Dye Your Hair Pastel: A How-To
Pastel hair is the perfect balance of pretty and punk, and there's a perfect shade for everyone. And because you're embracing the natural fading of your color, you'll save the time, money, and stress you would have spent trying to maintain a bright color.
Step 1: Bleach
When dyeing your hair some colors, you can get away with starting with unbleached hair, but you can't when using pastel colors. To achieve the light, pure look you want, you must strip out all existing hair color. The only way to do this is with bleach.
CAUTION: Bleaching is by far the most difficult part of the process. If you have any doubts at all, see a professional! They can tell you what is possible for your hair and get you to the lightest shade possible with minimal damage. If your hair is already chemically processed, colored, or damaged in any way, I strongly recommend that you visit a hairstylist for this step.
CAUTION #2: The colored dyes we'll be using later are vegetable-based, conditioning dyes that are good for your hair. Bleach is not. Protect your eyes and skin.
With a friend or a mirror to help you, carefully follow the instructions on your bleach kit to cover all of your hair. This may burn a little, but it should not be truly painful. Cover your hair with a shower cap and let the bleach process for the time recommended on your kit. Do not leave it in longer than the directions allow. Rinse and shampoo. Do not condition.
Bleaching your hair accomplishes two things: It removes existing color that would have kept your pastel shade from looking its prettiest, and it damages your hair—which is actually a good thing! Bleach dries out your hair and leaves the cuticles open, thirsty, and ready for color. If your hair is already bleached, or if you have naturally white-blond hair, scrub with dandruff shampoo or dish soap (without conditioner) to open up the hair shaft and imitate the damage bleach would do.
If you are starting from very dark hair, one bleach treatment will probably not be enough. Your hair needs to be the lightest possible blond, with no remaining color. Brown hair will first bleach to orange, and then yellow, and then white. If you have very dark hair, I recommend doing one bleach treatment, and then either:
- living with orange hair for a week, or
- putting on some drugstore light-brown dye to cover the orange, and then bleaching again in a week.
Do not bleach your hair more than once in a one-week period. I know it's annoying that the process is so drawn out, but trust me, you'll be happy with the final results.
Step 2: Tone
No matter how much you bleach, you're going to be left with some yellow or orange tones in your hair. Toning your hair is a way to balance these tones out.
There are products just for this purpose, such as Manic Panic Virgin Snow, but you can save money by making your own, especially if you already have purple or blue and pink vegetable dye on hand. In a bowl, mix white conditioner (any old conditioner will do, as long as it's colorless) with just a tiny bit of purple vegetable dye, or of both blue and pink vegetable dyes, such as Manic Panic or Special Effects. You want this to be a very light purple.
Apply your toner to your whole head and put on a shower cap or wrap your head in plastic wrap. Leave on as long as you can. Virgin Snow and conditioner mixes can be left on indefinitely. I recommend at least two hours. Sleep in it if you can. Blasting a hair dryer at your head every so often helps as well.
When you're done, rinse and shampoo. Do not condition. Your hair is already very conditioned from this treatment, and you want your hair to hang on to whatever thirst it has left so it can drink up your colored dye. It's time!
Step 3: Dye
First, pick your dye. The gold standards for fun hair colors are Manic Panic and Special Effects. Manic Panic is usually cheaper and easier to find in stores, and its blues have great staying power. Special Effects is only produced certain times of year, so it can be hard to find in stores (though it's usually available on places like Amazon) and can be more expensive. If you're going pink, though, Special Effects is the way to go: their pinks hold.
While both brands offer light shades that are meant to be pastel out of the bottle (or jar), I strongly recommend buying a brighter shade than you want. If you want pastel pink, buy hot pink. If you want mint, buy bright green and bright blue. This way, you can control exactly the brightness you want—a lot of the pastel shades, like Manic Panic's Cotton Candy Pink, look great in the jar but are just too light to work on most people—and you save money because you're only using a tiny bit of dye each time you do your hair.
Take out your white conditioner again and mix in a few drops of dye until you get the color you want. Aim for one shade brighter than the result you want. Make sure you mix up enough dye to saturate your head completely.
Apply the dye to dry hair, combing through until every strand is covered and you see some white foam. Wrap your head up again, and leave it in as long as you can. Again, overnight is recommended. Blasting your hair with heat intermittently helps here as well.
Unwrap, rinse in cold water, and condition, condition, condition!
Care for Your Color!
- Cool water, gentle shampoo, and deep conditioning are the key to preserving hair color.
- Revitalize your color every time you shower by mixing a drop of color in with your conditioner!
- If your color came out too bright, rinse in hot water or scrub with dandruff shampoo until you get the shade you want!
For More Information:
Which pastel hair color would you choose?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.