As is the case with many things in life, sometimes your dye job doesn’t go according to plan. Whether you bleached your hair one too many times in a row trying to go lighter or your mane simply met its tipping point, bleach damaged hair is not an unfamiliar woe.
The good news is that you’re not completely without recourse. Even in cases of extreme bleach damaged hair, there are ways to nurture your tresses. To learn more about how to fix damaged bleached hair—and how to avoid bleach damage in the first place—we tapped Rachel Bodt, Matrix brand ambassador and Hannah Nishimoto, Shu Uemura artist. Read on for everything you need to know.
What is bleach damaged hair?
Think of your hair like a very delicate fabric. Once you damage it, it’s largely that way until you cut it off or new hair grows in.
“This is hair that has gone through multiple bleach services over an extended period of time and because of that, the texture, porosity and moisture can be lost or changed,” Bodt says.
Coloring your hair and chemically altering it are fun and exciting things to do, but those chemicals can leave your hair feeling weak, dry, or straw-like when used improperly. For this reason, it’s crucial to let a professional handle all your major hair transformations. Their years of training enable them to achieve your dream color while minimizing potential damage.
How can you tell if you have bleach damaged hair?
As for how to tell whether your hair is damaged, Bodt is very clear on this one: From the split ends to the hair breakage, you’ll know pretty much immediately.
“You can tell when your hair is damaged from bleach when it becomes extremely porous. When air dried, the texture becomes incredibly crisp. We don't want that,” she explains. “The hair starts to feel coarse and looks dull and lifeless. If [your] hair is over-bleached, the cuticle will not lay flat again.”
Can bleach damaged hair be repaired?
While bleach damaged hair can’t technically be wholly repaired, you can improve the look and feel of those stressed strands. With help from seasoned professionals who know how to repair bleach damaged hair, you can get your hair back on track and looking beautiful again. This might entail cutting off the especially damaged areas, using bond treatments, and avoiding heat styling tools to prevent further chemical damage.
You should also utilize shampoos and conditioners that nourish your strands like Matrix Total Results Unbreak My Blonde Shampoo and Conditioner. This system reinforces weakened bonds to revive sensitized hair.
27 Tips To Hydrate And Repair Hair After Bleaching
Eager to learn how to improve the look and feel of your bleached hair? Whether dealing with minimal damage or a severe case of hair fry, abide by the advice below.
Pick up a hair bonding treatment
“Make sure your colorist is always using bonder in the color [during the dyeing phase],” advises Bodt.
You should also use bond-repairing products in your at-home routine. For example, Redken Acidic Perfecting Concentrate Leave In Conditioner intensely conditions, bolsters strength, and promotes shine.
Use a shampoo that nourishes strands
If you’re dealing with bleach damaged hair, then TLC is a must, which means you’ll need to amp up your hair care routine. Nishimoto recommends using salon quality products that specifically target dry and damaged strands.
“What you do at home plays a huge part in hair care and hair restoration…Shu Uemura’s Ultimate Reset Shampoo is a game changer,” Nishimoto says. “With its Japanese-sourced rice extract, it performs deep repair from roots to tips, repairing damaged hair to bring it back to its healthiest state.”
Invest in products made for bleached hair
We also recommend seeking out some of the best shampoos for bleach damaged hair, specifically. For example, Redken Extreme Bleach Recovery Shampoo is a silicone-free formula that gently cleanses while strengthening and nourishing your mane. The result is bleached hair that looks and feels softer and shinier. This pairs brilliantly with the Redken Extreme Bleach Recovery Lamellar Water Treatment.
Don’t forget to mask
Add a weekly hair mask to your regimen, such as Shu Uemura Ultimate Reset Restorative Hair Mask. This intensive hair treatment fortifies the hair fiber from the roots to the tips, promoting stronger, softer tresses.
Try a leave-in treatment
In addition to weekly masking, using a leave-in treatment after shampooing and conditioning is another way to revive the beauty of your hair. Try Redken Extreme Bleach Recovery Cica Cream Leave In Treatment, which repairs and nourishes from the inside out for increased strength and resilience in-between appointments.
If you have super dry, bleach damaged hair, you’ll also notice more frizz than usual. If you’re trying to tame frizz and keep your strands nourished, opt for a hair oil like Redken All Soft Argan-6 Multi-Care Hair Oil. This formula for dry and brittle hair is enriched with omega-6 to provide deep conditioning, lasting softness and shine for hair.
Lower the temperature of your shower water
As nice as a hot shower feels after a long day, the water temperature you’re using can actually cause even more frizz. Scorching hot water can also strip more moisture from your strands, and that’s the last thing you want! When you’re rinsing your hair, be sure to keep the water at a lukewarm temperature.
Use a shower filter
“I also recommend using a shower filter to remove impurities, such as mineral deposits, that can damage hair,” says Bodt. “This is a simple switch-up that can make a dramatic difference in the health of your hair.”
End your shower with a cool blast
In addition to using lukewarm versus scalding hot water, we recommend ending your shower with a cold rinse. This helps seal the hair cuticles and make them appear smoother and shinier.
Get regular haircuts or trims
It may seem counterintuitive, but Nishimoto says regular haircuts are a key part of maintaining healthy hair. A trim before a hair color service can rid your mane of any split ends, weakened strands, and previously over-processed sections.
“I always tell my guests to first make sure they are cutting their hair frequently. When you cut your hair frequently you are more likely to prevent overlapping of damage from previously processed ends,” says Nishimoto
Cut off ultra-damaged hair
If you’re dealing with a case of extreme bleach damaged hair, it might be time to embrace a shorter ‘do. Ask your stylist to nix off any tresses that are holding you back from a shiny head of hair and remember: it’ll grow back!
