Image Source: Getty / Kong Ding Chek
- One of the easiest ways to get lighter-colored hair is to use bleach.
- If done incorrectly, bleaching your hair can cause damage, like dryness and breakage.
- Professional hairstylists explain how to spot and treat bleach damage.
We may be biased, but experimenting with beauty is one of the greatest joys in life. Want a few new piercings? Who’s stopping you? Want to get grillz to spice up your smile? Make the appointment! The world is your oyster. But our personal favorite way to switch up our looks is by trying out different hair colors.
With celebrities like Saweetie and Dua Lipa debuting lighter hair colors and trends like “poptarting” making their rounds for spring and summer, it might be tempting to jump on every new hair-color wave you come across. But while it’s fun to go lighter for the warmer months, there’s something you should be extremely careful of when lightening your hair: bleach damage.
“Bleach damage is a breakdown of pigmentation in the hair,” Larry Sims, celebrity hairstylist and cofounder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union, tells POPSUGAR. “Basically, the pigment in your hair is broken down and becomes compromised and weaker. It also compromises the integrity of your hair cuticle or hair strands, which are the proteins in your hair.”
So, what exactly are you to do if you’re experiencing bleach damage, and is there a way to reverse it? We asked Sims and Kelsie Lyn, celebrity hairstylist and natural-hair specialist, to break down everything you should know about bleach damage, ahead.
What Causes Bleach Damage?
If hair health is your priority, it’s imperative that you find a stylist who knows how to properly bleach your hair. “Lightener is damaging, period,” Lyn says. “But there’s a way to mitigate that damage if someone does want to bleach their hair.”
While there are many reasons bleach damage occurs in the first place, there are a few common causes that pop up more frequently than others. “Most damage from lighteners is caused when the hair is overprocessed,” Lyn says. “Whether the volume is too high, the lightener has been in contact with the hair too long, or there have been too many repeated sessions.” In other words, when looking for a stylist to bleach your hair, make sure they have a “less is more” approach to the process.
How to Spot Bleach Damage
Image Source: Getty / Kong Ding Chek
Bleach damage looks similar across all hair types, but there are some common telltale signs to look out for. “One of the easiest ways to tell if you have bleach damage is if the color isn’t fluid throughout your hair and there’s a hot spot of color,” Sims says. “Nine times out of 10, that’s going to be the point of resistance where the hair will break.”
In addition to that, be on the lookout for changes in the moisture level of your hair. “Look out for dryness and frizz if you suspect you have bleach damage,” Sims says. “You also need to look out for hair that feels mushy or redox.” Redox is a term that hairstylists use to identify how the hair feels. So the more redox your hair is, the more mushy and stringy it feels.
Lyn agrees. “If there is a major change in your texture when lightened versus when not, that’s a giveaway that the hair is damaged,” she says. “Other examples are if the hair is stringy and overelasticized when wet, if the density of your hair when bleached is less than the density of the hair with your natural color, and if the length begins to vary and no longer has shape or uniformity.”
Bleach Damage on Afro Hair
Bleach damage on coily, Afro-hair textures differs slightly because coily hair is extremely fragile, and as a result, bleaching occurs much faster. “Textured hair is already the most delicate of all hair types. It’s finer and absorbs the lightener much faster than wavy and straight hair types, which can cause more damage,” Lyn says.
“The kinkier the curls, the drier the hair,” Sims says. “If you’re already taking out pigment and compromising the strength of the hair with hair that’s already dry, it’s just going to become more brittle and more prone to break.”
Can You Reverse Bleach Damage?
While the best treatment for bleach damage is for the bleach to be applied correctly the first time, there are some steps you can take to nurse your hair back to health if you experience a bad bleach job.
“The best way to reverse bleach damage for all hair types is to fill in the cuticle of the hair with as much protein and repairing conditioning treatments as possible,” Sims says. “Do the protein treatments weekly, stay away from using any heat on the hair, and let your hair air-dry. Make sure to also apply leave-in conditioner to the hair to keep it moisturized.”
Sims’s favorite products for a moisturizing hair routine after bleach damage are the Flawless by Gabrielle Union Repairing Deep Conditioning Masque ($23) and the Flawless by Gabrielle Union 3 Minute Restoring Conditioner ($10). Lyn also recommends the ORS HaiRestore Hair Mayonnaise ($10) and the Pretty Strands Rice Renew Hair Masque ($25).
When deciding to bleach your hair, make sure you’re going to a professional who knows exactly how to work with your hair type and texture and isn’t afraid to take a more conservative approach to processing your hair. If you do find yourself on the other end of a botched bleach job, consider these tips to help nurse your hair back to health.