Does Bleaching Damage Your Hair?

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Golden locks come with a price, and not just what you pay your hairstylist. You may be imagining yourself with the perfect tan, a crisp white outfit, and light blonde hair to complete the sleek look. By applying chemical solutions to your hair, you may be hiding those gray hairs (reality check!) or transforming into a blonde overnight. But the everlasting effects on your hair may not be worth it. As chemical reactions occur at the molecular level of your hair, think twice before your monthly salon visits or your at-home bleaching methods.

What Is Hair Bleaching?

Person having their hair bleached.

Hair bleaching can be harsh on your hair.

What is hair bleaching? Hair bleaching is a series of chemical reactions that take place in the hair to remove the hair’s natural color. First, an alkaline agent (such as ammonia) is applied to the hair, which causes the hair to swell. The swelling stage allows the cuticles to expand, increases the hair’s fullness, and helps maintain the color additions along the process.

Once the cuticle opens up, chemicals jump right in for the oxidation stage. Oxidation is when the color from melanin (the pigment in hair providing the dark color) is extracted, resulting in a lighter hair color. “Oxidizing agents” are the chemicals responsible for this process, since they dissolve the different parts of the pigment in your hair. Hydrogen peroxide and ammonia are the two common “oxidizing agents” due to their stable and speedy capabilities in lightening hair.

Since hydrogen peroxide strips hair of the protective lipid coatings through the oxidation process, it can result in hair damage if bleach is left in for extended periods of time. The longer bleach remains in the hair, the more color it extracts. This causes red, yellow, platinum, and ultimately white colors to develop.

Although these chemical culprits are typically used in bleach products, companies often use other oxidizing agents, implying that their product is more “natural.” Don’t be fooled by an “ammonia-free” label. The product can damage your hair just the same, and it can contain plenty of other harmful chemicals!

Not only could the chemicals from bleach damage your hair, they also could have toxic impacts on your body. According to the American Cancer Society, with both semi-permanent and permanent hair dye there is a “possible link between hair dye use and cancer”. Specifically, there is a risk of blood cancers (leukemia and lymphoma) and bladder cancer. 

Further, bleached hair is affected by environmental elements, such as UV rays. These can magnify the damage by increasing dryness of the hair, as they constantly remove essential moisture and sustenance. Picture your hair as a sponge, automatically absorbing whatever chemicals we treat it with, creating more brittle hair. 

Does Bleaching Your Hair Damage It?

Side view of woman on beach wearing sunglasses with highlighted short hair.

Woman with blonde dip-dyed hair.

So, does bleaching your hair damage it? As there are many ways to color your hair, bleaching earns the gold medal for the most harmful method. When your hair is bleached, the outer cuticle enables the bleaching agent to completely penetrate through. This also causes quick and constant loss of moisture in your hair.  This leads to dry hair that’s more likely to be thin, tangled, and coarse.

The damage doesn’t end there. Bleached hair also becomes absorbent and swollen. So further chemical treatment or styling increases the destructive effects. Curling, straightening, blow-drying or other heating methods adversely affect your hair’s protein composition when performed on bleached hair. This negative impact on your hair’s protein makeup escalates each time you bleach your hair. Bleach comes with baggage. 

The hair damage also depends on the spectrum of color change that occurs. That is, when changing hair from a very dark to light color, more damage occurs as the noxious bleaching agent is most powerful and remains in the hair longer.

Riskiest Hair Bleaching Methods Explained

Curious about the riskiest hair bleaching methods? As tempting as it might be to browse the drugstore aisle and fantasize about having different hair colors each season, there are major risks associated with at-home bleaching kits. Coloring your hair at home might sound more convenient, simple, and cost-effective. But remember, you’re playing with chemicals, which can be quite dangerous! 

Bleach includes intense chemicals that can result in severe chemical burns. The chemical agents that make up the bleach could cause irritations on your scalp or other tissue that they encounter.

If you do choose to bleach your own hair, be sure to always wear gloves. This is because bleaching agents are strong chemicals that aggravate the skin. Yes, consider it a chemistry lab where you must handle substances with caution. If it does touch your skin, wash it off right away. The blonde highlights in your hair won’t match the big red burn your skin will have!

Bleaching hair can also have physical effects from the high dose of chemicals encountering your body. There have been many cases of hair bleach users who experienced allergic reactions, peeling scalps, serious burns and hospitalizations. Many needed skin graft procedures to repair skin damage on the scalp. The take-away? The chemicals used in bleach are serious. If you still want to bleach your hair, seriously consider having a professional in a salon perform the deed.

