[beauty] In Memory of Some Fine Lipsticks

In Memory of Some Fine Lipsticks:

Sadly, I have had to throw away all of my regular use lipsticks today. It’s been a difficult decision, but one I ultimately had to stand by for my own lips.

lipwear
The two lipsticks, lip balm and lipgloss I had to throw away this morning. Sad times.

Here is a list of the casualties:

Estee Lauder Pure Color Long Lasting Lipstick in 117 Rose Tea
Avon Anew Plumping Balm in Rose Tint
Collection 2000 Plumping Lipgloss in 3 Lilac Crush
Collection 2000 Volume Sensation Lipstick in 1 Forever Heather

They were my four favourite lipwears, I’m not sure you can actually buy any of them any more (I was in Tesco the other day and couldn’t even see the Volume Sensation Lipstick) so I’m right outside my comfort zone with no lipwear at the moment – all my non-regular use lippies are unusual colours whereas these were all wearable on a daily basis without people passing comment. At this rate, I might have to wear my Bobbi Brown Neon Pink lipstick just because it’s nearest. At least until I get to the shop to buy my next new nude.  I might need to rethink my eyeshadow colours for a while, swapping my earth tone browns for pale pinks so they match better.

Why did I have to throw these away? I hear you wondering. Well it started 6 months ago – see, I’ve always had exceedingly good immunity to coldsores, and even when I get them, they barely show and I never feel them. This bump appeared on the centre of my lip, then it kept going away. About 2 months ago, I realised it was appearing every time I used my Volume Sensation lipstick, but I thought it was a side effect of the lipstick’s active ingredient – Maxilip – which isn’t sold any more and I don’t know why. So I carried on regardless because it was my best colour and I liked the plumping effect. Unfortunately, earlier this week, the bump got a whole lot worse – like, now it’s two huge coldsores in both corners of my mouth, with the same bump still off-centre. I am currently bombarding it all with Zovirax, and it’s actually sore. Problem is, about a month ago, I stopped using Volume Sensation in favour of the Avon Anew lipbalm, and in between I’ve been using the gloss and the Estee Lauder lipstick, because they’re all in my regular rotation. So I’ve given coldsores to all my lipsticks, and now they’re giving them back to me!

I’ve never had a problem like this before, but the amount of times they just keep coming back says to me that I need to just bin the lot of them and start afresh with brand new unopened lipsticks. So it is with a heavy heart that I binned them all earlier this morning. I feel they deserve a eulogy, but I don’t know what to say. I hope they don’t end up in the possession of a bin diver, they will be disappointed when they get coldsores (but it will totes serve them right for not understanding that things get thrown away for a reason).

I have, of course, also cracked open the Zovirax (aciclovir 5%) coldsore cream to try and kill this triumvirate of terror that’s making my lips look awful during Christmas season, but throwing away my lipsticks should definitely prevent another re-occurrence.

Now I need to do research and read reviews about which lipsticks to replace them with. Unless anyone has any recommendations?  I prefer nudes and plumpers that work for longer than just while they’re on your lips.

What colour will that box dye REALLY go on your hair?

Box dyes aren’t always very accurate, are they? Sometimes, you can buy a hair dye and it says it’s black but it turns your hair green. What? How did that happen? Let me introduce you to my Doctrine of Colours:  How to work out what colours will come out like when you add them to your hair (also if your hair’s gone a weird unwanted colour check out my article on colour remover).

In medieval times, when monks ran apothecaries, and medicine came from plants, and Brother Cadfael wasn’t a character played by Derek Jacobi (although he does a stunning job), there was something called the Doctrine of Signatures. This was basically the way new plants were given uses, in an absence of any other information about the plant. For example, liverwort is a plant that was used to heal the liver because it has liver-shaped bits (liver: a distinctive shape). Heartsease has heart shaped leaves, and this led people to believe it would help the heart. Culpeper, the famous herbalist, wrote about this in his book Culpeper’s Herbal (not light reading). More general shaped plants such as Common Plantain were seen as a cure all because they didn’t resemble any specific part of the body.

Taking this into the realm of haircare, I applied colour theory to come up with a doctrine of colours that can be used to decide whether to put a product on your hair. Products won’t automatically do these things if you use them, it’s more of a “if this product does anything at all to the colour of my hair, it will do this” kind of thing:

Purple: Will neutralize yellow, aka “brassy tones.” Many people try to use it to get rid of orange. It doesn’t work on orange.

