The Science Behind Bleach Damaged Hair & How to Fix It

Dr Joe Cincotta

Bleaching your hair can be a stunning style statement, but can sometimes cause an unwanted side effect - bleach damage.

In this piece, we'll dig into the problems of bleach damage and share our top solutions for getting your hair back to its happy and healthy place, with a little help from Dr. Joe, our Chief Chemist here at Color Wow.

Why Does Bleach Damage Hair?

Think of bleaching as a mini makeover for your hair – out with the old colour and in with the new. However, in this transformation process, bleach can sometimes remove more than just colour. Essential proteins, oils and lipids that maintain your hair's strength, moisture resistance, and shine can get stripped away. This can leave your hair dry, fragile and vulnerable to breakage. 

"Additionally, in far too many bleach scenarios, reactive mineral deposits on the hair (from well or tap water) can accelerate processing times often leading to extensive damage," says Dr. Joe. 

Using a product like Dream Filter which gently extracts calcium, magnesium, copper, iron, manganese, aluminum and chlorine deposits that build up in your hair from hard water, well water and pool water is a great way to prep before your colour treatment and to maintain your hair quality after.

healthy vs damaged hair cuticle
The outermost layer of your hair, the cuticle, acts as
a protective wall safeguarding the interior layers of the hair shaft. However, bleach is quite aggressive. This is because:

"In order to lighten your strands it needs to reach the melanin inside the shaft which controls the colour of your hair. So, as the bleach enters the strand, the cuticle lifts which causes the hair to become rough, dull and can create frizz.

It also impacts the proteins, especially keratin, which are like chains, responsible for hair’s strength and elasticity. Once those keratin chains are broken down, they cannot be easily repaired or restored and hair strands lose strength and elasticity which can result in breakage." 

What Does Bleach Damaged Hair Look Like?

The tell-tale signs of bleach damage are:

  • Dry, brittle, and straw-like textures due to a loss of oils and lipids during chemical processing. If that radiant shine your hair once boasted is now subdued, blame the bleach! It affects the hair's cuticle layer, making it less reflective, leading to a loss of natural luster. 

  • Split ends.
  • Coarseness and loss of hair’s natural springiness due to a depletion of moisture and proteins from the bleaching process.
  • Texture resembling “Cotton Candy”. One must be extremely careful not to aggressively tug on snags or tangles as the hair can break easily. 

How to Fix Bleach Damaged Hair

how to fix bleach damaged hair

Give Your Hair a Trim

It might sound like a bummer, but giving your hair a good trim can be like hitting the refresh button. Getting rid of those split ends and frazzled tips is a step towards fixing bleach damaged hair. It’s all about starting fresh and letting the healthy hair take center stage!

Cool it With the Heat Styling

Bleached hair has gone through a lot of trauma, so give your hair a break and steer clear of heat styling tools for a while. Let your hair air dry, embrace its natural texture, and if you have to style, keep the heat on low. 

For advice on how to air dry your hair without it going frizzy, take a look at our guide. 

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

This one’s a no-brainer but often overlooked. Drinking plenty of water and maintaining a balanced diet can do wonders not just for your hair, but your overall being. When your body’s hydrated, your hair gets a sip of that goodness too. So, chug that H2O and let the hydration flow from the inside out!

Be Gentle with Your Styling

After a bleach party, your hair might be feeling like it's been through the wringer, so it's craving some TLC. When it comes to styling, try to avoid hairstyles that pull or tug at your hair like tight ponytails or buns. 

Let your hair hang loose, embrace the casual, tousled look, and give it a break from any strain. And when detangling, go for a wide-tooth comb and work your way gently from the tips to the roots to avoid breakage. It’s all about being kind to your locks as they recover from the bleach journey!

Invest in the Right Products

color wow pop and lock

Pop & Lock High Gloss Finish: This oil/serum hybrid is a powerful multi-tasker perfect for bleached hair. It not only delivers intense hydration, but also temporarily seals split ends, provides UV protection and heat protection.

