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Hair For a Cause: Safe, Temporary Hair Dyes

By Amalah

Dear Amy,
I know you’re very busy, what with bringing new life into the world (and, based on Noah, adorable life at that), but I find myself at your awesome hair-care mercy.
The campus organization I work with (for I am but a poor, well-behaired college student), Human Rights Organization, is holding a fun auction to raise money to help victims of human trafficking. Money will also go into prevention programs. Long story short, they’re auctioning off my hair, or better yet, the rights to dye it. There is a serious chance I may end up looking like Rainbow Bright, but the boyfriend has vowed that he’ll simply put in for a natural-looking red to complete the Irish look (for he? and my friends? are evil).
My question is this: is there anyway I can do this without seriously destroying my hair? You see, my hair is a) naturally dark brown/black, b) very fine, c) super thick, and d) virgin hair that has never had anything more severe than a cut done to it. I don’t mind giving up my dignity (and best feature, really) for a good cause, but I would love to find a way that both help people out and leave me with hair that doesn’t look like it belongs on a troll doll.
The color doesn’t have to be permanent–wash out is fine–but I have no idea if that is even a possibility with hair as dark as mine. Any help, at all, would be so greatly appreciated.
Thank you!
– Jillian, She-of-the-Dye-Issue

Early last year I did something similar — I wanted to help raise some money for breast cancer research (specifically, sponsor a local team of bloggers and readers who were doing a 3-Day), but I knew if I just tossed up a post with a Donate button that…well, that would be very easy for people to ignore.
amp_hothotpnk_bb.jpgSo I grabbed some Manic Panic and dyed my hair bright pink. It hilariously shocked people, since I guess I do not strike them as the Manic Panic Pink Hair Type. I was also a little nervous, because my hair is extremely fine and delicate, plus it HAS been chemically colored and highlighted beyond all reason. Manic Panic is supposed to be gentle and temporary and is made from natural plant ingredients, but I still cringed a little bit at the idea of permanently discolored or damaged hair.
Neither happened! In fact, I had trouble keeping the dye IN for the duration of the fundraising. It washed out quickly (in about a week, give or take a few days) and harmlessly. My hairdresser saw some faded remnants and thought it was awesome — Manic Panic is exactly what he recommends to clients looking to go temporarily punk or off-the-wall with their color.
So, I’m guessing the winner of this auction is PROBABLY not going to ask you to get some subtle auburn highlights, or lighten your hair up to a nice lighter shade of chestnut, or anything you can find in the Loreal aisle at Target — they’ll probably request blonde or hot pink or green or something extreme. Which: you MUST stick with wash-out dye. I mean, really.
Yes, your dark color does pose a bit of a problem, as Manic Panic recommends dark hair be bleached first in order to achieve the really bright colors. But bleaching is, alas, permanent, and you will need to chemically color — at a salon or at home –your hair for a long, long time after your post-auction obligations are through. It won’t destroy your hair as long as you promise to use a really, really good shampoo and conditioner (I know LOTS of people who regularly bleach and dye for years on end, and NONE of them have gone bald yet or look remotely troll-doll-like), but it will be a gigantic pain in the ass since even the best salon color will fade and need to be redone when put over completely bleached hair. I would only consider this if your hair is long and you’ve been thinking of chopping a significant portion off, or if your hair grows really fast.
You can still use the temporary dyes on unlightened dark hair (deep reds, purples and blues work best), but you will need to do repeated applications (leaving it on for the maximum amount of time). (If you click on any color of Manic Panic you’ll see photos of that color in action, and USUALLY they also include one photo and how-to where the dye has been applied to unbleached dark hair.) It also helps to apply some heat to the dye — put the cream in, wrap your head in plastic wrap and then blast your head with your hairdryer for as long as your scalp and arm can handle it. It’s messy (it stains EVERYTHING — do it in SOMEONE ELSE’S BATHROOM) and I found that my roots were really oily for a day or two after dying.
One option, if your auction winner is okay with it, is to dye small chunks of hair instead of your whole head. That way, even if you end up bleaching streaks of your hair in order to get the fluorescent rainbow stripes they ask for, you’ll be able to cover-up the aftermath with highlights at the salon — even if highlights fade, they’ll probably still blend into your natural color pretty well as it grows out.
It sounds like you hair is nice and healthy — which means that while it’s not very porous and might not take to the dye super-easily (unless you bleach first), it WILL survive a temporary fit of haircolor abuse just fine. Hell, I put my hair through almost a decade of brassy blonde home dye jobs, which is arguably a lot worse than one bleach/dye cycle with some wash-out color. Anyone who puts ANY color into their hair is torturing it, a little bit. And most of us can’t even claim to be doing it for a nobler cause than vanity. So I think that means you win the Internet, or something.


About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Brigid Keely

I used red-based (red and purple) manic panic for years on unbleached, unprocessed, dark blonde hair and the results were pretty temporary. They lasted a few weeks to a month, fading lighter and lighter. Then about a year ago I dyed my hair dark blue. It quickly faded to a greenish turquoise (like, in two shampoos), and then looked light green for months and months and months. I eventually got several inches trimmed off and had my hair professionally lightened and dyed… and the end bits that had been dyed with the blue manic panic were still greenish. What I’m… Read more »


Completely unrelated to awesome-freaky-color hair but about gentle hair dye nonetheless, I have used LUSH’s henna hair dyes with great success. I’m a blonde and the color changes are dramatic, but I have friends and aunts with dark hair and they make their hair richer/cover the gray.
I like it as a gentle, temporary hair dye because it’s really gentle.


A dark brunette will not have luck with henna or manic panic on unbleached hair. Trust me. BUT, the hightlights option can be really cool. I had blonde highlights done on my almost-black hair done at a salon once and then used them as a foundation for various punky colors including fire engine red and purple, which I applied to all of my hair, giving the dark brown parts a red or purple cast (but not much of one) and then giving me bright red or purple highlights. The trick with manic panic or special effects (a similar wash-out dye… Read more »

Brigid Keely

Oh, special effects! I’ve used them with good results, also. If I remember correctly, it’s formulated not to stick to the oils of your skin as much as other hair colors, so your ears/hairline don’t get quite as stained. But that also means your hair needs to be super incredibly clean before you use it. I’ve seen dark colors (dark dark blue, like cobalt) used successfully on dark brown/black hair. It creates a kind of glaze effect where in regular light the hair looks “normal” but in brighter light there’s a beautiful blue (or green or purple or red) sheen… Read more »


Since most dyes truly don’t show up to well on dark hair, I thought lightening your hair before dying it would be a great alternative to bleaching. Think about it! There are tons of natural hair lighteners. I realize it still won’t be as effective as bleaching no matter how much you lighten, but it’s better than nothing and has tons less damage.