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Why You Should Never Box-Dye Your Hair at Home

So we’ve all been in a pinch before and considered it, asking ourselves the question “should I just dye it myself?” For a lot of us, grabbing a box of dye at our local CVS or Walmart was a routine for a part of our lives. Referring to the photo on the box and the hair swatch attached to the rack, we’d pick between Peanut Butter Chocolate or Dark Mahogany Brown or sometimes switch it up and go with a Rich Auburn.

We would go into our self-care dye job with high hopes, at most accomplishing our goal of coverage but never exactly matching the shade promised on the box. For the unlucky few of us who decided to try at-home highlights or to change our box-dye brown to brilliant blonde, well - we don’t have to dig up those memories.

Apart from some color mishaps and blotchy highlights, we’ve also heard in recent years about just how bad box dye can be for your hair. In this article, we’ll dive into the science behind box dye and provide information on what you should know before your next drug store run!

What is box dye?

Box dye, also known as home hair color or box color, is an at-home hair coloring kit that can be found for $5-$20 at your local pharmacy or grocery store. It typically comes with instructions, a pair of plastic or rubber gloves, pre-measured ingredients and an application bottle. There are dozens if not hundreds of colors to choose from with fun and fancy names, all showcasing a model on the front with the desired color. Box dye typically has a scale on the side or back of the box, showing how the dye may look on lighter or darker hair.

How does box dye work?

Because this is a commercial product, the dye must work for any and all hair types. This results in higher-concentrated dye that will offer varying results depending on your specific hair composition. So the formula remains the same no matter how thick, thin, coarse, dark, light, color-treated or damaged your hair is.

The instructions will prompt you to don your gloves and mix your ingredients in the applicator bottle, shaking vigorously until fully mixed. Then, you’ll likely be instructed to part your hair into sections and begin applying the dye, root to tip. Once you think you’re fully covered (or you’re out of dye, depending on how much hair you have) then comes the fun part; how long to leave it on? Most instructions will give a range of time to leave the dye on between 15-25 minutes, allowing you to assess the changing color and play hair roulette. After that, you’ll be instructed to rinse hair thoroughly, air-drying or blow drying your locks to see your final hair color.

Why is box dye bad for my hair?

If you were wondering why hair color is so cheap (besides the game of roulette you’ll play when dying your hair), it is because box dye typically contains low quality dyes, chemicals, and additives to make this possible.

The strong, chemically smell comes from ingredients like ammonia, metallic salts, PPDs, alcohol and more. Chemicals used to clean your bathroom or disinfect your counters, but instead on your scalp.

Thanks to the harsh nature of these chemicals and the one-size-fits-all solution, box dye does not simply glaze your hair as it may promise but instead permanently alters each hair strand. The pigment of your hair will never be the same, meaning that once you box-dye your hair, it will change your hair strands texture, composition, and color until that hair has fully grown out and been cut off.

Furthermore, box dyes are considered progressive. Meaning if you want to simply cover your roots but figure you can apply the dye to your full head, you’ll end up with different colors and compositions from your roots to your tips.

What about at-home hair lightening?

We’re shaking off a shudder as we answer this one, since at home lightening is one of the riskiest things you can do. While box dyes permanently alter your hair composition no matter if you’re lightening or darkening your hair, lightening, or “lifting” is more damaging as you strip away natural pigments and leave hair strands vulnerable and brittle.

There is an exact science to lifting hair that requires an understanding of what to do depending on your specific hair composition, history, color goals and more. To use box-dye to lighten hair is a dangerous game without this understanding, and can leave hair brittle, broken, or with the wrong color (especially if you’re trying to lighten pre-dyed hair).

What is different about in-salon dye?

There are a few things that make professional hair color a better option when it comes to changing your hair. Professional hair color has been formulated with the integrity of your hair in mind, meaning in most salons today there are no dyes containing the same harsh chemicals found in box dyes.

Second, given what we’ve covered around how risky at-home color can be, it’s best to have a professional who has had extensive training and experience select the right color and time combination for your desired look and specific hair composition. You’ll also be able to inform your style of your hair history, which may alter their plans for how they approach your color.

Lastly, there may come a time when you come into the salon with hair goals that your stylist may need multiple appointments to achieve. Check out this article if you’re considering going blonde to understand why it’s important to take the time needed to accomplish your hair goals.

Bottom Line

For many of us, our hair is a staple part of how we express ourselves. When it comes to coloring your hair, we always recommend coming into the salon for a professional treatment. Not only are you unlikely to achieve your hair goals with box dye, but you’ll also find it’s much more costly to fix a box-dye job than it is to visit a salon.

As seasons shift and the holidays approach, you’ll probably be thinking about getting your hair done or even slightly changing your look for the winter. Make sure to consult your Tease Hair Boutique Stylist on your hair goals so they can formulate a plan to get you there!

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