When I moved to New York in 2014, the Tumblr “soft grunge” era was in full force. All the girls I wanted to be friends with had pink hair and wore American Apparel tennis skirts, so you can imagine the very first thing I did. I went to the drugstore and bought a bottle of Manic Panic. Like those friendships, the color faded out quickly, but the allure of pink hair (and tennis skirts, TBH) never left me.
Since then I've dyed my hair pink a few more times—and done the same for my friends and my little sister—huddled over bathtubs or bathroom sinks. And while I’ve always loved the results, there’s always been something a little off about it. It’s been patchy, faded quickly, or just looked kind of amateur. Not that I expect Technicolor hair to be perfect—that’s part of what makes it so cool—but there was definitely room for improvement.
My most recent attempt was last summer, and the results were enough of a surprise to make me swear off rainbow colors for a while. Instead of a dye, I used a tinted conditioner, which I expected would give me a pretty wash of color like old Kate Moss photos. Instead I somehow got a blinding magenta. It stayed in my hair for almost a month, which is considered a success, but it was a shock to me at first since I didn’t exactly love the color. (What it finally faded into, on the other hand, was perfect.)
My pink hair in college
Last summer’s pink-hair drama
After that I promised myself I would leave my color to the pros, but ever since lockdown started, I’ve been itching to get my hands on a jar of Manic Panic again. And I’m not alone. Boxed dye has been flying off the shelf at record speed, celebrities like Hilary Duff and Dua Lipa are playing with cotton-candy colors, and hairstylist Riawna Capri started the hashtag #quarantint to encourage followers to share their quarantine color change of choice.
If, like me, you’ve been considering going pink, there’s no better time than the present. Not only is it a great time to experiment in case something goes wrong—no one will see the results except you and maybe your cat—but you’ll actually want the color faded out by the time your salon reopens. Plus, it’s a fun way to distract from your roots without trying to touch them up, which has a larger margin for error if you DIY.
Before I pull the trigger on yet another bottle of pastel hair dye (I might break tradition and go with a peachy orange), I decided to reach out to the pros for the basics. Read on for everything you need to know before dyeing your hair pink (or a similar pastel shade).
1. Take your base color into consideration.
The good news is it's easier to DIY fun colors, especially pastels, than it is for any other at-home dye job. That said, pastels like baby pink and lavender aren’t for everyone. “If you have a light blond tone, pastels are a perfect way to keep your hair light and add in color. If your hair is more of a honey blond or darker, I’d recommend steering away from pastels, since the color won’t show up as well,” says Aura Friedman, master colorist at Sally Hershberger salon. “Instead, look for jewel tones, which will really pop, especially if your hair is highlighted. For dark hair, I would recommend rich winter colors. It won’t necessarily dye your hair completely but instead will give you a glow if you are in bright lights or natural sunlight.”
Stephanie Brown, master colorist at IGK Salon Soho, says to keep in mind that even if you have darker blond hair, the color may not turn out as vivid as it looks in the box. Generally, the only way to achieve that shade is by bleaching your hair, which she absolutely does not recommend doing yourself. She finds pinks are easiest to do at home, since they look pretty no matter the tone, and green is the most unpredictable, since it can veer yellow.
2. Do a trial run before you even buy your dye.
If you can’t decide on a specific pastel shade, Friedman recommends holding up a shirt or scarf in the colors you’re considering to your face. That way you can see how it brings out your eyes and complexion. But if it’s pink you’re after, both stylists say you’re in luck since the shade suits a range of skin tones. “For blonds who tend to have pink skin, I recommend putting pink in their hair,” says Friedman. “It will actually pull the pink from your face and give the impression of a more even skin tone.” (I knew I was on to something.)
3. Make sure your hair is healthy.
Healthy hair will hold color more evenly. “In general, before dyeing your hair, you want to make sure your hair is at its healthiest,” says Brown. “Use nourishing masks for a few washes before dyeing your hair, then leave it unwashed the day before so your hair and scalp’s natural oils are protecting it.” Keep up this routine after your color fades away, since you want your hair to be as strong and healthy as possible when you can finally see your regular stylist, especially if you plan on making another major hair change.
R+Co Television Hair Masque
Living Proof Restore Mask Treatment
Garnier Fructis Hydrating Treat 1-Minute Hair Mask
Ouai Treatment Masque
4. Choose the best pink hair dye for you based on the shade, not the brand.
Most colors are going to fade across the board, so choose based on a shade or color family you’re most into instead of picking solely on the brand name (this is a good way to support new indie brands too). Just make sure whichever option you pick is semi- or demi-permanent. Friedman, like me, loves classic Manic Panic for its unique colors, while Brown recommends Uberliss or Bleach London. They both like Overtone for more of a tint effect and easy application, as do Glamour readers (the coloring conditioner was one of our Readers’ Choice Beauty Award winners for best hair color).
Overtone Coloring Conditioner
Manic Panic Semi Permanent Hair Color
Uberliss Bond Sustainer Pastel
Lime Crime Unicorn Hair Semi-Permanent Hair Color Tint
Keracolor Color + Clenditioner
Good Dye Young Semi-Permanent Hair Color
5. Technique isn’t everything, but it is something.
Try not to stress too much about getting your application “perfect,” since imperfection is what makes pink hair look so cool. However, if you want the best application, start on dry hair since it absorbs color best. Do a patch test 24 hours in advance (meaning, test on a small part of your hair so you can make sure you don’t have any adverse reactions), wear gloves, and detangle your hair well before starting. Friedman recommends applying a thin layer of a hair mask (she likes K18Peptide Masque) to the ends of your hair, where it’s the most porous, so you get an even application. She says to add your color from roots to ends, making sure all major areas are covered, and then put your hair in a shower cap for 30 minutes. After half an hour, let your hair “breathe” for five minutes, and then rinse out with cold water.
“The trick is to start small, and then if you feel like the finished product isn’t vibrant enough, continue to build day by day,” says Friedman. Brown adds that you should buy two boxes of whatever color you’re using so you don’t run out mid-dye. She also suggests contacting your stylist to help walk you through the process, so they have no surprises to fix when you get back. Not only are they happy to help, but paying for virtual consultations is a great way to support stylists while they’re currently out of work.
6. Invest in the upkeep.
One of the most common questions stylists get is how to make rainbow shades last longer, but since these colors aren’t actually absorbed by your hair—they just sit on the cuticle—they have a relatively short lifespan. Brown suggests washing your hair as little as possible and mixing some dye into your conditioner for maintenance, while Friedman recommends adding products to your hair-washing routine that help protect your color.
“To keep color intact, I love R+Co Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner for cleansing and Sally Hershberger 24K Liquid Assets Daily Conditioning Remedy, which injects your hair with keratin protein and helps protect against heat, UV rays, and daily stresses,” she says. Meanwhile, a weekly bond treatment (like Olaplex) will keep your hair strong and healthy in between dye jobs.
R+Co Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner
Sally Hershberger 24K Liquid Assets Daily Conditioning Remedy
Brite Pastel Pink Shampoo
Olaplex No. 3
7. But also know that fading is part of pink hair’s charm.
“Think of it like a stain that’s meant to fade,” says Friedman. “I’m actually a huge fan of the phases of fades. Recently I mixed a ruby and pink color, and watching the hair turn from ruby to a light pink over a few weeks was gorgeous.” I can say from personal experience, some of my favorite variations of my pink came three to four weeks after I dyed it. In other words, embrace the DIY spirit of the color and let it do its thing.
Bella Cacciatore is the beauty associate at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @bellacacciatore_.
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