Why Is Box Color Bad For Your Hair? Cosmetologist Confession

Humans are curious little buttheads who can’t just take a professional’s word for what it is. As a cosmetologist myself, I can’t tell you how many texts, calls, and questions I’ve gotten over the years in regards to box color.

Why is the box color terrible? What if I’m only using the box color for my roots? What about dark hair box color? The answer to all of these is no, nadda, don’t do it, it is sill terrible for you… just put the box down and walk away.


Is it actually bad to color your hair at home?

It doesn’t matter how, where, what, or why you want to use box color; the bottom line is it is awful for your hair and will be dreadful for your bank account in the long run.

Because people cant take the word NO fo what it is, I am here to go over EXACTLY why box color is bad for your hair.

As a cosmetologist myself who has been in the game for over a decade, I can tell you that your hairdresser isn’t trying to trick you. When they say box color is bad for your hair, well it is because it really is. Read on to find out why!

Are there alternatives to box dyes at home that don’t require a trip to the salon?

Yes, there are alternatives to box dyes so you can change your hair at home. These come in the form of colored shapoos and containers as well as safe conditioning color treatments.

There are also temporary color changing options that work if you just want to change it up for the day or a few.

Damaged And Tampered Product

First thing first; the fact is most box dyes are coming from convenience stores, grocery stores, and chain types of establishments. The boxes themselves aren’t exactly like breaking into Fort Knox, and kids are notorious for opening them and switching the colors around.

Yea, this may sound stupid and far fetched to you. Still, I can’t tell you how many clients said they purchased a box kit from Walmart, and the end color was not even in the same family tone as what they wanted. Blondes have been red, and red has been black, black has been green.

Hair color in the box is left open and unattended for a significant amount of time, which makes it vulnerable for pranksters to get in them and switch them around. I have had friends in high school, college, and even high up management to this day who said they would catch kids numerous times throughout the month messing with the box colors. While they kick the kids out, they don’t go back and fix the mismatched colors.

When you go to your hairstylist, you know the hair color from creation to application on your head is in one secure line. The color is manufactured at a professional facility, shipped directly to the salon or to the professional beauty supply store. The stores are owned and operated by only licensed individuals. People who are entering the stores themselves and purchasing items are also only authorized individuals. If you don’t have a current cosmetology license, they won’t let you in, and they for sure won’t let you buy stuff.

Once your stylist has purchased an item (like hair color), they put it in their salon in a back, secure room where no one can mess around or tamper with them.

This entire process means the hair color only exchanges a few hands before it is put onto your head. Less is more, am I right?

Additionally, because the box dye itself is available at stores that sell a wide range of goods from groceries to tires and even home decor the box dye can get damaged in shipping. You could get home only to find out the color or developer got smushed in shipping and is no longer going to work.

Hair Color Match Not Guranteed Or Likely

Let’s say you buy a box that wasn’t tampered with, and what is on the box is the color inside. This still doesn’t change the fact that you might not be getting the right color for your hair.

You may think the color you’re getting is the shade you have on your head or the shade you want, but you don’t really know because you don’t even know what to look for or what factors to take into consideration.

Hair color is so much more complicated than black, brown, red, and blonde. Within each color is a warm, neutral, or cool tone. To achieve the right color, you need to know what tone you are starting with and what tone you want to finish with.

Additionally, colors can be a mix of two base colors with a tone, for instance: warm red-brown, cool blonde -red, neutral copper brown.

Take this one color chart of professional color as an example. I personally love Kenra color so I am using their color chart as an example. What you see below isn’t even the total colors available in their line! These colors also don’t show the multiple different peroxides you need to mix the color itself, but more on that later.

Permanent Hair Color — Kenra Professional

Often times to get the color you desire stylists will mix a few different shades to custom make the one you want, and may even use things called boosters to create extra pigmentation or vibrant color. Box dye and box color, in general, don’t give you that luxury.

They aren’t just looking at a picture on one box and they don’t show you one color swatch and then call it a day. It’s more complex than that and is why cosmetologists go to school and have to take a state board.

Stylist Do Consulatations For A Reason

There is a wide range of things that need to be taken into consideration before any color is applied to your hair, and this is why your stylist does a consultation.

