12 Things You Need To Know Before Dyeing Your Hair Pastel

Hairstylists dish about how to get the look and what mistakes to avoid.
Pastel and candy-colored hair shades are super-popular, but they're not the easiest to maintain.
Christian Vierig via Getty Images
Pastel and candy-colored hair shades are super-popular, but they're not the easiest to maintain.

Pastel and candy-colored hair has been trending for a while now. And thanks to stars like Cardi B, who recently showed off rainbow-hued tresses on Instagram, and Lady Gaga, who walked the 2018 Golden Globes red carpet with an icy blue ’do, it seems to be experiencing a renaissance

We’re here for it. (Seriously, we could spend hours scrolling through Pinterest boards and Instagram feeds dedicated to colorful hair.) But for those looking to take the leap into a world of whimsical hair colors, there are a few things to know. For instance, it’s not as easy to achieve as you might think. And while it can be done in one sitting (sometimes), it’s often a very long process. Oh, and it’s definitely not low maintenance or cheap.

In order to help you decide whether the pastel and candy-colored hair trend is for you, we spoke to three experienced stylists to find out everything you need to know about elevating your natural hair (or wigs, as the case may be) to “My Little Pony” status.

1. The process tends to work best on virgin hair

Before you even head to the salon, you should know that the steps you need to take to get to a pastel or candy-colored hue will work best on virgin hair (meaning it hasn’t been colored at all).

In many cases, you need to bleach the hair before adding those light pinks, purples, blues and greens, and as Caitlin Ford, a hair color specialist based in St. Louis, told HuffPost, “It’s a lot harder to bleach through artificial color than it is through virgin hair.”

“For darker hair especially, that can get a bit tricky because it’s already harder to bleach darker hair,” she added. “But if it’s layered with color already, that presents a whole other challenge.”

2. All hair types and textures can achieve some type of rainbow-hued hair, but curly is hardest

The stylists we spoke to agreed that all hair types and textures can be dyed some type of pastel or candy color. However, Ford said those with very curly hair might want to err on the side of caution before trying to go too blond, as overbleaching could affect the curl pattern and lead to more dryness.

“Sometimes I try to encourage people to do more strategic placements, rather than bleaching out their whole head,” Ford said.

3. You’re most likely going to need to lighten your hair to start

In order to achieve a pastel hair color, Emaly Baum, a hair color specialist based in New York City, said hair has to be “a very pale yellow” or else you won’t be able to achieve the tone you want. Getting to that pale blond “is basically about setting yourself up for success.”

However, If you’re looking for a more creative fashion color ― something that’s a little brighter, deeper and more jewel tone ― you don’t need to be as blond to start, she said.

Ford said she encourages clients with darker hair to opt for those brighter colors because it won’t require as much bleach and therefore won’t cause as much damage to the hair. For those with naturally lighter hair, going platinum isn’t as difficult, which makes pastels a little more attainable, she said.

4. The initial process could take all day

Results vary from person to person, but according to the stylists we spoke to, it’s possible to get pastel or candy-colored hair in one salon session. However, the process is bound to be long, especially if (you guessed it) you have darker hair.

The longest process involved is bleaching the hair, Ford said, noting that it could take anywhere from two to six hours, depending on hair density, length and color. She added that she has done bleaching sessions that took even longer.

When it comes time to apply the color, Erin Hriczak, a hair colorist based in New Jersey, said for the more complicated, multitonal looks, it can take a couple of hours. But for most people, she said it probably takes about an hour to apply color and about 30 minutes for it to set before it gets washed out.

5. But don’t be surprised if it takes more than one session...

...especially if you’ve got darker hair or hair that was previously dyed.

Those with really dark hair could need a couple of rounds of lightening to get their hair light enough to add pastel color, according to Hriczak. That means they might need to make more than one salon appointment before they reach their pastel goals. (Again, keep in mind if you’re going for a darker jewel tone, you don’t need to bleach to platinum blond.)

She cautioned that if you’ve got dark hair and it has been colored, “it can get a little trickier.”

“Somebody like that, it’s almost hard to tell exactly how many sessions of lightening their hair’s going to need,” she said. “It’s going to be more like, we’re going to do a round of lightening on your hair, see how light it will get and then choose colors from there.”

6. These colors fade quickly

That rings especially true for the pastel tones.

As Hriczak said, “Pastels in nature are just lighter versions of jewel-tone colors, so the lighter the color is to start with, the quicker it’s going to wash out.”

Baum said pastel colors can start fading noticeably as soon as the first wash.

