Hydrogen peroxide is a pretty versatile chemical compound, acting as an antiseptic, oxidizer, and bleacher all in one. It’s also a common ingredient in blonde hair dyes, making it an effective hair lightener. But don’t go dumping a bottle on your head just yet–if you don’t lighten your hair with peroxide the proper way, you could actually do more harm than good to both your hair and your skin.
- Peroxide for Hair Lightening
- How to Lighten Hair With Peroxide
- Hair Lightening With Peroxide: The Ultimate Guide
- One Last Word Before You Lighten
Peroxide for Hair Lightening
As we mentioned, peroxide is a popular player in blonde hair dyes. The trick, though, is to use it safely so that you don’t end up damaging either your scalp or hair in the process. Since peroxide is a permanent hair dye, it penetrates the innermost part of the hair shaft to change its color.
However, this can be a double-edged sword; while permanent hair dyes give your hair a color that’s, well, permanent, they can also inflict too much oxidative stress on your hair. In layman’s terms, this is when your hair becomes so oxidized that your body’s natural processes can’t successfully counteract the oxidation without your hair sustaining damage.
For all of the methods we recommend, you should use 3% peroxide. This type is the one you’ll likely find in a brown bottle in your medicine cabinet. Also known as household peroxide, this is the most versatile kind of the bunch, doing nearly everything you’ll need it to while minimizing side effects.
As long as you’re careful, you can minimize any damage that peroxide might cause, but if you’re curious about what other kinds of damage peroxide can inflict on your hair and skin, click here.
How to Lighten Hair With Peroxide
Today we’re giving you some of our favorite methods for lightening hair with peroxide. Not only are the methods simple, but the ingredients are cost-effective and hair-friendly.
Dyes Containing Peroxide
What You’ll Need: A permanent or demi-permanent hair dye containing peroxide
Damage Risk: Medium to high
Best for: Healthy or relatively healthy light brown to dirty blonde hair
Most permanent and demi-permanent hair dyes contain peroxide so that they can effectively open the hair cuticle and allow the peroxide to get in there and work their lightening magic. Peroxide helps lighter hair colors last longer, making them the most reliable choice on our list. At-home hair dyes are pretty straightforward to use, so simply follow the instructions included with them to lighten those locks.
However, tread lightly if your natural hair color is any darker than a light brown; trying out a DIY dye job on dark brown or black hair could leave you with some unsightly orange or brassy hues. What’s more, damaged or otherwise vulnerable locks will most likely suffer from harsh hair dyes that contain peroxide, as the hair cuticles on these types of tresses are already open and therefore susceptible to more damage.
Peroxide and Baking Soda
What You’ll Need: 1 cup baking soda, 3 tbsps. 3% hydrogen peroxide, a few drops of olive oil, shower cap
Damage Risk: Medium
Best for: Relatively healthy medium brown, light brown, or dirty blonde hair
Both peroxide and baking soda are alkaline solutions, meaning they’ll open the hair shaft to get inside and lighten the color. Keep in mind, though, that this double-strength lightener can be pretty abrasive on hair if you don’t rehabilitate it with a deep conditioner or hair mask after. This is why we also recommend adding a few drops of olive oil to the baking soda and peroxide paste to give your already-vulnerable tresses a small dose of moisture. You can adjust the ingredient ratios according to your needs and preferences.
Mix the ingredients into a paste in a non-metal bowl and work it thoroughly into your hair, massaging it all the way down to the ends of your hair.
Once the mixture is worked into your hair, put on a shower cap and sit tight for at least 30 minutes. You can leave it on for up to an hour, depending on how healthy your hair is or how many shades lighter you want your hair to go.
After 30-60 minutes have passed, rinse your hair with cold water and wash it with a mild, clarifying shampoo. Don’t forget to apply a deep conditioner or hair mask afterwards to nourish and moisturize your dried-out tresses.
We recommend this relatively strong combo for hair that won’t turn orange or brassy with DIY lightening treatments, meaning those with red or dark brown hair should opt for other solutions.
