Today, it is easier than ever before to change your hair color. You see celebrities drastically change their color and style with every season.
Every few months we see a new hair color trend from rainbow hair, mermaid hair, to different balayage techniques.
A major component in achieving these vibrant colors is hair bleach.
Without bleach, it is impossible to lift the color of your hair, which is needed to reach these hair goals.
Quite a number of people have taken to bleaching their hair.
There are usually some concerns when it comes to bleaching. For instance: Does bleaching your hair damage it forever?
Why Is Hair Bleach Used?
You are probably wondering whether a chemical that is strong enough to dissolve the color pigment out of your hair is safe to use.
It can be exhausting trying to wade through all the information to learn the truth about safely bleaching your hair, and facts about the impacts on your hair health.
To clear up any confusion, we are going to provide you with an up-close look at the bleaching process and how it works on your hair to lift the color.
We will also touch on the short and long term effects it can have on your hair health.
It’s fun to try out new dramatic hair colors and experiment with different tones to change up your look.
However, going to a lighter color is much more difficult than just depositing pigment onto your locks for a darker hue.
This is where bleach comes in. The only way to lighten your hair is through the chemical process that bleach initiates.
Bleach lifts the pigment from your hair to give you a blank canvas so to speak.
This is how you can achieve those vibrant manes and platinum tresses.
What Does Hair Bleach Consist Of?
Hair bleach causes a chemical reaction with your hair to strip the pigment.
Hydrogen peroxide and ammonia are the most common compounds used in bleach.
Individually, they are unstable and slow to lighten your hair, which is why they are used together in a mixture.
It is impossible to bleach your hair without these, or similar agents.
You may see a bleaching or lightening product that claims to be peroxide or ammonia-free, to appear to be a healthier option.
Be cautious, though, because there has to be a similar agent used which can be just as damaging or even worse.
The best thing you can do is research and look into what you want to get out of the bleaching process.
How Does Hair Bleach Work?
So, we have established that bleach usually has a mixture of peroxide and ammonia, and you may be wondering what they exactly do.
Bleaching your hair requires a chemical reaction called oxidation to occur.
This process is what allows for the pigment in your hair to be dissolved.
The process first starts with an alkaline agent that opens the cuticles.
This is important because it allows for the bleaching agent to fully infiltrate your hair.
Then, the bleaching agents will begin to oxidize and this dissolves the natural melanin in your hair (or dye pigment if your hair has been dyed before.)
You may notice that this oxidation process releases energy in the form of heat.
You can help this process along by either trapping that heat with a moist shower cap, or using a heat cap.
If you choose to do this, please be sure to keep up the humidity, bleach needs to remain moist.
What Does Bleach Do To Your Hair?
At first thought, science and hairstyling and care seem to be on opposite sides of the spectrum, but the two go hand in hand.
Bleaching is actually a chemical reaction happening in your hair.
As mentioned above, it is the oxidation reaction that allows for your hair pigment to be lifted.
The process starts with an alkaline agent.
An alkaline, is the opposite of acidic, meaning that it has a pH level higher than 7.
This alkaline agent opens your hair cuticles to let in the oxidizing agents.
Once the bleaching agents enter the now open cuticles and begin to oxidize your hair, the color starts to lift in levels.
This oxidation actually dissolves the melanin in your hair.
How long, and how many times you need to bleach will depend on your starting level and which level you wish to lighten.
Other factors such as hair type, health, thickness, and color will impact this too.
Check on your hair
It is always recommended to check on your hair throughout the process.
This allows you to see it work for yourself.
If your hair is dark, you may notice it turn to a brassy orange or yellow color as the levels of pigment lift.
This is a part of the lifting process and you can use a toner once your hair is lightened to cancel out that pigment.
You may also notice that the bleach has made your hair swell and may have changed your texture, curl pattern, and the level of elasticity in your hair.
When the agents in the bleach start to oxidize, the cuticles in your hair will continue to raise and open.
