You may have heard that bleaching wrecks your hair, but you’re wondering if there is any truth to that. After all, if it was so bad, how would celebrities and supermodels manage to keep their hair looking nice while changing hair colors at every new paparazzi shoot?
We won’t lie, bleaching your hair inherently comes with some damage. After all, the process of bleaching does chemically alter your hair.
It opens up the hair shaft, dissolves color molecules, and closes the hair shaft back up, often leaving behind gaps in the cuticle that manifest themselves in the form of breakage, brittleness, and frizz.
There is no way around it: bleaching your hair is damaging. But it can often be done carefully enough that the damage is kept to a minimum.
This is how celebrities manage to keep their hair looking healthy despite the frequent trips to the salon – they have very skilled professionals working on their hair who know how to lift their color gently, and how to tend to the hair afterward to replenish hydration and keep it looking nice.
But don’t let their shiny locks fool you – their hair is still experiencing damage.
But does bleaching your hair damage it forever? Yes and no. The part that is bleached is permanently altered and weakened. However, new growth is perfectly healthy. So although the bleach damages your hair permanently, it only damages the part that was lightened.
Luckily, you won’t have to live with the damage forever because eventually, the bleached hair will grow out.
Additionally, some of the damage can be reversed, or rather, mitigated on the bleached hair. Keep reading to find out how your hair responds to bleach and what you can do to help your hair look and feel as healthy as possible even after it has been bleached.
Is Bleached Hair Permanently Damaged?
Yes, the part of your hair that undergoes bleaching does get permanently damaged. The level of damage depends on your hair structure, genetics, quality of bleach, and length of time your hair was processing.
Skilled hair colorists know how to minimize the damage to the max, but even the gentlest bleach job comes with some damage on the molecular level.
This is because when hair is lightened, it undergoes a process that chemically opens up the hair cuticles and reacts with the pigment in your hair to essentially dissolve it and wash it down the drain. This leaves your hair looking lighter since there are fewer (if any) pigment molecules left in the hair shaft afterward.
The problem is that this process also permanently “dissolves” the natural fatty acids on your hair shaft. These fatty acids are there to bond your hair proteins together. Removing them results in weaker hair strands that are prone to breakage.
Symptoms of this are:
- Frizzy hair
- Frayed-looking ends
- “Wet noodle” hair
- Breaking and thinning of hair
The more often you bleach your hair, the worse this damage can get. The hair that has been previously bleached never fully recovers, so putting more bleach on the affected area only makes the symptoms worse.
Note that this happens when you bleach your hair to a platinum blonde and when you simply lighten your hair a few levels to change it to a lighter brown, for example. The process is the same – the only difference is the amount of time the bleach has to sit on your hair.
The longer bleach sits in your hair, the more damaging it can do. So, to reiterate, the damage is indeed permanent on the affected parts of your hair. However, it can be mitigated to an extent with really good aftercare.
We’ll talk about some strategies to soften the damage a little later in this post, or you can take a look at our other article – How To Make Bleached Hair Soft And Silky.
Does Bleaching Your Hair Damage New Hair Growth?
The good news is that bleaching your hair doesn’t usually damage new growth – any hair that has not been bleached grows back normal and is mostly unaffected by the damage of the lightened hair below it.
Sometimes, over-bleached hair can experience split ends, and if those are not taken care of (by trimming) they can escalate by splitting all the way up the hair shaft. In these instances, new growth can be affected because eventually, it will start splitting too.
This is the only type of damage your new growth might experience from a past bleach job. The best way to avoid it is to trim split ends as soon as you notice them without letting them get out of hand.
In rare cases, if a previous bleach job was done so poorly that it “burned” the skin on your scalp, you might experience slow regrowth. The new hair is still going to be healthy, but it might grow back slower because of the damage to the scalp. This is very rare.
Aside from that, new growth typically grows back the same as it was before you bleached your hair. “Virgin roots” as they are typically called because they have had no processing or dye on them – are often the healthiest part of the hair.
