How I Dye My Hair Pastel

Posted on February 17 2017

By Tory Savannah

I often get questions about hair related things on my Instagram, which is amazing because I love talking hair! I know that for some people, hair is just hair, makeup is a tool, and clothes are a necessity. But in my eyes, they're all avenues for self expression. I love the challenge of taking an emotion or feeling and trying to express it through something visual. I feel the same kind of passionate way about photography and the clothes I design with my sister. I think that might be because I've never been a huge talker. I love words, I mean I really love words, and I really love talking to people. But when it comes to my emotions, I'd rather express them through things like photos, or clothes, or shirt designs, or music...or hair color :)

I could go on for days about this stuff, so I decided I'd keep it as simple and real as possible and separate the posts into different categories. With that said, one of the most common Q's I get is "how do you get pastel hair?" So this post is all about my personal journey to pastel.

Quick note: I'm not a professional and never went to beauty school or anything like that (even though that would've been cool!) Everything I've learned has been through my hair stylist friends, the web, and trial and error. Rather than doing a tutorial, I mainly want to share my own experience with the hope that it gives you ideas and inspires you to express yourself through unconventional ways!

Lately I've been obsessed with Manic Panic's Electric Amethyst, which is what's on my hair in the first photo here. (Scroll to the bottom of this post if you want to see some other shades & colors I've tried.)

Step 1: Ombre/Blonde

My hair is naturally a medium/dark brown, and to get pastel colors to show up, you first have to have very light blonde hair. So, the way I got my hair to that shade was by doing my own ombre. Well, actually I had my amazing hair stylist friend Julia (@juliabeth) do the initial ombre for me, which turned out like this: (don't mind the old photos, I had to pull some of these from the archives haha):

After that, I did the rest on my own by slowly climbing it higher and higher each time I would bleach it, until my entire head was blonde. I started out using any generic bleach & 30 volume developer from my local beauty supply store. This is how it looked mid-stage:

Once my ends were bleached, I started experimenting with different colors. I learned quickly that the more orangey/brassy my blonde, the darker the colors would show up. So sometimes I would tone my ombre (usually with Wella White Lady toner and 10-20 vol developer from the beauty supply store) to get it to an ashier shade of blonde before adding in fun colors.

And eventually I cut my hair and climbed the ombre allllll the way up my head. At this point, I found a bleach and developer I liked best called Blond Me. I also switched to a 20 volume developer once it got to this level of blonde.

What I like about the ombre method

  1. You're working from the ends up, so if you don't like how it turns out for any reason, you can simply trim it off.
  2. It's inexpensive if you're doing it yourself.
  3. I personally wanted the messy (edgy?) looking ombre, which is easy to achieve if you're doing on your own (especially if you're not a pro!)
  4. I loved seeing all the different stages of blonde and having the creative control to change it however I wanted.
  5. You don't have to have a lot of skill or patience for it to turn out well (I have almost zero patience when it comes to this stuff so that was a huge plus for me haha), and it's very forgiving of mistakes.

How I learned to do Ombre

The answer is very simple - YouTube! I just did a search for "DIY Ombre" until I found a tutorial for the look I was going for, and copied it. It's kind of like painting in a way, and as I got more comfortable doing it, I started getting more creative with it. I had some fun doing it on my friend's hair, like my friend Hilliary a few years ago:

2. The dye I use

My favorite dye to use is Manic Panic and here's why:

  1. It's a vegan dye which means it's vegetable based, and it's not damaging to your hair at all. It's actually conditioning and leaves your hair with a nice soft texture. Yessss! 
  2. It smells like candy. No harsh dye smell. Seriously, you will want to eat it. But don't.
  3. It's inexpensive - like $10 a jar. And you can buy it on Amazon. So I mean, unicorn hair delivered to your front door is always a cool thing.
  4. It's semi permanent, which I prefer. If you're wanting your color to stick around for a very long time, this may not be the dye for you. But I personally want the freedom to change it often, and I love how this brand in particular fades. It goes through stages of rich color, to bright pastel, to muted/grungey shades, and I love getting all those transitions.
  5. You can mix colors together to create your own custom colors.

