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Theoretically, What Kind of Hair Dye Would Melt Down Your Face When You’re Sweating?

“I would guess that something like this is the $8 to $15 range.”

Close-up on Rudy Giuliani looking aghast, with hair dye dripping down the side of his face, during a press conference
“If this was something that I suggested or had styled myself, I would want a different outcome,” a Washington stylist told Slate. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

If Seventeen magazine’s Traumarama column did an election-fraud-themed special and opened up submissions to septuagenarians, I feel like Rudy Giuliani would have a shoo-in on his hands: “Today while I was giving my press conference (for this coup thing I’m doing), a creepy black liquid started dripping from my sideburns all down my face. It was soooo embarrassing!”* As much as the spectacle of what was widely understood to be a man’s hair dye melting off of him at the headquarters of the Republican National Committee in Washington captivated the internet Thursday afternoon, no one was quite sure the liquid was actually dye. It certainly didn’t look like any hair dye anyone had ever seen before. To engage in a little informed speculation, Slate called Nicole Wingo of D.C.’s Barber of Hell’s Bottom. Despite having been a practicing barber for 15 years, she was almost as baffled as the rest of us—but she did have some advice for Giuliani and all those dealing with graying manes and sweaty brows. Our conversation has been condensed and edited.

Slate: So have you seen these pictures of Rudy Giuliani yet?

Nicole Wingo: I did actually shortly before you called, just about like 15 or 20 minutes earlier, and I had a little laugh and then went about my day. Are you guys wanting to know a little bit about what could possibly be afoot?

Yes, exactly.

That’s a great question. The hair journey that these guys are on is definitely a wild one. I think something like that is probably the result of a tinted product. I wouldn’t think that that was a demi-permanent or semipermanent color. I would think it’s a topical product, like a pomade or a tinted gel that got really … gooey.

So this is not a product you’re familiar with or use with your clients? Would this be the kind of thing you’d buy at the drugstore?

This is not something that I’ve seen on my clients. The only products I can think of that offer a color payoff in addition to a styling component are gray products that you see at the drugstore or darker gels or pomades. As far as higher-end things go, I don’t know of any topical products that have pigments in them for just like a day on the town, you know? I would guess that something like this is the $8 to $15 range.

Why do you think someone would reach for a product like that rather than a more traditional permanent dye?

The only reason I could think of would be so that you don’t have to bother coloring your hair. You can just do a little bit when you feel like it. And we’re all quarantined now; I know a lot of people are kind of letting their look go, so maybe that’s part of it. Maybe it was just a quick fix.

If Rudy was your client, what would you have suggested to him?

Color is everyone’s own journey, but unless you’re doing something really fun and wild, I think that letting your gray grow out is a great option on a man. Especially if you’re a little bit older, I think it’s totally great. I usually steer people away from color just in terms of gray blending; that’s kind of my aesthetic. If people really are insisting on doing a gray blend, then I usually suggest a semipermanent color because it’s going to fade out over time instead of growing out with visible regrowth. And you don’t have to worry about it melting out of your hair.

How would you feel if you did a client’s hair and then this happened?

If this was something that I suggested or had styled myself, I would want a different outcome. It’d be a really rough day.

I just thought of this, but what if his hairstylist doesn’t like him and this was an act of revenge?

That’s kind of an incredible thought. I hope that they are just like living, laughing, and loving wherever they are today and enjoying having gone viral.

Do you think the issue is that this product just mixes really badly with sweat?

A water-based product could be part of the problem. Usually you want to steer away from a water-based product if you have a tendency to sweat a lot; you want to go with something that’s more of a petroleum base that’s not water-soluble, or even clay bases are a little bit better for that, for sweaty days or summertime.

Why do you think Rudy would care about gray hair so much?

I definitely think there’s a stigma to getting older and maybe not being taken as seriously. But if you’re lucky enough to become an old person, then you should be stoked about it. I’d say let your grays fly free.

And there’s definitely like a bigger stigma to having dye drip down your face.

That’s kind of my thought with letting it be natural, unless you want to do something completely artificial and obvious, which would be really exciting. I think if more straitlaced-leaning professionals were suddenly doing exciting hair color and interesting looks, that would be a thrilling way to live.

Does your shop’s client base tend to lean in any direction politically? Would Rudy be welcomed if he showed up?

We want to promote a city where people can sit side by side and have a great experience, regardless of where they’re coming from in a political or religious or any way like that. Of course, if somebody was egregious in their behavior or not wearing their mask, we would have to say, “Sorry, pal, this isn’t the place for you.” If he wants to come in here and have a great gray-blending experience, we can help him out.

That’s a good point, because also if he’d been wearing a mask during the press conference, the dye might not have gotten all over his face.

It probably wouldn’t have been so obvious. It maybe would have just blended right into the mask.

I think that about covers it. Any parting thoughts?

I would just say maybe consider the humidity where you’re going, and consider the bright lights of the television, and use your product accordingly.

Correction, Nov. 20, 2020: This post originally misspelled the column name Traumarama. (As Traumaramas go, could be worse.)