Blue: Works on orange tones. Blue will neutralize orange so you can get a cool dark blonde shade. In order to do this, it might make your hair look browner, because that unnatural orange + blue will add up to light brown (also, this is how to get light brown hair – take it to orange then add the right amount of blue).

Green: Works on red tones. Green is unpopular as a hair product colourant but if it was more popular, you could use it to get rid of a bright red if you wanted to turn your hair brown again, or to get rid of a tomato stain, although it will keep the darkness of the red staining.

Yellow: Makes hair yellow. It’s a relatively large colour molecule so it stands out with minimal interference from outside products.

Orange: Makes hair orange. It’s also a large colour molecule compared to purple or blue. Will mostly wash out when added to light blonde hair, meaning you might need to repeat-colour it to make it stick better.

Red: Makes hair red. Use a permanent red or orange before trying to dye blonde hair back to brown it makes the brown stick for longer and the colour comes out better. Will mostly wash out when added to light blonde hair, leaving a reddish tinge, so repetition may be necessary.

White: Will not change hair tone.

Black: Avoid like the plague if you are blonde.

Grey: may add grey tones to your hair.

Are you wondering this: Why do half the colours just go the same colour and the other half go to a different colour?

It’s to do with the base colourings of hair. Inside the hair shaft, all the way up to pure white, there are colour molecules of red, orange and yellow, of varying proportions. The red orange and yellow molecules inside your hair are much larger, which is why it takes more effort to remove them than the blue, green and purple molecules.

By the time you take your hair across to white or silver, there should really only be a bit of yellow left in any visible amount. You can’t get rid of every yellow molecule or your hair would be empty inside, like a drinking straw, which would be transparent and easily squashed (which it is to a fair extent at yellow, but it would be worse than already).

At the point at which there are no colour molecules at all left inside the hair shaft, the hair turns to jelly and dissolves. You need to leave some slight amount of yellow tones in your hair.

Personally I prefer to take my longer layers of hair to a slightly brighter yellow than the internet recommends – I keep it at that day glo yellow, rather than leaving the dye on until very very pale yellow, then I rely on toning to do the rest. Toning yellow hair is the same no matter how much yellow is left – as long as the orange is all gone, it works fine.

The colour result is just a shade of silver that’s slightly duller than it would have been if I left the bleach on for longer, but I feel confident that my hair is safer. I take the top (shorter layers) to palest yellow and it all blends together to give a natural result so I will continue to do this, because the top layers would naturally be brighter than the bottom layers as that’s where the sun would hit if I let my hair anywhere near it without a hat or scarf.

This is all super important because in order to get white or silver or platinum hair, you need to know what colours will do what to your hair, and what products to avoid (for example, never put red, yellow or orange coloured shampoos or products on hair that’s white, silver or platinum).

Silver hair - No I don't wear extensions!
My silver hair Dec 7th 2014; see how the longer layers are intentionally a darker silver than the shorter layers. 

Other hair colouring articles you might like:

How to get better results from colour remover and how colour remover works

Wrecked your hair with bleach? Fix it!

Hair colour remover FAQ

Hair bleaching 101: How to bleach your hair

What do I use between the silver shampoos?

Silver toning routine

Silver and white hair Q and A

What is “all natural,” and what are “chemicals?”

What is “all natural” and what are “chemicals?”

I am going to discuss what these two terms ought to mean, and what they really mean. Before anyone’s all like “how surprising,” this actually is surprising to a lot of people.  I have known about this issue for a very long time, because I was lucky enough to find out when I was a child, and have since grown my understanding, but some people aren’t afforded that luxury.  Don’t be sending me or other people hate for bringing this out into the open – it’s about time people stopped being too afraid of looking dumb to ask real questions about science, which means arrogant people have to stop looking down on those individuals who don’t have the same educational background, and create a learning environment.

I am very disillusioned with the ingredients industries (cosmetics, food and pharmaceutical industries) because a long time ago, they created two nonsensical phrases that they can put on more expensive products and get you to buy them, believing you’re doing the right thing for the environment, the animals, and of course, your body. Unfortunately, some very unethical companies have really cashed in on this, and are drowning out the genuine well-intentioned companies with products derived from plants they’ve grown and harvested themselves.

