Saturday, December 3, 2011

Before and After: Head Shrinking

Using acetone nail polish remover I've made many attempts at reducing vinyl doll heads.  I've tried it on Barbie, Liv and Monster dolls.  I've used Walmart, Walgreens and Target brand polish removers.  I've fiddled with soaking times and drying locations.  All in all, it's a smelly process with varying degrees of success.


I've shrunk two of the Desiree molds (Fashionista and I Can Be) and both reduced to the exact measurement each time.


I used thread to secure the hair from floating around as I thought a rubber band might turn to mush and get stuck in her hair.  Then I poured the bottle of remover into a clean pickle jar.  Using tongs, place the head into the jar, making sure to hold it until the neck hole fills with liquid which makes the head stay down and not float.  Cap the jar and let sit at least 36 hours.

I do not rinse the head with water when I pull it out.  I just pat it dry, being very careful not to touch the face paint.  I try to time it so that I sit the head outside for at least 5-8 daylight hours, but not in direct sunlight!  I've never done this during cold weather so I don't know what effect that might have.

Once I bring it inside (sometimes I leave it out all night), I wash the hair and put conditioner in it for about 15 minutes.  I still don't rinse off the face though.  You could probably skip this step but I have a problem with the odor so I want it gone soon as possible.  After 8 hours it's reduced as much as it's going to for this first time.  If you want to try to make it smaller, dip it again for another 36 hours, but I would do it in a fresh solution.  Double dipping or using the same solution for multiple heads doesn't seem to work.


I've had success with multiple dunkings of a LIV head.  The circumference of the original head was 5.50".  The first dip reduced it to 5.38" and the second to 5.18".  However, there is only so much give in the vinyl.  I don't think you can make a LIV head Barbie sized ('least I haven't tried it). One dip of my Monster head reduced it from 5.28" to 5.00".  I didn't dip it again because I liked the proportions it had on the Fashionista body.

You have about 48 hours from when you start the drying process before the head begins to harden.  Once it's completely hard (after 4 days tops), that's it.  You can't shrink it again, reroot it, reinsert eyes or remove it from the body you've placed it on.

Things I learned the hard way:
  • Don't put the head on the body until it has dried for at least 8 hours.  If you put it on before it has enough drying time, it will eat the top of the neck hole and make it mushy.
  • Take the eyes out of a LIV head before reducing or they will melt into goo!
  • Use fine sandpaper to contour a face after it hardens, not your Dremel.  Otherwise, you'll get groves instead of a smooth finish (see photo above).
  • Don't bother with the Target brand remover.  It's not effective at all.  I have found that I prefer to use Walgreens "Studio35" brand.  It's the purple colored one and comes in 8 and 10 ounces.
EDITED TO ADD:

Check out this Dec 2012 post, "Fun and Failure with Acetone" for more info on shrinking doll heads.

42 comments:

  1. Wow, this amazing! Thanks for sharing.

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  2. You're welcome, Georgia Girl. Thanks for commenting. :)

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  3. Cool, thanks for the thorough walk through. :) I wondered if you used acetone, but the face paint still looked so perfect, I thought maybe you had a new technique! Haven't been ballsy enough to try this yet, lol. One day!

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  4. Hey Smidge Girl. No new technique. As long as you don't smudge it before it dries, the face paint wont be disturbed.

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  5. wow that is totally cool. Thanks for the walk thru with clear pictures. I might have to try this one :) especially with those big headed fashionistas lol

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  6. You're welcome, Chynadoll :) Hope your head shrink adventures are a success.

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  7. I tried this with zero success using watered down straight acetone. Next time I'll just buy the walgreens stuff. Thanks for the detailed post:D

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  8. Miss Lola, I've never used straight acetone. I'm smell sensitive so I have to be careful with what I experiment with. Hope you have success with the Walgreens brand.

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  9. Wow! I didn't see this before. I was think about doing a head. I will post my results when I do.

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  10. Good luck on shrinking your head, Ms. Leo!

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  11. Thanks for sharing this information and the results, Hey, It's Muff.

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  12. I always use the hardware section acetone and just add some water. If you want to soften the head to reform it or remove it a heating pad works well. I have never soaked longer than ten hours. And most of my heads remain still soft but noticeably smaller.

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    1. Stewie, thanks for these tips. I'll look for some pure acetone and try some experiments with it.

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  13. hey Muff thanks for the amazing tips after being afraid for months to try shrink a Barbie head I finally went through. I used a Generation girl Fashionistas head i let it soak in the jar for 24 hours only after taking it out i left it dry i did not see any changes her head was twice as big but this morning to my surprise I could believe it the head was the size of the regular Barbies her face paint and hair was intact but the only problem I have is that the hair became big frisky .The doll had fiber hair not silky hair so i think thats the problem do you have any solutions for this? to minimize the damage on the fiber hairs? I might have get her reroot otherwise i did wash it hot water and fabric softener it looks better be not as before

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    1. Hello, Mr. Austin. ^_^ Take this for what it's worth, because I am by no means an expert on doll hair or its types. I would not have washed it with hot water. Heat sets sythetic hair so I would only apply heat if I was trying to put it in style.

      To correct the frizz I would wet the hair with cool water and then use a towel to pat out the excess water. Apply any type of conditioner and gently comb it through. Leave the conditioner in for at least 15 minutes and be sure not to get any conditioner on the dolls face paint.

      Rinse out the conditioner with cool water by gently using just your fingers. Once it is all out, you can pull a comb through the hair while it is running under cool water. Hopefully, now, it appears a lot silkier. Pat it with a towel and let it air dry. DO NOT blow dry it, not even with a cool setting.

