Why Do People Use Hair Dye?

Douglas Giles, PhD
5 min readFeb 5, 2021

What are they trying to gain?

Dying one’s hair is changing one’s appearance. Why would someone do that? Is it as simple a matter as changing one’s shirt? What is really going on when people dye their hair?

When we consider what clothing to wear, we consider practical matters and appearance. On the one hand, we wear more or less clothing depending on the temperature and perhaps a raincoat if it is raining. That’s being practical. On the other hand, we wear particular styles and colors of clothing because we want to appear a certain way, even if it is only to please ourselves. So, you wear a coat because it is cold, and you wear a particular style and color of coat because you want to look good.

Our appearance does matter because, right or wrong, people judge us on our appearance. We learn from an early age that, right or wrong, our clothing reflects on us and affects how people react to us. You don’t show up at a job interview or a wedding in a ratty t-shirt. When you go out on the town you “dress to impress.” You present yourself in certain ways to encourage people to think about you in certain ways.

But of course, the question is about using hair dye. Like clothing, when we think about our hair we consider practical matters and appearance. We may choose a particular hair style for purely practical reasons: to keep it out of eyes or make it easy to take care of it. But our hair color has no practical function — it is purely a matter of appearance. Choosing hair color is different than choosing clothing — you only use hair dye if you are trying to present yourself as appearing a certain way.

Understanding this we can then ask what is someone trying to present when they change their hair color? Why are they trying to change how they are judged by others? It’s certainly possible someone dyes their hair a color they like, but we don’t see our own hair that much, so it’s more likely that someone dyes their hair to get others to think and feel about them a certain way. So that’s the full question here — what is someone wanting to get from others by using hair dye?

Central to social life is the need for recognition. In philosophy we talk about two kinds of recognition. One type is about honors and awards — who are the best at something…

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Douglas Giles, PhD

Philosopher by trade & temperament, professor for 21 years, bringing philosophy out of its ivory tower and into everyday life. https://linktr.ee/dgilesphd