Oct 9, 2014

Can you bleach damaged hair?

One of the most common questions asked by people who dye their hair is whether you can bleach damaged hair. The answer to this question isn't a simple yes or no. There are many factors that should be taken into account in regards to damaged hair and you will need to assess it on a case by case basis.

What is damaged hair?

Damaged hair is hair that has become weakened through chemical or physical stress. This can include hair that has been dyed, bleached, permed, relaxed, or even styled with heated styling tools. All of these processes damage your hair to some extent and weaken it over time.

Hair that is damaged is significantly more prone to breakage, doesn't feel as soft or smooth, and may even look visibly damaged. On top of this, damaged hair doesn't maintain moisture properly, so it is prone to both dryness and frizz. This dryness itself can even cause further damage if the hair is handled in its dry state.

The main effects of damage include:
  • Dryness
  • Excess frizz
  • Rough texture
  • Split ends
  • Breakage
  • Loss of elasticity
  • Loss of shine
  • Porosity changes

Overall, even using a hair straightener or curling iron can damage your hair, but it's the amount of damage the hair has sustained that causes it to suffer problems. It's not necessarily unwise to bleach damaged hair, but you should under no circumstances use bleach on hair that is heavily damaged or has been subjected to multiple dyes.

Hair texture and damage

Your hair is more resilient than you may realise. Although there are many products that can damage it, it takes a lot to push it to the point where your hair is actually in danger. How much stress hair can take varies from person to person and relates mainly to the natural texture of your hair.

Hair is defined by three different textures, which describe how thick an individual strand of hair is. The thicker the hair shaft, the stronger your hair tends to be. The three textures include:
  • Coarse hair
  • Medium hair
  • Fine hair
Hair that is naturally coarse and thick is the strongest and most resilient type of hair. Not only is it resistant to damage from dyes, bleaching, and perm solution, but it can take far more treatment before the damage even becomes noticeable at all.

Medium hair is also fairly strong and can stand up to multiple processes before it begins to appear damaged. This type of hair isn't able to take the beating that coarse hair can take, but you can expect your hair to stay relatively healthy during colour changes if it is medium in texture.

Fine hair, on the other hand, is naturally weaker and doesn't react well to bleach or perming solution. You shouln't bleach damaged hair if it is fine, and especially not if it is both fine and thin. Hair of this texture also shouldn't be dyed any more often than absolutely necessary to keep it looking its best.


How much damage is too much?

If you want to bleach damaged hair, you need to be able to draw a line and know when to avoid subjecting your hair to further trauma. To put this in simple terms, your hair is usually too damaged to be bleached when it:

  • Breaks easily
  • Is chronically dry
  • Has been bleached two or more times already
  • Has been dyed many times
  • Has been permed or relaxed even once

When hair has reached this point, it is usually fairly obvious. Hair that is too damaged is simply weak, dry, and has a history of different colour changes and styles that have lead to its current condition. If your hair is like this, you shouldn't bleach it.

You also shouldn't bleach damaged hair that has been permed or relaxed. Even if the damage is only mild in this case, permed or relaxed hair should not be bleached at all. Doing this could quickly result in severe damage because the damaging effect of the bleach is compounded by perm solution. Even if your hair looks and feels fine, structurally, it is permanently weakened after perming or relaxing.

Use caution when you bleach damaged hair

As long as you use caution when you bleach damaged hair, you can prevent it from sustaining any more damage whilst still being able to lighten it to a new colour. For hairdressers, substantial experience makes it easy to tell when hair shouldn't be bleached again. This same experience should be used at home as well.

If you have bleached your hair many times in the past, you'll know when it's time to stop. If you don't know or can't tell, that's usually the best indication that you shouldn't risk it. There's no substitute for experience in this scenario.

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What to use to bleach hair

Hair bleach can help you reach a lighter hair colour and is often a necessary product to use when you dye your hair blonde. If you bleach your hair, you ensure the best results when you use the best products and the right tools for the job. Knowing what to use to bleach hair, and how to apply bleach are the two main factors that are paramount to your success.