Peroxide and Vitamin C
What You’ll Need: ½ cup of ascorbic acid powder or 15-30 crushed, white, powder-based vitamin C tablets, 3 tbsps. 3% peroxide, dye-free clarifying shampoo, shower cap
Damage Risk: Low
Best for: Healthy, straight and/or color-treated hair looking to go a couple of shades lighter
So your DIY dye job didn’t go as expected–not to worry, though. If you’re hoping to correct the color by a shade or two, then this vitamin C and peroxide concoction will get you over to the light(er) side. Vitamin C contains ascorbic acid, which has anti-pigmentary properties that can work against weaker hair dyes, like semi-permanent or temporary hair dyes. Coupled with alkaline peroxide, which is chemically designed to lighten hair color, you’ll get a one-two hair-lightening punch that won’t totally fritz your ‘do.
Some folks think that alkaline peroxide and acidic Vitamin C will cancel out each others’ effects. While they’re not totally wrong from a chemical standpoint, this balancing act will actually be much easier on your naturally acidic hair. The alkalinity of the baking soda lightens your hair, while the acidity of the Vitamin C helps both lighten your hair and mitigate damage.
Like the previous method, mix all the ingredients together in a non-metal bowl and apply it generously to your hair; be sure to coat your locks from root to tip. Once you’ve applied the mixture, wrap it up in a shower cap and let it sit for 45 minutes. After that, rinse thoroughly with cold water–and don’t forget that deep conditioner or hair mask!
Just keep in mind that this method isn’t recommended for people with naturally curly, textured, or damaged hair. In fact, it may actually do your tresses more harm than good since they’re naturally more prone to breakage, even though it’s more gentle than the peroxide and baking soda approach. Healthy, straight hair that’s hoping to go just a shade or two lighter will fare the best here.
Peroxide and Water
What You’ll Need: a dark spray bottle filled with equal parts 3% peroxide and water
Damage Risk: Low
Best for: Any type of healthy to relatively healthy hair
Not only is this the easiest method to whip up, it’s the most follicle-friendly DIY method of the bunch. This is because the water will dilute the harshness of the peroxide, which is good news for those with naturally sensitive strands.
All you have to do is mix the water and 3% peroxide together in a dark spray bottle, spray it all over your head, and voila! You’ll have lighter hair in no time. Once 15 minutes have passed, rinse your hair with cold water and deep condition your hair. The more you can protect your hair from the alkalinity of the peroxide, the better off your hair will be in the long run. If you find that 15 minutes aren’t enough to get the shade you’re after, repeat the process again as needed.
However, you’ll want to protect your skin from potential burns before spraying it with the peroxide. To do this, cover your hairline with petroleum jelly and a cotton strip. You can also cover your neck and shoulders with an old towel you don’t mind staining if you’re worried about that area as well.
It also doesn’t hurt to deep condition or apply a hair mask following application; the more you can protect your hair, the more luscious your locks will look.
Peroxide and a Salon Professional
What You’ll Need: to schedule an appointment at a salon with a professional who can lighten your hair for you
Damage Risk: Very Low
Best for: All hair types and colors, healthy or otherwise
If none of the above methods sit right with you, then perhaps it’s best for you to schedule an appointment with a salon professional who can do the work for you. Even though it’s much more expensive than any of our methods listed here, it just might be worth the investment–especially if you have damaged or vulnerable locks.
A trained hairstylist will also make sure that the final color matches your skin tone, eliminating any worries about brass or other unsightly hues. They’ll also have salon-grade aftercare tools to help tame frizziness and protect your tresses from further damage.
Now that you’ve got these great new hair lightening methods, let’s talk a little bit about the anatomy of the hair, how peroxide lightens it, and some of the most frequently-asked questions when it comes to DIY hair lightening and aftercare.