The hair that grows back and doesn’t have any history of bleaching will have all of its pigment, fatty acids, and keratin in place. The hair shaft should be smooth and strong.
This means that any damage you may have experienced from bleach will eventually grow out and get cut off, and you’ll be left with healthy hair. So, in this sense, damage from bleach isn’t forever.
However, if you decide to bleach or lighten your hair again, to cover up those dark roots for example, the new dye job will damage the new growth and re-damage the previously-dyed hair.
Sometimes you might find yourself caught in a cycle of bleaching your new growth over and over to maintain a consistent style. This will keep your hair in a “permanently” damaged state, at least until you decide to cease bleaching and allow it to grow out.
Does Bleaching Your Hair Make It Thinner?
After you’ve lightened your hair, you may notice that it looks thinner than before. Is this an optical illusion, or does bleach really make your hair thinner?
Turns out, it’s a little bit of both. Bleaching your hair can leave the cuticle of your hair porous, which leads to a loss of moisture. This is one of the main reasons that bleached hair feels so much dryer than unbleached hair.
The loss of moisture makes each hair shaft a little slimmer – it literally shrinks in volume, making your hair look less voluminous overall.
In some instances, your hair can actually thin out from bleaching. If you have a particularly damaging bleach job, it can lead to a lot of hair breakage. Your hair can begin to break at various lengths, sometimes even breaking off close to the roots.
The more breakage you experience, the fewer hairs you will have, especially at the bottom of your hair. This will make your hair look thinner, less voluminous, and frayed at the ends.
The good news is that this thinning of the hair is not permanent. As your hair grows out, the new growth will not be experiencing this type of breakage.
The hair cuticles will also contain all of their normal moisture, so each individual hair will be thicker. Over time, you will get your volume back as long as you do not continue to bleach your hair or otherwise damage it to this extent.
How To Bleach Your Hair With Minimal Damage
If you still want lighter hair despite all the damage that bleach causes, we don’t blame you. Blondes have more fun (or so they say).
Plus, it’s fun to change up your hair color from time to time, even if you just want to add some highlights or try out one of the trendy rainbow colors everyone is rocking lately.
If you are willing to take certain steps, it is possible to bleach your hair while avoiding a lot of the harsh damage we’ve described above.
Yes, your hair will always experience some damage when you lighten it, but you can prevent some of the worst of it by following the steps below.
1. Go To A Salon
Bleaching your hair is best left to the pros. This is not the time to save money or go DIY. Some of the worst bleach damage we’ve seen came from boxed bleaches and dye kits.
A professional hairstylist is specifically trained to evaluate your current hair condition and hand-pick the right bleach, developer, toner, and other accompanying products to achieve the best and safest color job.
A boxed kit can’t do that. Most boxed dyes are made as a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and while that may work for some people, it obviously doesn’t work for everyone.
If you have any concerns about damaging your hair, or if your hair is already fragile or has been previously dyed, you’re much better off enlisting the help of a professional. They have access to more products, including things like Olaplex – which can drastically reduce the amount of damage your hair sustains.
However, if you insist on doing your own color at home take a look at stylist Brad Mondo’s guide to coloring your own hair first!
2. Don’t Wash Your Hair Beforehand
When preparing for your bleach job, it’s best not to wash your hair for a few days prior. The natural oils produced by your scalp can coat the hair shafts, protecting them from some of the worst damage from bleach.
Don’t worry about your hair looking greasy – your stylist won’t care! A lot of the time your colorist will even advise you to come with dirty hair. This is a great way to protect the hair naturally, especially at the root level where the damage is often heaviest.
3. Use A Bonding Product
You’ve probably heard of Olaplex, but you might be wondering what it does to help your hair during bleaching. Olaplex is actually a brand, and they are famous for their salon treatment that is used in conjunction with bleaching to help hair retain most of its keratin bonds despite heavy processing.
There are other brands that make bonding treatments too, so if your stylist doesn’t use Olaplex, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a similar product they could use.
What bonding products do is they contain special ingredients that can repair the protein bonds in your hair. The same bonds that get wrecked from the bleach. The result? Healthier, less damaged hair.
