The effects of hydrogen peroxide in hair bleaching creams

Written by jennifer van leigh
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Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most common ingredients used in hair colouring and bleaching. Despite the terms "bleaching" and "stripping," peroxide is not a bleach derivative, though it can be a noxious chemical. The reaction of this chemical with others is what creates the effect sought when using hair bleach.

Chemical Composition

The chemical composition of the hydrogen peroxide used in bleaching creams is H2O2, or two hydrogen molecules and two oxygen molecules. Though this would be the same chemical composition as the bottle of hydrogen peroxide in your bathroom cabinet, other agents in hair bleach creams are at work alongside hydrogen peroxide.

How Bleach Works

When applied on hair, hydrogen peroxide permeates the hair cuticle and releases oxygen, which binds with the hair pigments to cause a chemical reaction that breaks the molecules of hair pigmentation. This reaction makes hair less reflective to the UV light spectrum, and the hair appears lightly coloured. This process is quickened by heat, from natural expended body heat, or external sources, which is why colouring and bleaching processes might use heat appliances to speed up processing time so as to avoid prolonged exposure to the chemicals.

Hair and Scalp Damage

One of the most common problems with the use of hair colour is dealing with dry, porous hair. Occasionally, the microscopic outer layer of the hair cuticle can flake off, leaving strands unprotected and weak. Overuse or overexposure from hair bleaching creams can damage the scalp, causing chemical burns that will be uncomfortable or painful, and could ooze or scab over as they heal. It is best to avoid hair bleaching creams if your scalp is dry or irritated or if your hair has been recently chemically processed. A worst case scenario includes not only chemical burns but hair breakage at the root.

Allergens and Irritants

Some chemicals commonly found in hair bleach creams can lead to the development of respiratory issues. The less-friendly chemicals found in hair bleaching creams are known as persulphate salts, which act alongside the hydrogen peroxide. When colouring at home, take care to avoid having the product in contact with your eyes and mouth, and be sure to have proper ventilation.

Post-Bleaching Care

Bleaching hair leaves hair cuticles dry, scaly and full of holes, therefore moisture replacement and protein-based hair repair treatments are highly recommended. Heat can be used during post-bleaching care because that allows the treatments to further penetrate and repair the hair shaft, but exposure to heat-styling tools and extremely hot water should be limited.

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