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Removing Hair Dye from Skin

Updated on March 1, 2016
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A new hair color is like a brand new identity and you can paint it any way you like. Not only do you have an entire catalog of natural shades spanning several different brands, but a multitude of bright interesting colors like neon blue and emerald green. It's more easy than ever before to dye your hair whatever color your heart desires, but those who dye their hair often will know just how difficult it can be to clean drips of brightly colored dye off fixtures and flooring.

Removing hair dye from skin is a particularly troublesome task because you can't use bleach or harsh cleaners to strip it off. Your skin is sensitive and this limits the ways you can return it to its regular complexion. However, there are a few tricks you can use to remove hair dye from skin, and the problem can be prevented when the right precautions are in place whilst dyeing your hair.

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Hair dye removal methods

Your skin is a lot like your hair in regards to the way it reacts to hair dye. When hair dye makes contact with your skin, it soaks into the top layer of dead skin cells and develops on your skin, darkening into a stain. The stains left from hair dye aren't permanent as your skin is constantly renewing and replacing itself, but they can be irritating or downright embarrassing depending on where the stain has occurred.

To remove hair dye from skin, you need to either remove the dead skin cells that have been stained, or attempt to wash the stain off the skin. There are a couple of simple ways to do this:

  • Soaps and cleansers
  • Exfoliating creams
  • Mineral oil / petroleum jelly
  • Hair dye remover

Types of hair dye stains

Hair dye stains should be treated differently depending on the kind of dye that has stained your skin. If the dye was a temporary rinse or a semi-permanent color, it will be much harder to remove. This is because dyes that aren't permanent actually work by staining the outer surface of your hair. In this case, the staining is the intended effect and such a stain is more stubborn. Stains like these respond best to mineral oil and soap.

Permanent hair dye works through oxidation however, a process where smaller colorless molecules are chemically combined to form the final color. This oxidation process is usually less effective when applied to a surface other than hair, and the oxidation can actually be reversed through a process called reduction. Staining from permanent dyes occurs because the dye molecules are absorbed by the dead skin cells that form the top layer of your skin. If you can break down or simply remove these dye molecules, the stain will be removed. These stains respond favorably to soaps, mineral oil, and hair dye remover.

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Soaps and cleansers

Soaps and other cleansers remove hair dye from skin by emulsifying the oils that are naturally present on your skin. It is through this mechanism that they are able to remove dead skin cells, dirt, and chemicals from your skin, and hair dye is no exception. Soaps will often emulsify most of the hair dye as a first line of treatment for staining.

If you use a soap or cleanser to remove hair dye stains, you need to choose one that is pH balanced and certified against skin irritation. Products that are free of fragrances and artificial colors are best because you don't want to irritate your skin whilst scrubbing away at the stain. You will likely need to scrub your hands a couple of times under warm water to remove most of the stain.

After using a soap intensively like this, always follow up with a good moisturizer to return needed hydration and oil to the skin. Soaps remove the natural oils from your skin and this can lead to skin dryness or even peeling skin and dermatitis when the skin is left constantly dehydrated. Using a quality moisturizer with added vitamin E restores the moisture balance to your skin and helps prevent dermatitis from occurring.

If cleansing your skin three times doesn't remove all of the stain, the stain is likely deeper and will be more stubborn to remove. You will need to try an alternative treatment in order to further remove it from your skin.

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Exfoliating creams

Exfoliating creams come in several forms, including cleansers, moisturizers, masques, and shower products. The form of exfoliation product you use is irrelevant because it is the exfoliation itself that you need in order to remove hair dye from skin. However, you may wish to choose a moisturizing exfoliator to restore moisture and nutrients to your skin if you suffer from dryness or have already scrubbed your skin with soap.

Exfoliation products work to remove hair dye stains by gently abrading the surface of your skin with little bead-like solids. This action works to remove the stain because it washes away the upper layer of dead skin cells and debris that is most susceptible to staining. Often when soaps aren't enough to remove a hair dye stain, the added power of an exfoliator will tip the balance and reduce a stain's appearance enough that it isn't highly noticeable anymore.

Mineral oil and petroleum jelly

Most of the dyes used in hair dyes are able to be dissolved when exposed to the correct solvent. In this case you're limited in your choices of solvents because your skin is living tissue and needs to be treated gently. Whilst you may be able to remove a hair dye stain off your bathroom counter with acetone or wax remover, you don't want to use these chemicals on your sensitive skin.

Mineral oil and petroleum jelly are two solvents which are safe to use on skin yet can absorb and remove hair dye stains. They also moisturize your skin, relieving dryness and dermatitis. Most people would know mineral oil better as baby oil or makeup remover, whilst petroleum jelly is commonly used to relieve dry skin conditions and treat chapped lips.

