How to Restore Vintage Barbies
Because Barbie dolls have been one of the most popular toys for girls since 1959, most vintage dolls that you acquire will be in played-with condition. These dolls will have been well-loved by their young owners, so you will find Barbies with trimmed hair, worn-off makeup, neck splits, and (ugh) the dreaded green ear.
Fortunately, these issues can be fixed! While I recommend turning to a professional restorer for some problems (especially if your doll is valuable), both neck splits and green ear have DIY solutions.
Fixing Barbie's Hair
Early Barbie dolls had ponytails with a hard curl at the end, and creative little girls sometimes wanted to change Barbie's hairstyle. If they tried to comb out the end of the ponytail, they would find that Barbie's beautiful ponytail turned into a mess of hardened glue, with no way to get it back the way it was (sob).
Then they would get a brilliant idea that involved scissors: time to restyle Barbie's hair—snip! Barbie would then have short hair; many times, her hair would end up in a bun or get trimmed shorter and shorter. When the new "bubblecut" Barbie came out in 1962, there were fewer haircuts (unless the owner of the ponytail Barbie tried to make her ponytail into a bubblecut).
Hair Can't Be Regrown, but It Can Be Rerooted
Obviously, Barbie cannot regrow her hair, but there are many talented people who can successfully re-root your doll to her original hairstyle. This is a complicated process, and while there are DIY tutorial videos online, I personally recommend hiring a professional if your doll is vintage. Before you choose a re-rooter, ask them for references.
(If you do decide to try rerooting your doll's hair yourself, maybe work with a throwaway doll first rather than your beloved vintage Barbie!)
Retouching Barbie's Makeup
Worn-off eyelash ridges are common for the early Barbie dolls. Fortunately, these can be touched up fairly easily with black acrylic paint. I have done it several times, and it greatly improves Barbie's look.
However, lips and eyebrows are another thing. It takes a steady hand and some artistic talent to repaint those. (I have an artist friend who makes a stencil to use for painting eyebrows so that they match perfectly!)
Only Use Acrylic Paint
One important tip: Never, never use oil paint or fingernail polish, both of which will totally destroy your doll. Only use acrylic paint since it can be removed if you make a mistake.
Again, I would encourage you to find a professional for this work. Some restorers do both rerooting and retouching for Barbies. And if you want to try it yourself, practice on a less valuable doll first!
Sealing Neck Splits in Barbies
Neck splits can be fixed with super glue since it's slightly flexible. This is a good DIY restoration project, even for a beginner!
- If the doll's head feels cold, warm it up slightly with your hand or a hair dryer because the vinyl can split even more if it's cold. Be very careful, though, as a hair dryer can melt the hair. You may need to wrap the hair in fabric to protect it.
- Remove the doll's head carefully.
- Apply super glue with a toothpick to each side of the split. Hold the neck together until the glue is set.
- After the glue is dry and well-set, very carefully rotate the doll's head back onto the neck with a rolling motion. In other words, don't just shove the head back on the neck, or it could split again!
Cleaning Barbies That Have "Green Ear"
Green ear is caused by a reaction between the vinyl of the doll's head and the metal of her earrings. First, remove the earrings if they're still in her ears! If the green discoloration is extended over a large area, it becomes a nightmare to fix. But if it is just around the ear, you can help it fade or even make it disappear.
There are a few treatments you can try, but never mix them together; you will get a chemical reaction, and the green area may turn brownish or black. Above all, be patient. The treatment may take a month or more.
Some of the treatments are as follows:
- Remove-Zit by Twin Pines
- Tarnex (not recommended)
I have used CLR and Tarnex. I do not advise using Tarnex, as I have had some feedback that the staining may reappear over time. I have never used the Remove-Zit product, but it is sold on the Twin Pines website and includes instructions.
How to Use CLR
Here are the directions for CLR, which I have used successfully.
- Remove Barbie's head carefully.
- Put a little CLR on a Q-Tip, insert it into the doll's head, and clean the interior vinyl in the ear area. (More than likely, your Q-Tip will turn a bit green from the cleaning.)
- Next, clean the exterior vinyl around the ears, being careful not to get any CLR on the doll's lips or eye makeup.
- Break off the end of a toothpick (the pointed type). Tear off a tiny bit of cotton from a Q-Tip or a cotton ball, twist it onto the sharp point of the toothpick, and dip it into the CLR treatment.
- Place this tiny swab in the doll's earring hole, then place the head where it will be safe until the next day.
- Each day, redo this routine, and eventually, you will see the green ear fade. You may have problems keeping the toothpick and cotton in both ears, so you may end up doing one ear at a time.
Good Luck With Your Barbie Restoration!
It can be very rewarding to restore a vintage Barbie doll! I wish you well with your project, and I hope these tips have helped you make your old doll look new again.
Patricia on September 25, 2019:
Where can I get the stencil for eyebrows? Thx
Lanette on August 27, 2014:
The only Barbies I would be concerned about are the Silkstones as they have had problems with ears reacting to the metal.
hayley davis on August 27, 2014:
I collect barbies I don't have any of the old ones most I have are from the 80s 90s and 2000s are the earings safe in them I just got for my birthday a 2001 collector barbie in mint green dress with glitter all over her dress I looked at the earings in her and I don't know if I should take them out I really don't want to open the box what can I do I don't see any green ear I have looked at all my barbies and none of them have green ear at this stage.
I also have a peaches and cream barbie should I take the earings out if her she is the 80s barbie.
I look forward to getting help on this matter.
Gayle on January 25, 2014:
When I had my Patty Play Pal restored I was told to use Ajax with Bleach to get off some pen markings on the side of her face, and I tried it and it worked, but be careful when using it for green ear.
Charlene Zacks on October 10, 2013:
How do you replace missing Barbie fingers?
mika on June 16, 2012:
Latest releases barbies is That problem solved??
Random on May 29, 2012:
Linda you can recolour the lips by either using a q-tip and nailpolish remover or just paint on top of the original (easier because you still keep the outline ) use acrylic paint ONLY and to make it last get an acrylic varnish/cover/stuff.
Anne you can do rerooting yourself it's not that hard and it's probably cheaper but you would want to practice multiple times before working on a vintage doll just to make sure you don't ruin her hair.
anne on July 01, 2011:
hello.i would like to know where to go to have someone reroot my daughter's barbie's hair.she wants it a different color and length. thanks!
Lolaxs on April 02, 2011:
I agreee, DO NOT USE TARNEX, it does NOT at all help with green ears and it severly damages the vinyl (leaves brown stains).
pacificnorthwest on January 29, 2010:
DO NOT USE TARNEX ON YOUR BARBIE DOLL'S GREEN EARS. IT WILL TURN DARKBROWN OVER SHORT TIME AND WILL STAY THAT WAY
bayareagreatthing from Bay Area California on September 23, 2009:
I wish I still had my vintage barbies!
Melissa on August 16, 2009:
How can I replace.repair a missing pinky finger on a vintage #4 barbie doll?
Linda on June 27, 2009:
Could you please tell me how you recolour the lips
Bonnie on May 11, 2009:
Thanks for the great help!
anitak from Pittsburgh, PA on April 28, 2009:
Love Barbie and love your ideas on restoring the vintage dolls. Makes me so sad to think I didn't save mine. I still remember her dream house and my little pink carrying case :(