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Pastel colours are amongst the hardest hair colours to achieve and maintain but I’m going to share my secrets on how to get that perfect pastel shade!
If you’ve read any of the other articles in my “How to Dye” series you’ll know what I’m about to say. The first step is to bleach your hair to pale blonde… and this time I really mean it. Allow me to explain.
When you dye* your hair you can only add colour. If your hair is dark and you dye over it with a lighter colour like pastel pink it’s not going to do much to your dark hair, so to get a nice pastel shade your hair needs to be as light as the colour you want to achieve.
(* Lightening your hair is a form of bleaching. This relates only to dyeing your hair.)
As well as the light/dark issue you also need to consider the colour of your hair and how it will contribute to the finished shade. If your hair still has a lot of yellow tones after bleaching you’ll find that it impacts on your colour. That gorgeous baby pink colour you were aiming for will become a pale orange when it interacts with the gold tones in your hair.
Here’s a picture to illustrate.
The top band represents your pastel pink hair dye. The second band shows how the dye interacts with your base hair colour. The bottom band represents the base hair colour.
You can see that pastel pink hair dye applied to very pale blonde looks great, on darker blonde it creates a kind of strawberry blonde colour and on darker bases it makes little difference to the colour.
This is the basic principle of achieving pastel hair colour. Get the base colour right and you can have any colour you like.
So I think you get the point. You need to lighten your hair to a pale blonde colour. If you’re not naturally blonde this will mean some kind of bleach. Note: Even if you are naturally pale blonde or white-haired, you may still need to use a permanent hair colour or bleach bath to open up your hair’s cuticles to accept the colour If your hair was previously dyed an unnatural colour, check out our articles on fading your colour for some ideas on achieving a light base.
Bleaching is too large a subject to cover in this article, so read this article on How to Bleach Your Hair or have it done by a professional. Your aim is to achieve an even, light blonde colour without ruining your hair. Do not skimp on the strand and sensitivity tests. They’re an important gauge of whether lightening your hair sufficiently is achievable and whether your hair can handle the chemicals.
When dyeing your hair a pastel shade, it’s more important than usual to ensure your bleach job is even. When you apply the pastel colour it will only draw attention to any unevenness so make sure you examine your hair well in good light to check for dark spots before dyeing it. A black/UV light will show up any inconsistency in colour so if you can, check your hair under one of those. If you find any under-bleached areas apply a small amount of bleach to those areas only, checking regularly until it reaches the same shade as the surrounding hair.
It’s extremely difficult to go from a permanent brown or black to the very light blonde colour needed for pastels. If you bleach your strand test and discover the ends are dark and the roots are light, a great way to get around this is by growing out your old colour and playing with a light-dark ombre effect where you have the pastel colour at your roots and a darker shade towards the ends to cover up the unevenness.
After all the hassle of lightening your hair, you’re sure to be itching to colour it! As with everything to do with pastel colours, it’s a bit more difficult than your standard dye job. Since pastels are so delicate, you need to take extra precautions to get the most out of your colour.
If there’s any product build-up in your hair it will become very apparent when you dye your hair with a pale colour. To prepare your hair I recommend you use a pre-colour shampoo or try an anti-dandruff shampoo like Head & Shoulders. Your hair may feel uncomfortably squeaky-clean now but avoid the urge to use conditioner.
At this point your hair is probably feeling a bit crappy. If you can stand to, blow drying will help open your hair up to take the colour. Otherwise you can skip this step and let it dry naturally.
You’re now ready to colour. Plan to use a lot more colour than you think. When dyeing with pastels you’ll find you need to use quite a lot of dye to ensure good coverage. Take extra care to apply plenty of colour to the ends of your hair and avoid combing the colour through until it’s completely saturated with fresh dye.
Now cover your hair in a shower cap or plastic wrap to prevent it drying out and leave the colour to process for at least an hour (assuming you’re using a direct dye like Special Effects, Manic Panic or Pravana Pastels). You might see the colour darken slightly over time. Don’t worry about that. When your hair is dry it will be at least one shade lighter. Finally rinse and condition!
Pastel hair requires a lot of upkeep. Plan to dye your hair every 7-10 days depending on how often you wash it. I recommend you use a gentle shampoo for coloured hair. Go for a conditioner with UV filters because pastel hair can quickly turn back to blonde with just a few hours of sun-exposure.
I also recommend you avoid hair treatments that contain protein. Although protein is good for temporarily reconstructing your hair, they also prevent the colour from absorbing properly and with delicate pastel shades this is even more important. Look for “hydrolysed wheat protein”. “keratin” or “silk” in the ingredients and avoid these products.
So now you know how to dye your hair, what shade should you choose?
I like to split pastels into two categories – true pastel shades which are soft and pale and pseudo-pastel shades which have more vibrancy but are generally lighter than the average dye.
Pravana recently released a new line of pastel hair colours. These shades are truly unique, particularly colours like Too Cute Coral, a very pale orange-sorbet colour, and Mystical Mint which is a super light peppermint colour. The line also includes Pretty in Pink – a very soft baby pink colour, Luscious Lavender – a pastel, cool purple and Blissful Blue which is an unusual shade of pale baby blue with no green tones.
Also keeping up with the trend is Crazy Color’s new shades Bubblegum, Candy Floss and my personal favourite Marshmallow. Bubblegum is a gorgeous light blue shade, not warm-toned yet not powder blue either. Candy Floss is a perfect powdery pink colour and Marshmallow is a very pale, warm purple colour.
These are shades that are a bit to dark to truly be pastel but they don’t have such intensity as deeper colours. They will usually last a couple of weeks longer than pastels but are still relatively light. Most brands have some colours within this spectrum, usually shades of pink and purple. One stand out colour is Pravana’s Silver. It’s the only truly silver-grey direct dye on the market at the moment and it looks fantastic with dark roots or diluted to make a paler silver shade.
Directions has a good selection of pseudo-pastel shades. Pastel Pink is pretty unique in that it’s a light pink but with some coral tones. There’s also Lilac and Lavender which are quite similar with Lavender having more pink tones and Lilac more blue. Lagoon Blue is probably a bit too dark to be considered pastel but it’s an excellent dye to dilute to create a lighter shade (more on that later). And check out Apricot for a beautiful non-neon yellow.
Manic Panic offers a near-pastel green with Electric Lizard as well as a paler pinkish purple in the form of Mystic Heather. By far my favourite Manic Panic colour, Atomic Turquoise is the perfect choice for anyone looking for a sky blue hair dye, but to avoid it going green, only use this on very light blonde hair.
Mixing Your Own
Still can’t find your perfect shade? Why not mix your own. You can choose any colour and lighten it by mixing it with conditioner or toner. Pravana and Adore offer a clear mixer that you can use to dilute their shades and there’s also the new Manic Panic “Manic Mixer/Pastelizer” which unlike toners is completely free from colour so you can use it lighten yellow without dulling the colour.
Here are a few recipes to try:
1 part Turquoise
10 parts conditioner
Mixing your own colour is variable and the intensity of the colour on the type of conditioner you use, so you’ll have to adjust the mix by eye. Generally your dye should be about 2 shades darker than your intended colour but always do a strand test to check the outcome before applying all over.
Enjoy your pastel hair and have fun experimenting with colour! If you liked these photos, have a look at our Pastels Gallery for more inspiration!