How to Proceed When You've Burned the $h!t Out of Your Scalp

Much in the same way that so many mechanics personally own busted-ass cars, I am not very delicate when I'm doing my own hair.
Publish date:
March 1, 2016
bleach, scalp, irritation, tea, oils, pastel hair, damaged hair, hair relaxer, Neosporin

I am not a careful person. When I decided I would like lavender hair, I bought two boxes of bleach IMMEDIATELY. My hair decisions are made hastily, and I kind of like it that way. It's always fun trying to fix whatever I tried to do without the materials I needed. I'm that person who does the perfect updo, only to hold it walking around my house, searching for a single bobby pin.

Much in the same way that so many mechanics personally own busted-ass cars, I am not very delicate when I'm doing my own hair. I know that bleach should never be applied against the scalp, and I do try to avoid that, but it's much faster to just slop it on and deal with it later.

And don't worry, you will.

Let's just start out by calling this what it is: a chemical burn. It's that tight, itchy feeling of the oxidization of your top layer of skin. After two 20-volume bleach baths, my scalp was mad; it prickled and itched the way a sunburn would. Even if you don't apply the bleach directly to your scalp, the noxious fumes are enough to cook sensitive skin, especially the tender area around your forehead and temples. (Unless you live for disgusting shit, don't even think about doing a Google image search.)

Whether you overdid the bleach or relaxer, or just had a mild reaction to some ammonia-based coloring, here are some ways you can put out the fire and speed healing when you're feeling the burn.

Make a cup of tea.

A cooling spray that you can mist on your head will help with pain and swelling, and it's simple to make.

Brew a strong cup of peppermint tea, let it cool, then decant into a misting bottle. Spritzing your scalp and roots will feel like the wind off a glacier on angry skin. Store it in the fridge for optimal refreshment. If you have ultra-pale and therefore ultra-porous hair, try a drop of peppermint oil in water instead to avoid possible staining.

Literally chill out.

Leave your hair down, and drape a quart Ziploc filled with ice water over the top of your head. It can help reduce redness right after a particularly prickly bleach bath. Cooling right away can prevent the burn from getting irritated or even rupturing the skin.

Out of Ziplocs? Try a bag of frozen peas — but get it on there as soon as you can!

Go easy on the products.

It seems obvious not to apply any kind of clarifying shampoo or astringent products after a bad chemical burn, but also be wary of any moisturizing masks that contain anything other than bland ingredients. Even if you normally have a resilient scalp, when skin is irritated, it can be extra-sensitive about cetyl alcohol, fragrances or even natural ingredients like witch hazel or aloe.

Grease up.

Even if your first instinct is to frost your head with a thick comedogenic ration of coconut oil, stop! Thick oils can be irritating to remove. Instead, enlist either sunflower or hemp seed oil (my personal Holy Grail for ever and ever).

The lighter oils penetrate without leaving heaps of residue, which is especially important because you really shouldn't be doing anything to your head for the next few days. Try adding a drop of lavender or tea tree oil to your carrier oil to soothe and disinfect. However, if you really did a number and have open lesions, try Neosporin instead — it'll sting less. And while you're at it, maybe get someone with better sense than you to sign off on your beauty choices?

Remember that just like the gross elastic feeling of really trashed hair, this too shall pass. If you aren't feeling relief within a couple of days, you might want to get a second opinion — you don't want an infected head.

  • Have you ever burned your scalp? Sun or otherwise?
  • Do you want a committee to sign off on your beauty choices? I kind of do...