If your kid is begging you for streaks of funky shades in their hair, you may be tempted to give in. It’s just a little color, you think, what could be the harm? Well, depending on how you opt to achieve said streaks, you may need to reconsider your decision. We spoke to the experts to get the lowdown on when it’s safe to dye your child’s hair.
"I really don’t think it’s safe to dye or bleach a child’s hair until after puberty, and ideally not until their late teens – at least 16," advises Dr. Sejal Shah, a New York dermatological surgeon. Here’s the deal: Children tend to have much finer hair than adults, and since hair dye and bleach can be damaging, a child’s immature hair is much more susceptible to damage. Because kids’ hair goes through so many changes from birth to puberty, Dr. Shah warns that their hair – and skin, for that matter – are more sensitive and therefore more likely to experience reactions.
These reactions can be caused by the actual contents of the hair products. "The chemicals are harsh and can damage hair," explains board-certified dermatologist Dr. Margarita Lolis. "Ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and a chemical known as paraphenylenediamine that’s commonly used in permanent hair dye can cause very bad reactions." Plus, these chemicals can alter the texture of your child’s hair, so even if you just meant to change the color, you could wind up messing with its entire appearance.
On top of these chemicals potentially leading to negative reactions on the hair and scalp, Eva Scrivo Salons owner and hair expert Eva Scrivo says there’s another potential risk to worry about. "Fumes can be a factor, especially if the child has asthma," she warns.
If you’re planning on doing your kid’s hair yourself, Dr. Shah advises sticking with nonpermanent colors. "These temporary colors just coat the hair shaft and do not penetrate it as a dye would," she says, adding that there are also dye alternatives like herbs and tea which can impart color onto the hair. If you absolutely must dye your child’s hair, Dr. Shah recommends using an off-scalp application like cap highlights and a semi-permanent dye – and always doing a patch test first to check for allergies.
Want to go to a salon for your child’s hairstyle? Scrivo suggests the balayage technique rather than an all-over shade change or foils. "Balayage is a more gentle approach to highlighting, as opposed to foils which can be a strong heat conductor and can quickly dehydrate hair," she explains. "If done properly, the bleach does not have direct contact with the scalp." This gives you the opportunity to explore vivid colors like pastels, which will fade and eventually wash out over three to four weeks’ time.
Other temporary options can be great for kids, too. "I give lots of kids bright color tips, but only with the approval of the parent – and the kid is usually ‘camp age’ or older," says Paul Labrecque, hair guru and owner of Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa. "Color chalk is the safest way to incorporate fun hues like pink, blue, green, and more – no pre-bleaching is required to use them." He notes that a few tips or highlights is all anyone reputable would do, so be wary if anyone suggests coloring or bleaching your kid’s whole head.
If you have a young child and you’re debating coloring their hair, talk to their pediatrician first about potential risk factors.