“The pigment in hair dye is designed to penetrate through the outer cuticle of the hair and remain there, giving a long-lasting color to the hair shaft,” explains Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at the Mount Sinai Hospital Department of Dermatology. “If exposed to the skin, it can also penetrate through its outer layer, causing a semi-permanent tint to your skin.”
So before your next touch-up or total makeover, study up on these pro tips for making sure your skin doesn’t turn the same color as your hair.
Be aware of the risks.
Getting dye on your skin is, for the most part, an annoyance and nothing more. “Most of the time this is just a cosmetic issue,” Dr. Zeichner explains, “but rarely it can cause serious skin irritation or allergies.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that certain topical treatments may make you prone to irritation from dye.
“While all skin types are equally at risk for dye tinting the skin, if you are using topical retinoids or products like alpha- or beta-hydroxy acids, the skin may be more at risk for irritation from hair dye because it will more easily will penetrate through the skin.”
Prep your skin.
Before any dye is applied, protect the areas of skin most likely to come in contact with it, like your hairline, tops and backs of the ears, and back of the neck. “An occlusive ointment like petroleum jelly does the job,” says Dr. Zeichner, who recommends using Aquaphor Healing Ointment ($11, amazon.com).
Don’t have Aquaphor on-hand? “I apply a tiny bit of coconut oil around the hairline before applying color to stop any staining before it happens,” says Nikki Ferrara, celebrity colorist at Serge Normant at John Frieda in New York City. “You can also use a heavy conditioner around the hairline.”
Ferrara is also especially careful when applying dark brown and black shades, having found they stain more stubbornly and obviously.
Remove dye from your skin as soon as possible.
“The sooner you can remove the hair dye from the skin, the better,” Dr. Zeichner advises. “I recommend a simple non-soap cleanser and water,” such as the classic Dove Beauty Bar ($7 for 6 bars, amazon.com).
If a non-soap cleanser isn’t doing the trick, “it’s easy to remove dye with a facial toner or something alcohol-based,” says Ferrara, who has also had luck with witch hazel.
“If that is not working, you can try using rubbing alcohol,” Dr. Zeichner says. “Apply it to a cotton ball or use a pre-moistened alcohol swab. Gently rub it against the affected area, taking caution not to overly scrub the skin.”
Speaking of scrubbing, Ferrara strongly advises against trying to remove dye with a face scrub: “They can cause irritation and tear the skin.”
Treat your skin kindly after dye is removed.
Cleansers and alcohol can strip your skin of more than just the dye you’re trying to remove.
“Especially after using rubbing alcohol on the skin, it is important to repair the skin barrier with a moisturizer,” Dr. Zeichner explains. “I recommend a petrolatum-based product, as it forms a protective seal over the skin. The newest generation of these moisturizers come in light, lotion formulations that won’t leave you feeling greasy.” Vaseline Intensive Care Advanced Repair Lotion ($8.50, target.com) is a great pick.
Don’t freak out if it doesn’t completely come out.
If the dye hasn’t completely budged, don’t worry — Dr. Zeichner assures it won’t be tinted for as long as your hair will be: “The good news is, in time, as your skin cells naturally turnover, you will shed the pigment within one to two weeks on its own.”