The Natural’s Guide to Bleaching and Hair Color, Part 1

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By Jc of The Natural Haven

There is a world of possibilities with hair colour and natural hair is the ideal base for it given there is no additional chemical process (e.g relaxing) which can greatly weaken hair. Here is your guide to what is in commercial hair colour.

There are three main ways to colour hair

*Editor’s Note: The British spelling of the world color is used throughout this article.

1. Bleaching

The colour of hair arises from melanin located inside the cortex. In order to permanently change the colour of very dark hair to a lighter colour (for example going from black to dark brown or from dark brown to light brown or blonde), it is almost always necessary to first bleach it. Commercial bleach kits generally contain either hydrogen peroxide or ammonium hydroxide as bleaching agents. These ingredients work at high pH (normally 8 or more) so that the cuticle can be lifted and allow penetration of the bleach which then breaks down the melanin.

Bleaching in general is not gentle to hair and affects the hair’s mechanical strength as well as disrupts the cuticle.

2. Permanent Hair Colour

Permanent hair colour is essentially a way to replace the pigment inside the hair with a colour of choice. A broad spectrum of colours can be achieved with permanent hair colour (from the normal spectrum – black, brown, blonde and red to the more adventurous spectrum – pink,purple,green, yellow etc). Normally permanent hair colour starts with a bleaching process as described above and then a pigment of choice is used to replace the colour inside the hair shaft. The ingredients in permanent hair colour usually include an agent to create the high pH alkaline environment (e.g ammonia), a bleach to lighten colour (e.g peroxide ) and pigment of various intensities (e.g benzene/phenol compounds .A common example is PPD)

Permanent hair colour processing is also in general not gentle as it involves a bleaching process as well as high pH.

3. Semi permanent /Demi permanent

Semi permanent colour is different from permanent hair colour because bleaching is not normally necessary to achieve the final colour. Many semi permanent colours use low levels of ammonia to create a high pH environment but others have no ammonia. The pigment is placed usually underneath the cuticle and sometimes can penetrate to the outer regions of the cortex. Depending on porosity (the more porous the hair, the further the colour can penetrate) and how often hair is washed/wetted, the hair colour can last for a 2-3 weeks. It will eventually fade away and semi permanent colours cannot lighten hair. Very dark hair will not have a noticeable change without the use of bleach to initially lighten hair.

Demi permanent colour is generally used to temporarily cover grey hair. It is similar to semi permanent colour in many aspects  but the key differences are that normally the colour is normally just deposited on the outside of hair (so less cuticle damage) and while a high pH environment is also normally needed, often chemically weaker substitutes for ammonia can be used. Demi permanent colours tend to be darker and have a tendency to build up easily on hair. They normally last much longer than semi permanent hair colour – 1-2 months.  Not all companies distinguish between ‘demi-permanent’ and ‘semi permanent’.

Semi and demi permanent colour processes are both regarded as much gentler than permanent colour or bleaching (provided that hair is not bleached prior to the process).

Final Word

The process of getting permanent hair colour will almost always involve high pH (to lift the cuticle), bleach (to destroy melanin) and then the pigment added (to create the new colour).

Many naturals often ask me about Aveda (were you about to ask?) because they state that their hair colour ingredients are 97% naturally derived.  Many naturals therefore think that the process is different and more gentle. I did request the ingredients from Aveda and the listing does show that some products do have ammonium hydroxide (bleach) and even PPD was listed. (PPD is a common hair dye which is known to produce allergic reactions in some people. You may know it from the warnings about black henna/pico henna. Some countries are looking to or have already banned it).

Does this mean that Aveda colour is not naturally derived – no in fact both of these ingredients can be made from natural ingredients. The important thing is to know that the permanent hair colouring process is essentially making a chemical change to hair regardless of whether the dye is naturally derived or not.

Choosing to permanently colour your hair means making a choice to weaken your hair, this does not mean your hair will break or fall off. If done correctly, you can achieve good colour results and maintain your hair. However, not all hair will be able to be permanently coloured without damage. Coming up next is the guide to the actual process of getting the colour in the salon.

Ladies, have you ever colored your hair? Have you ever considered it? Share your experiences below!

Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 347-371, 1993
Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists, pp 133-140, 1997
Journal of Cosmetic Science, pp377-389, 2001

The Natural Haven

The Natural Haven

Scientist on a hairy mission!


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55 thoughts on “The Natural’s Guide to Bleaching and Hair Color, Part 1

  1. Hey All,

    I’ve been bleaching my hair for the past 5 years & definitely don’t think it is for the faint of heart. Your hair must be in OPTIMAL condition before going through the chemical process. I’ve found that on my 3c/4a hair the most important thing is to deep condition with EVERY WASH, keep my hair moisturized and maintain a good balance of protein.

    I say test it out on a strand before diving in head first.

  2. If you are having wrinkles on your face and you are looking for a natural treatment then go for Hydroderm Age Defying Wrinkle Serum. This helps adding glow to your skin but also hides your wrinkles. So add charm and beauty to your face by using this product.

  3. I dyed my hair with Dark&Lovely’s Honey Blonde about 2 months ago and I’ve indeed had to up the moisture in my daily hair routine. However, before I even got the color I’d been doing weekly deep conditioning with honey and olive oil. The bottom line is that if you’re considering permanent hair color,you must have a strict hair regimen.

  4. I have recently colored (Bleached) my natural hair. I purposely chose to have only the ends – about 3″ out of 8″ length – done just in case this was a disaster. It wasn’t. I like it, some days. I have now been there, done that. I’ll never say never but I think for the goals I have in mind for my hair this was not the smartest thing I could have done. And I probably won’t be trying this again. I don’t see any horrendous damage, however, I can feel the rough, dry ends and have had to alter my regimen to stave off a real disaster. All that being said… it was fun to experiment with color .

  5. I went to my stylist a few months ago to get color and he bleached my hair without me knowing it. I was in tears when I looked at what my hair color was when I left there. It was horrible! I did not have a lot of breakage but, my texture was different where I had the color. I will probably color again but, I will NOT bleach.

  6. Dark & Lovely Broke my hair off, Revlon broke my hair off and Feria broke my hair off. Clairol for black women hair dye is really good and so is Garnier.. but I’ve noticed that dying my hair has changed the texture of my hair and has loosened up my curls. I am currently transitioning from dying my and going back to the color Yahweh gave me… but sometimes that blonde be calling me to come back LoL

  7. This is really fascinating, You are a very professional blogger. I have joined your feed and stay up for in search of extra of your wonderful post. Additionally, I have shared your website in my social networks

  8. im Dominican and have very full curly hair. i am pretty adventurous with my hair and have cut it short, cut it into a mohawk, relaxed it, as well as dyed and bleached it. currently im letting it grow out and have been bleaching it in order to get a platinum blonde. being that i relaxed about a year or 2 ago i was hesitant to bleach bc it havent cut my hair and was afraid it would further damage my hair. i decided to start conditioning my hair and trying natural hair masques in order to strengthen my hair prior to bleaching.

    i bleached it first at the salon and they used a conditioning bleach (sorry i don’t have the name of it) and there was minimal damage to my hair, although it was very brassy (my hair is almost black so i knew i had to bleach it multiple times.

    after that i waited almost 3 months before i again bleached it. Again, deep conditioner, leave in conditioner, the works. this time i used splat bleach and it worked great. my curl definition has been altered a little but its to be expected.

    its now been 6 months and im just about ready to do my root touch up. i think as long as you keep you natural hair hydrated and happy the rainbows the limit.

    good products for your hair
    -miss jessie’s curly pudding
    -any miss jessies product
    -garnier leave in conditioner
    -homemade conditioners with avocado, egg, mayo and/or olive oil

  9. I heard honey is a good and natural hair dye. Lemon is good too. I’m going to try honey on my dreadlocks and see how it works out! #team natural#

    • oooo. let me know how that works out. I have natural hair and was thinking about doing a semi permanent dye to color it blonde. But it looks like it won’t work. So la la. I’ve only colored my hair 3 X in my life. Always use semi. Maybe I’ll just stay dark and gray. LOL. I went natural to move away from peroxides and ammonia associate with relaxers. Loving it!

  10. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you?
    Plz reply as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to find
    out where u got this from. appreciate it

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