Lay off the heat styling
Air drying is your friend, friend! Adding heat to your hair can create damage no matter its current state, so stick to air drying when possible. As an alternative, let your hair dry as much as possible and then go in with your blow dryer.
Use a heat protectant
When you put heat on your hair, make sure you’re protecting your tresses with a heat protectant. This is important whether you have bleach damage or not, but becomes even more crucial if you’re dealing with stressed hair.
“If you are heat styling, use products that put a barrier between the heat and compromised hair,” says Bodt. “If there is no barrier it’s likely the heat will burn the hair.”
Redken Extreme Play Safe Heat Protection and Damage Repair Hair Treatment helps prevent split ends and helps reduce the appearance of split ends by 70 percent. It also helps fortify hair fiber for less breakage.
Use a blow dry cream
When giving yourself that occasional blowout, use a blow dry cream to further protect your strands. Kérastase Resistane Ciment Thermique Blow Dry Primer helps prevent damage while simultaneously helping to repair breakage so the hair is visibly stronger and healthier.
Don’t turn your hot tools all the way up
Just because your flat iron goes all the way up to 450 degrees—or your blow dry boasts enough air power to knock down bowling pins—doesn’t mean you should turbo charge it. When possible, use low heat settings and blower settings to reduce future damage.
Avoid chemical treatments
If you already have damaged hair, now isn’t the time to experiment with additional chemical treatments, including perms, Brazilian blowouts, or straightening treatments.
Don’t re-dye or re-bleach your hair
In that same vein, you should also avoid bleaching your hair again too quickly. As tempting as it might be—especially if you’re dealing with a color you don’t like or are bored with—this can further damage your hair. In the worst-case scenario, your hair may even break off. If you absolutely need a refresh, go to a professional colorist and focus on altering the new growth.
Protect your hair from the sun
The sun’s powerful UV rays can easily damage your hair. No matter your current hair health, we recommend wearing a hat, using a sun umbrella, sticking to the shade, and avoiding the sun at peak hours of the day.
Protect your hair from pool chlorine
Chlorine is notoriously damaging to hair, and can be especially noticeable if you have lighter strands. Before diving in the pool, rinse your hair with water so your hair is less likely to absorb the pool water. Otherwise, put your hair up in a cute topknot!
Avoid tight ponytails
“No more high and tight ponytails,” says Bodt. “Instead, say hello to scrunches and silk scarves!”
When you put your hair in a tight ponytail—especially repeatedly—it can potentially damage your hair by pulling too tightly on your scalp.
Use a detangling spray
Tangles happen, but a detangling spray can help smooth them out and therefore reduce tugging and tearing.
Brush hair gently
Did you know there’s an art to brushing your hair? Start at the ends and gently brush, then move your way up the shaft slowly, going back over the ends you just brushed. This allows you to work out knots and tangles more gently.
Tend to your scalp
In all this talk about hair, make sure you’re also tending to your scalp. When your scalp is healthy and happy, you’ll see and feel the difference in your hair. Try Kérastase Initialiste Advanced Scalp & Hair Serum, which helps hair appear thicker, stronger, and shinier. It can also help make hair strands resistant to breakage by strengthening the hair fibers.
Give yourself a scalp massage
While you’re giving your scalp some TLC via products, you should also try a scalp massage. In addition to feeling good, it can help promote circulation and improve hair health. If massaging your scalp while shampooing, it can also help make sure you’re nixing product buildup.
Use a protective finishing spray
After styling your hair, use a protective finishing spray to lock in your 'do and further protect your tresses. We recommend Pureology Style + Protect Texture Finishing Spray, a lightweight formulation that boosts body and shine while adding a touch of texture—minus any crunch.
Keep your tone fresh
Bodt says to reach for color-depositing conditioners that keep your hue in tip-top shape between salon appointments. She loves the Matrix Total Results Brass Off Conditioner.
Vet your colorist
When it’s eventually time for you to head back to the salon for a color touch-up, Nishimoto recommends vetting your stylist via social media and review sites. A trained artist knows that overlapping sections of chemical lightener can result in the very damage you’re trying to avoid in the first place.
“The biggest, most unfortunate mistake I see with my guests when they sit in my chair, is a previous colorist overlapping damaged lightened hair,” Nishimoto says. “It's crucial to be mindful of how much regrowth they have and how to stay away from applying bleach to hair that has undergone a bleach application already.”
How To Avoid Bleach Damage
If you’ve ever wondered, “Does bleaching your hair damage it every single time?” the answer is, well, yes. However, that damage can certainly be minimized to a point that it’s hardly noticeable. This is particularly true when working with an experienced hair care professional who understands how to safely bleach hair and minimize damage.
Your colorist can also utilize a pro-level hair strengthening treatment during the bleaching process, which further promotes the integrity of your hair and keeps it healthy, shiny, and strong.
Note that if you’re interested in a light blonde, fantasy hair color trend, or pastel shade, understand that your stylist will have to pre-lighten your hair first if you have naturally dark strands. Over the course of several salon appointments, he or she lifts your natural color to create a blank canvas for your dazzling new shade.
How often can you bleach your hair?
The answer to this question truly depends on your current hair health and hair type. A good rule of thumb is to only bleach your hair once every two to four months, and to focus on bleaching new growth versus re-bleaching already lightened pieces. Again, working with a colorist here is going to ensure your hair remains as healthy as possible.
Interested in customized in-salon treatments for damaged hair? Use our salon locator to book an appointment with a stylist near you.