Why At-Home Box Color Is A No-No

Have you tried at-home box color on your hair? Thought so. Maybe it was to shake things up and change your look, or maybe it was out of necessity because those grays were really pissing you off and you just didn’t have that salon cash. While that phase may have been fun and easy, it’s time to learn the truth. At-home box color is wreaking havoc on your hair! The truth is, it’s always best to see a professional, especially if you’re making a drastic change. Don’t fret, though. If you don’t have the big bucks, there are some other options you can try.

Here's what you need to know.

Hair color is not “one size fits all”

Box color is not formulated specifically for your hair – it’s formulated with no regard to a person’s current hair situation. This means you can pretty much guarantee you won’t be looking like the front of the box. When a hairdresser mixes color for a client they take several things into consideration: desired color, natural level and underlying pigment, current artificial color and color history, percentage of gray, hair density, hair porosity, skin tone, and overall hair health.

Box color IS permanent

Regardless of how “semi-permanent” the box states it is, it’s not going to fully wash out in a month. The only exception is temporary colors or overtone stains that come in a colorful variety (think Manic Panic, Adore, etc). These colors only stain the hair and usually come out in 1-2 weeks depending on the hair and the color of the stain.

You’re definitely going to end up brassy

The underlying pigments of natural hair are all warm tones like red, orange, and yellow. That means when you lift (aka lighten) the hair it exposes those warm pigments. Because box color is not formulated to cancel out your specific underlying pigments, chances are that your color will end up extremely brassy and warm…maybe even orange. If you have dark hair or a noticeably warm natural color and you want to go lighter with box color, you should plan on being in the orange family. Or budget for paying a professional.

Metallic salts are gonna dry you out

Almost all store bought hair color, including henna, contains metallic salts. Along with making the color “progressive” (meaning it will get darker and darker with each layered application) it will also dry the hair out and leave it frizzy and lackluster. If you’re using box color to cover grays then you’re doing double damage, because grays already have a tendency to be coarse and dry.

Your ends shouldn’t be darker than your roots

Even if you’ve been using the same box of color forever, chances are that your roots and the ends of your hair are two completely different colors. After repeatedly pulling it through to “refresh” your color you’ve accidentally created a gradient effect. Permanent color is not meant to be layered repeatedly because it both lifts and deposits. This drives the color molecules further into the hair which over time dry the hair out and create darker bands of color. Eventually, your chocolate brown will be black on the bottom, and that’s probably not the look you’re going for.

artificial color can’t lift artificial color

If you’ve previously colored your hair and you want to go lighter, a box is not gonna do it. The only non-professional option here is to go darker. Rule #1 in hairdressing is that artificial color cannot lift, or lighten, other artificial color – this goes for henna, too. Going from artificial brunette to red, or any artificial color to blonde, would require bleach and the help of a professional. Slapping whatever color you desire on top will most likely leave you with roots that resemble something close to what you want, and mids and ends that look pretty much the same as they did before. In other words, it's just not a good idea.

You might have done it to save money, but a bad boxed-color dye job could end up costing you hundreds of dollars to fix. 

You might have done it to save money, but a bad boxed-color dye job could end up costing you hundreds of dollars to fix. 

fixing box color or henna will cost you a salon “color correction”

If you’ve been coloring your hair yourself and finally want to hand things over to a professional, plan on throwing down some serious cash (and hours in the chair) for your color correction. The hairdresser won’t be able to know what colors have been layered into your hair, and the formulation of box color and henna are entirely different from professional color. Here’s what this means: sometimes the color is fairly easy to remove, sometimes it’s really really not. It’s important to remember that your hairdresser might not be able to give you exactly what you want in just one visit, especially if you want to keep all the hair on your head. Be patient and ask about the process so you know what to expect.

There may still be an at-home option

While we don’t recommend at-home color for major changes to previously colored hair, or attempting to go blonde, there are options for regular maintenance if you’re just trying to cover grays. A Sally’s Beauty Supply or Ricky’s will have products that don't contain metallic salts and are much better quality than drugstore brands.  You’ll need to find your desired shade (maybe even check out the number on your previous box color, it will look something like 5N). Then find the developer that matches the type and brand of the color you’re buying (ie: Clairol, Semi-Permanent). 20 volume is good for gray coverage. But seriously, for almost all other hair color needs we recommend consulting a professional. You won’t regret it, we promise.

Good hair color is chemistry and art put together! Just remember that most of the time, it’s harder than it looks ;)

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