To remove hair dye from skin with mineral oil or petroleum jelly, apply the product to the stain and rub it in using a circular motion. As the oil dissolves the color from the stain, it will begin to take on the stain's color and you will see the stain lift from your skin. For stubborn stains, the product can be left on for a couple of hours to soak into the stain and remove more of it.

When you've removed as much of the stain as possible, you will need to wash your hands with a cleanser to finish the process. Hair dye dissolves into mineral oil because the oil is non-polar, as are the dye molecules in hair dye. Neither will dissolve in water unless combined with soap, which emulsifies the product and removes it from your skin.

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Hair dye remover

Permanent hair dye works by oxidation. In this process, small colorless molecules called intermediates are bound together into larger colored molecules, and these dye molecules are locked into the hair. When permanent dye stains the skin, it is mostly because the oxidized dye molecules have become trapped in dead skin cells on the surface of the skin.

Hair dye remover works by reversing this oxidation process, breaking the large dye molecules back down into their colorless intermediate form. This is why it's used to remove permanent dyes from your hair before stripping with bleach is attempted. Oftentimes, the dye remover is enough to remove a hair dye without using harsh processes like bleach, and you can take advantage of this same process by using it on your skin to break down the stain so it can simply be washed off.

Hair dye remover is packaged as two separate solutions, and to prepare the product you need to mix the two solutions together. As soon as these solutions are mixed together, the chemical reaction begins to take place, so you have to use the product immediately. Mix up only as much as you need because any leftover product can't be used after the reaction has been exhausted, which generally occurs about half an hour after it is prepared.

Apply the product to your skin and leave for a couple of minutes while it breaks down the dye. You will see the stain miraculously fade away as the hair dye remover takes effect, and you can wash it off with soap after the stain no longer appears to be fading.

The active ingredient in hair dye remover is non-toxic and won't harm your skin, but it can cause minor irritation if left on for very long periods of time. Such exposure is unlikely considering it stops working after a short time period and it would be pointless to leave it on for longer. Because the active ingredient is sulfurous, you should not use hair dye remover if you have a sulfur allergy.

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Preventing stains

Hair dyes stains are difficult to remove, and it's easier to prevent them from happening in the first place. There are a few simple ways to accomplish this and remove a lot of the hassle from dyeing your hair.

When you apply hair dye, if you have a habit of staining your forehead and ears, apply petroleum jelly to your skin before you start brushing on the dye. The petroleum jelly acts like a barrier, whilst also absorbing any dye that you spill over your forehead so that it can't absorb into your skin instead.

Another simple way to lessen your chances of spills and heighten your precision is to use a tinting bowl and brush rather than bottle applicators that are present in home hair kits. If you can learn to apply hair dye with a tinting brush, you'll find your results improve. This will also enable you to use professional salon dyes for more choice of shades and even better, longer lasting color.

Finally, when you rinse off color, don't just run the water over your head until the color is gone. Add only a little water first and massage this through your hair to emulsify the color. Just like how mineral oil can dissolve hair dye because they have similar chemical properties, hair dye itself will remove hair dye stains from your forehead. Massage the emulsion against any stains before rinsing and shampooing your hair and much more of the stain will be removed, and of course, always use gloves when applying or rinsing hair dye to prevent your hands from becoming stained.

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Safety measures

All of the products mentioned for use in removing hair dye stains on skin are safe and non-toxic when used as directed. There are of course a few safety measures to adhere to so that you don't harm yourself when you attempt to remove hair dye stains.

As with any product, including soaps, you should perform a patch test first before using the product if you have never used it before. This is the exact same patch test you're technically meant to perform when using any hair dye, so you should be familiar with the process. If skin irritation occurs you may have a sensitivity to the product and will need to be careful with its use. The appearance of hives or contact dermatitis could indicate an allergy which may be life threatening if anaphylaxis occurs and your throat closes up. If in doubt, consult your doctor prior to using any unfamiliar product.

Lastly, the products you use to remove hair dye stains from your skin shouldn't be used near the eyes, mucous membranes like the lips, or areas of thinner sensitive skin. Doing so can cause irritation because these areas are highly sensitive. The last thing you want to have to do is hunch over a basin to flush your eyes out with water for ten minutes because you didn't protect your eyes.

Most of the methods mentioned can be used together for better results if necessary, but the most important thing to remember is that sometimes you just can't remove hair dye stains from your skin no matter how hard you try. Very dark or intense dyes will often stain the skin so much that all you can do is reduce the appearance of the stain. Never fear though, even the worst stains should be gone in a week's time as your skin renews and exfoliates. You're not stuck with your hair dye stain forever.

Do you have a question about hair dye stains or an experience you'd like to share? Leave a comment below for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.

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