Dying hair with food coloring

You may remember back in October that I dyed my hair pink. This was a two part, four-hour process. First, my hairdresser at Hale Salon bleached my ends. Then he applied two shades of Manic Panic.

He sent me home with the extra hair dye to do my own touch ups. But when I looked it up, I found out that while Manic Panic is vegan, it still has a medium level of toxicity. Notably, the ingredient propylene glycol.

Over the next three months, the hot pink hair color faded to a pretty, pale pink, and then completely away. I went back for a trim, and my hairdresser and I discussed what to do. I didn’t want to use Manic Panic again, and he mused that maybe food dye would work.

I found this helpful post, which said I should add the food dye to a developer, which would help set the color in for longer, plus condition my hair for a nice shine. Lucky me, Clairol standard developer is non-toxic. The active ingredient is hydrogen peroxide, which “lifts” a bit of color from your hair.


I went to Whole Foods and got some vegetable-based food coloring to try out. I wanted a peachy pink color, so I did 10 drops of red, 5 drops of blue, and 2 drops of yellow. I brushed it into my clean, dry hair with a toothbrush, wrapped my hair in foil, let it sit for two hours, then got in the shower to wash it out.

None of the color stuck, except for an ugly curry yellow. It turns out that turmeric stains much better than other vegetable dyes. The result looked like I had a cheap, terrible bleach job. It was time for plan B.

Dying your hair with food coloring


Next, I picked up conventional food coloring. While not as natural as the vegetable-based version, I can only assume that, since it has been deemed safe for consumption, it is much less toxic than Manic Panic.

I mixed up a bright pink using a lot of red and some blue. For food coloring, you always want your mixture to look much darker than how you want the final color to turn out. I applied it to my clean hair with a toothbrush, tied my hair up and stuffed it under a shower cap for two hours, then rinsed my hair.

The result was gorgeous – the bright pink overlaid on my blond ends yielded a classy, pastel, peachy pink, which lasted for two weeks before fading to nothing.

Then I tried a bright blue, which yielded a pretty turquoise when over my blond hair. That faded after two weeks of washing my hair every other day to a subtle sea green.

I think next I’m going to try a rainbow of colors, all at once. Unicorn hair!

Should You Try Dying Your Hair With Food Coloring?

Pro: The fact that it only lasts a couple weeks is actually a great benefit, if you want to experiment with different colors before settling on a three-month-long color commitment. The pastels, instead of aggressively bright color, feel so of-the-moment. Using the developer every two weeks has softened the transition of my ombre, by gently lifting some color from my hair. And of course, it’s less toxic and less expensive. The 16-ounce developer was $4, the food coloring even less.

Con: You have to set aside two hours every couple of weeks to sit around with dye in your hair, and you won’t get super-saturated colors.

Overall, I love dying my hair with food coloring. With the grey, listless weather being what it is, having the opportunity to dye your hair a different color every week seems like a great way to perk up your world.