The Difference Between Regular Bleach and Hair Bleach

Hair bleach contains different ingredients than household bleach.

Photo: Medioimages/Photodisc/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Only one beauty product has the power to transform raven-headed hotties into platinum blonds in under an hour -- hair bleach. But how does it work? Despite the name, hair bleach is worlds apart from household bleach. Attempting to lighten your locks with regular bleach could end in a hair-raising disaster ... or worse. Understanding the difference between regular bleach and hair bleach helps you get the most out of both products while avoiding nasty side effects.

Types of Hair Bleach

Hair bleach comes in many brands and formulations. Some types only lighten hair a few shades, while others produce more dramatic results, completely stripping hair of its natural color. Hair bleach made for dark-haired girls is often stronger and contains different ingredients than brands that simply brighten already-blond tresses.

Ingredients

Sodium hypochlorite -- a chlorine-based chemical -- is the main ingredient in household bleach. Some varieties contain lye or calcium hypochlorite, the latter being found in most bleaching powders. Hair bleach usually consists of hydrogen peroxide and ammonium hydroxide along with a laundry list of hard-to-pronounce ingredients that aid in the lightening process. Some brands even come with special shampoo and conditioner to use after coloring your hair.

How It Works

Hair bleach works by opening the hair shaft and stripping the hair of its color. Ammonia opens the hair shaft to allow the bleach to bond with your hair, while hydrogen peroxide does the actual lightening. While it's not meant to be used on hair, regular bleach is a virtual jack-of-all-trades when it comes to cleaning. It can be used to remove stains from white clothes and has powerful disinfecting properties. Bleach is frequently used in hospitals and households to prevent the spread of icky germs like viruses and bacteria. Let's see hair bleach do all that!

Safety Concerns

For all their differences, hair bleach and regular bleach do have one thing in common: the potential to cause harm when used incorrectly. Medline Plus warns that ingredients like hydrogen peroxide and ethyl alcohol in some hair bleach can cause poisoning when swallowed. Yikes! It can also fry your hair when left on too long. Other possible side effects include skin irritation and discoloration. Likewise, regular bleach can cause serious health problems when it comes in contact with your eyes, skin or internal organs. The moral of the story? Read the instructions and use both products as directed.

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