Those companies are real, I will say that from the beginning. I have nothing but love for products made from olive oil, coconut anything, and any of my favourite herbs.  Whether they’re “natural” or “chemical free” is neither here nor there.

Since the terms “all natural” and “no chemicals” are effectively undefinable, they are being put on the packaging for all sorts of crap you’d never want to own in a million years, let alone justify the price tag.

Lets start with chemicals.

A few years ago, a governor tried to bring a bill to the Senate in America to ban the use of dihydrogen monoxide. Her list of the dangers of this terrible chemical was huge – it was known to be deadly in small amounts, it was colourless and odourless, meaning you might not be able to detect its presence, it’s chemical basis, hydroxyl radical, had been shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters in humans and all other animals. This chemical is found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds. It’s used in shampoo, conditioner, hair colourant, it can also be found in biological and chemical weapons manufacture and it’s an industrial solvent.

Based on this information, 86% of Americans would support a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Would you?

I haven’t given you any important information on what dihydrogen monoxide actually is, and when the facts are twisted this way, when a harmless compound is given its chemical nomenclature (the names by which everything in the universe is known to scientists), it sounds more dangerous.

Does this picture give you a clue as to what dihydrogen monoxide actually is?

dihydrogen monoxide aka DHMO

It’s water. If you were ready to sign a petition to ban water, can you see how easily ingredients companies twist the facts to their advantage to try and get you to avoid common ingredients, so you spend more money on things that don’t contain chemicals?

Everything in the universe is made from chemicals. You know about the Periodic Table, right? That everything that possibly exists is made of atoms, and that these atoms are all elements, which are the things with the symbols on the periodic table. I use the Periodic Table symbols for Platinum (Pt) and Silver (Ag) to make writing “platinum and silver blonde” quicker, by saying “Pt and Ag blonde” instead. That’s all those chemical names are. They’re just a way of calling an ingredient by its exact combination of elements in its molecules so that we can reproduce the same things again and again. Take salt water. It’s totally natural, but it’s chemical name could reasonably be sodium chloride dihydrogen monoxide. Doesn’t that sound horrible? But it’s totally precise (hardcore nomenclaturists are crying right now at my simplification).

This is important because of this: In science, lots of similar molecules are all called “salts” including sodium chloride – sea salt – but also sodium iodide, potassium fluoride, and potassium chloride, to name but a few. Some of them behave very differently to others.  In science, it pays to be exact about ingredients names. In fact, labelling law in some countries forbids the manufacturers from calling a lot of things by their normal names, to avoid confusion. For example, did you know that the plant known in England as plantain, hailed as one of the seven miracle herbs of the Celtic world, is not even remotely related to Caribbean plantain, which is a savoury banana. You can buy plantain chips in the Caribbean aisle of the English supermarket, but they’re made of Caribbean plantain, which could be confusing! To make it more confusing, rabbits can eat plantain (from England) but not plantain (from the Caribbean)! This is the exact reason that scientists have given everything in the world a chemical name. Every single thing.

So the only thing anyone could sell that would truly contain “no chemicals” would be a big jar of nothing! And even then, the jar is made of chemicals such as glass, stone or plastic. Manufacturers really cash in on this meaningless term because they can bend it to mean whatever they want it to mean. One minute, “no chemicals” means “nothing with a ‘y’ in it” another it means “no metals” (salt is 50% metal), they pick the meaning, don’t explain it to us customers, and charge us more money for the product because it’s supposed to be healthier.

As customers, we expect “no chemicals” to mean something we can’t quite define – nothing unhealthy or made in a lab, for starters. Something healthier, or that’s more natural. I would like the phrase “no chemicals” to be banned by labelling laws.

Everything’s Natural

Natural is another word that should be banned from all packaging. Everything we have on this planet is natural. People often think scientists go round attaching atoms to each other to make molecules with special properties, the so-called “secret formula” of outdated horror movies.

Scientists like these are as non-existent and unreal as the vampires, werewolves, golems and slime monsters they invent or destroy in those films. I promise you. I’m a fully qualified chemistry teacher and I have worked in a pharmacy, and I have never once seen scientists create nearly-magic stuff from nothing. I repeat, everything we have, everything we’ve made, it’s all come from our natural planet. But that doesn’t mean you’d want to eat it. What you’re expecting from “all natural” products seems obvious – plant derived, herbs, cleansing energy, ancient goodness, things you could make in your kitchen. Unfortunately, that’s not always what products contain when they’re labelled “all natural.”

