This article was originally published on Real Simple.
You have the home hair coloring technique down pat, except for those annoying dark spots that inevitably speckle your neck or face post dye job. You’re not alone. Even expert at-home colorists, not to mention the pros, end up with telltale splotches of dye on the skin. While there are lots of odd home remedies for removing dye—baking soda mixed with detergent, vinegar, or even cigarette ash—these aren’t the most effective or skin-friendly solutions.
“There’s no need use harsh ingredients which can irritate the skin,” says Michel McKrieth, a colorist at the Rita Hazan Salon in NYC. “At the salon, we remove color the most old-school and gentle way possible: With a damp towel. Here’s how to remove any stray spots without scouring your face or breaking out a drastic remedy like rubbing alcohol or nail polish remover. Plus, how to avoid those stains in the first place.
It pays to do a little prep before you apply the dye. Apply a thick ointment like Vaseline or Aquaphor to protect the skin at the nape of the neck, on your ears, and around your hairline. “This creates a barrier between the dye and the skin,” says McKrieth, “but be careful not to cover the baby hairs around your face since it will prevent color from absorbing into the strands.” And don’t forget to wear the plastic gloves that come with your box color to shield your hands, too.
Have your stain removal tool kit at the ready. You’ll need a mild facial cleanser and a towel you don’t care about. (Obviously it’s going to get stained.) Now, take your time applying the color, being careful and thorough. Doing a fast, slapdash job is bound to make a mess. If you rush, you’ll not only end up with dye on your skin, but you’ll also find splotches on your bathroom sink or floor, too.
Like any stain, the longer it sits, the worse it gets—time is of the essence. Immediately after applying the hair color, remove any residue from your skin before it has a chance to sink in and get darker. Gently scrub with a nubby towel dampened with hot water and a little gentle facial cleanser or shampoo. Don’t panic—even if you do nothing those dark spots will fade in a few days. “Once you shampoo and rinse out the hair color completely, those stains will start to fade,” she adds, “and they’ll disappear after you’ve washed your face a few times.”