Facts About Bleaching Hair

Female hairdresser adjusting curlers in a mid adult woman's hair
A woman with light blonde hair is in the salon. (Image: Medioimages/Photodisc/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

If you want to avoid an emergency buzz cut, equip yourself with the facts before bleaching your hair. Semi-permanent hair color offers natural hues that fade over time, and permanent hair dyes mix the decoloration and coloring process. Bleach, however, simply oxidizes the hair, meaning it exists solely to strip the color from your hair. It's a potentially valuable tool in your hair styling arsenal, but it's also a powerful chemical that requires plenty of know-how to use it correctly.

How It Works

Bleaching removes hair color through the process of oxidation. Bleaching products disrupt the hair's cuticle layer to make it more permeable, which allows hydrogen peroxide -- a key component of hair bleach -- to penetrate the shaft. Hydrogen peroxide oxidizes the hair's pigment, stripping away the melanin and, as a result, its color. A single bleaching can lighten your hair by as many as eight shades. Use a home hair-bleaching kit or turn to your stylist for a professional application. Depending on how light you want your hair, the process takes 30 to 45 minutes. Oftentimes, color is added after the bleaching process.

Side Effects

Bleaching often leaves hair drier, more fragile and less elastic than it was previously. Its effects make your hair more prone to breakage and less manageable. Because the bleaching process raises the cuticles, your hair may tangle more easily. If you leave bleach on for too long, your hair may turn white. Or bleached hair may take on a yellow tint, as the stripping process exposes the hue of the hair protein keratin, which features a naturally yellow color. Darker hair colors often take on a red tint as keratin shines through.

Hair Care Staples

Bleached hair requires more care than your natural locks. Because hair bleaching increases the hair's sulfonic acid content, it requires more lubrication. Home kits include intensive leave-in conditioners, which must be applied almost immediately after bleaching. After the initial bleaching, daily conditioning and other products help porous bleached hair retain its moisture and shine. Pre-treatment shampoos and deep-conditioning treatments also help hair retain its elasticity if applied before bleaching.

Even More Facts

Before you embark on bleaching, take into consideration a few esoteric tidbits about going blond. For instance, despite what some beauty magazines claim, lemon juice will not bleach your hair blonde. It may very subtly lighten already fair hair after prolonged sunlight exposure, however. The American Pregnancy Association recommends that pregnant women wait until the second trimester before applying hair bleach or other chemical treatments. Finally, bleaching your hair exempts it from donation programs, such as Locks of Love, as bleached hair tends to dissolve during the wig-manufacturing process.

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