Often, subversive companies use the “all natural” or “natural ingredients” type labelling to make you think something is more wholesome than it really is. For example, Walkers Sensations were claiming their crisps (potato chips) were “made with natural ingredients.” Let’s break this down and define it by what it isn’t:

Supernatural means anything that occurs which is physically unexplainable.
Unnatural means “not natural.”

Natural means anything that occurs which is physically possible and explainable by the triple discipline of biology-physics-chemistry (aka science) through empirical means (in other words, by testing it).

Therefore everything in the universe that can be explained by physics is natural.

I asked a physicist if crisps were explainable by biology chemistry and physics. He agreed. There may have been investigator bias because I am a chemist asking the question and I already knew the answer, but I don’t think it affected his answer because it’s a simple “natural or supernatural.”

When you look at labelling, this is the definition that is often used.

The other definition, and the one people expect “natural” to mean, is “occurs in nature.” Crisps don’t occur in nature, you don’t just find them lying around. The label did say natural ingredients, so I will point out bottles of vegetable oil (the second ingredient on the back) aren’t just sitting around in the jungle waiting to be picked up, a plant has to be processed to get it. Face creams, soaps, shower gels, miso soups, and tubs of beans don’t occur in nature. They have all been subjected to a process even if that process is simply mixing them together. If we were to say natural means “any ingredient that occurs in nature, that has been processed and combined with other ingredients” then anything in the universe could be classed as natural. The use of the word is completely binary, with no middle ground. Therefore, if a law were to regulate use of the word natural, you wouldn’t be able to put it on any natural products because you wouldn’t find them occuring in nature with “natural” labels on them. The only 100% natural way of life is to become fruitarian. Which as I discuss elsewhere is shockingly unhealthy and lacks amino acids in the quantities needed for brain, muscle and organ function in humans over the long term (but sounds very romantic). So no, that toothpaste isn’t natural, and yes, that orange is natural, and they’re both made of chemicals, because all things in nature are made 100% from chemicals (check out the “Periodic Table of Elements – also called “the periodic table of CHEMICAL elements”) and they’re all completely natural.

Conclusion:

Natural and no-chemicals labelling has become a marketing ruse to get you to pay over the odds for a less effective product because then they don’t have to actually spend time and money on Research and Development to make a product that functionally competes with the brand leaders.

The ideals of the original companies that began labelling their products with these words have been subverted by large corporations and smaller swindling start-ups for financial gain, because you can’t prove that anything (even 2-hydroxypropanoic acid*) is not natural.

* 2-hydroxypropanoic acid is also called lactic acid and is made in the human body, it builds up in muscles after exercise causing that familiar stiff feeling.

Caring for long hair

Caring for long hair:

The best advice I have ever been given about caring for long hair is this:

“Treat your hair like your grandmother’s best antique lace.”

Obviously we don’t want to put it in a drawer and dry it flat, or only use it at Christmas, but there is a lot of wisdom and insight in this quote.

Your hair is, really truly, as delicate as antique lace. It is dead from the moment it leaves your head. Not only that, but it is barely anchored to your scalp, and it’s relatively easy to pull out any individual hairs.

I was told by a friend that (biological) male hair roots are deeper than roots of (biological) female hair. Perhaps that explains why there are so many rock gods still sporting trouser-length hair thirty years after their prime! Women’s hair tends to be finer, too – the individual hair shafts are slightly thinner than in men’s hair.

Ways to care for long hair and help it grow faster:

Massage, gently: I have been told by a hairdressing guru that the reason that men get receding and thinning hair (apart from genetics) is because they stimulate their hair follicles less. Since this guru is now retired, still sporting an amazing mop of hair, I would be inclined to believe him. Women, who statistically are more likely to choose to have longer hair than men, tend to poke and prod at their hair with brushing, straightening, massaging the shampoo and conditioner in; all this activity keeps the hair follicles stimulated. I did an experiment last year, where I massaged my hair twice a day for a month. It grew two inches in thirty days. I didn’t do anything else differently, such as changing my diet, so this really can work. One thing I’ve been warned against is over-stimulation – massaging too roughly or too often can have the opposite effect, as it causes an abrasive action that harms the hairs near the scalp, which will lead to more hair loss, so make sure to only do this in moderation.