Stylists are able to give you the hair color result you are looking for by taking into consideration your:

  • Age
  • Diet
  • The medication you may be taking
  • How often you wash your hair
  • Your natural hair tone
  • The hair tone of the previous color on your hair/color currently on your hair
  • The desired finished tone
  • The environment in which you live – warm, dry, cold, humid, temperate, etc
  • You habits like swimming in pools, oceans, etc since those all affect hair integrity
  • Hair length
  • Hair type
  • Hair health
  • Percentage of grey hair (or none)

All of these factors play into the way hair color process on a person’s head. Each human is different, and you can take one color formula, put it on multiple people and get a different end result on each person.

This is why it is so important to color your hair professionally and have someone who is educated in the process do it for you.

Box Dye All Use One Developer = Damaged Hair

I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it, anytime a one size fits all method is used in life results will always fall short of your expectations.

Women can’t all buy one bra and expect it to fit every single one of us the same, can we? No! The same is try with hair color.

Box dye all have one thing in common no matter what brand you use: one developer. The developer is what activates the hair color, and comes in the form of peroxide. The developer is the active ingredient that lifts and deposits color into the hair shaft itself thus creating the color change.

Box dye starts at a minimum of 12% and higher so that your hair will at least see a bit of change on any hair type.

Types of hair damage

Cosmetologists have a wide range of peroxides (developers) to choose from. They can be as low as 3% and go up from there. The lower the developer the better because the high the developer the more damage it can do to the hair.

When a higher developer is needed, a stylist will monitor the hair closely and leave it on for as little time as possible.

Box dye, on the other hand, uses a higher developer and users need to leave it on for an extended period of time, thus causing damage. This leads me to my next point.

Box Dye Will Leave Hair Brittle, Dry, and Feel Like Straw = Overall Ruined Integrity

People who have only used box dye in their lifetime assume hair color is just overall damaging and they chalk it up to being the norm.

After years of using it, they believe all hair color will leave the hair feeling like straw no matter where it comes from or who does it for them. This thought could not be further from the truth.

Box dye companies have cornered the market and claim their product will help heal damaged hair. They even advertise some color as “Best For Damaged Hair,” or “Best Hair Color Formula To Heal Hair” and fool everyone in its path.

When people apply box color and see a bit of shine, that is because the “shine” is only surface level. Companies add wax and other fillers that sit on top of your hair, making it appear shiny and feel like death.

Underneath this fake shine, deep down into the hair follicle, the high developer is depositing harsh chemicals that are stripping layers of your hair out. In other words, your damage level is increasing, and this can lead to split ends and hair loss.

After you use box day go ahead and congratulate yourself…you now have straw hair that will start to thin out and you may or may not go bald. Kidding, kidding, kidding….but seriously…kidding.

How to Repair Damaged Hair:

Professional hair color is the knight in shining armor that is going to come to your rescue.

It doesn’t matter if you are going lighter or darker; the professional color will leave your hair feeling smooth, shiny, and soft.

In fact, professional hair color can help bring life back to your dull, lifeless hair you may have obtained from years of box dye.

Application Struggles

Here’s the thing with the application of any hair color, have it be an all-over color or highlights of any type; it’s tricky.

As a professional myself, I have applied my own hair color both all over, root touch-ups, highlights and everything in-between. Have I had great success, yeah sure about 90% of the time. Have I had a meme-worthy lousy experience, you betcha.

My personal horror story is as follows.

I was doing a simple all-over bleaching of my roots like I had done a million times, and I got distracted. I ended up leaving it on for a bit too long, and the damage done was irreversible.I knew before I even rinsed my hair that I was going to lose some length and volume.

Why did this happen? Because when you do basic color processes like touching up my roots it’s actually a tricky process from start to end. I won’t bore you with details but it is important to note that every hair coloring process is different and certain steps/rules need to be taken into consideration.

In relation to my story, I was doing a root touch starting at my scalp and bleaching up to the previous color on my hair.

Box Dye BLone Hair - Before and After Picture

The area of hair color already on my hair to where the new colors meet is referred to as a band or line of demarcation.

I as a professional know this area is sensitive and should be watched carefully or hair bonds can break and thus cause breakage.

The bleach in this area is where the damage occurred, leaving me with broken pieces that affected my hair and over length. I gave myself a bob cut and knew it was going to be a long growing out process with hundreds of conditioning treatments.

