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Sometimes you just feel moved to make a colorful change to your hair. Luckily, you don’t have to expose your locks to potent damaging dye elixirs to try out something fun and vibrant.
From semi-permanent coloring conditioners made without harsh bleaching agents to a marker-shaped dye that you can actually color onto your strands, there are plenty of gentle options out there.
So gentle, even the youngest bestie you know — we’re talking baby sis to babysitting, with permission of course — can get in on the fun. The biggest caveat, as with most temporary hair dyes, is that color may not show up as vibrantly or last as long on darker hair.
What’s “nontoxic” mean anyways? We chose the products on this list because they’re free of ingredients commonly known to cause skin or body reactions, like parabens, sulfates, and phthalates, or because they contain a very moderate amount of unwanted chemicals.
Keep in mind that this may not be an all-inclusive list. Even nontoxic products can cause allergic reactions in some people. If you’re using a product for the first time, make sure to test it out on a small patch of hair or skin around your wrist before going all in.
If you’re feeling ready to break out the gloves and experiment with something new or traditional, here are seven nontoxic hair dyes that you should check out.
Skip the bleach and go straight for the color with oVertone’s semi-permanent Coloring Conditioner, made for dark-colored hair. In addition to shades of rose gold and purple dye for brown hair, the brand recently unveiled traditional brown and black dye. Made without peroxide or ammonia, the conditioners are pigmented and color fades with washing.
Cost: Coloring Conditioner $29; complete system $47
In need of a brief color change? From bright orange to deep purple, Good Dye Young Poser Paste color options represent the whole rainbow spectrum. Apply all over your hair for complete coverage or just hit the ends for a quick dip dye look. On the plus, this dye washes out with your first shampoo.
Lime Crime’s line of Unicorn Hair Dye is beloved by celebrities, including Kylie Jenner, and beauty magazines. Colors range from a dark chestnut brown to a bright red inspired by lipstick. Shades are semi-permanent and fade with washing.
Online reviewers love the smell of the dye, but some with darker hair did warn that their color wasn’t as intense as expected.
Available: Lime Crime
Embrace your inner artist with this dye. Use the product like a marker to apply to your hair, and then wash it out later with just one shampoo.
Available in bright neon colors, the product is perfect for a color test run or for a fun look that disappears before you have to head back to the office. Although online reviewers love the product, they did warn of possible color staining and that color may not appear in dark hair.
Get artistic with your dye application. This Bb. Color Stick allows you to apply a touch of color to fade away those pesky gray hairs until you’re ready to rock them or let young folks temporarily rock a neon dye job.
Online reviewers praised the Color Stick for allowing them to get color and then wash it out before work, but some noted that the color faded quickly.
Splat has become well known for its line of colorful collection of hair dyes. Its newest release uses quinoa, vitamin B-5, and baobab extract. It not only gives you color, it also leaves your hair super soft.
In addition to the dye’s natural formula, the brand also uses less packaging for their Naturals line, making for a beauty routine that gives back.
Unlike traditional hair dye, Keracolor Color + Clenditioner is applied while you’re showering or bathing. Saturate your hair with product, let it sit for 20 minutes, and then wash it out. The product fades with additional shampooing, and is reported to last up to 15 shampoos.
However, some online reviewers warned that the color didn’t show up on darker hair, and that their color faded quickly. Other reviewers advised that the product would be best for maintaining already colored hair, while some loved the slight tint it gave their hair.
1. Stick to temporary dyes
Semi-permanent and permanent hair dyes aren’t great, especially for kids, because they work by chemically altering the hair and causing long-term damage, says Pamela Schoemer, MD, a pediatrician at Children’s Community Pediatrics. Temporary dyes are lower risk as they simply coat each strand with color.
2. Avoid direct skin contact
This is good advice no matter what type of dye you use. “We recommend keeping [the dye] away from the scalp to decrease irritation and absorption,” says Schoemer.
3. Read the box
Regardless of age, Schoemer recommends closely following any accompanying dying instructions. If you have questions about the product or side effects, you should seek out a professional stylist or doctor.
4. Talk about it first
While coloring your own hair is a decision with less at stake, if you’re going to tackle another person’s hair, make sure it’s their decision, especially if they’re younger.
“Coloring the hair should be the child’s idea and I would talk about why they want to do this,” Schoemer reminds us. “It is great to find ways to express individuality or just have fun, but there is always a risk when using coloring products.”
If you remain concerned about possibly applying dye to a child’s hair, or even yours, Schoemer suggests totally skipping the process.
“It is OK to have fun [with hair color],” she says. “There are alternatives like wigs that may get the same results.”
And with continued concern from consumers about the contents of cosmetic products, hopefully we’ll see even more safe alternatives to traditional hair dye in the future.