Wash weekly (unless you eat oily fish): To keep your hair in its best condition, you should reduce the frequency of washing. Daily hair washing is reserved for owners of a number two buzz cut, and hair shampoo sales reps; it says “suitable for daily use” on your shampoo, not “use daily.” The key word is suitable – it means the product is gentle and won’t cause a product build up as quickly, it doesn’t mean you truly ought to use it daily (unlike moisturizer, which you should definitely use every day). Your hair produces natural oils, and by washing them away too much, you not only strip the hair of its protection (which means you need to use more oils you bought from the beauty store – hey, who’s really cashing in on this “wash your hair daily” rubbish? The hair product companies), but you also cause a negative feedback loop – your scalp detects that it feels too dry (un-oily, not non-wet) and ramps up oil production, which you promptly wash away, and it keeps on going. After a couple of weeks of feeling like your hair is super-greasy, it will settle down to a less aggressive oil production schedule. Also washing less frequently means that when you brush your hair, the oil gets further down the shaft to where it is needed – the ends of your hair. This will make your hair look stronger, shinier and less brittle. But if you eat an oily fish, wash your hair the same day, because that smells nasty!

Brush carefully: Remember the antique lace? Be very gentle, like you’re trying to brush the tail of a baby squirrel. Or something else super-delicate. Start at the ends of your hair; grasp your hair part-way down to support the strands, so all the pull of the brush doesn’t rip any hair out, and gently brush the ends. When the ends are totally tangle free, move up inch by inch, until your hair is detangled carefully. This minimizes hair breakage and loss (think about how a lever works – this is the same, if you put force on a long hair it’s got more chances to break than if you put the same force on a shorter hair) because there is less force being put upon your hair’s shafts.

Choose your brush carefully: I didn’t believe the first ten people who told me this, but the eleventh? I listened. Get thee a Tangle Teezer! Don’t get a cheap knock off, don’t get something with a similar sounding name that looks totally different, the brand is Tangle Teezer and it’s an investment in your hair. Even with a Tangle Teezer, I would still brush as outlined above. I know some people just drag them through from root to tip but obviously if you care about your hair, you need to use brushing techniques and good brushes that will minimize damage – a brush on its own won’t fix your hair, but when you use it properly, it gives less breakage than a plastic vent brush (my previous preferred type). I keep hearing amongst older hair growers that boar bristles are good, but I can’t really recommend them because a) I’ve never tried them and b) they come from a dead animal, and you’re rubbing that through your hair! Ewww! Before I get a plethora of snarky emails about hair products, they have this list on the side of the packet called “ingredients,” and because I used to be a chemistry teacher, I actually know what those long words mean and where they come from, most of them are synthetic by-products of the petroleum fractional distillation process (think Vaseline, mineral oil, and anything ending in “-ane” or “-ene”) if they’re really long words, and the industry is leaning more towards animal-free products these days anyway, so no, I don’t inadvertently put dead animal crap on my hair. If you want to know the real meaning of “all-natural” I’ve got an article here: What Is All Natural?

Take supplements: Obviously before changing your diet and exercise routine, consult a doctor blah blah blah, but seriously, I saw loads of people recommending omega 3 fish oil, so I was all like “can’t I use omega 3 non-fish oil?” The internet didn’t know, so I bought some omega complex linseed oil from the supermarket, nothing fancy, and tried it for 2 months. It accelerated my hair growth by about 50%, so I’m going to be possibly the first person on the internet to say through anecdotal evidence that the vegan sources of omega complex are good for your hair. If I’d bought a more expensive, cold pressed refined whatnot, it probably would have worked better because it would have been more concentrated in the amino acids which are a large part of why this works (amino acids are building blocks of protein, which is what hair is made of – that’s exactly what keratin is, it’s a protein). You need very specific amino acids to achieve faster hair growth, hence my uncertainty as to whether the flaxseed would work or not, but it did so yay.

Exercise: See above about doctors. Exercise increases your metabolism, meaning that if you eat right and exercise, those building blocks will get to where they need to be faster, which will mean you’re ready for more of them sooner. Don’t overdo it though – over-exercise, particularly coupled with under-eating (or INAPPROPRIATE eating) can cause hair loss, eek!

