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If Your Toddler Needs Colored Hair For Their Costume, Here's What Experts Suggest

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My youngest child is known for her wild hairstyles, and for years, she’s talked about coloring it. But I have been leery because what kind of hair dye is even safe for toddlers? Does it exist? How old do kids need to be before they can change their hair color like this?

For children, there’s something magical about dressing up in fancy dress, and it often goes beyond trick-or-treating on Halloween or pretend games. It feeds their sense of imagination and play in a way that isn't always as embraced as it should be in a world so focused on test scores and classrooms. Don't get me wrong, those are important, but so is pretend play. Psychology Today reported that it increases quality of language used by children, promotes divergent thinking, and allows children to express themselves from a place of play and with a level of detachment they might not be able to achieve otherwise. It makes sense that your kids would want to get fully into character with hair dye, be it temporary or otherwise. But is it safe? Dr. Lawrence Barnard, board-certified neuromusculoskeletal specialist of Maxim Hair Restoration tells Romper that age matters, noting that your children’s hair is constantly changing up until about the age of 12, and that hair color on younger hair can cause long term damage.

And Dr. Anna H. Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist who serves on the advisory board for Smart Style Today, agrees. She tells Romper, “Generally hair dye contains chemicals that alter the health of the cuticle and should be avoided in children, particularly permanent hair dye.” She notes that while the chemicals found in hair dye aren’t a big deal to adults, with children, it’s not worth the risk.

“These often have hydrogen peroxides, ammonia, bleach, and sometimes contain a common cause of contact dermatitis known as paraphenylenediamine, which can cause bad reactions to the scalp that are itchy, and contribute to an allergic contact dermatitis. It is best to wait until a child is older to understand the effects of these chemicals, such as in high school.”

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So, if that’s the case, what kind of hair dye is safe for toddlers? Barnard notes that if your tiny tot wants to temporarily change their hair color, vegetable dyes and things like Kool Aid are a safe, temporary solution. If that’s not your style (or if you are worried about stains), wigs are cheap and plentiful, and kids love them.

Colorist Lisa Haley also suggests looking for hair chalk and avoiding any temporary hair sprays, as they can be caustic and flammable. "The chalks are great, and they show up even on dark hair. If your child has light hair, you can always use Kool Aid, but make sure when you wash it out, you do so gently. Both the chalks and Kool Aid have a tendency to tangle in the hair, making it vulnerable to breakage."

But again, just avoid real dyes. "The chemicals in color, even the temporary Manic Panic dyes, will damage the fine hair of your little dude or dudette. It's just not worth the risk," she adds.

For the most fun, especially on Halloween, Haley suggests trying a wig or clip-on extensions. Your kids can keep them in their dress-up kit for years to come, and they love the instant change it provides. This is a holiday about transformation and creativity, so go wild, but avoid the harsh dyes.

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