We’ve all done it and some point, and we’ve all paid the price. Wanting to change up our look but being young or broke (or both!) so we decide to pick up a bottle of whatever is the cheapest dye at the local drug store. Some probably had great results, and others… not so much. Hopefully no one had too expensive of a salon appointment to fix it, but why does it have such varied (and often drastic) results?
Let’s start with the most obvious reason – quality control. Box dyes are not regulated to the same degree that salon professional products are. There is no way to predict the exact ingredients, or how old the boxed product might be. Salon products however, are regulated, and will only be used if they are going to do exactly what the stylist wants. The stylist mixes your custom colour based on many different qualities, including but not limited to the quality of your hair, the undertones of your hair, your hair history, and desired results.
This leads to the next reason – appeasing the masses. Box dye is made to produce some sort of result on as many different types of hair as possible. That means that if you are already blonde and just wanting to go a shade or two lighter, you are getting the same amount of bleaching product and the same type of developer as someone who is a dark brown trying to go to a blonde. You may be getting an unnecessarily high amount of product and damage for no reason.
Another factor is undertones. The box dye does not know what hair it is going on and how that will react to the undertones of the dye. A stylist will curate a specific product that either enhances or tones down your natural undertones depending on your desired look. If you were trying to achieve a cool-blue toned black, and you are naturally a warm toned brown, the box dye you get may in fact enhance your natural warm tones giving you a warmer red-toned black colour that is neither what you want, nor easy to reverse. To remove that, you’ll have to prepare for a long process that starts at a very ugly copper-red and follows the warm path down. Black dye is the hardest to get correct, and the hardest to reverse. It also can cause the most damage to your hair if not done correctly.
The next important factor is what can the ingredients do to your hair? One of the most common chemicals is ammonia, though it is a naturally produced and needed for colour to penetrate the cuticle, used wrong can cause dry, brittle hair if too much is put into your hair. Peroxide is used to remove melanin in order to lighten your hair. Too much and the strength and integrity of your hair will weaken causing breakage and unfixable damage. Toluene can cause hair loss if used too much, as well as dry and cracked skin at the scalp. These are just a few of the damaging chemicals found in box dye, among a few other chemicals that people are commonly allergic to, such as resorcinol or p-phenylenediamine. If you take into consideration how much box dye is sold for, this can help when understanding drug store quality verses professional product. Big conglomerate companies have high profit margins, resulting in low quality, cheap ingredients such as waxes & fillers so products can be sold at low prices, yet still allowing the company to make high profits. For example, if your shampoo or box colour cost $5, what is being put in it that is at that price point? The $5 product probably was made at .50 - $1 (for easy math).
While there are many other reasons we could talk about, the most important reason is this – science. The colour in our hair is caused by melanin – of which there are two types, pheomelanin and eumelanin. Pheomelanin produces colours from a natural red to blonde, and eumelanin produces colours from a red-brown to black. Hair dying is done through a mixture of different chemicals. The main being paraphenylenediamine which helps produce a dark brown colour, and then added couplers in blue, red, or yellow, to achieve other colours. When we mix the colours for you in the salon, we can make sure you aren’t getting too much of either chemical. Box dyes can unfortunately rip apart the cuticles, permanently damaging them by using more chemicals than your hair can handle.
The bottom line is that no matter how much cheaper and easier you think using a box dye will be, ultimately you may end up with a costly repair if it goes wrong. That may be a large job to fix what the box dye did or cutting your hair if it is too damaged. Don’t risk your hair’s health and integrity, seek out the trained professionals so you can ensure you get the desired results.