      Once the hair is completely dry, you can style it as usual and then even apply a heat setting if you want to. I would NOT put shampoo in it again though unless you applied some type of gel in it as part of a style.

      I hope this helps. If it doesn't, let's just pretend we didn't have this conversation, lol.

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  14. Hey Muff thanks for the advice but when you shrink dolls with fiber hair it will damage the hair,dolls with silky hair won t have problems that type of hair is more durable then fiber I wish mattel stop making dolls with fiber hair. I shrink the new Fashionistas Raquelle and Fashionistas Cutie without any problems they came out perfect.Fashionistas wild Barbie and fashion Fever Drew were not so lucky. I know a person who is going to reroot them for me so I am not so worried about it. Everybody just be carefull when shrinking a doll remember if she has fiber hair it will get big and frizzy. here is a link to see some pictures of the dolls I did Raquelle still head still looks a little big but she is much smaller now and looking perfect.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/14625360@N02/7317103272/

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    1. Thanks for that heads up Steve!

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  15. hey Muff its me again been shrinking heads all this weekend I was not so lucky with fashion fever Drew and Desiree. Drew shrink a little bit but Desiree went to her original size :( her head is still big anything you can recomend?

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    1. Hiya, Steve. You can always dip them again, but I wouldn't use the same solution twice. Are you putting them outside in daylight to dry? I do this as it seems to help the acetone evaporate faster. I cant prove that of course but I still do it.

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  16. What a helpful tutorial! I will try to shrink a My Scene head using this method :) Thank you for sharing information!

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    1. Glad you like it, Stary_Zgred! I hope you achieve awesome results. I have 2 My Scene heads but I have not tried to shrink them yet. If you do, I hope you post some pics!

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  17. Thank you so much for this! :)It's amazing! :)

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    1. Magdalena, you are very welcome! ^_^

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  18. Fascinating! What happens to the neck hole? Does it shrink to?

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    1. Hi, Bree! Yes, the neck hole does shrink as well. That's why once you've let it dry for a few hours you have to go ahead and put it on the doll. However, once you've done that you cant remove it again. Some say that you can heat the head with a blow dryer and then you'll stretch it enough to be able to take it off. I've never tried that though.

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  19. Hey Muff, I'm about to attempt this right now with one of those big Headed Oz dolls. Question: When you're soaking the heads, do you keep the lid off, just sit it on there without screwing it down? Are the fumes horrible? I'm in a basement with little ventilation. Wondering if I should leave the jar outside...

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    1. Vita, if you can't screw the top on then I would cover it with plastic and a rubber band and sit that sucker outside. I'm extremely sensitive to smells, but even if I wasn't, I would not allow those fumes to permeate in an enclosed space. Even if you are used to the odor of nail remover, it's a bad idea to not have a top screwed on.

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  20. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. "Soaking" in acetone will not remove a stain. If you have a mark on the immediate surface of the vinyl you can try wiping it with acetone (100% pure or nail polish). If it doesn't come off after a few swipes, then it's not going to through acetone use.

      Supposedly (because I've never tried it), for a deep stain you might want to try Oxy 10 acne cream - or any other brand cream that contains at least 10% Benzoyl Peroxide. Apply it to the spot and put the doll outside for a few hours or under a bulb and repeat until the mark fades. Again - supposedly that works.

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  21. Thanks for the tip! I tried my Oz head. I think it shrunk a little, but it also removed all pink pigment on his makeup, or turned it yellow.

    I'm not that worried, since he was just a trial doll, and I can repaint him, but thought I'd share.

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    1. Hiya, Holly! I don't have an Oz head nor have I tried to reduce any Disney dolls yet, so I'm not familiar with what happens to their vinyl when put in acetone, so thanks for sharing that and I'll watch for it in the future!

      I did an update of sorts on using pure acetone and how it shrinks, but I actually don't recommend using it.

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    2. It did shrink though! Here's a link to my Flickr where I post some before and afters. :)

      Also, his head is still pliable. So I might shrink again and hope to get it even smaller.

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/69271382@N05/9794292175/in/photostream/

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    3. Thanks for the photo updates, Holly!

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  22. I'd heard rumors you could shrink heads, but I doubted. I doubted hard. Now my mind is blown and my grocery list has "acetone" at the top of it!

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    1. Nice to meet you, Tina! The dolly world is a strange and fascinating place. Me and my experiments fit right in. ^__^

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  23. I shrunk some dolls with acetone see my link http://www.flickr.com/photos/14625360@N02/10232857945/in/photolist-gAf5ag-gAf7jr-fkR3VE-9zd3er-8yC7ts-fkR1YC-fjKS4X-fkR3BG-fkR2Wq-fk7VD1

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    1. Thanks for the photo update, Steve. I remember last time you got some hair damage, but these look fine and the makeup okay too.

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  24. Hey, just a question about the skin tone, when i saw the live head i noticed the shrunken one was a bit tanner than the original, does that happen to all of the heads when they shrank or just this one?

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    1. Male, those are 2 different Liv versions. The lighter skin toned doll is Moonlight Dance Alexis and the darker one is Making Waves Alexis. I have yet to have a change in skin tone when shrinking heads - or not so much that I actually noticed that it happened.

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  25. I have a question why can't you remove the head again or reroot it or anything. Does it turn to stone or something lol im just curious because im thinking about trying it and was wondering why after 4 days that you can't remove the head and stuff.

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    1. Unknown, all heads don't shrink/harden in the same amount of time it depends on the heads size. Some heads will start to or may completely harden around day 4 making it extremely difficult to remove the head from its knob or stick a needle through it. Once it does harden completely, yes, it's pretty much the consistency of a stone. What was once soft and malleable is now a hard, solid head. Some people have commented that you can blow dry heat on the head for a little while to soften it a bit, but I've never tried it.

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