Feb 11, 2015

Can you bleach wet hair?

Whilst it sounds like a rather trivial question, it's one that is often asked. Can you bleach wet hair? The answer to this question in its most simple form is yes, you can bleach wet hair, but there are reasons that you wouldn't want to in most circumstances.

What happens when you bleach hair?

Hair bleach works through a process called oxidation. It is this chemical process that allows the product to actually lighten your hair, and it is hydrogen peroxide in the form of developer which produces the oxidation.

Now, developer is already mostly water with conditioning agents and other nourishing ingredients added to it. Only a small percentage of the solution is actually hydrogen peroxide. In most cases, this will be at a concentration of 3 - 9 percent peroxide (10 - 30 vol), with the most abundant ingredient in developer actually being water.

This means that when you apply bleach to your hair, you are wetting your hair because of the water in the developer. In other words, hair is always wet when you bleach it, but it's the amount of water that matters in this case.

If your hair is already wet, this adds water into the bleach mixture, diluting it down significantly. Bleach that is added to wet hair becomes much weaker than it would have been otherwise and this can present a problem if you need greater lightening power.

Bleach washing

Bleach washing on the other hand, is a technique which usually requires application to slightly damp hair. In this case, the bleach formula is not meant to be strong enough to significantly lighten your hair. The primary purpose of the bleach in this situation is for colour correction and soft lightening.

When applying bleach in this way, the wet hair is also beneficial because the shampoo that is added to the bleach is able to penetrate the hair a lot more effectively if the hair is slightly damp, speeding up the stripping process and better removing stubborn dye for correction.

If you have to correct or soften a bad dye job, it's perfectly fine to bleach wet hair, but if you need decent lightening and more reliable results, it's always better to apply bleach to dry hair.

More information:
  • How to bleach your hair - Find out how to use bleach to lighten your hair at home...
  • Can you bleach damaged hair? - Wondering whether your hair shouldn't be bleached? Find out how much damage is too much, and how to analyse your hair condition...
  • Bleaching FAQ - Answers to some of the most common bleach questions, misconceptions, and myths... 

Can you bleach wet hair? Certainly; but it's not the best idea if you need the best lightening effect and results. Have another question about bleach? Leave a comment for tailored advice...

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  1. My hair is bright orange. I went from dark Brown and bleached once. Im at a level 6 or 7 now. If I bleach while my hair is damp will it still lighten it to my desired color? I'm going for a level 8 or 9. Would it be best to wait til my hair is dry?

    1. Hi Miranda,

      First question, was your dark brown colour from a dye, or natural. If it's natural, it will generally look more of a golden colour, the closer it is to a level 7. With dyed hair, this isn't always the case and it can still look orange at lighter levels. This is just to give you an idea of how light it is so far.

      If it is in fact at close to a level 7 at this point, you know that the bleach lifted 3 - 4 levels, and this will serve to illustrate how effective it is on your hair. To get to a 8 - 9 at this point, it would be fine to apply the bleach to damp hair if that's what you would prefer because you really only need 2 more levels of lift to get it light enough. In most cases, expect application on damp hair to decrease lightening by about a level less than what it would have been otherwise. Of course, this can vary and it often comes down to how your own hair reacts because all hair is different.

      Once you do get it light enough, you'll need to tone it to get it to a nice blonde colour, as you likely already know. If it still looks orange at this point, even though it's light enough, you may need to adjust the toner you use to neutralise it properly for the best result. Blue-based shades are necessary for correcting orange, whilst violet is for yellow tones.

  2. I just bleached my hair then put conditioner on it before dying it, will the dye take?

    1. Hi Eunice,

      If the conditioner was rinsed out before application of the dye, it will have little effect on processing. It's still generally best to apply permanent dye to dry, unwashed hair though for longer lasting colour and less irritation to the scalp whenever possible.

      If your hair is damp during application of a permanent dye, this dilutes the colour of the dye, as well as the developer, making it less permanent. If there's un-rinsed conditioner present in your hair, this also acts to dilute the dye formula down, with the added issue that the conditioner tends to coat the hair shaft and can decrease penetration.