This is what makes your hair damaged and more prone to breakage.
Healthy hair cuticles are closed and smooth, while damaged ones are open and porous.
Issues That Can Arise During The Bleaching Process
No matter what precautions are taken, there are always risk factors involved when chemically processing your hair.
If you do not follow the instructions or make a mistake while mixing your bleach, it can not work properly (or not work at all) and only end up damaging your hair.
Set realistic goals
Settling realistic goals is important.
If you have thick, black hair, you really cannot expect to safely lift to a level ten in one day or during a single bleaching session.
You will need multiple bleaching sessions, and if you do not allow for your hair to rest and take care of it in between, then you may severely damage your hair.
The harsh chemicals from the bleach can cause your hair to lose its elasticity.
If you put your hair through multiple processes back to back, there is a good chance that you will have clumps of hair breaking off, especially towards the ends.
You need to allow your hair to rest and give it deep conditioning treatments.
Examine your hair
You should also closely examine and evaluate your hair.
If you notice it is dry, brittle, and already showing breakage, it is not a good idea to bleach it again.
The oxidation reaction that happens when the bleach is working creates heat.
You will feel this heat all over your head.
Your scalp may also burn, itch, and turn red, making it a very uncomfortable process to sit through.
If you have a sensitive scalp, this burning can feel quite severe.
You should always start with a test strand near the back bottom of your head to see how your skin and hair will react.
The results and damage of your hair will depend on a number of factors.
Before you start, make sure you have everything you need and enough hair bleach.
I’ve written a post detailing how to bleach hair at home, listing all the things you’ll need.
Not using enough will lead to inconsistent coverage and discolored blotching.
It will take more bleach to correct this, which will bring on more damage.
Does Bleaching Your Hair Damage It Forever?
To comprehensively answer this question, let’s look at the short-term and long-term effects of bleaching.
Short-term effects of bleaching
Bleaching strips the hair of its fatty acids and natural melanin, which gives the hair your color, it also opens up the hair cuticles and makes your hair more porous.
When hair is porous, moisture can more easily escape, and the hair is much more prone to damage and breakage.
To check the porosity of your hair, you can do so with a cup of water.
Place a clean strand of hair in the water.
The more porous your strand is, the more it will float.
Normal porosity should hover around halfway, while low porosity will sink to the bottom.
Your hair will feel dry, but you may also notice added volume.
When the cuticles open during the first stages of the bleaching treatment, it causes the hair to swell, and you may also notice a “bird’s nest effect”.
This is due to how dry and brittle the bleach can make your hair, and that causes fraying and tangling.
Soon after bleaching, you will want to use a good deep conditioner for bleached hair that closes your cuticles and puts moisture back into your hair.
You may also have some redness on your scalp that will fade and heal.
Long-term effects of bleaching
All these downsides may seem overwhelming and scary, but fear not!
There is good news! It is extremely rare that bleaching affects new hair growth, so in the extended long run, there is not any permanent damage usually.
However, during the time of bleaching, and growing it out, your hair will need consistent upkeep to keep it healthy.
Find a good hair care routine that works for your hair type to bring life back into it.
You will need to be gentle when washing and drying your hair.
Scrubbing hard, and towel drying it roughly will cause your hair to weaken and could encourage more tangling and breakage.
You will also need to limit exposure to sunlight, UV rays (that means no tanning,) and heat styling as these can cause further damage and have a harsh impact on your color.
Want to bleach again?
If you want to bleach or redye your hair again, you will be met with a new set of challenges.
The more hair is processed and bleached, the less effective it is at retaining hair color.
This will cause your hair color to fade more quickly and make it more difficult to achieve the color results that you want.
It is also more difficult to perform color treatments on heavily processed hair.
If you are a swimmer or find yourself constantly in a pool with chlorine, you should be extremely cautious when considering bleaching your hair.
Chlorine can cause dryness and more damage to your hair.
It can also discolor hair dyes and turn blonde hair green.
Are you ready for some more good news?
