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Is Box Dye Really THAT Bad for Your Hair?

We’ve all heard it before at one time or another, from stylists, family, and even our friends: “Don’t ever box dye your hair!” But why? Especially when so many of us have experienced successful results with over-the-counter hair color. The truth is, sure, it worked before, but that doesn’t mean it will work again, or spare you from the damage that box dye leaves behind. Read on for the truth (and consequences) behind boxed hair dye.

A photo of hair dye being applied to someone's hair.
(via Pexels)

Why Is Box Dye so Bad for Your Hair Anyway?

Believe it or not, box dye has been on the rise. Between the past couple years of lockdown, and inflated prices on basically everything, it’s no surprise that people are looking for an affordable, at-home option. The issue here is that box dyes operate as if all hair is the same. The same color, the same texture, the same length—the list goes on. In reality, this just isn’t true. Hair is a rainbow of vast differences and your canvas (the current surface of your hair) determines the type of color you will need, from the overall tone and undertones, to the strength of the dye itself. What this means is that when you apply a box dye, it may or may not work, it may lift you too light, not light enough, or in the worst case, totally fry your mane.

Box dye also doesn’t explain, or adhere to, the rules of hair color. For example, hair color doesn’t lift hair color, only bleach can do that. Let’s say you dyed your hair a nice chestnut brown but wanted to go honey blonde. If you run to the drugstore and grab the lightest box of Clairol or L’Oréal that you can find, that color is only going to work on your outgrowth and barely work on your previously dyed ends, leaving you with two-toned hair and no simple solution in sight.

hand with gloves preparing hair tint - stock photo hand with gloves preparing pink hair tint and pink tiles as surface
(via Getty)

In the worst case scenarios, box dye has unfortunately left some people rather hairless. Due to the chemical nature of hair color, sometimes they don’t mix. This is part of the reason salon stylists will ask detailed questions about your hair color history before performing any service. These questions help you avoid damage and potential color accidents. Certain professional color lines (most, actually) do not mix well with box dye or henna-based dyes. This is due to the metallic salts within over-the-counter hair dye, which can actually cause your locks to smoke, melt, and fall off when professional color is applied on top of it.

While this does sound pretty scary, this outcome can be totally avoided by just being honest. If your stylist asks you if you have used box color in the past, don’t lie, and don’t feel embarrassed. Everyone has used at-home hair color at some point or another so there is no reason for this topic to be so taboo.

Person having hair dye applied to their hair
(via Pixabay)

You Get What You Pay For

The biggest issue with box dye is its unpredictability. A one-size-fits-all approach to hair color just doesn’t work. However, if box dye has never steered you wrong, or you’re planning on trying it out, just remember that you get what you pay for. On average, box dye will cost you about $10 per application which seems like a great deal. The disadvantage here is that you’re only getting one formula out of the box. This means no dimension and no natural blend from root to tip, just one flat-toned hair color (and no, you cannot mix box dyes. Trust me, this is not a good idea and please don’t try it).

As someone who box dyed their hair for many years, only to go on and become a professional stylist, I have to say that in my honest opinion I have seen some beautiful colors come out of a box. But between the damage I did to my own hair with box dye when I was young, and all the color corrections I’ve seen behind the chair, the risk just isn’t worth it. Sure, you may be paying more for an in-salon color service, but you’re also paying for piece of mind and perfectly tailored to you hair color. Box dye won’t kill you, but it could mess your hair up for a long time.

If you still need to box dye your hair, do it safely! HERE’s how to dye your hair at home, according to a professional!



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