Anyone with a bottle of peroxide can bleach their hair blonde, but unless you want to seriously punish, fray and even kill your tresses, you need a better plan than that. Lightening your hair is a major commitment, so to minimize the risk that comes with stripping away natural color, you need to take a few key steps both before and after your treatment.

Stay hydrated

Going blonde doesn't just artificially color your hair -- it strips natural color out, leaving your hair dried and damaged. Deep condition your hair a few days before your first coloring appointment, and keep doing it periodically afterward based on your stylist's recommendation. Keeping hair hydrated on a regular basis is critical to prevent it from drying and breaking. Stay away from alcohol-based hair products that will make the damage more severe, and stick to moisturizing ones.

Take your time

If you want to go from Salma Hayek to Marilyn Monroe, understand that it isn't going to happen overnight. You should never lighten your hair more than two or three shades in a single session; the amount of chemical treatment it would take to do so could cause catastrophic damage to your locks. You need to go blonde in periodic sessions, giving your hair time to recover and rehydrate between salon visits.

Be gentle

Remember to be good to your hair even after you've started going blonde. Even healthy blonde hair is susceptible to damage, so always take precautions. For example, cover your hair or use a hairspray with sunscreen in it before spending long periods of time in the sun. Otherwise, the UV light can alter the hue of your hair and leave it brittle. If you go swimming, always rinse your hair out immediately after as chlorine from a pool and salt from the sea can also cause damage. And always, always use hot styling tools sparingly. When your hair is already fragile from going blonde, too much time with the blow dryer or straightening iron can scorch it.

Consult a hair professional

Everybody needs a little help sometimes, so don't think you have to do this thing alone. If you're going more than two shades lighter, at least talk to a professional stylist first. The more dramatic the color change, the likelier the need to get a professional coloring job. No matter how much luck you've had with box colors before, going blonde is a high-risk operation, and doing it at home may be more trouble than it's worth -- especially because if you over process, you'll be doing damage control for weeks.