Hair Lightening With Peroxide: The Ultimate Guide
For hair-lightening novices, going a bit blonder might seem as easy as pouring some peroxide on your head and calling it a day. However, any veteran bottle blonde will tell you that lightening your hair at home all willy-nilly will not only leave with you some seriously scorched locks, but chemical burns on your skin as well. Yikes!
That’s why we’re here to talk a little bit more about the different parts of the hair, how peroxide interacts with them, and what you can do to protect yours and your skin when whipping up one of our awesome hair lightening methods mentioned above. We’ll also clue you into some DIY hair lightening alternatives, in case you find our peroxide methods to be a bit too risky.
Anatomy of the Hair
There are actually many different components of the hair shaft, but today we’ll only be focusing on the three main ones you need to know for hair-coloring purposes.
The hair cuticle is the part of the hair that’s visible to the eye. Its overlapping, scale-like layers are largely composed of hardy keratin and disulfide bonds. Ammonia “lifts” these scales to let the new pigments enter the hair cortex, where they can work their color-changing magic; this is why it’s a common ingredient in most permanent and demi-permanent hair dyes.
You’ll find the bulk of your hair’s pigment in the hair cortex. Blondes and redheads have a high concentration of phaeomelanin in their hair cortices, which gives their hair its lighter colors. Those with brown and black hair, on the other hand, have more eumelanin in their hair, which is what makes their hair darker. Hair dyes and other colorants flush out the phaeomelanin or eumelanin from the hair cortex and replace it with the new pigments.
The medulla is essentially the “marrow” of the hair shaft, as it’s the innermost layer. Hair dyes and other colorants don’t really affect it at all.
How the pH Scales Plays Into Hair Coloring
If you thought you were done with chemistry class forever, think again. Anyone who’s serious about coloring their hair without frying it to bits should know a little bit about the pH scale and where hair and hair dyes fall on it.
First, let’s talk about the pH scale itself. It runs from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being the most alkaline. As you may have guessed, 7 is neutral, meaning anything below it is acidic, and anything above it is alkaline.
All material substances have a pH level, and hair is no exception; healthy strands fall somewhere between 4.5 and 5.5 on the scale. Healthy hair is also positively-charged, meaning the hair cuticle is compact and smoothed-down. When hair is in this state, it’s shiny and silky–which is what we’re ultimately after.
However, the more damaged hair becomes, the more alkaline it becomes as well. This means that the more alkaline your hair is, the more “lifted” those scale-like layers will appear under a microscope, which makes hair look frizzy to the naked eye.
It makes sense, then, that hair dye is alkaline for this very reason. Like we mentioned earlier, the ammonia in hair dye lifts the scale-like layers of your hair cuticle to let the new pigments penetrate the hair cortex. It’s also why aftercare products are so important when coloring hair, as deep conditioners and hair masks will smooth down the hair cuticle and help restore your hair to its natural acidic state.
Interestingly, peroxide is much more acidic than ammonia; for example, compare 3% peroxide’s pH level of around 6 to ammonia’s 11. However, peroxide works similarly to ammonia when it comes to lightening hair: it penetrates the hair cuticle to work on the hair cortex, making it just as potentially damaging.
Similarly, color-treated hair will always be more alkaline than hair in its natural, uncolored state, thereby making it more susceptible to damage and breakage.
How Peroxide Damages the Hair and Skin
If you’ve never done a DIY hair lightening job with peroxide, you’ll absolutely want to know how it can negatively affect your hair and skin, even beyond the damage it can do to your hair shaft.
We talked a little bit about oxidative stress earlier, which in excess can damage your hair pretty significantly. Even though it’s what ultimately changes the pigments in your hair cortex, it can actually cause hair loss in excess. In addition to hair damage and hair loss, too much oxidative stress can also age your hair, which certainly won’t boost its good looks.
High concentrations of peroxide can also burn and blister the skin, which is why household peroxide is diluted to 3%. However, this irritation is caused by the stabilizers in peroxide, which are there to slow its decomposition. Interestingly, food-grade peroxide touts a 35% concentration, but is safe for human consumption since it’s free of these stabilizers.