Most bonding products come in a series of 2-3 individual steps. The first step is usually applied to the hair directly before or during bleaching. The other steps are usually applied after the bleaching to lock in moisture and close out the cuticles.
If you are going from naturally dark hair color to a very light shade of blonde, a bonding product is a must. If your hair is already damaged and you’re thinking about bleaching over it, a bonding product might be necessary too.
Talk to your stylist about these products. Most of them are not available for purchase unless you’re a licensed hairstylist. Another reason to get your bleaching done through a professional!
4. Stick To Lower Volume Developer
Another important thing to keep in mind when bleaching your hair is the volume of the developer you are using with your bleach.
Again, your stylist should be able to figure this out. But if you’re curious, here’s how it works: developer comes in volumes 10, 20, 30, 40, and sometimes 50.
The lowest volume is 10 and it’s the most gentle form of developer. It barely lifts any color. It’s mainly used for depositing color onto your hair. You can’t achieve a lot of lightening with a 10 volume developer.
When bleaching, developer vol 30 or 40 is usually used. These developers are harsher and more damaging to your hair, but they can lift more of your hair color, resulting in much lighter tone.
An easy way to remember is this:
- 20 vol lifts 1-2 shades of color
- 30 vol lifts 3-4 shades of color
- 40 vol lifts 4-5 shades of color
- 50 vol lifts 5-6 shades of color
Although it might be tempting to go for the highest volume developer to achieve the lightest, brightest results (especially if you are starting with dark hair), doing so will cause more damage to your hair.
You’ll have better results if you start with 20 or 30 vol developer and lighten your hair over multiple sessions. This might cost more and take more time, but your hair will be healthier in the end.
How To Prevent Further Damage To Bleached Hair
What do you do if you’ve already bleached your hair and sustained some noticeable damage? You can just wait until some healthy hair grows out, but that’ll take months – if not years.
Luckily, you can practice some aftercare for your bleached hair that will make it appear healthier and prevent it from breaking or splitting too much.
Here are some tips on keeping your bleached hair as healthy as possible and maybe even reversing some of the damage incurred through bleaching:
1. Trim Regularly
We touched on this earlier. Getting trims is very important to prevent further damage to the hair. As soon as you notice some visible split ends in your hair, get 0.5 – 1 inch trimmed off. This will remove the split, preventing it from traveling further up the hair shaft and causing breakage along the length of the hair.
2. Use The Right Shampoo And Conditioner
Using the right shampoo and conditioner can make or break the appearance of your bleached hair. Your hair is probably feeling a little dry and fragile, so you have to find products that are hydrating, repairing, and most importantly – don’t contain any ingredients that can further damage your hair.
Look for shampoos that are sulfate-free and silicone-free to prevent additional damage. And stick to lines that have hydrating ingredients, like shea butter, coconut oil, and other moisturizing ingredients.
Another great feature some shampoo/conditioner lines have is keratin. Bleached hair is often missing a good deal of keratin, so if you find a line that helps return some of that protein back – definitely a good idea!
You may even want to consider a full keratin treatment.
3. Avoid Hot Tools
Your hair is already damaged, don’t torture it further! As much as we love styling our hair, we have to admit: hot tools are so bad for it.
That includes hair dryers, straighteners, curlers, hot rollers, and similar tools. Try air-drying your hair with some mousse or curl-defining cream. You’ll be surprised at how nice your hair can look if you just embrace your natural texture!
4. Masks And Leave-In Conditioners
Include some hydrating masks and leave-in conditioners into your after-care routine. Again, look for products that include oils and avoid anything with harsh ingredients like silicones or sulfates.
These products will make your hair softer, replenish lost moisture, and repair some of the broken bonds in your hair, leaving you with healthy-looking locks that withstand damage better than before.
While bleaching permanently alters affected hair, you won’t be living with the damage forever. We hope the tips in this post help you understand how bleach affects your hair and what you can do to minimize the damage while enjoying different hair colors!