Food coloring is good for more than just making green beer on St. Paddy’s day — or, you know, coloring food. It also works as an easy-to-apply, super-affordable temporary hair color that goes gentle on the locks.

Before visions of going from chestnut brown to autumnal auburn or from sandy blond to raven black start dancing in your head, keep the caveats in mind. A food coloring dye job only works temporarily on light hair — whether naturally hued or artificially lightened — and in quirky, bold, non-natural colors (think of the primary colors you’d see in the food coloring aisle). That’s the gist of it, but it’s not the end of the story — you can take a few steps to increase food coloring’s staying power, and those diminutive little bottles also come in handy for correcting even dark-toned dyes.

Tips

Before you go to town with food coloring, try a test run by cutting off a lock of hair from an inconspicuous place, applying and setting the dye, and then giving the lock a rinse.

Things You'll Need


Step 1: Get Ready

Wash your hair with your favorite shampoo and conditioner, and then allow it to dry completely. You’ll want to apply food coloring to clean, dry hair for the best results.

Step 2: Mix It Up

Grab an old, shallow bowl and get to work making your color. You can stick with a single shade — such as red, green or blue — or mix pigments to create a custom color. There’s no exact science to how much color to use; you’ll need enough to saturate a toothbrush and then brush it into however much hair you wish to cover.

Tips

Make your color much darker than your desired results. As a hair dye, food coloring tends to go on light.

Step 3: Brush It On

Dip your toothbrush into the dye and brush it into the hair you wish to color. This coloring method works particularly well for dyeing tips or sections of hair, but you can also apply it as an all-over hair color.

Step 4: Cover It Up

Tie your hair up and cover it with a shower cap. Allow the dye to set for about two hours, and then rinse your hair with plain water. Leaving the color in for less time makes for lighter results; longer will mean darker shades.

Think pastel when it comes to dyeing your hair with food coloring. In all likelihood, deep blues will come out as turquoise, rich violet results in fuschia and dark pinks will look peachy.

Expect the color to last for a few weeks, depending on how often you wash your hair. You don’t need to do anything special to remove the color; simply wash as you normally would, and it fades on its own.

If you’ve dyed your hair with traditional means and have struggled with unwanted tones popping up over time, turn to a drop of food coloring and your regular shampoo. As Oscar Blandi Salon colorist Kyle White tells Glamour magazine, the primary colors found in food coloring neutralize common problem tones — just mix in a pea-sized drop with your shampoo, and then wash and condition as usual. If you have brunette hair, use green food coloring to counteract red tones or a combo of blue and green to neutralize a reddish-orange hue. For blondes, turn to violet to get rid of yellow tones. As catch-all solutions, a mix of blue and violet corrects yellow-orange tones, while blue combats regular orange tones.