Extreme Barbie Makeover

Last summer, a friend of mine went on what she called "The great Barbie Hunt." She scoured thrift stores and garage and yard sales for as many Barbies and clothes as she could find. Every time she picked up a bedraggled Barbie, I thought to myself "What the heck she is going to do with that? She is fifty years old, she's going to play with Barbies now?"


Well, the summer passed and she had collected about 25 Barbies. About two weeks ago, she called me up and asked me to come by so I could see what she had done with her poor neglected and abused Barbies. There they were all sitting on her table and you would not believe how beautiful they were. She was going to throw a Barbie birthday party for her granddaughter and wanted each girl to have a special Barbie to remember the party with and to also use as decorations. Barbies can be very expensive, as anyone with a little girl well knows. So this is why she had so diligently collected Barbies all summer. I just had to figure out how she had done it. She was very gracious and gave me all the directions on how to do a Barbie Extreme Makeover and I thought I would share her instructions with you.


In this article, I will try and give you instructions with pictures for giving an old Barbie that you have bought at a thrift store a new makeover. Believe it or not it is not as hard as you would think. There are many people out there that take old Barbie's and remake them into beautiful dolls that Mattel has yet to think of. Think of yourself as a designer. You can cut uneven hair and style it anyway you want. The tools you will need are things you probably have around your house.

I am going to tell you how to fix up the most abused Barbie that you can find, but when I went to the thrift store yesterday to buy Barbies for this article I, believe it or not, could not find one that was totally messed up. So I bought some that the hair needed re- curling and some that needed their hair trimmed to make them beautiful once again. Since I have no little girls, I plan on donating the dolls to a local charity that will find them new Christmas homes. I hope this might inspire some of you to do this too. This would be a great community service project for Girl Scouts or church youth group. The Barbies look brand new when you are finished and any Christmas charity would be glad to have them.



  • Barbie
  • Barbie clothes


  • cheap shampoo
  • conditioner or fabric softener
  • a Barbie brush or a baby brush
  • a wide tooth comb with a pick on the end
  • some straws cut into pieces for curlers*
  • bobby pins
  • small rubber bands (the kind used for braiding, clear pony tail holders or orthodontic bands from braces)
  • a bowl
  • a pot
  • water
  • all purpose cleaner or Windex
  • soft toothbrush
  • non scratch scrubber
  • Goo Gone
  • emery board

*You will need the thick straws like you get with a fountain drink from the 7-11, small drinking straws you can buy at the grocery or perm rods (the smallest that they make).

Time to Complete: 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on condition of Barbie


You will need to find a Barbie with arms and legs in good condition. Most thrift stores just trash the really damaged Barbies so this should not be to hard to find. First, clean her body with warm water and all purpose cleaner. If she has been colored on, use the Goo Gone and the scrubber, it should remove crayon and ink and marker. Use the soft toothbrush to get into small crevices and grooves. Dry well. If you find small pin holes in parts of the bodies, these can be gently sanded with an emery board. If your thrift store sells really damaged Barbies, you can buy two and use the parts from one to fix the other. Just heat the vinyl gently with a hair dryer to soften it and you should be able to pull off arms and legs and reattach to the other Barbie, but you need to make sure you have the same body type on both.


Now on to the hair. Cut your straws into curlers that are about three quarters of an inch long. Lay out your bobby pins. Put a pot on the stove with water in it and bring it to a boil. Turn down to simmer while you get Barbie ready. Make a glass of ice water too. Most of the new Barbies' hair is made of out of nylon and other synthetic materials. Vintage Barbies have other types of hair, but these methods should work on most Barbies.

With your shampoo, clean your doll's hair. Put the shampoo on your hand and, working from the top of the head to the bottom, push the shampoo gently through the hair. You CANNOT shampoo like you would your little girl as this will add more mats to the hair. Repeat as necessary. Some hair may need two washings to come clean. Be sure to rinse very well. You should now have a shining head of hair. Apply conditioner to the doll's head. For extremely matted hair, you may have to soak the hair in fabric softener for a little while. With your small comb starting at the bottom, work your way up the dolls head, detangling as you go. Be patient. The slower you go, the better. A rat tail comb (comb with a long handle) or a teasing comb can really help break up those stubborn mats. Once you have all the mats out, rinse hair out thoroughly and pat hair dry. Check the length on your hair, you may find that you want to trim her hair before you style it. Trim only those stray hairs that are longer that the others. When trimming, lay Barbie on a table, fan out her hair this way to get a nice even cut. You don't want to cut her hair by holding it between your fingers because this will cause stretching and it will come out shorter than you want. Layers in her hair make for much fuller curled hair styles so unless you want just a curled pony tail, don't cut it all one length. Washing and cutting hair.

Now you are ready to style Miss Barbie. The easiest style is a curled ponytail. I found clear hair pony tail bands at Walgreen's very inexpensively. Smooth Barbie's hair into a ponytail. Now roll small sections of the hair onto the straws keeping hair smooth around the straw. Secure with a bobby pin. Continue until all hair is on straws. Now comes the fun part. Holding Barbie firmly by her body, pour the boiling water over the curlers, making sure you get them very wet. Follow immediately with the cold water. Because Barbie's hair is made of nylon, you are heating up the nylon and then cooling it to set the curl. Personally, I found out that my tap water from my sink was hot enough to do the job. Taking a towel, pat the hair gently. You don't want to move the curlers, just pat enough to remove excess water. I used a vase that was long enough to stick Barbie in to let her hair dry. Depending on the hair, it can take up to twelve hours to dry. Just keep checking it. When it is almost completely dry, you can blow dry it for a couple of seconds with a blow dryer. This seems to help set the curls also. Not too close and not too long as you don't want to melt the hair. Wetting rolled hair and drying with doll in vase..