There are a few tools that are required when working with hair bleach. The most important of these is of course a tinting bowl and brush, but depending on what sort of result you want, you may need more than that. Some of the equipment you might need includes:
  • Tinting bowl
  • Tinting brush
  • Tail comb
  • Sectioning clips
  • Highlighting foil or meche

Bleach powder

Even with all the right tools, you need the best hair bleach powder to get the best results. Supermarket brands, as well as generic brands of bleach are far less effective than their salon product counterparts. Cheaper varieties of bleach powder generally produce less lift and cause more damage.

For the best lightening possible, always use a high quality bleach powder like Igora Vario or Wella Multi Blonde. Brands like this are able to lighten your hair in less time than other bleach powders, giving you cleaner, brighter results. On top of that, they are less damaging and will leave your hair looking and feeling healthier after a process. If you're wondering what to use to bleach hair, one of these bleach powders should be first on your list.

High quality salon bleach powders:


To use quality bleach powder, you will need developer to mix with the powder. Developer is what activates the bleach and the actual lightening effect of bleach is also due to this combination. It is for this reason that a higher volume of developer is able to lighten your hair more than a lower volume.

Developer consists of hydrogen peroxide in different concentrations, and this is largely the exact same thing no matter what brand you're using. There isn't much way you can improve upon developer other than through the inclusion of conditioning agents and other nourishing ingredients. All salon developer will include these ingredients and you can use any of them.

However, using the same brand of developer as your bleach and dye will make mixing easier because the consistency of the developer is geared towards mixing with that brand's particular consistency. As long as the developer you're using isn't a poor quality product that forms lumps or separates, you will never run into problems with your developer.


Highlighting hair

If you're planning to highlight hair instead of applying a full bleach, you will also need either highlighting foil or meche. Foil is well known as being the typical material for applying highlights. It is easy to work with, and you can even use kitchen foil if you're desperate and don't have proper hairdressing foil to work with.

Meche, however, is in the form of plastic slips that perform the same function as foil but are non-metallic. Because this highlighting material is transparent, you can see the results through the meche as the colour develops.

Whether you use foil or meche for highlighting is partly a personal choice. Foil is definitely cheaper and hairdressing foil rolls can easily be cut to any size to suit your hair. Meche can prove useful if you need to lighten your hair significantly during the highlighting process and need to keep checking its progress. It can also be used to create certain kinds of highlights with more ease.

After bleaching care


After you bleach your hair, it needs to be cared for properly. Hair that has just been bleached is dry and needs a good deep conditioning treatment to restore as much moisture as possible.

To speed up the restoration of your hair, you can also use an after-bleaching rinse like Wella Performance Plus. These rinses normalise the pH of your hair, seal the cuticles, and help repair any damage that has occurred during bleaching to get your hair back to feeling and looking its best.

Your hair will also benefit from a protein treatment. Applied once a week, protein treatments are the easiest way to restore even the most damaged hair back to good condition. Using a protein treatment after bleaching will keep your hair strong and healthy.

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    Hair bleaching questions

    No hair colouring product accrues quite as many questions as bleach, and there are a few common misconceptions regarding the use of the product. These 5 questions explore the many misconceptions of hair bleach, and will better explain how it should be used.

    1. Can you dye your hair with bleach?

    One of the most common questions about hair bleach is whether you can dye your hair with bleach. It's usually when people dye their hair blonde that they may fail to realise that hair needs to be toned after bleaching.

    The key element behind dyeing your hair, is that you're adding colour to it. Bleach doesn't add colour; it only lightens existing colour. This means that you can't technically dye your hair with bleach, but it's still a useful product for reaching a new shade in conjunction with actual dye.

    Dyeing hair blonde is a good example of the way bleach should be used. After lightening, you still need to apply a blonde hair dye to produce a real colour by neutralising the bright yellow tone that results from lightening. As another example, if you bleach your hair from black to brown, you end up with orange or red hair depending on how much pigment is left. The hair is at the brown level and it will turn brown after you dye it with an ash dye to neutralise the warmth, but it won't look brown from bleaching alone.

