Haircolor and Au Pairs: What’s up with that?

by cv harquail on January 16, 2010

Last year I made a joke in one post about au pairs spending a lot of money on Garnier Nutrisse hair color, and nobody commented… I thought I was alone in the “What’s with all the hair coloring?” question. I have since discovered, for better or worse, that I am not the only host mom who didn’t recognize her au pair after a session in the home salon.

Other host parents have mentioned these hair color issues:


  • hair color lotions not thrown away properly
  • ap’s with really weird hair colors- sometimes intentionally colors-not-found-in-nature; other times … eek.
  • stains on towels
  • stains on walls
  • stains on bathroom sinks & tubs

So host parents– Be ready with a little information.

You might want to let your au pair know that “Hair Color Solutions in the USA” might be different from those at home.

The instructions are only in English and Spanish, unless you are near Canada and then you get a little French too. Be ready to translate if necessary. Not like she’ll ask you, but you can always offer.

Let her know that the color of the lotion can cause problems. One problem with the hair color is that the color of the lotion changes, so what looks like harmless white lotion can itself turn dark red. You can splash color lotion on the wall and not even notice until it’s a little late. Plus, even if the lotion is wiped off the surface of, say, your wallpaper, residual dye or bleach can remain and cause damage.

Also, the lotion is highly toxic. Your au pair probably knows not to get it into her eyes, but it may not occur to her to put the color-related trash in a safe disposal site, (maybe inside a plastic bag, and then into the outside garbage can).

Just so you know host parents, the whole ‘experiment with my hair color’ idea seems to be pretty popular on ones year away from home. So, consider being ready with some old towels.

Oh, and one other thing– don’t wince when she comes downstairs with the new hair. Chances are, she’ll change it again, before you even get used to it!

Any crazy haircolor stories, or additional tips? Please share…!

Photo: My new hair colour yay by reutC


maleaupairmommy January 17, 2010 at 3:07 am

I can tell you from experience as an exchange student why this happens. You are different and you want to be different and you have changed on the inside so much but can’t physically see so what do you do dye your hair it’s better than the tatoo one of my au pairs got IMO. Something that can be done cheap and easy and their “real” mom and dad can’t complain or only have to listen to it here and there instead of every day. Oh the joys of youth.

cv January 17, 2010 at 12:11 pm

Oh, the tatoo thing— sooooooo much worse than the hair color experimenting. Give me hair color any day.
I think your insight that ap’s might be looking for an external visible change to reflect/communicate their internal changes is perceptive. Thanks for sharing that.

Jane January 19, 2010 at 11:16 am

Our AP got a tatoo, and while I cringed internally for the parents, I’ll take that over hair dye ruining my towels and bathroom. ;) Another offender–nail polish and nail polish removal used carelessly.

PA Au Pair Mom January 19, 2010 at 11:35 am

I have been fortunate not to have to deal with the disasters that can occur with nail polish and its remover. Our current au pair doesn’t use polish and our previous AP got hers done at a nail salon.

Bebe January 17, 2010 at 9:23 am

Out of 5 au pairs we have only seen one go through the ‘hair phase’. She was blond when I interviewed her in person and I hardly recognized her on arrival at the airport; her hair was a mix of blond and black. For Halloween it turned bright orange because she went out like Pippi Longstocking. None of it was an issue for us, because A. it was her hair not ours B. she was very careful about applying the colour and I helped her with the instructions C. she could have had bright purple hair and she still would have been an amazing au pair.

I do agree with ‘maleaupairmommy’ that the year away is a chance for AP to experiment, do something without interference and perhaps something that before has been an issue between her and parents. But you can avoid many of the issues mentioned if you are up front from the beginning and say – If you decide to colour your hair, come to me and I will help you with the instructions, get you the right towels etc’

cv January 17, 2010 at 12:12 pm

So the other insight– don’t judge the ap by (this week’s ) hair color!

Darthastewart January 18, 2010 at 4:53 pm

Yep- and don’t judge by their piercings or existing tattoos either. I’ve had a couple that had some interesting tattoos that have been fantastic.

