

Do you have experience with heat and/or color damage? How did you overcome it? Share it all with us in the comments below!

This article was originally published in 2017 and has been updated.

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