How to dye kids’ hair funny colors

My hair has been purple for over 10 years. I bleach and dye it myself. I’ve also gotten to be an expert at dying kids’ hair funny colors. People ask me a lot how to put a colored streak in their kid’s hair! For most kids and families, a small colored stripe works best to start with. It’s fun and playful without being too extreme.

Here’s my way to do it. It’s cheap and takes about an hour and a half total, with most of that time being sitting around waiting for the bleach to work. By the way, you absolutely need to bleach the hair before dying it! Otherwise, the color won’t be bright and will wash out in a day or two.

2005 photos

1) Gather ingredients. You will need:

* bleach powder
* developer
* a glass or metal bowl (i.e. not plastic)
* a wide, thin paintbrush (optional)
* brightly colored hair dye (Obviously, of a color chosen by your child!)
* tin foil
* rubber or latex gloves
* shower cap, bandana, or knitted hat (optional)
* claw-like hair clips (or ponytail holders, or bobby pins)
* a comb
* a sink
* a towel you don’t mind being bleached and spotted with color
* some cleaning stuff to scrub the sink afterwards

You can get the bleach and dye off the Internet, in many drug stores, or in a beauty supply shop. There are small kits, and the best of those is Manic Panic Flash Lightning Bleach. The kits come with gloves and a brush, so that can be handy. If you are confident, just get separate packets of bleach powder and 40-level creme developer. 40 is strongest, and 20 is less strong. Go for the 40! The kits are about $10-12, while packets of bleach and developer run about $3-5 in beauty supply shops.

The Great Hair-Dyeing of August 2006

For fun colored hair, most of the dyes are pretty good. Manic Panic, Punky Color, and Special Effects are all fine. Manic Panic can be quite expensive though. My favorite right now is Creative Image Adore, because it lasts the longest and is the cheapest at around $4 a bottle. A bottle or jar of hair color for my entire head lasts me a year or so. Get weird colored hair dye from the Internet; beauty supply; Hot-Topic-esque places that sell skater things, gothy clothes, and bongs and maybe do tattoos; or simply from a drugstore if you live in an area like San Francisco.

If you use two similar colors, like two shades of green, or different reds, or red and orange, or blue and purple like I do, your results will look a hundred times better than with a single shade! Over the years I’ve built up a fine stock of colors.

The Great Hair-Dyeing of August 2006

You can also dye hair with Jello, Sharpies, Kool-aid, and anything else you please that you think will stick. I can attest to the effectiveness of all of the above, though they don’t come out as bright or as durable as the actual hair dyes.

2) Get comfortable. You might want the kid in a chair, and you standing up. Or seat them on a stool and you sit on the toilet in the bathroom. If you have a mirror for your child to look into they will be happier! You might listen to my list of the best punk rock songs for kids. Or, for the squirmy, TV works.

3) Choose and comb out the bit of hair you want to bleach. I recommend it be at least a half-centimeter-around chunk of hair for a good-sized stripe. Consider which way your child’s hair naturally falls when you pick a stripe.

4) Pin all the rest of the hair out of the way.

5) Tear off a good sized sheet of tin foil for each stripe.

6) Now mix up your bleach. Make a pretty small batch if it is just one stripe, and save the rest of the powder and developer for later. In a glass or other non-plastic bowl, pour in some bleach powder, maybe 3 tablespoons. Then pour in a tiny bit of creme developer. Add more developer gradually while mixing with your paintbrush, until the bleach paste is about the consistency of thick gravy. The bleach paste is now undergoing a chemical reaction! Use it right away!

7) Put the sheet of foil under the hair stripe. Spread out the hair as thin as you can on top of the foil. Now paint the hair with the bleach paste. You can use your fingers with gloves. The paint brush is just for convenience.

8) Wrap up the piece of foil around the stripe so the bleach won’t get anywhere else. Optional: put on a hat, a shower cap, or bandana so the foil isn’t annoying.

The Great Hair-Dyeing of August 2006

9) Wait about 40 minutes for dark straight or mildly wavy hair. If you have unusually blond hair, it might be more like 25-30 minutes. If you are bleaching very curly hair, for example if your child is African-American and has dark curly hair, be more cautious and stick with 25-30 minutes even if it doesn’t bleach all the way out. You can peek into the foil to see how light the hair is, then wrap it back up for a little more time. With very dark hair you might end up with a yellowish or brassy orange tone, and if you try to go all the way to pale, curly hair may get very straw-like in texture or even break off! With my dark brown, wavy hair and my bleaching the hell out of it repeatedly, I have never had a hair-breaking disaster.