For most people, pastel colors will last about six to eight weeks, depending on how much you wash your hair (more on that later), Ford said. Sometimes, she added, she and her clients will decide to start off with a color that’s darker than the goal to get a few extra weeks out of it.

“As they wash their hair, it’s going to turn pastel anyway, and they’ll have more of an anchor of that pastel in there, so it will last a little bit longer if we make it darker initially,” she said. “If we do that, it might last two to three weeks more. So instead of six to eight weeks, it would last more like eight to 10.”

7. Some colors last longer than others

Of all the colors of the hair rainbow, the three stylists agreed that blue tends to linger a little longer than the rest.

“A color like pink fades away very quickly, but blue has a funny transition period, where it can go from blue to green to yellow,” Baum said. “Blue is a little tougher to get out of the hair.”

For clients who might be nervous to try candy-colored hues, Ford said she steers them toward pinks and purples, which tend to fade back to blond and are easier to remove from the hair.

Candy Colored Hair Inspiration

8. It can get really expensive

Prices for color services will obviously vary, depending on the salon and the stylist. Some cities, like New York City and Los Angeles, are known to be more expensive than places like St. Louis and Denver.

That said, you’re still going to be looking at spending a couple hundred bucks to achieve your pastel hair dreams.

Just to give you an idea: Hriczak and Ford said they charge for their color services by the hour, and Hriczak charges $90 per hour, and Ford charges $80.

As noted earlier, the process can take anywhere from two to six hours for bleaching and an additional hour and a half to two hours for color application. Ford said her average appointments for fashion colors are typically four to six hours, and at her hourly rate, that would put the base price at $280 to $640.

Baum, on the other hand, charges per service, with a double process costing $300, full highlights costing $340 and a gloss costing $100.

Add to that the price of regular touch-ups, special shampoos and conditioners, and you’re looking at a pretty hefty expense for a year.

9. There’s a lot of maintenance involved

If you’re taking the candy-colored plunge, be prepared for a lot of maintenance. (This formerly purple-haired writer can attest.)

Since the color fades quickly, regular touch-ups become necessary if you want to maintain your color.

“I would say usually, if it’s somebody who likes to keep it really fresh, you could come in and just get the color refreshed at eight weeks, but I usually tell people maybe only do the lightening every other appointment,” Hriczak said, adding that spreading out the lightening process prevents “stressing out the hair every single time.”

Baum, who recommended going for touch-ups every four to six weeks, said one way to maintain color between appointments is to ask your colorist to make you an at-home colored conditioner using the same color from your appointment; you can apply the conditioner as a leave-in treatment between salon visits.

There are also products on the market like OverTone and Viral Colorwash that are tinted and can help with at-home maintenance.

“You spend a lot of money to get that hair in the first place. It’s definitely worth it to go with a professionally recommended product,” Hriczak said.

10. You’ll want to avoid hot water and heat tools

Baum, Hriczak and Ford suggested washing your hair with cool water to help extend the shade’s life. Ford said the cold water is especially helpful for multihued styles, as it will keep the colors from bleeding into each other.

In terms of frequency, Hriczak suggested washing no more than twice a week and using a sulfate-free shampoo.

11. Going back to your natural color is a whole other process

Again, this one is particularly true for those who are naturally dark-haired and want to return to their natural color.

If you want to go from light to dark, your stylist will need to replace all the pigment that was taken out during the bleaching process, Ford said.

“Basically, when you’re bleaching your hair, you go from red, orange, all the way to pale yellow in a slow process,” she said. To reverse that, “you go in and replace the red and the orange that came out while you were bleaching.”

Ford referred to the process as “filler” and noted it’s a multistep process, but “it’s a lot faster than bleaching the hair out.”

Baum warned that the first step of the process of going from light to dark “is always the most awful because you end up having really ugly looking orange hair before it gets beautiful again.”

The whole point of adding those layers of color, she said, is so that the dark color has something to hold onto.

For those who already have light hair or want to keep their hair blond, you can essentially just let the color fade before asking your stylist for a toner to make it look a little more natural, she said.

12. Leave it to the pros

While Baum advised that a leave-in tinted conditioner is a great way to maintain color at home, the consensus among the stylists was to keep the major parts of the process ― particularly the bleaching ― to the pros.

“Anything that involves bleaching your hair at home is a bad idea,” Ford said. “Just go on YouTube and look at all the bleach fail videos. It’s really, really difficult. It’s hard enough for hairstylists to do it correctly. I would never do anything that involves bleaching your hair at home.”

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