Can You Bleach Wet Hair, and Other Coloring Tips

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Typically, more bleach is used toward the ends, creating a soft transition of color. This produces a natural highlighted effect.

A standard balayage is done on dry hair. But in recent years, wet balayage has become extremely popular. The technique involves applying bleach on wet hair instead. This creates a more subtle highlight, which is ideal for certain looks.

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If you’re interested in wet balayage, you might wonder how the technique affects the hair. Let’s explore what happens when you bleach damp hair, along with things you should keep in mind when doing it.

Why do colorists bleach wet hair?

There are several reasons why colorists apply bleach on wet hair. They might do it to:

Create a subtle lightening effect

Your colorist might use this technique if you want to subtly lighten your hair. The water dilutes the bleach, which produces a slight change in color.

The water also evenly spreads the bleach. This prevents harsh transitions between colors, creating a softer lightening effect.

Brighten the ends
For strong and hydrated hair

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Wet balayage is used to “boost” previously lightened ends in between coloring appointments.

It’s also used to further brighten the ends right after a traditional highlight session. Once your hair is bleached, processed, and rinsed, a colorist can add more bleach to enhance the effect.

Achieve a faster application

Your colorist may use wet balayage if you want a quick coloring treatment.

Not only does bleach process faster on wet hair, but the goal is to create a subtle color change. The bleach doesn’t need to stay on your hair for a long time.

Is bleaching wet hair harder on your hair?

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Although bleaching wet hair is convenient, there are some drawbacks.

Hair is weakest when wet

The technique can be hard on your hair. That’s because your hair is weakest when wet. Water opens up the cuticle, which is the tough outer layer surrounding each strand. It’s made of sheets of overlapping scales.

Normally, the cuticle protects the cortex, which is the middle part of the hair. The cortex contains pigment called melanin, which gives your hair color.

But when the cuticle is open, it’s unable to to efficiently protect the cortex. This means the hair is more vulnerable to damage.

Don’t try this at home
Volume and structure for your hair

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You might want to avoid trying this technique at home. It can significantly harm your hair if it’s done incorrectly.

Plus, at-home coloring kits include directions that you should always follow. They likely won’t involve applying bleach or dye to wet hair.

Best to work with a trained colorist

When it comes to bleaching wet hair, it’s best to work with a colorist. They’ll know to safely use the technique while protecting your hair.

For example, they can apply the right amount of water before applying bleach. They also might use a special conditioner after bleaching to minimize damage.

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Additionally, a colorist will know if bleaching wet hair will get the look you want.

What happens when you apply bleach to wet hair?

On a cellular level, bleaching hair affects wet vs. dry hair in different ways.

When you apply bleach to dry hair, the bleach penetrates the cuticle. It then enters the cortex and decomposes melanin. This reduces the pigment in your hair, resulting in a lighter color.

There are also cross-linked proteins beneath the cuticle. These proteins give structure to your hair. Bleach oxidizes and destroys the proteins, thus weakening the hair.

Activates the microcirculation of scalp and strengthens the hair follicles to stimulate hair growth

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When your hair is wet, the cuticle scales are already lifted. The bleach can easily pass through and enter the cortex, where it degrades melanin.

However, since the bleach is diluted with water, it doesn’t produce a significant color change. This quickly yet softly lightens the hair.

Should you wash and dry your hair before coloring it?

It’s recommended to avoid washing your hair just before bleaching it. That’s because your hair’s natural oil, or sebum, protects your scalp during the process. The oil will help minimize scalp irritation and hair protein damage.

Besides, if your colorist is doing a wet balayage, they’ll only dampen the hair that’s being lightened. They’ll likely use a water bottle to spray certain strands instead of washing all your hair.

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You’ll likely have to avoid washing your hair for a few days before your appointment. Your colorist can specify how many days you should skip washing.

Any other best practice tips for bleaching your hair?

If you’re interested in bleaching your hair, there are some things you can do to protect it. The following tips will prevent your hair from becoming brittle and dry.

  • Deep condition your hair. It’s recommended to deep-condition your hair in the weeks before your appointment. This will hydrate your hair before bleaching and reduce the risk of breakage.
  • Work with a trained colorist. An experienced hair professional will know how to correctly bleach hair while limiting damage.
  • Limit your bleaching sessions. Try to space out your appointments. It’s one of the best ways to avoid overtreating your hair.
  • Avoid heat treatments. Heat styling can further damage bleached hair. The combination of heat and bleaching can also lead to scalp burns, so it’s best to avoid it.
  • Avoid sun exposure. Keep your hair out of the sun, which can further damage and break your hair. Use a hair sunscreen or wear a hat.
  • Avoid chlorinated pools. Similarly, the chlorine in swimming pools can increase hair damage. Consider wearing a swim cap if you want to swim in a pool.
  • Ask your colorist for product recommendations. Bleached hair requires special care and products. Be sure to use formulas that are specifically created for bleached or color-treated hair.

Key takeaways

Bleaching wet hair is ideal for creating a subtle lightening effect. However, it’s best to let a colorist do this to your hair.

Since your hair is more fragile when wet, extra precautions need to be taken when applying bleach. A trained colorist will know how to correctly dampen and bleach your hair.

Free your hair follicles

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It’s important to take extra care of bleached hair. Limiting heat styling, sun exposure, and chlorinated pools can prevent dryness and breakage. You should also limit your bleaching sessions and use products made for bleached hair.

Talk to your colorist for specific tips and advice.

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