How to dye your kid's hair

gutter punk <3

This wonderful photo of Dylan from sadiemayb, reminded me of a post SJ over at i, asshole wrote about how to dye your kid's hair:

Over here we use Special Effects. I don't know if you live in a large or small town, but often this can be purchased at a "punk rock barber shop" type place. You shouldn't pay much more than ten dollars for it. A place like the punk mall store chain "Hot Topic" will absolutely gouge you for 15 dollars or more, which is okay if you just want one bottle one time. I do not recommend the "classic" brands Punky Color or Manic Panic, because in my experience Special Effects has at least four times the staying power, and this is with a normal shampoo regimen.


If you're in a small town, then I recommend this website if you're going to make a habit of it. Click on the name of the color to see it on people's heads. These are REALLY nice people out of Indiana and I have dealt with them several times. It's more worthwhile to me to pay for shipping because I buy in bulk. I actually end up spending less.

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I don't know know what color your kiddo is naturally, but with brown/dark hair you're going to get a "wash" or "tint" effect that can still be quite dramatic. With naturally blonde hair you're going to get more tinting. My kiddo has sun-bleached hair and it's pretty porous and visible. My personal opinion is that while you can get a dramatic effect with bleaching, that's a pretty risky way to do it with kids. My big kid was subjected to bleach at her dad's house for a wedding to make her "presentable" and all she remembers two years later is the bleach burns. Sad panda.

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Words to the wise for new hair-dyers, especially of little kids:

1. General
Special Effects is VERY stain-y and transfers to almost anything. Set yourself up in a "safe" place that can get trashed, or can be cleaned easily. Old clothes and dark/trash towels are a must! The dye can transfer onto combs, pillowcases, shirt collars, anything, especially when wet. Think of it as a gooier version of food dye. You know how that stuff can spread. By the way, dyeing outside in the summer can be fun, and a smart idea.

2. Dyeing
During dyeing (I recommend a half-hour), keep a close watch, especially if you have a wiggle-worm. Once I was doing my big kid's hair when she was about four and my phone rang. I turned around to grab it, and, BAM, there she was rolling on the floor, spreading a pink stain all over the apartment carpet. EEP! I recommend wrapping the colored hair in a bun or ponytail, depending on how much you're going to do. Sometimes I will wrap hair in foil to contain it.

Use gloves! Use gloves! They can be had at the hardware, beauty supply, or drugstore.

Get creative! I have done my kid's whole head, but I have also done her tips and streaks, which is also fun, still dramatic and less messy.

3. Rinse
I don't know how independent your kiddo is, but I still help mine the first time she gets in the shower, by directing her how to rinse effectively. I remind her to hold her head back and to give it a good rinse before she digs her hands in. If your kid can put her head upside down in a sink, I recommend this the first time. You may consider wearing gloves to rinse her head, to keep your hands less stained. I also find it handy to jump into the shower with her to assist her hands-on.

To have a really bright color, you want to do less rinsing and shampooing the first time out. If you are okay with a more pastel color, and want to minimize transferring the color around your house, shampoo a couple of times and try to get the water to run clear(ish) before containing it in a towel.

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4. Damage control
The price of colored hair, especially if it's past the ears, is that the color will spread a bit. But there's some things you can do to help.

If it gets on cloth and won't come out, trying exposing it to sun. The sun saved me with my apartment carpet disaster…after a while the sun "ate" the color until there was no trace. Repeated machine washings for most clothes will remove the color eventually.

Something bleach-related usually works with the tub, sink, or other parts of the bathroom. Try Soft Scrub or Comet and if it's stubborn and the surface can take it, make a paste and let it sit for a while under a wet paper towel or something.

On the skin, the best thing to do is prevention, such as wearing gloves. If her neck or face ends up with stains, I have had good luck with scrubbing gently with a washcloth and then following up with drugstore face wipes like these.

Makeup remover can help. too. For my own body I use exfoliating gloves, but this would probably be too harsh for little ones. If you shower the stains can linger in unexpected places as it runs off your body. I have hopped out of the shower, dried off, and then discovered orange streaks on the back of my leg. Grand. Sometimes I wrap my hair in a towel when it's clean and rinsed, and then rinse my body one more time to make sure.

One more tip to keep in mind is that the darker the dye, the more it will spread around. I'm not sure about dark skin, but in my experience as a light-skinned person, when I pick shades that are in the same color family as my skin (pinks or warm reds) it follows that they show up less as stains on my face and neck. Recently I did my kid's hair midnight blue, and streaks on her neck were a lot more obvious.