Minimise stress: So easy to say, so hard to do. Most of us wouldn’t ever be stressed if we had a choice about it; don’t get me wrong, I know it’s unrealistic to say “remove all stressors from your life.” What you can do, though, is change the way you manage that stress. For example, meditation, kundalini yoga, mindfulness, exercise, inspiring and calming music, and of course, making time for things you enjoy. I have a big list of planned articles, and stress management is on the list.

Consider whether your contra^ptive pill is causing hair loss: I won’t start on all the things that the pill can cause that most people aren’t warned about, because obviously it has some amazing benefits – regulating your cycle, clearing up acne, boob growth, oh and I guess stopping you from getting pregnant! If you’ve got one that works for you for mood swings, PMS, PMDD or any other life improving reason, keep it, it can take forever to end up on the right pill, and that process can be stressful. I do not advocate stopping medication if it’s doing the job and helping you in some way. However, if you’re just using it for pregnancy worries, and you haven’t really looked around, it might be worth considering an alternative method because the pill sometimes causes hair loss which stops long hair from looking as long as it really is, and thinner hair is more prone to breakage because there are less individual strands to disperse the forces from everyday life.

Use coconut oil: I’ve seen a lot of different sites touting a plethora of different oils, but if you like your hair to stay icy-pale, use coconut oil; I have tried two brands of argan oil (one courtesy of a gift, the other a freebie) and I’ve used extra virgin olive oil (it was The Last Big Thing, based on the anecdotes of a woman who lived to be 117 years old, who attributed this to lack of stress and lots of olives and olive oil, so it obviously became a health fad but it’s gone out of fashion now, probably because they can make more money selling you some other oil that isn’t as readily available in the supermarket); while they both do the job well enough, the problem is that they are coloured oils, and while the inherent colour might not be the thing doing it, something in these oils definitely makes my hair yellow/orange after I use them. I have tracked this over time and it’s definitely the oils that do it – argan oil is the worst for this. I think it’s something to do with the antioxidant properties, which, if you are a bleach blonde, you will probably know are what makes hair orange, e.g. if it’s gone green (from being oxidised in the sun by UV light) you use tomatoes or tomato ketchup to fix it (antioxidants), but if it’s not green, the antioxidants in tomatoes/ketchup make hair orange. So instead of them, use coconut oil, it’s colourless and doesn’t react with the hair colour molecules, which is my kind of protective oil. I buy mine from Sainsbury’s, the Lucy Bee brand, I’ve had it for a year and I’m only halfway through a jar. You can also get it from Amazon or Holland and Barrett. Make sure it’s got all the right labels that float your boat – pure, cold pressed, extra-virgin, and whatnot, so you’re satisfied with it. Someone recently raised a concern about whether it was watered down if it doesn’t specifically say “pure” on it. Nope, it’ll all be coconut if that’s what the ingredients say (do check them). Also, look up the coconut oil bleaching method (just type that into youtube) if you want to try it – I can’t recommend because I haven’t done it myself, but it certainly looks interesting.

Plaiting your hair/using protective styles: I got this from Afro-Caribbean hairstyling sites, basically a protective style is one you can put your hair into that protects it from traction and friction in everyday life, so a plait (or a set of plaits) would be a protective style, a ponytail would not because it leaves the individual strands vulnerable to the entire world. This is particularly sound advice at bedtime. Do be careful with how you tie off your plait though – a very tight hairband can cause traction alopecia, which nobody wants!

Silk Pillow/night cap: I bought a couple of scarves for outside, a silk pillow for at home, and a night cap for if I am away. I found silk to be helpful; it reduces friction compared to cotton so your hair doesn’t get stuck on the pillow, and it’s also got bizarre chemical properties (chemical as in, the fundamental chemistry of silk, I’m not saying it’s got “bad chemicals” in it) that cause it to interact with anything that touches it, mean it can help with healing your skin and protecting your hair.

Snag Free Bobbles: Hairbands that don’t have metal clasps have reduced hair damage and split ends when I tie off a plait. They’re more expensive than regular ones; get a good feel of the connecting glue before you buy, as some of the cheaper ones have thick, sharp glue splodges where they connect, which is almost as bad as the metal bits on regular bobbles. I like Scunci brand.