    Bleach removes colour, but it cannot add colour. When you use it to dye your hair, you need to bleach and tone as two separate steps for the best results.

    2. Can you dye your hair without bleaching?

    Similarly, a lot of people ask whether they can dye their hair without bleaching it. This question is most often asked when people dye their hair lighter. The simple answer is yes, but there are a few rules regarding this.

    As long as you have hair that has either never been dyed, or any dye has completely grown out of your hair, you can lighten your hair with dye. However, you can only lighten your hair 1 - 3 levels with most dyes. High lift dyes add up to one additional level. If you need to go any lighter than 3 - 4 levels however, you should bleach your hair first and then dye it.

    Also, if your hair has already been dyed in the past and the dye hasn't grown out of your hair, you should avoid attempting to lighten it further; especially if you have applied many layers of dark dyes. Dye can't remove dye. For that, you'll need either colour remover or bleach. The artificial pigment of a previous dye job isn't susceptible to lightening through the use of another dye, although any remaining natural pigment can still be lifted to some extent.

    3. Can you bleach your hair with regular bleach?

    As shocking as it may seem, this question is somewhat common. Many people don't realise that there is a significant chemical difference between hair bleach and household bleach. The word bleach is used to describe both, and sometimes people fall into the trap of thinking they are equivalent products. This is not the case however.

    You shouldn't ever use household bleach on any part of your body. Household bleach is chlorine bleach; a chemical that is completely different to hair bleach. It also usually contains a high concentration of sodium hydroxide, which is itself caustic and dangerous. If you use chlorine bleach on your body, you risk chemical burns, blindness, and other injuries. On top of that, it won't even bleach your hair properly.

    Real hair bleach contains peroxide compounds that release oxygen, and this is what bleaches your hair in combination with ammonia. Peroxide even breaks down into harmless water and oxygen when it decomposes, whilst household bleach releases toxic chlorine gas. Hair bleach and chlorine bleach are completely different products. Please don't bleach hair with Clorox or any other household bleach product.


    4. Is dyeing black hair without bleach possible?

    It certainly is possible to dye your hair from black to a lighter colour without bleach, but this is only possible if you have virgin hair that hasn't been dyed, or any dye has grown out. Hair that has been dyed black can't usually be lightened sufficiently without bleach.

    You also can't achieve a blonde hair color on black hair without using bleach, regardless of whether you have virgin hair or not. Hair dye simply can't lift enough colour out of your hair to lighten it to that extent. At the most, expect shades of brown; possibly light brown if you use a high lift dye. Anything else is beyond the capabilities of hair dye and bleach will be necessary.

    5. Will bleach destroy hair?

    Bleach doesn't necessarily destroy hair. Used appropriately, on hair that is in good condition and the right hair type, bleach causes very little damage. The hair bleach horror stories you hear about are almost always a case of product misuse and overuse rather than a common event.

    The greatest problem here is that many people apply bleach to hair that they've already dyed or lightened several times. In this case, the hair is fragile and over processed; it's severely weakened and can't stand up to more chemical process. Applying bleach to hair like this is a misuse of the product.

    Many people also simply use it too much. They bleach their hair several times; often even several times in one day. Your hair should never be bleached more than once in any one-week period. Bleach dries the hair and your hair needs time to regain moisture balance after the process. If you apply more bleach to hair that is dried out, potential damage is significantly multiplied. You end up really damaging your hair, whilst if you just allowed your hair to rest, it would still feel and look healthy.

    Finally, many people mix bleach improperly. A high quality salon bleach should always be used, because they cause less damage and lighten the hair more effectively. However, even with the best bleach powder you will need to use the appropriate volume of developer. Using a developer that is too concentrated for your hair or the bleach powder being used will cause significant damage. You can avoid this by using a gentler formula. Often, the strongest formula isn't always going to be the most effective or the best choice for the job.