3. How I dye my hair pastel

There are two ways I get pastel shades:

1. The first is by starting with a cheap white conditioner. (I use tresseme anti breakage but literally anything white will work, preferably something extra moisturizing or strengthening because why not?) What I do is pour a bunch of conditioner into a plastic bowl, then take my color and add a small amount at a time, mixing as I go, until it becomes the shade I want my hair to be. Once it gets to that perfect shade, I then add a few more drops of color to deepen it before applying it to my hair. This is because what you see in the bowl will always show up a little bit more diluted on your actual hair. Then I apply it, wait at least an hour, and rinse without washing or conditioning...and that's it! Pastel hair!

Of course, the creativity is endless. You can mix different colors together in the same bowl to create your own custom color. Or, if you like the thrill of the unknown (insert raised hand emoji) you can do one application of a solid color, rinse, dry, then go back and add messy streaks or another full application of a complementary color, and see how it turns out. Layering colors will also make the fade out more interesting. For instance if you layer pink under purple, or vise versa, it will fade into a colorful pastel rainbow of sorts, as some pieces will go blonde or silver in the process in addition to the pink or purple showing through, kinda like this:

2. The second way I get my hair pastel is by not even trying at all, really. When I'm lazy, want a deeper shade for a while, or want my color to last longer between touch ups, I apply the dye to my hair straight out of the jar without mixing it with conditioner first. Then, overtime, as I wash my hair, it gradually fades to a pastel. At that point, if I want to keep it a particular shade for longer, I just try to go without shampooing it as long as possible. Conditioning in the shower will cause it to fade at a much slower rate than shampooing, so typically I either shower with a shower cap on to avoid wetting my hair at all, or if I have to wet my hair, I only condition it, and try to shampoo once a week. 

All of that to say, the bottom line is that in order to get pastel hair, you first have to have very blonde hair. To give you an idea, this is how light my hair currently is underneath my color: 

A few examples of colors I've tried

Manic Panic Mystic Velvet Violet Creamtone mixed with a little Ultra Violet and conditioner


Manic Panics Siren's Song, a bit faded


Manic Panic Ultra Violet mixed with Mystic Heather

Manic Panic Cotton Candy Pink, faded


Manic Panic Cotton Candy Pink

Manic Panic Electric Amethyst mixed with conditioner

Manic Panic Electric Amethyst straight out of the jar on the left side of my hair (your right), and mixed with a little conditioner on my right side. You can see the slight shade difference when conditioner is involved vs. no conditioner.

 Pravana Green (Side note: Pravana lasted WAY longer on my hair than Manic Panic does)

Pravana Green, faded (took about 3 months to fade to this shade from the one above it)

Manic Panic Steel Blue over blonde on top, and cotton candy pink on the ends

Manic Panic Bad Boy Blue straight out of the jar

Manic Panic Bad Boy Blue mixed with conditioner

I guess I should end here since this post is getting quite long :) I hope that my experience is helpful to you in your hair dying adventures. Let me know in the comments or on my Instagram (@torysavannah) if you have any other questions!! <3 

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  • Cassidy: March 25, 2019

    LOVE this article! Really wanted to do a pastel color but wasn’t sure where to start. Read this last night, went out and bought all the tools today, and I’ll be on my way to pastel tomorrow! I’m trying the electric amethyst because it looks gorgeous on you. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Bunny: February 22, 2019

    Wow, thank you. I am grateful you spoke about using white conditioner instead of having to buy the manic panic pastel maker! :)

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  • Niki: August 05, 2018

    Wow all of these colours look AMAZING on you! I have the steel blue in at the moment am definitely going to give the amethyst a try next after seeing these photos.

  • don poirier: September 07, 2017

    My partner recently finished chemo for breast cancer. She’s doing well. Her hair is coming back and it’s kinda 1" punk spiky and I suggested for fun she should try an unusual color. I did an online search on hair colors, focusing on her fav color, purple and a rabbit hole lead me here.

    This topic is so not on my usual radar but I found this this post to be cool and you are lovely.

    I grew up with punk rock in the 70s and always loved the bold colored hair. The electric amethyst looks great but odds are against her going bold. I think that color faded is amazing, kinda lilac-gray, which would suit her. I don’t know if she’d go all out but I might be able to convince to do color highlights.

  • Shelly: April 08, 2017

    How do you get your hair that color blonde for the base color?

  • Arleth: February 18, 2017

    I am currently trying to go pastel and reading your blog reassured me that this is what I want ? I haven’t toned my hair yet so it’s a brassy yellow for now <3

  • Amanda & Luci: February 17, 2017

    Awesome post Tory! Luci wants to try purple over the summer so it’ll be a bit faded by the time school comes around again – should be interesting! ;)

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