Here's What You Need to Know About Scalp Bleach Burn Before Getting Your Hair Bleached
Pulling off platinum hair can be tricky, especially with all the hair horror stories on the internet about bleach damage. Maybe you've already gone blonde and are now feeling the not-so-fun side effects. Whether you've heard of it happening or not, you should know that when bleach is applied to your hair, you are at risk of getting a bleach burn on the scalp.
So, what exactly is bleach burn? According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Nazanin Saedi, “A bleach burn is a chemical burn on your scalp caused by hair bleach. Typically, a bleach burn is a first-degree burn that affects the outer layer of skin, leaving you with a red, painful scalp. However, you can get a more severe burn that extends beyond the top layer of skin and leaves blistering and swelling.”
If this is your first introduction to the world of hair dye and hair bleach, it’s important to know that they are not the same products. According to Lorena M. Valdes, colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, hair dye deposits colored pigments into your hair, changing the color of the strands, while hair bleach strips the hair strands of color using hydrogen peroxide, turning it a lighter shade.
It doesn’t matter whether you are getting a single process (an all-over color) or a double process that consists of two services like highlights and toning — any time hair bleach is applied, you run the risk of developing a bleach burn.
Master Colorist at Rob Peetoom Salon, Hitomi Ikeda explains that while bleach burn can occasionally occur, using bleach on hair is generally safe when done by a professional. "Whether it's highlighting or on-scalp bleaching, these processes need to be done properly. You must remember we're using chemicals that can be quite dangerous to the scalp and hair so this needs to be handled with caution," she says.
Ahead, find all of the facts on bleach; how it can burn your scalp, what you can do to prevent it from happening, and what to do if you experience a bleach burn .
What is in hair bleach that can cause your scalp to burn?
Hair bleach is made of a mixture of chemicals (ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, to be exact). According to Cosmetic Chemist Ginger King, the chemical percentages are extremely lower in hair bleach than they are in household cleaning products with the same ingredients. Plus, all hair bleaches must go through rigorous testing to ensure safety on skin. With professional application, hair bleach is safe to use on hair.
Why is bleach used on hair?
"Bleach is used for lightening hair (to strip the pigment from your hair shaft)," Ikeda says, "It is impossible to make your hair a lighter shade without the help of bleaching or oxidizing agents."
So, if you want your hair to be a lighter color than it is naturally, using bleach to lift and remove the darker color is the only way.
What are the symptoms of scalp bleach burn?
"Symptoms [of bleach burn] include redness and itching on the scalp," Dr. Saedi says, "It can happen immediately after the treatment. It feels similar to a burn on other parts of the skin."
According to Dr. Saedi, redness, swelling, blistering with scabbing, burning or stinging, itchiness or some pain are all symptoms of scalp bleach burn. Ikeda does say that "It is not normal to have scalp burn after the process, but some people might react to strong irritants after a single application [of hair bleach]. Others may develop signs and symptoms after repeated exposures to even [hair bleach]."
What can I do to prevent bleach burn on the scalp?
No one wants to deal with the unpleasant side effects of a bleach burn. Here's how to avoid scalp irritation during the color process.
Do not wash your hair at least three to four days before your appointment. This can help the natural oils on your scalp to create a protective layer between the chemicals and your scalp.
Do a patch test to see if you have any allergic reactions to hair bleach. Have a stylist place “a dot [of hair bleach] behind your ear or your inner elbow and let it dry out. Then rinse off with lukewarm water. And then wait and watch for 48 hours to see if there is an allergic reaction,” says Valdes.
If you ever feel any abnormal irritation like stinging, itching, or burning while you're going through this process, please speak up and let the colorist know as soon as possible.
How do I treat bleach burn on my scalp?
"If it is a minor irritation, rinse with cool water to calm your scalp (at least 5 - 10 minutes)," says Ikeda.
Keep the burn moisturized. To do so, Dr. Saedi recommends applying aloe vera. “You can chill the aloe vera or use it at room temperature. I recommend choosing an aloe vera gel that is free of alcohol and fragrances that could irritate your scalp,” says Dr. Saedi. “I really like Sunbum’s After Sun Cool Down Spray. It includes Aloe Vera and Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a great additive, helping reduce inflammation and hydrate the skin.”
“You can also take anti-inflammatory medication like Advil to help calm down the inflammation and apply ice to the affected area," Dr. Saedi adds.
If you have scabbing from the scalp burn, Saedi recommends leaving scabs alone as picking them off can cause prolonged healing and lead to infection. “I recommend avoiding anything that can further irritate your scalp or burn,” Dr. Saedi says, “Avoid hair products that contain irritants such as alcohol, dyes, and fragrances. While your scalp heals, choose a gentle shampoo that is marketed for a sensitive scalp and wash with cold water. Avoid hair dryers or any other unnecessary heat that could further irritate the burn."
"If you have persistent itchiness or scabs that lasts for weeks, you should see a dermatologist," Dr. Saedi says.
Now that you know how to avoid bleach burn as well as how to treat the condition should it happen, you’re ready to strut into the salon and get the hair of your dream. Just follow these tips, make sure you find a reputable hair professional to bleach your hair, and then enjoy all the extra selfie likes.
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