Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Managing super fine doll hair?

Hubby caught me snapping the photo above this evening in our kitchen and now he wouldn't let me go to sleep until I write my new article :) Luckily for my killer headache, it's going to be a short one. I want to share a little discovery I made while trying to fix Scaris Ghoulia's fried hair that will maybe get us closer to understanding how this hair fiber works.

I'll talk about Ghoulia in a separate post. Long story short, she had a very specific rooting pattern that only went with her original ponytail which I wanted to take down; I thought long and hard how to make the hair work without a ponytail, and opted for curls, but I ran into some trouble. The hair was ultimately destroyed from all the boiling water and I learnt that not all doll hair is the same.

It's difficult to say for sure, as doll manufacturers don't write the composition on the box, but most people distinguish the following hair fibers:

  1. Saran - found on most Mattel dolls. Feels waxy, like fresh corn silk. Examples from my meager collection: playline Barbies, MH Cleo, Frankie, Draculaura, Catty, Rochelle.
  2. Kanekalon - feels dry and papery, some people describe it as "silky". So far I've seen it on MH Spectra and Ghoulia. It's possible other MH have it too, maybe Jane. Can anyone back me up on that?
  3. Nylon - supposedly heavier and more difficult to style with heat. I'm told My Little Pony have nylon hair.
  4. Polypropylene - rougher texture, cheaper (???)
All my dolls except the J-doll and the MH's I mentioned have saran hair. It's quite easy to style with boiling water and looks nice and shiny after the procedure. I have no idea what the J-doll has, it's very coarse fiber but responds to boiling wonderfully. 

Saran hair straightened with boiling water - MH Frankie

The kanekalon haired dolls, on the other hand, remind me of those cellulose sponges that are soft and fluffy while new but once you dunk them in water, they become rock hard. And unlike the sponges that will regain their softness if rehydrated, once kanekalon hair is messed with, it's toast. Of course I, like most doll owners, found that out the hard way. This is what happens when you pour hot water over Ghoulia's head:

Straightened blue/green, untouched purple

If you look closely, the hair appears to have tiny crimps or waves all over. The water wasn't even that hot, because it was my first try. I dismissed it as weird hair gel reaction (the hair was super gelled and difficult to clean). My second Ghoulia had it much worse and that's when alarm bells started ringing. I wisely decided to leave my newly arrived Spectra intact no matter what defects I found in the hairstyle. Meanwhile, I did some online research (always after I screw up! When will I learn?) and found many people with the same problem, as well as the information on hair fibers. Scaris Ghoulia spent many months in drawers until a few weeks ago when I had a lightbulb moment.

The reason kanekalon sounded familiar was that I saw it used to make dreadlock extensions for people. This process ends with dipping the tip of the dread in boiling water and it fuses some of the strands to make a pointy tip that won't come undone. Obviously there are more types of kanekalon, but if the human type melts in hot water, doesn't it make sense that the doll type is also very sensitive to heat? So perhaps I was killing mosquitos with a shotgun when I was giving Ghoulias the same treatment as Draculauras? I did notice that a) the hair reshaped instantly and b) the weight of the water pouring out was enough to deform the curls (while on the curlers, mind you!) in the second I took them from the hot water to the sink. Conclusion: I should try less heat and less weight. What has all that?


It worked. Not only did it set some nice round curls for Ghoulia, it also revealed some smooth shiny strands I hadn't noticed before. Could it...? Did I finally have a cure for Spectra's terrible box hair?

Cautious, I tried it on the other Ghoulia (Roller Maze) first. This is the before shot. It looks pretty bad at the roots:

I didn't take a photo after steaming the hair. All I wanted to check was that it doesn't get worse. I thought I saw some improvement, but I may be biased. Anyway, it convinced me to take a chance with Spectra. This is what she looked like before. Notice the big dent on her right (image left) from packaging ties:

I wrapped the body in a towel and took her over the steam from a boiling kettle. I pulled and smoothed constantly with my fingers, careful to shift position often and not to let the hair touch the kettle. When it was too hot for my hand, I moved the doll further. I didn't risk trying to get stick straight hair. When the dents were mostly gone, I ran some cold water over the head and let it dry. This is the result:

Still shiny, but now dent-free!

There was a small elastic tie in this strand

Spectra has been back on my shelf for about two weeks and the style seems to hold. Most of the time no dents are visible. It's just in the first photo from this post that the unflattering lighting from a LED strip inches away reveals some bumps, but at the same time, you can see how shiny the hair remained! It reflects every bit of light as if I never tampered with it :) The steam method passed with flying colours!

In other news, Scaris Ghoulia's hairstyle is all done. She's gorgeous now, but still nude, so she'll have to wait a little before making an appearance. I'm very excited about finding this fix for the hair instead of giving up and cutting it all away. How do you feel about that? Do you have any damaged kanekalon-haired dolls that you'll try to repair with steam? If yes, let me know how that goes!

The Black Kitty
Meow (^^)~~~


  1. I really like this fix, but I don't know that I would try it because between my sinuses and my accident prone-ness, I'm just asking for trouble.

    1. I understand the feeling. I was quite nervous myself when I was steaming Spectra, and I did melt a few hairs on the kettle. You're welcome to remember me when you find one of these dolls in a thrift store box, cause you have nothing to lose there ;)

  2. I have a Spectra with fried hair too, she's scheduled for rerooting (someday) but I'll try the steam trick on her in the meantime.

    From what I understand, nylon is coarser and fries easier in hot water, but also takes curls etc better (although I haven't done any methodical testing of these claims myself). It's supposed to be more common in older dolls too.

    1. Based on this description, my j-doll could have nylon hair. I wish doll hair had a label with composition and instructions like clothes and plushies, after all it's a textile.

      Good luck with your Spectra! I wouldn't hold high hopes that you can avoid a reroot, but it will be good practice for future, less desperate cases.

  3. Very scientific and therefore excellent! I've had some trouble getting boil perms to work the past few days so it may be time to give steam a go.

    1. Thank you for your comment! You should practice on a strand in the back before frying a whole head like I did (in my defence, I did test a strand - from Draculaura. I didn't think they would be so different). Boil perms are difficult, don't be discouraged if they don't turn out the way you want at once. There's always that one curl that comes loose, that other one with unnatural kinks and a third one that exposes a bald patch. What doll are you using, if you don't mind my asking?

  4. my little ponies use nylon hair

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