Types of Peroxide
Though you should only use 3% peroxide for home haircare, it’s also worth mentioning that there are a few different types of peroxide out there, each with its own uses.
You’ll find 6% peroxide in most commercial hair dye developers, which is what helps the pigments in hair dyes penetrate the hair shaft more effectively. However, it’s best to stick to 3% peroxide when lightening your hair yourself–especially if you’re a DIY hair-lightening novice. This is because this stronger version could wreak havoc on your locks if you don’t use it properly and carefully.
Also known as food-grade peroxide, you’ll find this variety in mouthwash, whitening toothpaste, and certain vegetable washes and preservatives. To make it, peroxide is diluted with 65% water; it is free of stabilizers found in other concentrations, like phenol, acetanilide, sodium stannate, and tetrasodium pyrophosphate. Its stabilizer-free status makes it safe for human consumption, but it’s too strong for DIY hair care.
Typically reserved for industrial use, this kind of peroxide comes in various strengths and can be used for producing foam rubber, textile and paper bleaching, and is also a common ingredient in rocket fuel. In short, do NOT consume this type of peroxide or put it on your hair–it’s extremely toxic.
Even though you can use some types of peroxide on the skin and hair, you should never actually ingest any kind at all.
What Else Can I Use to Lighten My Hair?
For those with concerns about the damage peroxide could do to their skin or hair, you’ll be happy to know there are some other, gentler DIY alternatives for getting your hair a shade or two lighter.
If you have dirty blonde or light brown hair, lemon juice could be just to the trick to going a bit blonder. All you have to do is combine a mixture of equal parts lemon juice and water and work it thoroughly into your hair.
After that, go catch some rays and let your hair dry in the sun. Exposing the citric acid in the lemon juice to sunlight will open up your hair cuticles, thereby letting the lemon juice get into the hair cortex and gently strip away some of the color.
Got blah blonde hair that’s in need of a little color boost? If so, you can lighten it up with some chamomile tea. To get this going, brew a strong cup of chamomile tea and douse your head in it (make sure it’s cooled off first!). This method works a bit more slowly than others, but it’s actually pretty suitable for lightening most hair colors besides dull blonde hair.
Apple Cider Vinegar
ACV is a great natural hair-lightening option because its acidity is fairly close to that of healthy hair (compare 2-3 to 4.5-5.5, respectively), which translates to less damage and more shine. However, what it makes up for in hair-friendliness, it lacks a bit in color-changing properties, so only go this route if you’re only looking for a subtle lightening.
If you want to use ACV to give your hair a little color kick, simply mix six parts water with one part ACV and then spray it all over your head. Let the mixture soak for 15-20 minutes, and then rinse afterwards.
Like ACV, honey is ideal for getting your hair just a touch lighter in a tasteful, undramatic way. Unsurprisingly, you can add a bit of peroxide if you want a stronger lightening effect. However, you might have to repeat this method a few times to get the results you’re after, since honey alone is so gentle on your hair.
All you have to do is mix four parts honey with one part distilled water and apply the mixture to your scalp. Don’t forget to pop on a shower cap, either, so that the honey doesn’t get everywhere. After letting it sit for one hour, rinse thoroughly and condition as normal. You’ll be delighted at how smooth and silky your tresses are in addition to its new, lighter tinge.
If you’re looking to play up both blonde and red highlights in your hair, give cinnamon a try. Make sure you have a few hours to spare for this method, though, as it’s going to take that long. To get started, just mix cinnamon with enough water to make a paste and spread it evenly on your hair. After putting on a shower cap, let it sit for five to seven hours–and don’t forget to rinse thoroughly afterwards.
One Last Word Before You Lighten
When used properly, peroxide can be both a highly effective and cheap way to lighten your hair at home. However, hair lightening newbies should tread carefully, as it can seriously damage your ‘do if you’re not conscientious. If you do have any concerns about your DIY lightening abilities, we highly recommend seeking out a salon professional who can do it for you safely and effectively.