Well, there are certain steps and precautions you can take to minimize the harm that is done, and let you have beautiful healthy hair that has been bleached and dyed.
Here is a rundown:
Avoid using box kits and boxed dyes
Pre-packaged hair processing kits are kind of like a “one size fits most”.
While many times the outcome will be acceptable, they may cause more damage than salon products.
Boxed bleaching kits usually contain more ammonia and peroxide and they can cause more damage to your hair than is necessary.
Everyone has their own unique hair type and it is a much wiser idea to choose your products relative to what your individual hair needs are.
Start with unwashed, dry hair
Your scalp produces essential natural oils that give your hair nutrients and protection from exposure to the elements.
By starting out the bleaching process with hair that hasn’t been washed for a few days, you can utilize these oils for their intended protection.
Choose the lowest volume developer possible
Developer is a key component to the bleaching process.
It is this component that can cause a lot of damage.
So, first of all, I will start out with the warning to never exceed 40 volume developers.
These will fry your hair.
On the other hand, a 10 volume developer will not lighten your hair and is only for depositing color.
If you have light brown to blonde hair, or you only want to lift 1-2 levels, a 20 volume developer will work for your needs.
If you have brown to dark brown hair, and you only want to lift 1-2 levels you can bump it up to a 30 volume developer.
And if you are unsure of what you need, or have a hard time choosing which developer you need, a 30 volume will generally be your best bet.
You can use a 40 volume developer if your hair is healthy, and I will recommend that your hair hasn’t been processed before.
Also if you have thick, dark hair, commonly found with individuals of Asian descent, and you want to make your hair very light, I would recommend a 40 volume developer for you as well.
Have realistic goals and time frames
If you have dark brown or black hair, and you are expecting to go to a platinum blonde within one day, you will be disappointed.
You should avoid bleaching multiple times in one day whenever possible.
The more times you bleach your hair, the more damage will be caused.
You will want to spread out the processing and care for your hair with deep conditioners and hair masks in between.
Allow your hair to rest.
That may mean enduring a couple of days with horrible hair color, but I can assure you that you will be happier in the long run.
During the lifting process, depending on your natural hair and starting point, your hair will most likely fade to a brassy orange color or yellow.
Toner will help to cancel out these unwanted pigments, but do not attempt to use color as a toner.
A blue toner will cancel out orange tones, while a purple toner will mute yellow tones.
Apply the bleach correctly
It is natural to want to start at your roots, but this is a bad idea.
Bleach processes faster with heat and your scalp produces a lot of heat.
If you start at your roots, your hair will end up a couple of shades lighter than the rest of your hair.
On the opposite end, if you start at the ends, where there is more breakage, this will cause more damage, as the bleach will be on your ends the longest.
You always want to start about ¼” away from your scalp and work the bleach down towards the ends.
Once you do this for your whole head, let it process for 10 minutes and go back in and cover your roots.
How To Maintain Your Hair Health After Bleaching
The first thing you will want to do soon after you have finished all the processes in your hair is to encourage your cuticles to close.
This will help make your hair smoother and shinier.
Olaplex is a high rated bonding agent that also has a maintenance shampoo and conditioner.
It would also be beneficial to use a deep conditioning hair mask at least once a week.
I have had good results by applying deep conditioner.
I then cover my hair with a plastic bag, that I spritz water into, and then using a heat cap on low setting.
Finally, if you have any doubts about the integrity of your hair or signs of damage, refrain from going through with processing your hair again.
Allow your new growth to grow and keep up with maintenance trimmings.
If you do need to color your hair again, it is highly encouraged to go to a professional.
Be completely honest about what has been done with your hair.
So, does bleaching your hair damage it forever?
The thing is, bleaching can seem like a scary process, but it really doesn’t have to be.
Do your research and follow the instructions.
If you are intuitive about your hair needs, it is possible to safely use bleach, and end up with gorgeous color.
Just be sure you are willing to put forth the effort in maintaining your new color and the health of your hair.