Picture this: You’re settling into your colorist’s chair, sipping a cup of coffee, looking at inspo for the blonde hair color you’ve been dying to try. Just as your beloved stylist starts to run their fingers through your hair, your stomach turns to ice. While salons were closed and you were dealing with quickly fading color or stubborn gray strands, you cheated on your pro colorist with box dye.
No judgment here—life happens! However, it’s important to understand the difference between salon color and box dye—and why professional color is always the best option. We tapped George Issa, L'Oréal Professionnel artist and co-owner of Roula & Georgio Salon and Spa, to find out everything you need to know about salon color vs. box dye.
How is box dye different from salon dye?
You might think the hair dyes lining the shelves of your local drugstore are the same as professional in-salon formulas, but the truth is that there are major differences between the two. Box dyes are pre-made formulas that are made for all hair types, while salon hair color is custom made for each client. Box dyes contain a set amount of chemicals that may be too harsh for certain hair types, which can lead to damaged, overpigmented, or overprocessed hair.
Many box dye formulas also contain ammonia, a chemical that can damage strands and cause them to be dry and brittle. Professional hair color formulas are often made without ammonia to ensure that hair isn’t damaged during the coloring process. Even if your professional colorist uses a formula made with ammonia, they have the training necessary to help mitigate any damage.
Are salon hair dyes better?
Simply put, when it comes to salon color vs. box dye, it’s always best to get your hair colored at the salon by a professional. Salon formulas better for your hair, and having a pro colorist apply it also ensures the best results. When you consistently receive professional hair color, someone’s carefully formulating the shade to do the least amount of damage possible and regularly examining your strands to ensure they remain healthy. When you decide to go blonde or red velvet, that same stylist figures out the best way to lift the previous color or transition you to the new shade, Issa explains.
“A professional hairdresser can utilize techniques like foiling and balayage to apply color that enhances the client’s face and cut,” Issa says. “He or she takes into consideration hair color history, current hair health and texture, current hair color and even thinks about the right hair care routine to care for color-treated hair, and the type of hair one has...These are all elements a box of color cannot do or take into account.”
Why Your Colorist Needs To Know That You Used Box Dye
If you have jet black hair naturally and use box dye at the roots to cover grays without sharing that fact with your stylist, chances are good they’re going to have a more challenging time lifting that pigment from your hair. Your appointment could take considerably longer, or the process could require multiple visits.
So yes, when in doubt, stylists want you to be honest about box dye. Most stylists won’t fuss over your wavering loyalty to their services. They just want you to leave your appointment feeling gorgeous.
“I don’t like to judge any client's habit when it comes to box dye,” Issa says. “Clients might have a reason to do their own color, and I’m here, as a professional, to educate them and tell them what is good or bad for their hair.”
What is the least damaging way to color hair?
When it comes to coloring your hair without damage, it’s best to take it slow. Even with your colorist’s help, going darker or lighter too quickly can damage the hair. If your colorist is using bleach to lighten your hair, ensure that they use a bonding product to keep your strands strong and healthy during the process.
After your appointment, we recommend adding strengthening hair products to your routine. Start with a shampoo and conditioner like Redken Acidic Bonding Concentrate Shampoo and Conditioner. These concentrated formulas strengthen and repair damaged hair. Formulated with citric acid, this system reinforces weakened bonds to help build strength and resiliency. Once you step out of the shower, apply a leave-in conditioner like Redken Acidic Bonding Concentrate Leave-In Conditioner to strengthen and repair while protecting your strands from heat.
How To Help Minimize Color Fading Between Appointments
If it’s premature color fading that’s got you itching to take your color services into your own hands, know that you’re far from the first person to be disappointed when their vibrant copper turns to dull maroon a few weeks later. Reds are notoriously hard to maintain, but both brunettes and blondes are prone to brassiness.
To help prevent untimely fading, pay special attention to how you care for and style your mane. Hot temperatures open the hair cuticle and can quickly strip the vibrancy from your color. Wash your hair under cool or lukewarm water with a color-protecting system like L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Vitamino Color Radiance Shampoo and Conditioner to help keep the cuticle closed and lock-in your salon hue.
If your particular shade is prone to brass, a color-depositing shampoo can make all the difference. Salon blondes should use a purple shampoo and conditioner like Redken Color Extend Blondage Shampoo and Conditioner to neutralize brassy undertones. If you’re a brunette dealing with brass, use a blue toning system like Redken Color Extend Brownlights Shampoo and Conditioner. For those with dark hair and unwanted red undertones, try a shampoo and conditioner like Matrix Total Results Dark Envy Shampoo and Conditioner. This green, color-depositing system neutralizes red undertones in very dark hair.
Much like hot water, hot tools can quickly fade your color. Finally, make use of color-safe heat protectants any time you bring a hot tool near your mane! We recommend L’Oréal Professionnel Serie Expert Color 10-In-1 Multi-Purpose Leave-In Spray. This formula softens, hydrates, and prolongs color radiance while protecting hair from heat damage.
How To Help Hide Gray Hair Between Appointments
If you’re looking to conceal grays between salon appointments, we get it! But box dye isn’t always the answer—hair brands have developed temporary solutions just for you. Our readers love L’Oréal Professionnel Instant Root Fix Hair Touch Up Professional Root Concealer to help hide their most difficult root situations between appointments.
With these expert tips in mind, you can fully understand the differences between salon color and box dye.
Interested in trying a new hair color? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.