Jessica Simpson just did it. So have Pink, Courteney Cox and Gwen Stefani. We’re talking letting their kids dye their hair. But how young is too young to do that?
“There is no minimum age to dye kids’ hair, so I would wait until they were old enough to ask about it,” says Danelle Fisher, MD, FAAP, pediatrician and vice chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe for all ages.
“Based on hair science, I would recommend waiting until after the age of 12, as kid’s hair is still developing,” says Joe Greco, Principal Scientist, Global Baby R&D at Johnson’s. “We know that until age 12, kid’s is still developing; it is in between adult and baby hair stages.”
The health risk posed by dyeing hair too young is scalp irritation caused by chemicals in the dye itself, explains Fisher. Of course, some chemicals are worse than others. “According to dermatologists, you should avoid ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and paraphenylenediamine (a chemical frequently found in permanent hair dyes),” says Gina Posner, MD, pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA. “These all can cause very bad reactions.”
Another ingredient to stay away from is bleach. “Bleaching is bad for your hair, so you don’t want to put harsh chemicals into their hair when they are young,” Posner says. That’s why she recommends waiting until kids are at least in their late teens. “Kids tend to be more sensitive to products, so they can have allergies. Also, their hair is finer, making it is more susceptible to damage, so it can injure the hair more. Kids’ scalps are definitely more sensitive than adults.”
Children’s hair evolves as they grow. “Kids hair is special, still developing, and is different from baby and adult hair,” Greco says. “When children reach the toddler stage at 18 months, their hair becomes thicker and longer than baby hair. Yet it has not fully developed into adult hair. After the age of 12, adult hair is present, which can grow five times thicker and seven times longer than baby hair, making it more resilient to breakage and chemical processing. Since kids’ hair is not fully developed, it is susceptible to damage if dyed during the ages of 18 months to 12 years old.”
In case you’re wondering, an allergic reaction to hair dye can include symptoms ranging from an itchy scalp to broken skin, hair loss, hives, swelling, burning and difficulty breathing. Yikes!
“There are safer alternatives to hair dye in the market today that allow you and your kids to have an amazing, fun experience with color,” says Karla Diana, Hair Stylist and Beauty expert. “They are great products that allow your kids to experiment with cool fun tone and uniquely express themselves. From hair pieces and clips, there are practical and efficient ways to stay away from dyes and still add fun color to your kids hair.”
If you’re going let your kids color their hair, use the least aggressive methods possible. “I find that Henna products are more gentle than other hair dyes,” Fisher says. Diana says that anything that washes out in one shampoo and is non-permanent is a good alternative, such as sprays as chalk colors. “These don’t penetrate the hair shaft and are still lots of fun to use,” Posner explains. Apply them away from your kids’ eyes, nose and mouth to avoid potentially harming the eyes and lungs.
When it comes to real hair dye, coloring just the tips, like Jessica Simpson’s daughter, is a safer bet, since it doesn’t touch the scalp. Semi-permanent and demi-permanent color are also less damaging because they have lower ammonia levels. Although Diana doesn’t recommend dying your kids hair because it is not fully developed, if you do go that route, she says there are a few important tips to keep in mind to minimize damage.
“First, before applying any dyes, it is so important to always read and follow the safety instructions on the box,” Diana advises. “It is equally important to test a one-inch strand of hair to see how the hair responds before dying the entire head of hair to minimize any damage. Avoid direct skin contact. When applying color stay away from the scalp as much as possible to decrease absorption. Finally, make sure you protect your clothes by wearing a cape and your hands by wearing plastic gloves. Any dying should happen in the bathroom so that you don’t risk any dye getting on your furniture and rugs.”
Ultimately, you want to make it fun for your kids. “At the end of the day this experience is not about the color as much as it is about the bonding experience you are about to create with them that they will forever feel connected and empowered by,” Diana says. “Make a ‘hair appointment’ with them and have a mini consultation before applying any dye. Ask them questions about what their vision is and have them show you pictures of what they want their hair to look like so that you are both on the same page and you can achieve your child’s desired results!”
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