Is Using Food Coloring on Your Hair Really a Good Idea?

A professional weighs in.

woman's dyed hair

Unsplash / Design by Camden Dechert

Don't get us wrong—great beauty hacks are our lifeblood, especially when they're of the thrifty DIY variety. But we also know that for every brilliant tip the internet has given us, there are dozens of duds. So when we saw that people are using food coloring to tone and de-brass their blonde strands, it admittedly made us clutch our proverbial pearls. This surely falls under the #PinterestFail category, no?

Not at first sight, at least. If we were going strictly by the before and after pictures, we'd say the hack is genius. Many a beauty blogger swears by this toning rinse recipe—two cups of vinegar with 10 to 15 drops of blue and red (or just purple) food coloring—to counteract undesirable yellow tones in their blonde hair, and the photos seem to be evidence to its efficacy. Still, our inner skeptic decided it was time to take this to the ultimate judges: a professional hairstylist and a beauty industry vet turned trichologist.

Meet the Expert

  • Fatima Rahman is a New York-based hairstylist and colorist at Broome Street Society in SoHo. She's also a certified makeup artist, a henna artisan, and an eyebrow threading specialist.
  • Kerry Yates is the founder of the Colour Collective and is a trichologist.

What's in Food Coloring?

Synthetic food coloring is a substance typically used to enhance the appearance of food. Food dye was created in 1856 using coal tar, but in these modern times, the artificial coloring is made from petroleum. 

Is It Safe to Use Food Coloring on Your Hair?

Somewhat unsurprising, stylist Fatima Rahman of New York's Broome Street Society salon doesn't exactly recommend this method as a way to tone hair. Aside from the kind of obvious fact that putting food coloring in your hair is a very easy way to ruin an expensive dye job (watered down or not, you never know), soaking your locks in vinegar is a less practical (and much smellier) method of diminishing brassiness than using a product that's specifically formulated to do so.

"Theoretically, it could work, but it's not the greatest idea," she says. While acidic vinegar actually is a really great and thrifty way to seal the hair's cuticle, lock in moisture, and boost shine in a pinch, a proper dosage would maybe be a mist—not a soak. "Overdoing anything when it comes to hair, skin, or nails causes a reaction to restore balance," Rahman says. "Plus, with so many restorative masks on the market, it hardly seems worthwhile to soak your locks in stinky vinegar." She's right: Speaking from experience, it takes at least a few vigorous shampoos to completely get rid of that smell. 

Alchemic Conditioner
Davines Alchemic Conditioner $31.00

Yates and Rahman agree that vinegar can be a great way to seal the hair's cuticle, with Yates adding, "it is natural anti-fungal/bacterial [solution] and works wonders on soothing the scalp and as a natural remedy for dandruff. However, she isn't opposed to giving the DIY method a try, but she does suggest using another ingredient in place of the vinegar.

"Most of us have some form of food coloring in our cabinets," she says. "So it is easy to use, especially since it mimics the results you find with toning shampoos in retail." But, you need to know a few things before adding food coloring to a mixture for your hair. "The [food coloring] is, in essence, a stain, and if you have ever spilled some on your hands [or] counter tops, you know how hard it is to remove." With that in mind, she suggests adding the food coloring to your shampoo or conditioner. "Both will have an acidic pH, which will automatically smooth the cuticle down. In addition, these types of products will also contain heavier conditioners that will control potential color [from] grabbing [onto] porous ends." 

Here are a few DIY food coloring formulas Yates shared with us.

Neutralizing Warmth on Medium Brown to Light Brown Hair

  • 4 drops of blue food coloring
  • 1 drop of red food coloring
  • 1 oz. of product (shampoo or conditioner)

Neutralizing Warmth on Light Brown to Dark Blonde Hair

  • 3 drops of blue food coloring
  • 1 drop of red food coloring
  • 1 oz. of product (shampoo or conditioner)

Neutralizing Warmth on Dark Blonde to Blonde Hair

  • 2 drops of blue food coloring
  • 1 drop of red food coloring
  • 1 oz. of product (shampoo or conditioner)

So, What About Using Other Pantry Items?

Or the fact that this method only uses two ingredients? Rahman can actually do you one better: Her go-to method for preserving her own highlights is just plain coconut oil. "One of the little-known benefits is that it's antibacterial, which will help with balancing my scalp health as well as keeping the ends soft," she says.

SheaMoisture 100% Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
SheaMoisture 100% Extra Virgin Coconut Oil $14.00

Coconut oil can be difficult to rinse out of your hair. We suggest applying it gradually and brushing it through your strands as you progress to avoid too much product in your strands.

The Final Takeaway

In short, if you want to give the Pinterest food coloring hack a try, skip the vinegar and mix a few drops in with your shampoo or conditioner. DIY hacks aren't for everyone, so here are a few of our go-to products for maintaining and preventing brassy blonde hair. 

Bust Your Brass Conditioner
Amika Bust Your Brass Cool Blonde Conditioner $24.00

Made with shea butter and hydrolyzed keratin, this conditioner helps your hair retain moisture while keeping your color looking its best. 

Christophe Robin Baby Blonde Shade Variation Care $53.00

This moisturizing mask is blended with almond butter and buriti oil, so your locks will feel (and look) extra hydrated. It's made specifically to enhance blondes with natural color.

Bright Blonde Radiance & Repair Treatment
Oribe Bright Blonde Radiance & Repair Treatment $58.00

We love a treatment that replenishes the nutrients in our hair quickly. This three-minute treatment does just that while brightening and toning your hair to keep the brassiness at bay.

John Frieda Violet Crush Purple Shampoo
John Frieda Violet Crush Purple Shampoo $10.00

Budget buys that work are always a win, and this one guarantees results in just one wash. 

Aveda Blue Malva Color Depositing Conditioner $24.00

If you're looking for a deep conditioner that is lightweight enough for fine hair that neutralizing brassy-looking locks, we think you've met your match. 

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