Straightening and perming Barbie hair

In the following you will be instructed on how to restore a second hand MODERN Barbie into her former glory without complicated methods. This is simple and safe way to do it – provided that you have a Mattel made genuine Barbie-doll made after the year 1973, as this tutorial doesn’t refer to other fashion dolls nor vintage Barbie. If you suspect that your Barbie doll could be older than that, do not go ahead with this. The number 1966 in the dolls back does NOT refer to a manufacturing year, but can be found on dolls made in the late 70’s up to early 2000’s. It is safe to use this tutorial on both collector and playline Barbie dolls.

You will need – A Barbie-doll with a full set of hair. (Of course, if it’s your own beloved doll it’s worth fixing even if she was half bald.)
– Shampoo, liquid soap or dish-washing liquid.
– Detangling spray (for dogs for example) or hair conditioner.
– Preferably a metal comb (for cats or dogs).
– Long stemmed eyelash comb, preferably one-piece one, that has the stem formed of the same plastic as the comb part. Multi-part combs can break into pieces in hot water. OR a full-size flea comb if you can find one – better than an eye lash comb but harder to find in some areas that don’t really have fleas!
– Nail polish remover, preferably non-acetone one, for removing stains from neck down. (Don’t touch the face, it might remove the paint.)
– A plate or another shallow dish. For a very long haired Barbie, the bathroom floor (drained) might be best.
– Boiling hot water (if your house doesn’t have thermostats, you can probably do with the hot tap water.)
– Optional: light, preferably spray-on hand cream / body lotion.

  1. First off; wash the Barbie. Use water, shampoo or other liquid soap.
  2. Try to remove the stains with the nail polish remover. This is usually helpful with the body, but don’t touch the face. BE AWARE! Pure acetone can melt the hard plastic parts of the body and WILL remove the paint on your dolls face.
  3. When the doll is clean, it’s time to detangle the hair. Soak the hair in hair conditioner or detangling spray and carefully start detangling it. Begin by using your fingers. Star combing from the ends first; Take a strong hold of the full hair and go through the ends first working your way up towards the scalp. Be careful not to pull the hair off the scalp. Move upwards until your comb goes through the hair with moderate ease.
  4. Even though the hair is now free of tangles, it’s still fluffy. It is time to straighten it out. Boil some water (water boiler is hot enough) and begin by pouring the water on the dolls head. Comb carefully and be careful not to burn your fingers! Pour the water onto a big shallow plate and lay the doll on the plate. Continue combing the hair on the plate, and once your metallic comb goes through without difficulty, change into the eyelash comb. Soon the hair will shimmer in the water like it was brand new. (When the water cools off, change as often as necessary.)
  5. When the hair is straight, you will have to set it. (You can use your own creativity here of course, but this is one way to do it: ) Turn the Barbie face down into the water with her feet away from you. Comb the hair straight (from her point of view straight upwards.) Little by little lift the Barbie onto her head and down on her hair while combing the hair as you do it. This way you will set the hair in her neck into a more natural position, especially if she’s had a ponytail for the last 10 years this is important. You can also use a long spike comb here or other spike (rerooting needle) to push the neck hair closer to the neck.
  6. When the hair is straight, you can set it with the water as well. If you are lucky enough to own a steam cleaner, you can use that. You can now let the hair dry off or continue on to curl it. If you want to keep it straight but find it static, you can use some hand cream or body lotion to set it a bit. Use only a little, for example, rub it into your hands and before it fully absorbs into your hands run your hands on her hair.Now you have a clean straight haired Barbie, and you can decide on what to do next.

Boil perm for Barbie You will need:

  • Bendable hair curlers cut in 4 pieces. (Use the cheapo ones.)
  • Boiling water
  • Pot to boil the water in
  • A mug

If you want to curl your Barbie’s hair, it is easiest if you have straightened it first. (Instructions above.)

Do the curling normally on damp or dry hair. Pay attention to which way you are curling, and imagine how you will set it later on if the curl starts “on the wrong foot”. You can also use perm paper or similar, but it’s up to you if you want to.

Boil some water on the stove into as hot as possible. Dunk the head into it, but don’t let her sink into the bottom so it won’t melt! Hold her in the pot for some time, then pour the boiling water into a mug. Leave the dog standing in the mug with her feet up until the water cools down. The hair will curl with less time but tends to loose the curl in some time.

Take the doll out of the water and let it dry. DO NOT USE A BLOW DRYER, no matter how impatient you are, it can spoil your doll’s hair for good.

When the hair is dry, take the curlers out and try to figure out a way to style the hair beautifully. (It’s difficult to give a general advice.) You could use a hair band, banana, ponytail, hat etc. Use a spike of some sort to open the curls, sometimes brushing is good, but the brush can turn the hair into a big friss. If you brush, it’s good to use both hands and brush the whole hair at once.

So how about that?


Straightening before and after photos:
Barbie with incredibly badly matted hair. (I found pins and cable ties stuck in there!)

Barbie after the hair is detangled but not straightened. (Opted out to do a dry detangle here.)

Barbie after being washed, combed, boiled, dried and restyled.

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23 Comments on "Straightening and perming Barbie hair"

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Brilliant! Used this to restore our class Barbies rather than bin them! They look like new, can’t wait for the girls to see them tomorrow!


Fantastic! Can’t wait to get at all the tatty head barbies.

Honey Rose

Oh my goodness I can’t thank you enough! My daughter loves her “new” Barbie’s!


😀 That’s awesome. 🙂

vicki s

Please, how about a tutorial how you did that beautiful braided hair style in the picture?


Sorry for the late reply; it’s actually really simple: Braid the hair as normal, then tie the braid into a knot. That’s all. 🙂 Needs a doll with a long or a thin hair, otherwise the knot won’t stay or needs to be secured somehow, but long haired dolls don’t need even a pin.


Wow just tried on some dolls I found online worked like magic they look great 😊


[…] This tutorial will bring new life to your favorite Barbie. Check it out here. […]


Thanks so much for this! Tried it with some of my childhood barbies and they came out beautifully 🙂


does shampoo work on original 1960 barbie with flocked center – hair is rooted only around the edges.

Jarne D

I sure hope Denise hasn’t done anything to her doll. Denise: either have a “professional” clean your doll, or leave it as is and sell it to someone else. Your doll is either a #1, #2, #3, or #4 ponytail, and is NOT an appropriate doll to “experiment” on.


I would LOVE to see a video of how you straighten the hair. I buy Barbies at the thrift store and give the to the children’s toy drive at xmas. Some of the dolls hair looks beyond repair and this is a perfect way to make them look great again.
THANKS for your fabulous help!


Why is it the “before” pic Barbie has jet black hair, and the “after” pic medium brown hair? Possibly because the pictures are not of the same Barbie….

Jarne D

People are so cynical. It’s Jewel Hair Mermaid Teresa, and it definitely IS the same doll. LOL

Jarne D

I’m really glad that you said not to do this on older dolls! But I would add one thing—NEVER use acetone on ANY part of a doll’s body. It doesn’t “remove stains”, it removes layers of plastic by melting it. If it gets on any parts other than the head, it WILL melt the plastic and can permanently ruin it. A well-known Barbie “expert” has told people in the past to use acetone to clean bendable legs; DO NOT DO IT!!!

Dedicated server

How to remove permanent marker from a doll #39;s face — another site also adds denatured alcohol and goof off to the list of cleaners, but they might be too harsh for the doll #39;s face.