Sometimes, an in-salon color session isn’t always in the cards (or the budget), which makes at-home hair dye such a lifesaver. It’s relatively fast, cost-efficient, and produces pretty decent results. The downside? It also has an incredibly high risk of staining the hell out of your face.
Fortunately for you, there are some solutions out there—including some wild, wild suggestions (WD-40 anyone?). So to prevent you from making an even scarier DIY mistake in return, I caught up with three hair-color experts to figure out which methods work…and which ones are complete bullshit.
HACK #1: PREVENT IT
I know, I know—unhelpful if you’re already stained, but an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So, before you slather dye on your head, smooth a thin layer of Vaseline or a gentle oil (like olive or coconut oil) around your hairline and ears to “create a barrier between the dye and your skin,” says Sharon Dorram, master colorist at Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger Salon, who works with Linda Evangelista, Gretchen Mol, and Priyanka Chopra.
If you don’t want to slap some petroleum jelly on (it washes out!), try applying dye to your second-day, “dirty” hair, rather than freshly washed hair. Your natural scalp oils will add a layer of protection against hairline stains—not much, but a bit.
HACK #2: TRY AN EXFOLIATOR
While most beauty experts, including myself, recommend a chemical exfoliant for your face, rather than a harsh scrub exfoliant (it does more damage than good), this is one time where some grit is allowed.”If all else fails, massage a gentle facial scrub over the stains to help loosen them,” says Dorram. But do not press hard: “If you over-scrub, you will irritate the skin,” she says.
HACK #3: WHIP OUT THE MAKEUP REMOVER
If you’ve been Googling how to remove stains, you’ve probably read the “tips” about using nail polish remover, Windex, rubbing alcohol, etc. But you absolutely should not, under any circumstances, put that stuff on your face. “All of these are extremely harsh agents that can result in redness, rashes, and overall irritation,” says Dorram.
Instead, try using a waterproof makeup remover, since 1. It’s actually made for your face, and 2. It’s way more gentle than the options above. If rubbing the remover around the stain doesn’t work, try some wipes, instead. “Most wipes contain oils that are good a breaking down dye without irritating the skin,” shares James Corbett, Clairol color director and owner of James Corbett Studio. Gently buff out the stain with a wipe, then wait five minutes before rinsing it off.
HACK #4: USE MORE HAIR DYE
This sounds truly crazy, but apparently, applying leftover dye to the stain can actually help lift it. “The rule is that color ‘removes’ color, and water ‘sets’ color,” says David Stanko, vice president of technical design and education at Madison Reed.
“So, when your hair color is done processing, take a pump of shampoo and emulsify it all around the hairline, slightly pushing a tiny amount of color from your hair onto the color on your skin,” he explains. Or, just do what hairstylist Chris Appleton does: “Rub some of the extra color you have left in the bowl around the stain before you wash it away,” he says.
HACK #5: BRUSH IT WITH TOOTHPASTE
Pretty simple concept: Grab a clean toothbrush and a non-gel toothpaste (very important detail), and then gently buff away the stain. Repeat the process once a day until the marks are fully gone.
Stanko does warn that this solve leans more toward the aggressive side, though. “When it comes to toothpaste, the formula is really removing a layer of skin, not just dye,” he says. “The stripped skin just happens to take the dye along with it.” Ouch. So make sure to rinse well and use sparingly.
And, hey, when all else fails, may I suggest donning a really awesome hat? The ’90s are, after all, coming back.