The physical and chemical disruption of human hair after bleaching - studies by transmission electron microscopy and redox proteomics

Int J Cosmet Sci. 2018 Dec;40(6):536-548. doi: 10.1111/ics.12495. Epub 2018 Nov 19.


Objective: To understand the structural and chemical effects of cosmetic peroxide bleaching on human hair.

Methods: Human hair was progressively bleached using alkaline peroxide-persulphate treatment. Proteins lost through leaching were examined using amino acid analysis and mass spectrometric sequencing. Fibre damage was assessed using transmission electron microscopy, amino acid analysis and redox proteomics.

Results: Protein loss through leaching increased with bleaching severity. Leached proteins were not limited to the cuticle, but also included cortical intermediate filaments and matrix keratin-associated proteins. The leached proteins were progressively oxidized as bleaching severity increased. Bleached fibres demonstrated substantial damage to the cuticle layers and to the cortex. Extensive melanin granule degradation was present after the mildest bleach treatment. Protein oxidation in bleached fibres was principally in cortical intermediate filaments - the most abundant hair proteins - and targeted the sulphur-containing amino acids, particularly the conversion of cystine disulphide bonds to cysteic acid.

Conclusion: Peroxide chemical treatments quickly access the cortex, causing untargeted oxidative damage across the fibre in addition to the desired loss of melanin. Peroxide ingress is likely facilitated by the considerable structural degradation caused to the cuticle layers of hair fibres. The consequences of the peroxide action within the cuticle and cortex are oxidation of the proteins, and subsequent protein loss from the fibre that correlates to bleaching severity.

Keywords: bleaching damage; chemical analysis; hair damage; hair structure; hair treatment; protein loss; protein oxidation.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / analysis
  • Hair / chemistry*
  • Humans
  • Hydrogen Peroxide / chemistry*
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission / methods*
  • Oxidation-Reduction


  • Amino Acids
  • Hydrogen Peroxide