Copper and Hair Bleach…


I’m starting this post with the amazing photos of what we ended up with, but this was a pretty scary situation to be in and I feel incredibly lucky it ended up not being the end of the world…

This is a friend of mine who has been a client of mine for years. I’m talking followed me through at least 4 hair salons I’ve moved to. At her last visit we attempted to lighten her dark auburn hair to a light enough color to apply a grey tone over it in a balayage pattern. We weren’t sure we would be able to lighten it as much as we want in one visit and we ended up putting a demi-permanent color back over it so we would have some wiggle room as it faded and we would be able to clear it out more easily at the next visit. We experienced no damage other than the standard dryness associated with the use of powdered hair lightener (hair bleach) at that visit.

She came in again yesterday and I applied 20 volume lightener on the first sections I applied, and then used a mix of 30 volume with a dash of 40 volume in the last sections I applied so they would finish processing at the same time. While she was processing I started to work on another client. After about 10 minutes (guesstimating) she caught my attention and told me it was steaming and hot on her neck. Immediately we went to the sink because that is not a standard reaction. While rinsing it out I couldn’t tell how bad it was or how much damage was from heat vs chemical issues, so I fully rinsed the lightener out and applied Olaplex over her hair while I finished the processing time in the root color application.

I made the command decision to apply the grey color over the entire head because it couldn’t stay orange and yellow. After that had completed the processing time I actually had to go through and tone it a bit darker because the damaged parts of her hair turned a brilliant shade of navy blue instead of grey.

We ended up having to cut off about half of her hair length, and the really weird thing was that there were sections with 20 volume that were fine, as were most of the sections with 40 volume developer. It didn’t seem to be directly related to what chemicals were applied where on her head, it was so weird for it to be so distinctly on one side really. Our current hypothesis is that it has something to do with the water at her gym, as she usually washes it at home before seeing me and this time she had most recently washed it in the gym.

So I kept some pieces to the side after it was cut and I intend to run some additional test on them, but I believe after a little heavy digging I have found the issue: copper reacting with the ammonia in the hair lightener.

Hair lightener, also called bleach, is actually not bleach like chlorine. Hair bleach is a powdered ammonia product mixed with a liquid hydrogen peroxide as a catalyzing agent. After some excessive digging I found information on why certain cleaning systems are not suitable for use with copper pipes because of the ammonia in the products. Apparently copper is not usually used in ammonia system because it can react in an exothermic way that can also create cupric hydroxide of a blue color. Given the fact that the secondary product actually turned the hair blue and I could find nothing else even remotely related to having this set of issues I think it could be related to improper pipe care at the gym and possible older or poorly finished piping. My plan is to have the hair samples I kept tested for additional residue from this and see how that lines up with my current understanding.

Oh, and in the meantime, I’m glad she’s so nice and hasn’t murdered me for cutting off half her hair. Thank Lebowski for small miracles.


2 thoughts on “Copper and Hair Bleach…

  1. We had something similar happen to us. The client had used box color and we thought it was metallic salts that are present in some OTC color. But this could have been the same situation. Not knowing the reason was frustrating. thank goodness for Olaplex

    1. Yes! I would have thought it was box color related on this client if I didn’t already have her as a long-standing client and already known her color history didn’t include it.
      I was so freaked out at the time.

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