When the hair is completely dry, take out the curlers and fluff the curls. If you like how tight the curls are, leave them as is. A few of the Barbies that I bought had fancy bangs that were in good shape so I protected these by covering them with Saran wrap and a bobby pin and then just curled the back. One had fancy waves on the front pulled back into a pony tail. I just pulled it forward out of the way and curled the back and then pulled the pony tail forward to curl it and was very careful not to get any of the hot water on the fancy waves near her face. You can fix weird bangs using a pipe cleaner wrapped around the head to hold them down in place after you have washed the hair and before you roll the hair on straw curlers. Just make sure they get hit with the hot and cold water too. Other hair styles can be done by pin curling all of her hair with bobby pins. This method makes for some s-shaped waves or, if you have the patience, you can braid tiny sections and hold the ends with bobby pins and you will get a kinky effect. For a spiral hair do, set the hair on rollers held vertically. Just remember that you will still need to do the hot- cold treatment to make this set. Now you are all set to decorate your Barbie. You can add ribbons to her hair and, if the doll is going to an older child, you can even do up-do's held in place with T-pins. Small wired flowers can be added by winding the wire tightly around her hair or can be tucked into the elastic bands. The idea here is to have fun. If you mess up the first time, oh well, just try again. Hot water will release the curl so you can do it again.


Some dollar stores sell fashion doll clothes for $1.00 a piece or, if you are really crafty and can sew, you can make your own. You can crochet or knit outfits for them too. My favorite thrifty store, ARC, sells bags of Barbie's clothes for around $5.00, but I wait until they have a 50% off sale. There are about 10 good outfits in each bag with a lot of accessories too. Also old Barbie clothes can be washed and repaired and redecorated with silk flowers, gems, and beads. The yarn called "Fun Fur" can be crocheted into fancy collars for worn ball dresses or you could sew on some of the wired ribbon for a collar that you can ruffle.

Barbie hair after styling.
December 10, 20070 found this helpful

what a great idea and pictures and explanation for all. thank you. for the clothes for them, i make and sell the all popular pillowcase dresses. and those would be simple clothing ideas for them. either in dresses lenght of top lenghts. thanks

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December 11, 20070 found this helpful

I redo Barbies also for charities. I do thank you alot the curling hair tip. Most of mine luckily I've been able to wash and redo in a ponytail and some I like to pull the top half back and clip with a tiny barret. The organization I work with loves them for the little girls. I like to put mine in ball gowns which I make. They are fun to do and so pretty when finished. I can't get shoes in the store anymore so I go to EBay and get them.

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December 11, 20070 found this helpful

awwwwwwww! this is soooooooooo wonderful! ..... the last time i got some old barbies at the Goodwill store, we dressed them (theyre all naked there) in cheap clothes. Then my neieces nephew and I made boats and floated em down the river....... unfortunately our river ( the Saint Joseph River in South Bend ) kinda has rapids and they all ended up getting away...-- but not too quickly, we ran with em on long strings quite a while! I hope some girls eventually found them in Michigan LOL! But this sounds like SUCH a sweet project, and you really gave great details about how to deal with the hair and marks on the bodys! THIS IS GREAT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (SMILES)

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December 11, 20070 found this helpful


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December 12, 20070 found this helpful

They look brand new! Good job! Thank you for the excellent pics. What a lucky little girl to be invited to that party.

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December 12, 20070 found this helpful

What a great recycling idea! Whether you donate the fixed dolls or fix your own children's dolls, you are helping the earth and saving money. A fixed Barbie prevents you from having to buy a new one! Giving an "extreme makeover" to your daughter's Barbie, with her help, will teach her how to care for her belongings or help her build a community spirit when donating fixed dolls. Great post!

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December 12, 20070 found this helpful

What a great Idea. Just love it when we take things fix up and redo. Keep up the good work.

rosemary in Ohio

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December 12, 20070 found this helpful

How neat and fun! My daughter and I had to try this today. We cleaned up some of her old barbies and had a lot of fun doing it. We are waiting for their hair to dry as week speak! It made for some good quality time. We even talked about fixing some up for shelters and things like that. Thank you!

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December 15, 20070 found this helpful

Great advice for the six old Barbies I've needed to help and perhaps sell? God bless you. : )

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April 11, 20080 found this helpful

hey! ur all wonderful!

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September 19, 20080 found this helpful

I love this! I could never throw away a barbie and i am 21 years old!

I seen my sister curling her barbies hair with damp ciggrates butts and bobbie pins to hold when I was like 7 she was probally like 23 . Now she is in Heaven, but here can see what she was doing wasn't that crazy. lol. shaping plastic hair.

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September 24, 20080 found this helpful

Thank You so much for sharing this information! I'm putting it to good use and so are others, keeping unloved Barbie dolls from ending up in landfills!

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December 22, 20080 found this helpful

I like the story so much!

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July 31, 20090 found this helpful

I just picked up five used Barbie dolls at a thrift store and they're in great shape as well. I hope to fix their hair and use them for dolls cakes. Even adult women love Barbie doll cakes. Thank for you post.

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December 3, 20100 found this helpful

Amazing! Great work! It works so well. Where are ARC's located?

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