And finally, the things that didn’t work:

1. Biotin: This was my biggest disappointment, and an expensive mistake. I found it to be not only useless for my hair, but also caused my skin to break out, left me irritable and moody, and basically had a caffeine effect on me – super energized an hour afterwards, then in tears twelve hours later from exhaustion and over-blowing some silly problem. This one was definitely not for me, which I was really disappointed about because I heard such good things. My biotin was only 500 micrograms per tablet, I tried various different doses (800 should be optimal according to one study, 5000 according to another study) and just had to write it off as a bad job. I decided any hair growth effects from the supplements were probably being reversed by the stress they were causing me by unseating my emotions, resulting in a net gain of zero. I even tried them alongside other B vitamins, as suggested by a handful of reviewers on Amazon, and that didn’t make any difference either. I guess my biotin levels are naturally as high as they’re going to get.

2. Nope, it was actually just the biotin. Every other piece of info I’ve ever read on hair growth and caring for long hair has been pretty helpful.

Hair Dye 101: Bleaching your hair to white or silver blonde

How to get silver blonde, white blonde, platinum blonde and silver hair.

“It started as a sudden fancy…” Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

I believe that we are inspired to take our hair to its blonding limits. It sometimes feels like a labour of love – certainly, the frustrations and disappointments that can be felt if it all goes wrong is akin to losing a sporting event or getting an unexpectedly low mark in an exam, compounded by people’s negativity and their failure to understand that a slight mistake isn’t proof this was a bad idea, it’s an opportunity to learn.

The triumphs and successes are commented on by far more people than any other colour. There’s something very special about a good blonde dye result, it has the power to delight, uplift and inspire awe and wonder like no other hair colour. I can wax lyrical all day, white blonde, silver and platinum blonde are my favourite colour range. They are where science and art meet to create perfect harmonics with beauty and perfection in a delectable barbershop quartet. Okay I’m done with the poetics.

To start blonding, you need to think like a hairdresser. A highly imaginative and intelligent colourist. Think you’re up for it? If not, go to an actual hairdresser (not an average one; just because they did Sheryl up the road’s highlights does NOT mean they know how to take your hair to within an inch of it’s physical limits. If you want above average hair, you will need to either get an above average hairdresser, or do it yourself).

It’s not arrogant to think you can colour your own hair, and here’s why – you have lived with this hair for how many years? You know what you’ve done to it, you can’t lie to yourself, you know where you chopped that fringe when you were twelve, which bits still have henna on them (get these cut before you start colouring, henna and bleach don’t mix), how often you comb your hair when it’s wet or overheat the straighteners when you’re in a hurry.

You know what shampoo and conditioner you use, and how often you REALLY use that protein spray you bought.

Most hairdressers take a history of your hair, but they don’t have the time or memory to go very in-depth. And here’s the thing. You can tell them you colour your hair every 6 weeks, and they’ll say “it’s in good condition, let’s bleach it with SUPER STRENGTH” and they’re not the ones who have to go home with ruined hair. You do.

I get my hair cut by hairdressers (although I’ve done that myself in the past). I don’t let them colour. I used to, but they just crapped on my trust and took my money anyway and left me to go home with awful hair several times, from several different hairdressers, in different parts of the UK, so I just don’t trust them to colour.

The hairdresser who cuts my hair even got in on the action this year. She tried to tell me I could bleach my hair more, that it could take another round of maximum strength 40 vol peroxide. I could see signs that she couldn’t, that told me this was a terrible idea. I did a test strand when I got home, and lo and behold, it burnt clean in half.

What she didn’t see was the red wasn’t my hair colour, it was cuticle staining from the last time I let a hairdresser colour my hair, 2 years ago (this was a trainee who needed to do it to qualify so I have never told them how badly they wrecked my hair). Or perhaps my hair-cutter was hoping I’d come for another cut or a colour correction once it was ruined.

There are two ways you can bleach your hair:

1. None of the hair currently on your head has any colour on it or has been coloured in the past, unless all the coloured bits have been totally cut off.

2. You have coloured it, even if only an inch of colour is left.

Method 1: None of the hair currently on your head has any colour on it or has been coloured in the past, unless all the coloured bits have been totally cut off.

Do not follow this method if someone else coloured it for you, if you have got highlights, ombre or any other sort of colour, even if it’s the same colour dye as your natural colour. I’ve got another method for you, why follow the wrong one?

Firstly, you will need the following items:

1. A box of hair colour. I would use a pre-lightener such as Belle Blonde or Born Blonde on fresh hair as they are easy to use and work well enough.