Don't worry, after a few shampoos the rest of the color just "clings" and you will hardly notice any leeching anymore.

Here are some good light colors:
Cupcake pink (very long-lived as a light pink)
Joyride (light purple which fades to pink)

Burgundies, blues, and deep reds will be more challenging. Blue velvet is what we used recently, which was tricky, but has faded to a VERY pretty cornflower.

I know this sounds complicated, but I wanted to share the benefit of ten-plus years of experience with you. Have fun experimenting!

Read more at i, asshole!

  1. I love this idea. I have a few questions for anyone that has done this before though. In terms of damage, how much damage does this do to the hair? My nephew has really thin hair. And secondly, how toxic is the dye? He has thin hair and super delicate skin (and I'm a chemical awareness freak). I would love to dye his hair blue for his upcoming birthday. I would be the coolest aunt EVER!

    • Damage = none, as long as you don't bleach first. Bright colors just layer over their hair — there's no stripping. The downside of this is that bright colors won't work on dark hair.

      Toxicity = Special Effects is actually a vegetable-based dye. It's not natural like henna — but it's also not at all bleach-based.

      3 agree
  2. It is not really toxic at all, I have used it on my kids for years, and on myself. It is pretty natural as far as hair dyes go, and it eventually washes out to a fairly light shade of the beginning color! 😉 We love Special Effects over here, and as soon as Gory turns one, I think he may go green! 😉

  3. If you don't like chemicals, try the "Raw" line of dyes, you can get them at places like Hot Topic. They typically wash out faster though! I had blue hair for three years, and am a huge fan of Special Effects.

    • If you use Raw religiously like I did (and am doing again) for 6 months, after a month and a half to two months the color stops fading and you can easily wait 6-8 weeks between touch-ups. I also stretch out my bottle by only doing chunks and streaks instead of the whole head.

  4. Thanks for all the info everyone. I'm definitely going to try to persuade my sister into letting me do it. He has jet black hair though. Is it even worth it?

    • Probably not worth it :( You might get a bit of a tint, but that's it … it might be disappointing.

  5. Well my daughter is 9 months old now. In 3 months or so, she will definitely sporting a streak of Atomic Pink through her blond hair. Hopefully she has enough hair by then…

  6. Theres our Dylan! Thanks for putting his adorable mug up here! I have no idea whats in his hair here, his mom sent him to us like this (I'm an offbeat stepmama). I'm guessing its not elmers glue like my punk friends sported in high school. Love the tips though, perhaps he'll let us play with his hair..he's a little older now though and wants his hair like "zach and cody's". i don't really know what that means, something to do with cable which we don't have. thanks again,we love offbeat mama!

    1 agrees
  7. Oh, now you guys are making me want to color my daughter's hair! Her grandma would freak. Heh heh.

  8. as a mama with pink hair ( formaly purple, and blue within the last 3 years ) my son wants nothing to do with having funny colored hair. nor does he want me to have different color hair, hes only 3. we joke that hes an old man in a toddlers body. maybe theres hope for my daughter, a mother daughter bonding event perhaps.

  9. For a little less mess in the "setting" stage, I've always wrapped my head in a plastic grocery bag. The heat helps make the color a little more bright after the rinse, and it usually keeps accidents down when sitting around afterwards.

    3 agree
  10. I LOVE Special Effects as well – It's hands-down the best, and I've tried LOTS of dyes.

    I'll also add, Vaseline or the like can be a lifesaver to avoid getting it on skin in the first place. I'm sure you could find a more natural solution, but I use Vaseline around my hairline and moisturize my face for an extra barrier. I'm a klutz, so I slather lotion on my neck and shoulders immediately before coloring as well.

    Great post! I have so many fond memories of sitting around waiting for hair color with a plastic grocery bag wrapped around my head. I've dyed my hair alone but it's more fun with a partner – It's a great way to bond with friends, lovers, or of course your parents!

    1 agrees
  11. love kids with colored hair my 9 year old been rockin rainbows for 5years i have great hair lady dose my girls long hair full color no natural left as many colors as we want 25-35 bucks i pay her no mess i did color my girl but she likes the hair dresser doin it makes her fell special.

  12. When I dyed my hair as a younger person I sometimes coated my neck/hairline with petroleum jelly. I get that not everyone wants that on their kid, but eucerin or maybe coconut oil would also sort of mask the skin to stop dye stains!

  13. This is perfect timing! My 5 year old is getting out of school next week and really REALLY wants her hair dyed ombre pink for the Summer. I've never done dye on anyone that little (and wiggly!) so great tips! Plus the comments! Oh the wonderful comments! Thanks guys, another great article!

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