How to Remove Hair Dye Off Your Skin, According to Experts
Happens to the best of us.
Falling victim to rogue splashes of hair dye is one of the more aggravating costs of admission to coloring our hair.
Whether the dye job is done in a salon or over our bathroom sinks, dye seemingly always manages to drip onto our neck, ears, hairline, or hands — and those stains are stubborn little suckers.
But the struggle is over.
Lingering color stains will no longer expose our fresh dye job, thanks to LA-based celebrity colorist Amanda Lee and Harvard-trained dermatologist and dermatologic surgeon, Jennifer Herrmann, MD, FAAD, who shared their hacks on how to gently erase any signs of leftover stains — without compromising our skin (or mental health), so we can get on with telling the world that our natural hair color really is just this beautiful.
All of their expert tips, ahead.
Is Hair Dye Harmful to Skin?
It's not a secret that hair dyes — despite becoming safer over the years with stronger FDA regulations — contain a cocktail of chemicals to bleach, lighten, or alter hair color, according to the Beverly Hills-based Dr. Herrmann.
That said, it's not exactly the type of product you want sticking around for longer than necessary, especially on the delicate scalp and face area, as it may cause "irritation or allergy on the skin," explains Dr. Herrmann, which presents symptoms like "redness, burning, and/or itching."
Sensitive skin types and those with blemishes or nicks on or around their scalp are particularly vulnerable, although seriously harmful reactions are rare.
"A small amount of chemicals can penetrate, but they're not highly toxic," says women's health expert and assistant professor at the University of Illinois Chicago, Jessica Shepherd, M.D. "If you're going to dye or bleach your hair yourself, make sure you use gloves and follow directions carefully — and make sure that you're thoroughly rinsing after every application of hair dye."
How Can I Prevent Hair Dye From Getting on My Skin?
Prevention is always better than the cure. Stay ahead of any slips of fate by using Dr. Herrmann's genius trick of applying Vaseline or Aquaphor to the skin around the hairline and ears to create a makeshift barrier and help protect it, especially if you're doing an at-home dye job.
"This step will prevent chemicals from contacting the skin, so they can't cause allergy or irritation," she explains.
Lee adds that people with dry skin are "likely going to stain worse than someone with oily skin," due to the slippery sebum base making it harder for the dye to latch on. So if your skin skews dry or dehydrated, Lee suggests "moisturizing your face around the hairline really well prior to your in-salon hair appointment."
And scalp stains? Don't stress, says Lee. "Typically, the scalp won't stain unless you're using direct dyes," she explains.
In other words, you'll only need to worry about intensely colored hues that don't penetrate very deeply into the hair's fiber, meaning that the dye sits at the top of the hair shaft on your scalp, giving the color more time to settle and stain. So expect fun, rainbow bright dye colors like pink, blue, green, or red to outlast their welcome by leaving a vibrant tint in their wake.
Also, just to state the obvious: do not attempt to dye eyebrows, lashes, or any other strand of hair on your body with dye designed for the head.
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How Do I Get Hair Dye Off My Skin?
Don't pull out the heavy hitters straight out of the gate — and nine times out of 10, you won't need them anyway.
It sounds absurd, but if there's just a speck or two of dye — or maybe there are even a few stained patches of skin — but it's not bothering your skin or your mind, just let it be.
"Once your skin produces some natural oils, it'll wipe right away, usually within a day," assures Lee.
Clean As You Go
During at-home dye jobs, keep a rag or paper towels and a bowl of clean water handy throughout the entire process to tend to dye smears and splashes as they happen. "It's best to wipe any dye off the skin immediately after contact," warns Dr. Herrmann, adding that "simple water" can do the trick if you're quick enough.
Opt For a Moisturizing Baby Wipe
If the dye didn't budge, advance to drugstore baby wipes with hydrating ingredients to avoid an unnecessary dry-out. Baby wipes are a great option for sensitive skin types because they're gentle and non-stripping on skin, but tough on stains and residue.
Use a Creamy Shampoo For the Rinse-Out
If you notice a bit of dye around your hairline or on your neck while you wait for the color to set, try Lee's shampoo trick. Bonus: it also works to prevent a shampoo smear.
"Before I rinse the hair color out, I take a little bit of shampoo — I've been loving the new Native moisturizing line — and I rub it into the hairline and any areas that could stain during the shampoo," she explains. "I find that if I do this before I rinse the color out with water, it won't stain nearly as bad!"
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Use an Oil as a Cleanser
Nearly any kind of facial or hair oil — think coconut, argan, rosehip, or almond — can double as a cleanser to break down larger stains. Warm a few drops in your hands and swirl the oil into the stain in soft, circular motions with your fingertips, and the dye should melt right off without much pressure or roughness.
Use a Stain Remover Solution
If the dye refuses to part ways peacefully with your skin, reach for a product specifically designed and formulated to remove hair dye from skin from a trusted hair brand. We're fans of Roux's creamy Hair Color Stain Remover and Redken's Color Stain Remover Pads.
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Lee likes to pat — and never rub — a color stain remover onto clients' skin with a microfiber towel before the blowdry to minimize potential irritation.
Don't Use Any Irritants
"Avoid using alcohol to remove dye," cautions Dr. Herrmann. "It can dry the skin, impair its barrier, and allow the dye to penetrate more deeply, causing a worsened reaction."
That said, skip the straight up rubbing alcohol as well as any product that lists alcohol or other drying agents as an ingredient.
Also, be extra cautious with exfoliants and acids; they can do more harm than good until your skin rebalances.
Uh... My Skin Is Irritated. What Now?
Scalp irritation is no picnic and should be addressed ASAP.
"It's best to remove excess dye from the scalp quickly after symptoms occur and then reapplying to just the hair shafts," explains Dr. Herrmann, adding that those with ammonia sensitivity could try alternative coloring agents, including Henna, a completely chemical-free vegetable dye, or a cleaner formulation flush with nourishing oils and free of controversial chemicals, like Schwarzkopf Simply Color Permanent Hair Color.
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Heal a post-dye skin flare up with "a thick emollient, like Vaseline or Aquaphor, to help repair the skin barrier," recommends Dr. Herrmann, who cautions that severe redness or itching may require a prescription topical steroid.
But even if your skin isn't visibly distressed from dye contact, it's still a good idea to give affected skin, especially hands, a little extra TLC with milky cleansers and neutral buttery moisturizers to restore and rehydrate.