Anon January 19, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Piercings and tatoos (or lack thereof) are very important for some families. I will not hire an au pair with certain piercings as I do not want that kind of role model for my kids.

aria February 20, 2010 at 4:22 pm

I have piercings up the kazoo, but I’m a good AP. I’m nice, I don’t drink, smoke, do drugs, or have random sex. I wear nice knee length khaki skirts and braids to work. Welcome to 2010! :)

Anonymous January 17, 2010 at 12:30 pm

I’m an au pair and I dye my hair all the time – another tip I’d offer is to offer the use of some darker towels from the start if it looks like she dyes her hair aka not just during the process. I dyed mine red just before I started, and didn’t notice that the leftover dye was staining the white towels after I came out the shower (even though it was a couple of weeks old) so be ready for that as well!

Chica Au Pair January 17, 2010 at 3:10 pm

i just bought cheap towels!

Anonymous January 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm

How about this : if an aupair is going to dye her ( or his ) hair, she or he buy towels and only use those towels rather than ask host families to plan on having towels damaged ?

PA au pair mom January 17, 2010 at 9:05 pm

I dye my hair as well, so I have no complaint about the dyeing itself or the changing colors.

What I didn’t appreciate was when our previous au pair dyed her hair while we were out of town and when my husband asked her about the stains all over the wall, she tried to blame them on other out of town guests we had hosted 6 weeks before. the stains were very noticeable and were not there prior to that vacation, so we knew she wasn’t being truthful.

we asked her to try to clean the wall, but it had been left there for a few days and wouldn’t come off. not to mention we had the bathroom painted about 4 months before that, specifically for her arrival.

hubby and I both tried to scrub the wall as well, but the stains weren’t budging. My husband ended up buying all the supplies, helping her tape around the mirrors, light switch plates, etc and then asking her to repaint the damaged area. She did a “half-a**ed” job the first time, so he made her do it again.

by this time he was very upset. If she had made the mess and then tried to clean it up or admitted it when she asked, I don’t think he would have minded, but when she obviously lied and then didn’t even try to make it better….that was what pushed it over the top.

After that incident, we didn’t allow her to dye her hair in our bathroom.

Anonymous January 18, 2010 at 2:48 pm

I agree with your husband’s frustration. We haven’t run into the hair-dyeing yet (and I’m surprised based on how many people here have encountered it). However, we have encountered the same “Oh crap I broke a rule and now I’m just gonna lie my way out of it” when a former AP broke a major rule. Like your husband, if she had admitted the mistake and been a grown-up about it, I would have been less furious. In the end, because we’d had many good months leading up to the rule-breaking, we kept her. I regretted it. The rule-breaking (and most importantly, the attempted cover-up) was the start of some pretty disrespectful behavior. It wasn’t an out-and-out horrible situation, but I realized too late that I was always stressed out the remainder of her time with us. In the future, if I had an au pair do exactly what our old au pair did (God help me), she would be out, as I wouldn’t be able to trust her anymore. In reading your post, I have the same reaction, but obviously I’m biased based on what happened to us before.

StephinBoston January 18, 2010 at 10:29 am

Out of 3 au pairs 2 have dyed their hair. I really don’t mind it, I used to do it too at that age. Usually they have a friend help them and it doesn’t make a mess. Current au pair loves to change colors, she ran into a few problems last time with some of her hair turning a greenish tint but somehow managed to fix that too. In the end, it’s a simple change and I agree it’s an expression of themselves that is pretty harmless.

Kristy January 18, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Ha ha! I love that this is one of your posts. We have had three au pairs so far and all three have coincidentally been blonde when they arrived, and the first two went permanently dark brunette while they were here. I am waiting for what seems like the inevitable change for number three!

Lidi January 19, 2010 at 9:06 am

I didn’t realize this was so common! Our first au pair was also a blonde, before she arrived and then she surprised me at the airport as a brunette. She dyed her hair several times while she was here and did stain one of the towels, but she managed to get it out after I asked her to try. She also left a ring on the tub, though she was supposed to clean it once a week. When our next au pair arrived I gave her some old towels specifically for hair dyeing, which (surprise), she needed because she also dyes her hair. I’ll be sure to pass on some more old towels and be clear about stains in the tub and walls (clean them!) with our subsequent au pairs, since this seems to be a rite of passage.

