Shit I Do While My Cats Are Sleeping: Cray-Pas Hair Dye

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

There is something particularly thrilling about dying your hair. As a self-described hair dye addict, I often find myself fantasizing about any and every hue the drugstore aisle has to offer. Running into old friends is particularly amusing, as the conversation usually begins with “Has your hair always been that color?” My hair has suffered the consequences and at present refuses to take any more serious abuse.

But the impulse doesn’t die (pun sort of intended). And with image after image of people with neon streaks, in magazines and on blogs, the itch has become unbearable. The first time that I dyed my hair the intended color was pink. It was unsuccessful, and ever since that moment I have lacked the nerve, but not the desire, to have a full on Frenchy-coiffed-cotton-candy-colored hairdo.

I am happy to say I have found a very temporary alternative. For those thrill seekers out to have an evening of rainbow hair that they don’t have to commit to, there are chalk cray-pas (I found some at the Village Art Shop in Media). I enjoy doing things myself, at home, whenever I can. I am the obnoxious friend on a shopping trip who insists that everything you are holding could be made for half the price. This has led to countless hours of procrastinating looking at do-it-yourself (DIY) tutorials of things I will never need or make. I wanted to put this outlet to good use. And so, after a failed attempt to dye my hair with Kool Aid, I decided to convince a few friends to spend an evening coloring in our hair like bored elementary school kids.

The only supplies that you need for this DIY are chalk cray-pas, and a brush. (DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES USE OIL CRAY-PAS.) It isn’t dire, but the consistency is too oily to properly stick to the hair, creating a waxy coating that rests on top. The chalk does not produce a very nice hair texture, but it is superior by comparison. And for one night, it is well worth the dryness.

Some websites will tell you that if you wet your hair prior to chalking the pigments from the cray-pas will stain your hair. None of us experienced this. That does not mean it couldn’t happen, but after two nights of chalking, I had one faint pink streak, but nothing that lasted more than two washes. In my opinion, wetting the hair prior to chalking is crucial whether your hair is black or blond. When the hair is wet, it is much easier to apply to cray-pas.

After wetting the hair, it is easier to break it up into small sections. Using the cray-pas in the middle of the piece (hold the cray-pas perpendicular to your hair, it is easier to control the chalk at this angle), rub the chalk down the piece of hair. Once you have the section pretty covered, begin to twist the hair and continue to rub downward. This is to ensure that you coat the entire strand. Once you are satisfied with the color repeat on the other sections. After letting the hair dry a bit, comb out the chunkier residue. Bits of the cray-pas will probably come out in your hair; take a brush and comb them out.

While brushing, I would recommend periodically wiping the brush off. The chalk will start to cover the brush, and it is best if the brush is clean when you are running it through your hair. I don’t recommend washing the brush off in between strokes and this may take some of the dye out. After this, you’re ready to go.


  1. Oxidizing agents are usually hydrogen peroxide, and the alkaline environment is usually provided by ammonia. The combination of hydrogen peroxide and the primary intermediate causes the natural hair to be lightened, providing a “blank canvas” for the dye. Ammonia opens the hair shaft pores so that the dye can actually bond with the hair and speeds up the reaction of the dye with the hair.”.

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