Did I get a nice end blonde result, sure? But in the sun, you could also see through my hair, and I looked like Albert Einstien in female form. Not to mention I lost about 50% of my hair that took a year or two to grow back.

Spots and bleeding areas

Let’s say you are doing a “simple” all-over color, sounds easy enough right? Wrong. Even this can be a bit tricky to tackle on you own.

If you don’t cover every single piece of hair and saturate it enough, you will end up with spots. When I say spots, I mean literal spots. You might think the dog next door with a black patch over his eye is cute, but the spots in your hair won’t be.

Bad salon experience - Spotting and bleeding hair pictures

What’s even worse is that these spots are quite obvious, no matter how similar the overall hair color is to your natural color.

If this confuses you, think of painting your living room that hasn’t been touched since the 90s. If you put on a fresh white coat of paint on one half of your wall and leave the other half as is, you will see the difference in quality and color; the same goes for hair color.

If you try to highlight your hair yourself, you more than likely are going to have bleeding, which is super noticeable and super fugly. Exhibit A to your left.

It is almost impossible to explain the steps on how to fix bleeding to blend and look natural, let alone explain how to to it on yourself. It would be hard for professionals to do that on themselves. 

To be noted: Even if you are putting box dye over an old professional color, you still run the risk of spots and bleeding if you apply it wrong. This is because, over time, your hair color fades due to washing, drying, hot tools, environmental factors like pollution and fading from the sun. 

Basically it’s hard for anyone to do their own hair, have it be color or even style. A tiny 5% of why your hair looks so good once you leave the salon is a factor of things but mostly doing hair on someone else’s head is always going to be easier than doing your own. This is why even stylists go to a friend or person they trust to do their hair because they can’t see the back of their head or even the sides to fully give themselves a good color or cut.

Can Ruin Your Bathroom

I understand this point sounds super dramatic, and you might have just rolled your eyes reading that, but I’m serious.

Color and bleach of any kind are messy, and even when you try to be careful and use precautions, accidents happen. If you color your hair at home, be ready to ruin your walls, clothes, countertops, and don’t even get me started on towels.

I have had to buy so many new towels and paint my walls because color accidentally splashed onto them, and it is permanent. All the little splashes will forever live on the space in which it lands. Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule, but even my sink has gotten stained from hair color.

Stylist don’t ruin the surfaces around their salon because they use the proper tools, cleaning products and are trained on how to apply the paint. It is true art I tell ya.

Salons are built around the idea color, and chemicals will be in and around them, so they are made out of materials meant to handle them; your bathroom, kitchen, and living are not!

Won’t Make You Look Like The Famous Girl On The Box

Many times people go to the store and pick out a hair color based on the girl on the box or the commercial they saw during last nights show of Vanderpump Rules. You can not die your hair based on that picture alone and expect to look just like her. It’s hair dye, not magic jelly beans.

First off, the girl on the box is typically a famous actress or model, and they are NOT using box dye for their own hair. They go to a super expensive super knowledgable stylist who colors their hair for them.

Second, they look so spectacular in their hair color because they consulted with a professional. This professional took the time to analyze their features to give them the exact color they should be dying their hair.

Things that are taken into condieration by professionals before they color a clients hair is:

  • Skin tone
  • Face shape
  • Eye color
  • Bone structure
  • Eyebrows
  • Natural hair color
  • Skin undertones
  • Wardrobe
  • Profession
  • Fashion style

You can’t look at a picture of someone, color your hair to match theirs and think all of a sudden you will be there twin.

If you have a dream of matching your celebrity icon or favorite Insta model, your best bet is to save a bunch of pictures and take it into the salon of your choice for a consultation. The stylist will be able to let you know if that hair color will work with you, or they can recommend an option to better suit you.

The best part is most if not all consultations are free because at the end of the day, stylists do what they love, and they want you to love your hair!

Box Dye Isn’t Cheap – It Will Cost More Money To Color Hair At Home

The irony of people coloring their home at home to save money is the fact that it typically doesn’t end up that way. Not only will it cost you more money than a standard salon color appointment, but it will probably cost you double.

Professional hair colorists can, in fact, tell if you have used box dye, and even if you lie about it, science doesn’t lie. Chemistry is going to be that bitch that shows the receipts for your at-home color job, and in turn, your stylist will show you a hefty receipt for your color correction bill.

