The Truth Behind The Box


Let’s face it, we’ve all been there; you’re short on cash this month but that inch of grow out keeps staring you in the face, however, your bank account won’t let you go to the salon. The $8.99 color at Safeway or Fred Meyer isn’t looking too bad right abut now, and the woman on the box seems to have a nice haircolor, so it must be okay, right? Wrong. Oh, so wrong.

Box hair dye is an increasing problem that hairstylists really wish to see an end to. I promise we don’t just tell you not to slap some color on at home because we’d rather you spend your money in our chair, but because it really is harsh for your hair. In this post I’m going to go over the real reasons why stylists cringe at any phrase with “box” in it.

1. Professional hair dye deposits color, box dye stains. When getting your hair colored by a professional stylist, that color they use contains dye molecules that enter the cortex of your hair cuticle, which is where your natural melanin (pigment) lives. The dye molecules are larger and there are more of them than your natural melanin, causing them to become the dominant color, which is what you then see as the result after the color service. This is a chemical service because dyes are used, however your hair itself (the protein, melanin, etc.) are not physically altered. Box dyes are different, they stain the proteins in your hair’s cortex, thus chemically and physically changing it. Your hair is made up of mostly protein, and by dying it with a box, you (for lack of a better phrase) don’t have the same hair anymore. The natural melanin in your hair is no longer natural, and that stain is a tough one to break through. Don’t even think about trying to go back to your beautiful blonde locks after a box, unless you’re ready for damage. Because the stain is so harsh, it takes a lot of lightener through multiple visits to carefully and safely lift it out. If you had professional hair dye, the molecules can be removed much easier with less damage to the hair.

2. Professional hair dye is made according to your personal hair type, box dye is a ‘one size fits all’ color. Every stylist is trained in the specific art of color. We are taught to determine which dye to use based on multiple factors: virgin or previously colored hair, underlying pigment, what is the desired color, what level of color is the hair at, porosity of hair, etc. From all of this information we attain during consultation, us stylists then can decide which magic potion will be whisked together and what level of developer to use. The developer is peroxide needed to open the hair’s cuticle, thus allowing the dye molecules to enter into the cortex. There are different degrees of developer needed for different types/strengths of hair, which your stylist chooses specifically for you. Box dye contains the highest developer out there so that it can be used on virtually any head of hair. Because of this, you may notice your hair feeling a bit dry and straw-like instead of silky smooth. The high-intensity developer opens the cuticle more than needed, so much so that it doesn’t want to lay flat like normal, this causes the rough, dry feeling. If all of this doesn’t have you convinced, I’ve still got a few more reasons up my sleeve.  

(Photo credit by Erika Brown, Confessions of a Cosmstologist)

3. Professional hair dye has a timer, box dye will keep on going. Stylists tend to mix color as they go because the dye will become less effective/potent as time passes. Essentially, the color stops working after about 45 minutes to an hour. Once the color has been properly applied, processing time should take only about 35 minutes and then you’ll be on your merry way. Box dye is what’s known as a “progressive” dye, meaning that it keeps working and building on itself as if process and is used over time. That medium-brown color will more than likely turn into a deep dark chocolate after a couple of colorings. Plus, the more you keep using box dye, the more damaged your hair becomes, and the closer you get to the point when even professional hair care might not be enough.

4. Professional color comes with professional care. There’s a difference when getting color done in a salon versus at home, aside from the obvious fact a professional is performing the service. When a stylist is applying color, they can map out where and how to place it, and what effect it is going to have to get the desired result. They can see where the line of demarcation (grow out) is, and make sure not to overlap the colors, preventing damage or breakage. When colors overlap, it is called ‘banding’ and usually creates a darker spot of color. Stylists are also trained to look for any other signs of damage, or even reactions to the dye which can be overlooked when doing it yourself. They can even recommend the correct aftercare products to ensure your color service lasts until your next visit. I don’t see any instructions on the box for which shampoo and conditioner works best with your hair type and color.

5. Professional dye doesn’t have an expiration date, while box dye has a shelf life. Have you ever walked down the hair care aisle of the grocery store and notice some of the color on sale? This is not a good sign! That means that the dye has become old or worse, expired. I can guarantee that the outcome of this will not be anything like that displayed on the cover of the box. These chemicals have basically gone bad and won’t work like they’re suppose to (not that they work well in the first place). This could then turn the $12.99 dye job into a $100/hr service at your local salon to undo what has been done. Professional dye on the other hand is specifically formulated to last until it’s used, and doesn’t oxidize until it’s mixed with the correct developer, which only happens when you’re about to recieve the perfect-for-you blend of colors created by your stylist. Trust me, these don’t have an expiration date, either.

I understand that desperate times call for desperate measures, but please, think twice before picking up that colorful box. It may seem like a great, money saving idea in the moment, but in the end it only has one outcome: disaster. Do you think Eva Longoria really uses a cheap brown box on her gorgeous locks? No way. Beautiful hair requires some TLC and money, but if you work with your stylist and communicate together on the hair of your dreams, amazing results will occur and your hair will thank you. I will thank you.

If you’re still unsure why box dye is really all that bad,  here’s an article written by another professional stylist I found to be very informative.

P.S. I apologize for the late (and long) post, Netflix’s “Making a Murderer” got me hooked early in the week. If you haven’t watched it, 10/10 would recommend.

Mallory G.

P.P.S Some content referenced from Erika Brown at Confessions of a Cosmetologist.

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