NoVA Host Mom January 19, 2010 at 9:15 am

The hair dye down the bathroom walls (yes, more than one) has been the “lasting gift” of our first (and unsuccessful) AP. Unfortunately, because our daughter was an infant when she was with us, and therefore still getting her baths in the baby tub on the kitchen island, the AP was the only one using the hall bath. Yes, I did see her hair change colors about once a month. But honestly it never would have occurred to me that she was also changing the colors of our walls. I get my hair colored, albeit at a salon, so I don’t think twice about someone coloring their hair.

However, yes, I now have grave reservations about the care used when undertaking this adventure. Our current AP is not into the changing hair colors, so I get to dodge that bullet for another year. I have made additions to the house rules book and will be adding in about obtaining their own cheap towels to destroy. I do not want to have to paint the bathroom a third time.

PA Au Pair Mom January 19, 2010 at 10:09 am

It just amazed me how someone could be so inconsiderate to not even mention the stains on the wall. If I was a guest at someone’s house and I accidentally damaged something, I would bring it to their attention immediately.

Accidents happen but concealing them or out and out telling lies doesn’t help.

TXMom January 19, 2010 at 10:18 am

We haven’t had many issues with hair dye, but I was completely lost the first time I was asked about “skin whitening lotion.” I don’t think our AP’s have found it in the US drugstores, but they have used it here. It will bleach the sheets, pillow cases and towels. Acne medicine can also bleach the linens. And of course, the handtowels and washclothes are stained with makeup in the AP bathroom. (Mascara and foundation are hard to clean off the walls, too!)
I try to buy one new set of linens per AP before they arrive. I think in the future I will only buy white towels and sheets so they can be bleached. And, I’m going to stock up at White Sales.
(This is a great lesson for me to remember when my kide become teens!)

Carol Former AP July 16, 2010 at 1:43 am

I’m a user of acne medication myself and I’m aware of how it can stain fabrics. When I was an AP I only used light colored pillowcases and towels. My mom only puts white towels in the bathroom for me to use….

Hula Gal January 22, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Our first au pair who never even worked a day for us (she announced the Sunday before her first work day that she didn’t want to be an au pair and wanted to go home) came back from a day of shopping the day before with brown hair. She came to us as a blonde. You can imagine our confusion when she announced the very next day that she wanted to go back home. Maybe she needed to leave Germany so that she could dye her hair. ;-) I really wanted to tell her that she looked much better with blonde hair but I kep my mouth shut. She flew home that following week.

anon February 3, 2010 at 7:53 pm

All 3 of the APs we’ve had have done haircoloring too!! The first 2 were fine, but the last one (who is actually very neat and clean)– man, I sat her down, gave her towels, explained about drips and stains and all the stuff that CV mentioned, and so on and so forth– and we still have stains on the tub & toilet (!!!!) from her hair color sessions. And she does it 3-4 days in a row, to try to get the right color! Don’t know how her hair hasn’t dried up and frizzed yet…

newhostmom June 28, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Our AP and many of her friends have dyed their hair at our house. Actually I have a few times too. Most of the time they didn’t leave any stains, but there have been a few. I feel 100% confident that she’s being as careful as she can, and I’ve taken those few little stains to be in the “normal wear-and-tear” category. Hair dying is so personal and I know many people who dye their hair every couple of months and would feel “wrong” without doing so (because of grays or just not liking their color). Not sure it would be fair to restrict someone from dying their hair for an entire year.

We are definitely not a family that cares at all about tattoos and piercings. Our AP has three tattoos (only one visible). I don’t think it means a thing about her childcare abilities. In fact, I’d say about half of the APs we looked at had a piercing behind a single ear piercing and/or a tattoo of some kind. That would really shrink your pool to eliminate them all.

Va aupair August 1, 2011 at 9:54 pm

well I am an au pair and my host mom paid for my hair… I wanted it purple and she said yeah sure do whatever you want as long as my kids are alive. I drive carefully, I always cook for them and they love my food, I take care them in a responsible way because i love them…I have 4 tatoos and 3 piercing, my hair is purple and it doesn’t make me a bad au pair.. my host family accepts that..even when we were in matching process.

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