Hair Lightening Without Scalp and Skin Damage
Although allergic reactions can be caused by the dyes used in products that deposit haircolor, this article will be limited to damage to the skin and scalp caused by products that lighten natural hair color. The term bleach may still be used, but it is antiquated. The products used in today’s salons are marketed and sold as hairlighteners.
Hairlighteners have an alkaline pH and a high concentration of peroxide that oxidizes melanin and lightens the hair. Hairlighteners have a pH of about 10.0, which is 100,000 times more alkaline than the skin. Hairlighteners can contain a concentration of 9% (30 volume ) peroxide, which is three times greater than the 3% (10 volume) concentration used on the skin as an antiseptic. The oxidation reaction caused by the alkaline peroxide lightens the hair, but that same oxidation reaction can also cause chemical burns on the scalp. Oxidizing agents may be highly corrosive to the eyes, skin, and lungs.
The lightening effect of alkaline peroxide is limited, regardless of pH or concentration of peroxide. Powdered Off-The-Scalp hairlighteners overcome this limitation with the addition of persulfate salts: ammonium persulfate, sodium persulfate and/or potassium persulfate. Although persulfate salts increase lightening, they also increase scalp irritation. Persulfate salts are not stable with water, so they must be sold in powdered form, which is why most powdered hairlighteners are sold for off-the-scalp use. Persulfate salts may also be in powdered “activators” sold in small foil packages that are added to liquid hairlighteners before use.
When hairstylists fail to achieve the desired level of lightening, they usually add heat from a steamer, hairdryer or heat lamps. As a general rule, an increase in temperature of 18°F/10°C doubles the rate of most chemical reactions. This means that a haircolor service processed with a machine at 90°F will process twice as fast as it would at a normal room temperature of 72°F. The addition of heat increases the rate of reaction and also increases skin irritation.
Metals in the hair catalyze oxidation reactions. Metallic dyes (salts of lead, silver, copper, and nickel), iron (from well water) and copper (from home plumbing and swimming pools) catalyze oxidation reactions. The exothermic reaction can produce enough heat to physically burn the skin.
Men, women and children of all ages want to have lighter hair. “Blondes have more fun” and for some, it’s never blonde enough. Most hairstylists are simply trying to meet the demands of their customer.
Top Ten Ways to Avoid Skin Irritation with Hair Lighteners
1) Do not use Powdered Hair Lighteners or Powdered Activators on the scalp.
2) Do not add heat from a hairdryer, steamer or other source while processing.
3) Do not shampoo the day before having an on the scalp hair lightener.
4) Do not force your hairstylist to do something they are reluctant to do.
5) Do process at room temperature.
6) Do cover your hair with a plastic cap with several small holes.
7) Do check your hair for a build-up of metals.
8) Do have your retouch more frequently. The hair at the scalp is easier to lighten.
9) Do have your hair highlighted off the scalp instead of on the scalp.
10) Do accept the fact that more isn’t always better.
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