Box color is not chemically made the same as professional color, so when it is lifted, stylists don’t know what they are going to get. The only thing they are going to get for sure is an odd pigment of green, purple, yellow, or red.

I lifted a box color off a client once, and it looked like a drunk leprechaun painted a rainbow over her hair.

It typically will take more than one session or even weeks to get your hair box color free, and if it is done in one session, prepare your cheeks for a long day in the chair and have your bank ready for a significant withdraw.

Why is corrective color so expensive?

For professional color to work to it’s best ability, you have to rid the hair of the box color first. You can’t just put professional color over box dye color and expect it to give you a perfect result. That would be like throwing fresh paint over old chipping paint; it doesn’t work – you have to scarp off the old paint first before you throw on the new color.

At the end, you will be paying more for your hair color than you would have just going to the stylist in the first place. The reason why stylists will charge more for correction color is that they are going in blind and will be spending a significantly larger amount of time, product, and brainpower on that type of service vs. a regular client visit.

Another high cost in the color correction appointment to factor in is stylists want to help you keep the health of your hair. In fact, hair health is at the forefront of every appointment. This means that they will put add on costs such as bond builder, hair repairs, and suggest conditioning treatments throughout the whole process so that they can fix your hair without damaging it further.

I can’t think of a single salon or stylist that won’t suggest some type of protein builder to be added to your hair color formula. The most popular forms of these would be Olaplex or b3 Brazilan Bond Builder.

Formula Mix-Ups

Here’s the thing, box dyes are continually changing up their formula. This means that even if you use the same exact color within the same brand for years, your still getting different formulas and chemicals each time.

If you are browsing the shelves and see your color is on sale this week, don’t give yourself a pat on the back just yet. This probably means that the color is expired or is made with an outdated formula.

When a box says new or improved formula, that doesn’t mean they are adding things in to improve upon the product you have been using. It typically means they have changed the product in general. This can be things such as new chemicals or a change in the developer, which means you won’t get the same result you did last month.

If you know the professional color your salon uses and see it at the store, you might think you have found a way to cheat the system, but think again. The thing to take note of here is just because a company makes professional color and products for the salon doesn’t mean they are making it the same way for Walmart or Target shelves.

Companies that make professional products for everyday commercial users are doing it for their own personal company gain. They aren’t your buddy that’s trying to help you out, and in fact, they are sort of taking advantage of you.

In simple terms, these color and hair products available to you at Walmart or Target are made 70% the same as professional products, with 30% of the formula being fillers. They give you just enough to think its the same product and hold you over until you go back to your salon to get the real thing.

You might even think your hair is damaged and starting to feel dry from hot tools or due to visits to your salon, but the reality is the product from your the store is not giving you the 100% protection that the professional products provide.

You will even notice that your favorite hair ties will start to pull out some of your hair as the box kits can lead to severely damaged hair.

Won’t Turn Out Like The Youtube Video

The reason why you shouldn’t believe everything you read on the internet is because most of the time, people are full of it.

As I said earlier, I have had my cosmetology license for over a decade, and I have to take continuing education classes to keep it. This means I have the knowledge and real-life experience to guide you in the right direction.

If someone starts out an article or Youtube video with “here’s my personal opinion,” don’t take it. Some of these people are so far off from the truth, and just because it worked for them doesn’t mean it will work for you.

I literally watched a video the other day of a girl cutting her hair with cuticle clippers! Legit cuticle clippers, I couldn’t look away.

When she was done, it looked so bad I was waiting for the part two video of how she fixed it, but in the end, she said: “here you go this is how I’ve been doing it for years”.

All I could think was was there is no way she had been doing this for years, and not one homegirl sat her down and told her to go get a real haircut. If I saw my friend with hair like that for even a day, I would give her the money and pay for her uber to go get it done at a salon. Friends don’t let friends have janky hair, period.

At the end of the day, I can’t think of a single positive point to use a box dye to color your hair at home.

If you are looking to save money and still color your hair professionally, I suggest you scan facebook or craigslist for posting when stylists need models for hair color classes.

You can also google beauty schools in the area; they are always looking for models, and each student is supervised by a professional, so you are in good hands no matter what.

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