10) Take out the foil and rinse immediately in the sink! Rinse your child’s hair a lot. Pat it gently dry with a towel. Make sure the bleach is off your rubber gloves.

11) Rinse out your brush and bleach bowl. Pour in some color, or if you have a jar of color instead of a bottle, just use the jar.

12) Carefully separate out the bleached hair from the rest, and put a sheet of foil underneath that strand.

13) Paint that bit of hair on top of the foil all over, very thoroughly, with your dye or dyes! If you put the darker color lower down, the colors will stay well separated as you rinse the hair.

The Great Hair-Dyeing of August 2006

14) Wrap up the foil and wait as long as you have patience for. At least half an hour is good. You can leave it in all night if your kid will stand for it, but it won’t make that much of a difference.

15) Unwrap, rinse, and dry the hair! Be sure to use the sacrificial hair-dying towel! Take photos!

blue stripe

Now scrub your sink and counter or your shower or whatever else got splattered with funny colors.

Your child’s pillowcases may turn colors and the bath water will be fun for a few days but since you are a VERY COOL PERSON you will not mind at all.

You can do this for around $10-20 at the cost of a little time and some dye all over your sink which will scrub right out. I have also done this entire procedure with no gloves and no foil: just painted the stripes right in. That can work for the dye, but for bleaching, it’s best to use foil!

Enjoy your child’s fun hair experiment and while you’re at it, why not do your hair too? Your kid will be super excited! Try not to match each other though. That’s just embarrassing.

Also, please do not bleach your cat.

Leave me a link in comments to a photo if you use my instructions, and let me know how it went!

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35 Responses to How to dye kids’ hair funny colors

  1. Nicole Pelton says:

    Thanks, this is great. Jello to dye hair, how fun. I might just have to try this…those sprays and gels are just awful, but not sure if my kids can remain patient for that long 🙂 Even blond hair has to be bleached, huh?

  2. badgermama says:

    I think the sprays are gross! But the the punk hair dye is remarkably benign. It doesn't smell bad, and feels just like hair conditioner. Not like I'd eat a big spoonful of purple hair dye, but it doesn't make me feel like I'm covered in toxic waste, and I don't think it's harmful for kids!The bleaching takes about 5 min to foil up and paint on. Then they can play or read or whatever! I used to do Moomin's and his friends when they were as young as 3. The worst bit is rinsing, which you can do in the shower but better if they can handle bending over to rinse in the sink so as not to get bleach all over.

  3. icis_machine says: has SFX which I think lasts the longest. If it's still around the FAQ had some of the best suggestions for dying hair and removing it from everything becuase you know its inevitable.

    • lizhenry says:

      Yes! It's still around and you're right, it's a great FAQ. Here's the start of's section on hair dying. And here's their tips on how to clean up hair dye. I forgot to mention that it's a good idea to put lotion or vaseline on your hands and face and neck before dying. That makes stains wash off more easily!

  4. Woohoo! Once Ro gets some more hair and can ask for it, his mama is looking forward to sharing her "spa days" (haircoloring and pedicures) with her son!

  5. Pingback: Best Punk Rock Songs for Kids | Badgermama

  6. elswhere says:

    This is great; thanks!

    Henna can be fun, too, though it's very gloppy and takes a long time. We finally convinced our kid to henna a thwack of her hair on one side, and it looks pretty good. We do all 3 kind of match, but we have different hair color to start with so it's not too noticeable.

  7. hazelbroom says:

    Rowan is totally rocking his new blue stripe! Thanks for doing it for him!

  8. Jamie says:

    Thanks for the tips. I found this page when I googled it. I just tried cotton candy pink on my two girls' hair (did not bleach first though) We are excited to see it and will hopefully get a nice pinkish tint. 🙂

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  14. Rosie says:

    I love it. My kids will surely rock now.. lol

  15. Really interesting! I am very happy to read your article. I wanted to change the hair color of my child. So you have helped me to do that process very much easier. Thank you for sharing this post! Keep sharing!

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    I'm covered in toxic waste, and I don't think it's harmful for kids!

    The bleaching takes about 5 min to foil up and paint on. Then they can play or read or whatever! I used to do Moomin's and his friends when they were as young as 3. The worst bit is rinsing, which you can do in the shower but better if they can handle bending over to rinse in the sink so as not to get bleach all over.

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