When I box dye, it takes 3 boxes to cover my hair. Mine is waist length and very thick. Make sure you buy enough.

2. Something to cover yourself with, such as a bin bag (sexy!) especially if your hair is long. Hair dye can burn your nipples. Just saying.

3. Something to cover the floor with. Another bin bag or some sheets of newspaper will do.

4. A clock, watch, or VERY accurate sundial. I sometimes use my laptop so I can listen to music during the development time.

Your natural haircolour will determine how long you need to leave the dye on for. I would do a strand test if possible, following the instructions on the packet. Here’s why: people are often shocked by the range of colours hair goes through before it finishes at blonde. If you see your hair turning orange, would you panic and wash the bleach off? If you’ve seen it all on the strand test, then when your whole head of hair starts going through a series of colours you’ll not even worry.

Note: Wash the pre-lightener off at the maximum time, even if your hair isn’t as light as you want it. While most of the product will become inactive before the development time is over (meaning that if you leave it too long it’ll start to go patchy), there’s still enough active product on your scalp to cause damage. Wash it all off, let your scalp recover (I recommend at least a week, and two if you can wait that long) then pre-lighten again if you need to. While your hair won’t “heal” itself, your scalp will, and that can make the difference between being a healthy blonde and being plagued with hair loss and permanent scalp damage.

Once your hair is as light as you want (for platinum and silver, you need your hair to be a very pale yellow before toning), move on to toning your blonde hair.

Method 2: You’ve got some other colour on your hair:

If your hair has a COLOUR (e.g. red, black, brown) on it, you need to use a colour remover before bleaching, then wait two weeks before bleaching (because the bleach will re-oxidize any remaining colour molecules in your hair and it’ll go very dark and possibly greenish, see how colour remover works for details).

The reason to use colour remover is that there’s only a certain amount of bleaching a hair can take before it melts. Colour remover stinks and washing it out is tedious and it leaves your hair so dry but its an important step, particularly for darker dyed hair. It doesn’t bring your natural colour back, it just gets rid of dye colour, so once that’s done, you’re ready to bleach.

You have two options, I prefer to pre-lighten then blue-bleach because pre-lightener is idiot proof and takes it to just enough blonde that if there are patches of brown it’s less conspicuous until you fix it, which is always good on your first step. If your hair is light, you’re probably done after pre-lightener and ready to tone, but this is unlikely.

After pre-lightening, get some powder bleach, in the UK, Jerome Russell’s B*Blonde Maximum Lift Powder is for sale everywhere, and depending on your CURRENT hair lightness (I know, the box says natural, it assumes you haven’t just prelightened/colour removed etc), use either medium or high peroxide cream. Peroxide comes in percentages.

Medium is 30vol, high is 40 vol. If you’re not sure, go for medium, you can always bleach it again if it’s too dark. If you go too high, you can burn your hair off, this is called a chemical haircut and you can’t dye your hair again once it’s happened (but hairdressers will tell you they can “fix” it by putting more peroxide-filled chemicals, or worse, semi-permanent colour, on your hair). Once your hair has been damaged that badly, it cannot be repaired (see also: how to fix hair that’s turned to chewing gum). We’ve all wrecked our hair, it’s a rite of passage. But you’re going to try not to, so go for medium if you’re unsure.

Mix the bleach in a bowl (I use a pyrex glass bowl, most people use plastic ones that are specially made for hair dye) and use a spatula (non-metal), so your brush doesn’t get full of lumps of unmixed powder that lands on your hair and makes a splotchy mess later.

Once it’s mixed, apply it to your hair according to the instructions (usually brush on lengths and ends first, then roots 20 mins later because roots develop much faster. I find this hard so usually just leave my roots to do on a further application when the rest of my hair is dry and not tangled up in thick creamy bleach, it’s more of a faff but my hair would be much shorter if I just yanked it around and treated it like a Stretch Armstrong), basically wait until your hair is the colour you want, and wash it off.

Let hair dry. Congratulations, you should have some pale yellow bleached hair, and if it’s pale yellow, contrasting with your complexion and looking a bit unnatural; you’re now ready to tone!

Other hair colouring articles you might like:

How to get better results from colour remover and how colour remover works

Wrecked your hair with bleach? Fix it!

Hair colour remover FAQ

What do I use between the silver shampoos?

Silver toning routine

What colour will that box dye really go on your hair?

Silver and white hair Q and A