How To Fix Your Hair When It Turns Green and You’re 300 Miles Away from Your Colorist

Or: How a condiment saved my $200 highlights.
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Or: How a condiment saved my $200 highlights.
Katy Perry, with on-purpose green hair. Photo: Araya Diaz/Getty

Katy Perry, with on-purpose green hair. Photo: Araya Diaz/Getty

Everyone loves a creative hack. In the beauty world, there are tons of time-saving, money-saving ways to re-purpose products, plus techniques you can try that don't require you to have the makeup brush prowess of Pat McGrath. For this feature, we will pick the brains of beauty's best and brightest to try to make your life easier.

I just returned from a lovely two-week vacation to Cape Cod and then Maine, where I really stripped my beauty and fashion routine down to the basics. I didn’t wear makeup the whole time except for sunscreen. I purchased (and actually wore, to everyone’s amusement) Keen hiking shoes. I peed in the woods -- multiple times. So suffice to say, my appearance wasn’t my first priority, until about day six of the vacation when my kid said to me, “Um, Mom, your hair looks kind of green.”

A quick peek at the back of my head confirmed that my hair was indeed a Manic Panic shade of teal. Evidence here:

#mermaidhair Photo: Cheryl Wischhover

#mermaidhair Photo: Cheryl Wischhover

Now, I had purposely gone to my long-time colorist Misty before I left on vacation because I was due for a color touch-up and really didn’t want to have to rush around doing it Labor Day weekend right before fashion week started. Plus, I like my color to “wear in” for a few weeks. I knew I wouldn’t be swimming in a chlorinated pool, so I thought my hair would be safe. But I underestimated the pipes in my cute Cape Cod beach house.

In hindsight, I had noticed a pretty mermaid-y shade of green in a ring around the tub, but I assumed it was from cleaning products. Nope. A quick chat with some locals confirmed that there can be a lot of copper – which is the arch-nemesis of blonde hair -- in the water. (You’d think they’d put that type of important information in the guidebooks, right?)

After an initial panic period, I did what every woman does when faced with a beauty emergency – I went to the Internet and attempted to beauty hack the crap out of it.

Misty, whom I emailed with the subject line “MY HAIR IS GREEN!!!!,” suggested clarifying shampoo, apple cider vinegar or clear dish soap to strip some of the green. But I had none of that on hand, and I was headed to a place deep in the woods of Maine where I couldn’t even find a copy of Vogue, let alone clarifying shampoo. But then I came across all the ketchup testimonials online.

Ketchup, the theory goes, works to neutralize green hair because green and red are opposites on the color wheel and therefore cancel each other out, kind of like putting a green-tinted concealer on an angry red blemish. I saw enough photographic evidence online to convince myself that it looked plausible enough to try, with Misty's blessing.

I took out the jumbo bottle of Heinz I had in the fridge and squirted it on my head, then massaged it in. Let me tell you, there’s nothing more mentally disgusting than cold, gooey ketchup all over your head. After covering my head with plastic wrap, I headed out to my back yard to sit and sniff the bracing Maine sea air for 30 minutes in an attempt to minimize the overwhelming smell of ketchup emanating from my head:

Just watching the lobster boats and trying to forget I have ketchup on my head. Photo: Cheryl Wischhover

Just watching the lobster boats and trying to forget I have ketchup on my head. Photo: Cheryl Wischhover

After a half hour I took the plastic wrap off, then took a messy shower that looked sort of like the shower scene [link NSFW] in Carrie. I let my hair dry, then snuck a peek in the mirror. And OMG, it worked!

Can you seriously believe this? Photo: Cheryl Wischhover

Can you seriously believe this? Photo: Cheryl Wischhover

According to Carlina Ortega, a colorist at the Rita Hazan Salon in NYC, the green color is caused by oxidized copper that binds to the hair shaft, resulting in what she called “the Martian effect.” (Also known as the “Demi Lovato” effect.) While the red color from tomatoes can help neutralize the color, it’s a bit more scientific than that. “The tomatoes and vinegar that are found in ketchup contain acids that neutralize the chemical reaction that causes the Martian effect. It's actually a DIY trick that works well if the problem is minor to moderate,” Ortega said.

Another potent side effect? Sitting with ketchup on my head effectively squelched all cravings for French fries indefinitely. Thank you, Heinz. 

Last beauty hack we posted: A pasta-related trick for getting beachy waves