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    Have another question about hair bleach? Wondering how best to use it for your particular hair type, how to mix it, or have you heard something strange and wondering if it's true? Leave a comment below.

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    How to bleach wash hair

    A bleach wash is an alternative way to lighten your hair using bleach. This kind of formulation is milder and gentler on the hair than a full bleach, but because you are still using bleach, you still have the dependability that it offers.

    What is a bleach wash?

    To bleach wash hair, you will be using a diluted form of hair bleach. This is accomplished by mixing the bleach powder with a lower volume of developer than usual, and then diluting it down further with shampoo. Your hair will also be damp during application and this added water further dilutes the preparation to produce a very mild form of hair bleach.

    The bleach wash formula

    A bleach wash can be made in several different ways depending on the consistency and strength you desire from the product. However, the most common way to formulate it is to mix the bleach powder with developer in the ratio recommended by the brand of bleach you're using, and then add an equal volume of shampoo. This means that if your bleach powder requires a 1 : 2 mixing ratio, you need to use one part bleach powder to two parts developer, followed by 3 parts shampoo.

    This simple recipe can be varied in a few different ways to change the way the bleach works. Adding less shampoo will decrease foaming and ease of application, but boost lightening because the formula is less diluted. Adding more shampoo, however, will make it easier to apply and gentler on your hair, but will also dilute down the product and decrease lightening. If you're trying to strip out previous hair dye, additional shampoo will also increase this effect to an extent. This is because it helps to emulsify the artificial pigment as it lightens.

    Overall, lightening is dependent on a combination of the amount of shampoo you add to the formula, and the volume of developer used. For a stronger formula, or to lighten hair 1 - 2 levels, use 20 vol developer. For a milder formula that can be used to correct dark dyed hair or remove toner, use 10 vol developer.

    Why bleach wash hair?

    Considering that a bleach wash is just a dilute form of bleach, it may seem strange that you would use it at all. Wouldn't it be just as simple to mix the bleach with a low volume of developer and use it that way? The main factor behind why you would bleach wash your hair instead of using a full bleach is that, apart from the gentleness of the preparation, it is also easier to apply, quicker to apply, and gives very even results.

    This is mainly because your hair is already wet when you apply the bleach wash, and the shampoo creates a runnier mixture that foams up and can be massaged through the hair easily after application is complete. A regular bleach on dry hair needs to be applied very carefully and quickly by brush to ensure it turns out even, and the dry hair itself soaks up the product so that it is more likely you will miss a spot. Wet hair doesn't have this problem because the product readily mixes in with the moisture in your hair and blends into other areas.

    These qualities of gentleness, ease of application, and even results make a bleach wash great for a few main tasks. These include:
    • Lightening a colour that has turned out too dark
    • Removing a reflect from your hair
    • Lightening hair 1 - 2 levels

    Lightening a dark colour

    If your new hair colour has turned out slightly too dark and you need to correct it quickly, you can bleach wash it to remove some of that darkness without lightening it substantially. In this case, the mild formulation is all that's needed for this, and the ease of application of the wash means that it is simple to achieve and offers dependable results.

    Removing reflects

    If your hair has a slight tone to it that you don't like, you can use a bleach wash to remove it. This is a great option when your hair has been over-toned. Some of the other situations where you may want to remove a reflect or harsh tone from your hair include mahogany and burgundy shades that look too violet, or even to correct hair that looks orange, prior to toning.

    You can bleach wash hair to fix these kinds of problems. Applying a bleach wash for 10 minutes is usually enough to strip out an excess of ash tone or any other over-processed toner shade. Then you can dye your hair the shade you actually want to finish the correction. This process causes almost no damage and is both quick and simple.

    Lightening hair 1 - 2 levels

    You can also bleach wash hair to lighten it, just like when using a full bleach. This should only be done when you need to lighten your hair 1 - 2 levels though. If you're hoping to bleach wash your hair from black to blonde, you're not going to be able to do this. For slight lightening however, the wash can be a quick and easy way to achieve your desired result.

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