How To Protect Your Hair When Bleaching

Woman getting her hair deep conditioned.

Doing a deep conditioning before bleaching your hair can help protect it.

Like most things in life, taking precautions before actions is advisable. And this rule certainly applies when bleaching your hair. Although bleach has detrimental effects, there are some tips to lessen the blow and help protect your hair when bleaching it. 

Keeping your hair in the best condition is as simple as- conditioning! Be sure to do a deep conditioning treatment a week or two before bleaching. This adds moisture, elasticity, and strength to your hair. Deep conditioning is done by adding a moisturizing or protein-based conditioner to your hair. The conditioner label may even specify that it is intended for a deep conditioning treatment, or it may be enhanced regular conditioner. 

The night prior to hair bleaching, it’s best to apply natural oils to your hair. For example, you can try coconut, avocado or argan oil. For a DIY method, melt half a cup or more of coconut oil in a pot, let it cool down, then run it through your hair. Cover your hair with a plastic shower cap and sleep that way, or at least place it on your hair an hour before bleaching.  

For the first 24-48 hours after bleaching, avoid using shampoo. As your hair is dry, the last thing you want to do is strip away more natural oils by applying more solutions. 

Following bleach, bring back that conditioner! Using a deep conditioning hair product will help restore moisture to your bleached hair. Another method of deep conditioning could be achieved by creating a hair mask. For an at-home, natural method, combine a ripe avocado and an egg yolk. Apply this mixture to your wet hair, and rub it through your scalp for a few minutes. Let it settle in for about 20 minutes and then wash your hair out with warm water. 

It might sound like bologna, but you can even use mayonnaise as a natural conditioner to repair damaged hair! Its high amino acid and oil content allows this condiment to nourish and moisturize your hair and promote healthy hair growth. Apply a handful of mayo to wet hair, just as you would use a regular conditioner. Place a shower cap on your hair for 15 minutes, and then rinse it off. Voila!

How To Repair Damage Done By Hair Bleaching?

If you already damaged your hair, know that there are ways to repair damage done by hair bleaching. Most salons offer keratin treatments, which help hair experiencing damage or dryness. Keratin, a natural protein, comprises the outermost layer of your hair. “Damaged hair” refers to this outer layer of keratin on your hair that’s impaired. During salon treatments, a serum solution returns keratin to your hair. A flat heat iron then combines the keratin into the hair. The restoration of keratin proteins will assist in making your hair stronger and less prone to breakage. 

When caring for your hair, be gentle when brushing it. It is susceptible to breakage when wet. Wait until it’s totally dry to brush it for best results.

It’s tempting to keep touching up the color. But it’s best to leave 6-8 weeks between hair treatments to reduce the amount of damage. 

Adding to the mix of vitamins you might already be taking, you should take Omega-3-rich fish oil capsules. Taking Omega-rich fish oil capsules for about 6 months can improve hair growth. With the anti-inflammatory qualities of fish oils, they work by exposing hair follicles and boosting hair growth. Due to their healthy fat content, they also protect against dry and flaky scalps.

Why Natural Hair Coloring Is Always The Answer

Back of blonde woman's hair on lake.

Natural hair coloring is the way to go for healthy locks.

Just as you wouldn’t order “chemicals with a side of fries” to put in your mouth, why put it on your head? Natural hair coloring is always the answer. Natural methods of hair coloring are alternative ways to get the color minus the chemicals. For a reddish-orange tint, you can combine carrot juice with coconut oil to the hair, wrap it in plastic, and let it sit for an hour. Rinse it off with apple cider vinegar. Other natural products that can color your hair include beet juice, lemon juice, coffee, sage, and chamomile tea.

If you’d rather keep vegetables and herbs for eating and not for hair coloring, there are natural hair dye brands you can turn to. Don’t be deceived by products that claim they are all-natural and chemical-free. Some companies may sneak in some unwanted substances.  Avoid purchasing products that contain the main harmful ingredients, including sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and silicone. Be sure to scan the ingredient list to avoid these unwanted additions to your highlights!


Next time you want to add some color to that braid, you may not be so fast to run for the bleach! As your hair oxidizes and pigments change colors, it also means that you’re adding chemicals to your hair and scalp. This can have long-lasting harmful effects.  Although there are more “natural” products on the market, keep in mind that most still have chemicals that have long-standing impacts and can potentially cause cancer. The more natural hair coloring products with the fewest added chemicals the better. And if you’re really feeling vegan, carrot juice with coconut oil is the way to go!


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