It’s a dynamic salve for dry, brittle and damaged hair. Plus, it leaves hair looking sleek and glossy!

color wow kale cocktail

Dream Cocktail Kale-Infused: Clinically-proven to make hair 50% stronger in a single blow dry, this potent leave-in treatment reduces breakage and delivers heat protection.

Applied daily to damp hair after washing and conditioning, this product will make a significant improvement in the strength and quality of your bleached strands.

color wow money masque

Money Masque - This deeply hydrating mask is a great addition to your hair routine if you’re suffering from damage, dryness or brittleness.

Packed with nutrient-rich ingredients like Blue Sea Kale, Mediterranean Sea Kelp, and a Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein Complex, it instantly penetrates the hair’s cuticle, and goes deep into the cortex to deliver massive hydration, leaving hair super luxe and supple.

color wow coconut cocktail

Dream Cocktail Coconut-Infused - Turn your dry, damaged hair to silk in just one blow dry with this hydrating leave-in treatment. Specifically formulated to restore the hair's essential lipid layer (often depleted by bleach), it harnesses a proprietary complex of 18-MEA and coconut oil to instantly bond a revitalising layer of hydration to the hair's surface. The result? Hair that's in peak health.

color wow dream filter

Dream Filter – To safeguard bleached hair from further damage during chemical processing, Dream Filter is essential.

It effectively removes harmful mineral deposits like calcium, magnesium, and chlorine from hard or tap water, ensuring both a clean canvas before colouring and improved hair quality afterward.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bleach Damaged Hair

Does Bleaching Your Hair Damage It Forever?

Bleaching can cause significant damage to your hair but new, healthy hair will grow in over time. On average, hair will grow at a rate of about one-half inch per month or six inches per year. With the right products, gentle styling, regular trims, and a nutritious diet, you can help rehabilitate your bleached hair and promote healthy growth moving forward.

Can You Dye Damaged Bleached Hair?

Dyeing already damaged, bleached hair can potentially cause further damage, as both bleaching and dyeing are chemical processes that utilize Hydrogen Peroxide and high pH which can be harsh on your hair. However, if you still choose to dye your damaged hair, it's advisable to wait for your hair to recover to some extent, to use high-quality, gentle hair dyes, preferably with a professional stylist's guidance to minimize the risk of additional damage.

Does Chlorine Damage Bleached Hair?

Yes, chlorine can indeed damage bleached hair. Bleached hair is more porous and prone to absorbing chemicals, including chlorine found in swimming pools, which can lead to dryness, discolouration, and further damage to the hair surface and keratin chains. 

To help protect bleached hair from chlorine try wetting it with clean water and applying a protective oil or conditioner before taking a dip in a chlorinated pool, or better yet, wear a swim cap to keep chlorine at bay. Take a look at our guide on how to protect your hair from chlorine for more advice!

Does the Sun Damage Bleached Hair?

Absolutely, the sun can be tough on bleached hair. The UV rays from the sun can dry out your hair, fade the colour, and make it more prone to breakage. 

Bleached hair, which is already in a vulnerable state due to the chemical processing, can find the sun exposure an extra rough ride. It's a smart move to rock a hat or use hair products with UV protection when you're planning to spend a sunny day outdoors.

How Long Does Bleach Damaged Hair Take to Repair?

The recovery time for bleach-damaged hair can vary widely from person to person, depending on the extent of the damage, your hair type, and how well you treat your hair post-bleaching.

"Although you can’t permanently repair bleach induced hair damage, you can temporarily improve its condition and appearance using the right products."  

Navigating the bleach wave can be a rollercoaster for your precious locks, but it's definitely not the end of the glossy hair road. With some tender love and care, a sprinkle of patience, and a dash of professional advice, bouncing back from bleach damage is totally on the cards.

Read more about looking after your hair on the Color Wow Blog:

  • Hair colour 101: the basic chemistry behind hair dye
  • Tips for maintaining your blonde from Chris Appleton
  • How do I know if my hair is healthy?

    Dr. Cincotta holds a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from the City University of New York, and is currently VP of Research + Development at Color Wow.

    View all articles