There’s something about pastel-hued, cotton candy-colored hair that speaks to our inner wild child. It’s fun, creative, and just downright cool. That being said, not all of us are ready for the commitment (and potential damage) that comes with a full-on dye job. Lucky for our fellow commitment-phobes, there are tons of temporary options out there to test run a bold, new look. And when we say tons, we mean tons—like almost too many options out there.
To cut through the clutter, we went straight to expert hairstylists Cody Renegar and Harry Josh with questions about one type of temporary dye in particular: hair chalk. Read on for everything you need to know about hair chalk, including different formulations, application methods, lasting power, and removal.
Meet the Expert
What Is Hair Chalk?
According to Josh, hair chalk is a type of temporary hair dye that gives intense color and can be applied to hair wet or dry. And while the hair chalk we’re used to seeing tends to be bright or pastel-colored, there are plenty of natural-looking tones out there for camouflaging new growth and blending roots.
Unlike hair dye, which penetrates the hair cuticle, hair chalk simply deposits color on top of the hair. As a result, there’s no hair damage and the color washes out within a few washes, meaning hair chalk is a great way to test out a color sans commitment before going full-throttle with a dye job.
Thanks to modern science, there are a handful of different hair chalk formulas on the market, each with its own application process and lasting power. Types include liquid, compact, stick, and spray iterations, all of which are relatively easy to use and significantly cheaper than the permanent stuff.
How Do You Use Hair Chalk?
Like we said, application methods vary among hair chalk formulas, but there are a few general rules of thumb that apply across the board. First and foremost, prepare to make a mess. You’ll want to wear an old shirt you don’t mind staining and have a pair of gloves on hand to avoid staining the skin.
As a general rule of thumb, chalk applied to wet hair deposits more pigment than chalk applied to dry hair, Renegar says. If you have dark hair, plan to dampen each section of hair before application. (More hair chalk pigment is needed to show up on darker hair tones.) If you have lighter hair, you can apply the chalk to either dry hair or wet hair depending on the color payoff you’re looking for. If you do plan to apply to wet hair, a spray bottle filled with water easily dampens sections without resorting to a full head-in-the-sink moment.
Hair Chalk Spray
In terms of application, hair chalk spray is typically the easiest to use.
- Mist the color directly onto the hair wherever you’d like a pop of color.
- Style hair like normal.
Be sure to check the instructions of your specific hair chalk spray because, despite what we just said in the previous section, some hair chalk sprays are best applied to dry hair.
Hair Chalk Stick
The traditional hair chalk stick can be used on both wet and dry hair.
- Place a towel or shirt you don’t mind staining on your shoulders.
- Apply the chalk by manually rubbing it along the section you’d like to color, twisting the hair into itself as you go. For a more diffused look, Renegar suggests using a brush or sponge to apply the product.
- Allow hair to air dry or just give it a quick blast of cool air with your hairdryer.
- Finish with hairspray to seal in the color.
Hair Chalk Compact
The application method when using a hair chalk compact is fairly similar to that of a hair chalk stick.
- Separate a section of hair (either wet or dry) and slide the compact over the length you’d like to color.
- Seal with hairspray and you’re good to go.
Liquid Hair Chalk
Liquid hair chalk is perhaps the messiest of the available formulas. To apply:
- Place a towel or shirt over your shoulders and wear gloves to avoid staining.
- The product will usually come with some sort of sponge-tipped or foam applicator (if not, Josh says you can use a clean makeup sponge or hairbrush). Using the applicator—or your hands if you want some seriously saturated strands—apply the formula in sections.
- Let it sit for at least 30 seconds to fully absorb.
- Rough blow-dry with your hands or a styling brush to set the color.
How Long Does Hair Chalk Last?
Unsurprisingly, lasting power—say it with us—depends on the formula, though hair chalk generally lasts between one and five or so washes, Josh shares.
Though messiest in application, liquid chalk has the best staying power of the bunch, lasting anywhere from two to 10 shampoos. Hair chalk sticks last from around two to four shampoos depending on how light your hair is, while both hair chalk spray and hair chalk compacts tend to last no more than a wash or two.
All that being said, you can maintain color for longer (if you so wish to) by reapplying the pigment before styling, according to Josh.
How Do You Remove Hair Chalk?
While Josh says that a standard wash should easily remove hair chalk (just make sure to get a good lather), Renegar suggests a bit more of an involved removal process to make sure all of the pigment is removed.
- Start by massaging some hair oil onto your dry scalp and hair pre-shower.
- Allow it to sit for five to 15 minutes.
- Then, either wash with a clarifying shampoo or just add some baking soda into your hand and mix it with your regular shampoo to massage the color right out.
It’s worth noting that blondes may have to shampoo and scrub a few times more than their dark-haired counterparts to completely remove all of the pigment.
What Are Some Alternatives to Hair Chalk?
If you’re looking for something with easier application and removal, clip-in extensions are great for a temporary tone with zero commitment, Renegar says. Josh also says colored hairspray and temporary liquid dye are good options.
If you’re looking for more staying power but still not ready to fully commit to the look, Josh suggests Goldwell's Elumen Play Semi-Permanent Color, which comes in a range of hues and finishes and lasts for 10 to 15 washes.
The Final Takeaway
Hair chalk is a great option for the color-curious—it’s relatively fool-proof, cost-effective, and temporary. And with all the formulas on the market, you’re bound to find one you love. Whether it’s a quick fix to hide unseemly roots or a pop of color for a concert, hair chalk is a quick fix with serious results.