No matter how laissez-faire I am about other parts of my beauty routine, I’m admittedly much more uptight about my hair. I consider dyeing my hair to be a high-risk, high-reward situation. Maybe it’s my anxious nature talking, but before a color session, I envision all the things that can go wrong—streaky highlights, damaged hair, or dye dripping on my skin.
A knowledgeable professional can always reverse harsh color separation, and I know of a number of great hair masks that can counteract any damage, but dyed skin is something I’m woefully unprepared to deal with. After all, no matter how much you love your new hair color, you don’t want your skin to match.
So, in an effort to prevent and remove stains, I reached out to some experts: dermatologist Nava Greenfield, MD, of Schweiger Dermatology Group, Courtney Goebel, color expert at eSalon, and celebrity colorists Giselle (from Pierre Michel Salon in NYC) and colorist AJ Lordet.
Meet the Expert
Read on for some of the experts' best tips and tricks on how to get hair dye off of skin.
Avoid Getting It On the Skin in the First Place
According to Greenfield, “The most important way to avoid hair dye from staining skin is to avoid getting it on the skin in the first place. Using a coat of Vaseline or mineral oil on the scalp and around the scalp before applying the hair dye can help avoid contact of the dye with the skin."
Gloves and a stain guard can also help. "Of course, wearing gloves on the hands is important as well," Greenfield says. Goebel agrees: “At eSalon, each order includes stain guard and stain remover for a tidy, stain-free experience. If you don’t have stain guard, don’t sweat it. Petroleum jelly works wonderfully to prevent hair color stains. Just swipe an even amount of product around the hairline and on the ears.”
Keep in mind that the Vaseline will block color from reaching the hair, so Lordet makes it a point to apply it cleanly and evenly on the skin only. Be sure not to get any on grey hairs especially.
Clean During the Dyeing Process
"After the color is applied, wipe up any that dripped on the skin; always wear gloves, [dye] never comes off fingernails!" Lordet says. "A tissue is good for the wipe off."
Goebel also advocates for cleaning up the hairline regularly throughout the dyeing process to catch drips ahead of time. “Since heat from the scalp can sometimes make color run, definitely check on the progress of your hair color during processing. To ensure color doesn’t run down the back of the neck, I like to loosely twist the hair up and clip up the ends. Now the hair is up and out of the way while the color processes,” she says.
Try Baby Wipes
If your color does start to run while the dye is being applied, Goebel recommends reaching for another drugstore product. “If you are in a pinch, baby wipes work nicely to gently remove color from the skin,” she says. Coterie's are really gentle, making this a prime way to remove dye from a sensitive area, like the face (plus, the packaging is cute enough that you can leave them out on a vanity).
Massage the Scalp and Skin
As Goebel puts it, “Removing hair color from the skin can be tricky, but it’s definitely not impossible.” She turns to an (admittedly counterintuitive) old stylist trick when removing dye from the scalp or hairline: Use the hair color itself to remove dye from the scalp.
“After your hair color has processed, pop into the shower. With gloved hands, add a little water to the hair,” she says. “Starting at the hairline, massage the hair color in circular motions away from the hairline. Continue to massage the full scalp for two to three minutes. The act of massaging helps to warm up the color, removing it from the scalp and also adding shine to the hair. After the color has moved away from the scalp and feels creamy, rinse the hair color out thoroughly.”
Use a Color-Safe Shampoo and Conditioner
Afterward, use a color-safe shampoo and conditioner like eSalon Classic Color Care Shampoo ($15) and Classic Color Care Conditioner ($15). "By shampooing and conditioning the hair, you will ensure all of the hair color has been removed from the scalp,” Goebel says.
Rub Petroleum Jelly Into the Skin
If the color has dripped down your neck or face—or if it's made it's way into a hard-to-clean area, like the nails or hands—Greenfield says it’s not the end of the world. Again, petroleum jelly will come in clutch.
“Hair dye will fade [from the skin] usually within just a few days if you do nothing, but if you want to remove it more quickly, you can rub petroleum jelly (using a glove or wipe) gently onto the skin," Greenfield says. "The petroleum jelly will absorb most of the dye, and then you can wipe it away." If it's on your hands, work it directly into the skin, sans gloves, wiping it off after.
Apply a Gentle Soap
Greenfield adds, "If that doesn’t completely do the trick, try some gentle soap or unscented laundry detergent. Lather it up, and then rub it gently on the affected skin. Rinse and repeat until the desired effect is reached.” This is an especially good idea for nails, as you can get them really sudsy in the sink a few times to get the dye off. Try Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser; the drugstore classic is fragrance-free and noncomedogenic, so it won’t irritate stained skin (even after repeated use).
Use a Stain Remover
When all else fails, Giselle turns to an inexpensive, yet effective product: Roux Clean Touch Hair Color Stain Remover. Simply pat it onto the stained skin with a cotton ball and rinse. "It's affordable and works great," she says. And it's used by expert colorists around the globe, so you know it works. This is another great tactic for stained nails and hands, as the liquid remover can be worked into crevices and easily be cleaned off.
Can hair dye cause serious damage to the skin?
Hair dye likely won't cause serious damage to the skin, though redness or itchiness may occur. Always seek a doctor if you're worried about a particular rash or skin issue.
What's the best way to ensure hair dye doesn't get on my skin?
Wear gloves, and use an occlusive product like petroleum jelly around the edges of the skin where the hair dye might seep (forehead, eyebrow area, etc.).
If I do get hair dye on my skin, can it be removed?
Yes. Gentle soap will likely get it off, though a stain remover is a good bet, too.