Surprisingly, I get a lot of clients that look at me puzzled when I say that box color is bad for their hair!

I’ve always known this to be common knowledge and a few of those reasons you can guess without any background in haircolor.

I hear clients say things like- “Doesn’t all color make your hair dry?” and, “The box doesn’t” say anything about that!”.

As a certified haircolorist it’s difficult when a client questions my suggestions or training, they are seeking me for haircolor help for a reason.  Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the client has failed at creating something to please themselves with products from the supermarket.

 “I don’t know what happened, it’s the same box I always get.”

You probably don’t trust your friends with your color by now, and you know you’ve made one too many mistakes attempting to do it on your own. Now it’s time to trust a professional.

The reasons to trust a professional colorist are infinite! Becoming a certified haircolorist is no piece of cake! The pass rate is less than 20%, and some of the most seasoned stylists have attempted certification 4-5 times…and still don’t pass.

Remember, just because someone is a licensed stylist does not mean that they are good, well-trained, knowledgeable, experienced, etc.!

I tackled 7 grueling months of intense studying and practicing to further my understanding of color from chemistry to psychology, and more.  We are color perfectionists and consider box color to be the lowest of the low that you can go with coloring your hair.  So trust me or any other colorist that you admire, relax, and wait for the final result!

I have quite a few clients who come see me monthly and are willing to pay top dollar for a haircut but won’t pay for professional haircolor. You’re too scared to let an entry-level stylist give you a haircut, but you trust yourself (a non-professional) to make decisions on chemically altering your hair?  If you’re one of those people consider this….pay $40 for a great haircut then fry it off with an $8 box of color.

I’ll let you in on a little secret….it doesn’t matter how great your haircut is if your ends are over-processed. I know haircolor forwards and backwards so I’m going to tell you the reasons why you should get it done at the salon.


1. One size does not fit all.

Camel Toe : Box Color

I consider box color to be “one size fits all”. The idea of something like this is not perceivable in the world of professional haircolor and it cannot be relied upon.

In order to achieve the color you want a stylist considers several factors and customizes your developer with different hues to make the perfect shade.

Box color is made so that it can potentially alter a wide range of hair types & shades with no guarantee.

I may choose to use a 3% developer on one person and 9% on another with the same color but the outcome will be immensely different. Most box colors use 12% or higher to ensure that it will at least do something to any hair type and that’s just getting dangerous!

As a woman, do you believe in one size fits all pants? I certainly don’t! They might fit the size 6 figure but they won’t fit the size 14(and if they do you’re going to have a camel toe and a muffin top coming hot!).

I know this… that’s why I don’t buy one size pants, and the same applies for box color. That beautiful buttery blonde shade might look great on your sister, but it’ll turn out orange on you. In this situation think of the camel toe you don’t want in the same sense as a bad color with fried ends.

Do you really want to walk around looking like that?

2. Haircolor must be customized for each person.

We are all unique in many ways and that applies to hair as well. I mentioned that professional stylists must consider several factors in order to give you a proper color service.

For those who don’t realize the thought process it takes to come up with your formula I’m going to give a brief overview.

Here are the main factors we consider when customizing your color service:

  • Natural level & underlying pigment
  • Skin Tone
  • Level of Porosity
  • Previous artificial pigments
  • Percentage of gray(if any)



Manic Panic is not a “semi-permanent” haircolor!

3. Do you know what demi, semi, & permanent really means?

In the world of box color there isn’t a whole lot of difference between demi, semi, and permanent haircolor. Yes, the box may claim that it washes out in a month…. but will it?

In most cases it doesn’t. This goes back to customization again, even with colors that “wash out” there has to be a process to consider what level and shade will give you what you’re looking for.

It’s important to remember that no color really washes out completely. In the salon there is a huge difference between the three types and each option has its own factors for successful application. There is no way that a box can figure out all of those things for you.

There is ONE exception when it comes to finding a haircolor that washes out. That would be semi-permanent(temporary color), and it is in a completely different category whether you are talking about box or professional color.

Temporary colors only stain the outside of the hair strand and should last 1 to 2 weeks at most.  There can still be a hinkering of tint left depending on how light your hair is.


4. There is nothing like professional application.

When i hear the word “bottle” in reference to haircolor it makes me cringe.


Bottles are only good for one thing- toners, which is also something that should not be attempted at home. There is no such thing as a good bottle application of color.

In order to keep your hair healthy and avoid banding of color it must be applied precisely from the regrowth to the demarcation line.

Do you think you can do this in a poorly lit bathroom leaning over your…sink using a bottle?

Even if you’re using a brush (or trying)… you can’t see what we can see. If the color overlaps you will create banding(darker spots) and that’s not pretty.

You’re also getting into damaging your hair on a whole new level.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done a haircut on a box blonde,and it’s white-ish…yellowy…orange…burnt orange…basically splotchy all over. Just because you got your blonde hair doesn’t mean you’re looking good!

Here comes Ms. Cheap-and-Unattractive!


5. Your hair WILL feel like straw.


Dry, damaged hair…and it’s only the beginning.

I’m convinced that the reason why some of my clients and other box color users out there accept the straw-like hair texture is because they just think that’s what’s supposed to happen.

This is a huge misconception resulting from an uneducated public when it comes to haircolor.

Companies that put box color on the market are clever advertisers and they’re doing a great job brainwashing everyone.

When you come to the other side and experience professional color your hair will  feel better than it ever has. It is possible to be a platinum blonde with shiny, healthy hair, but probably not with a box.

The reason why your hair feels like straw is because it is traveling further and further down the porosity scale. This means that the damage level is rising and you’re getting close to losing some hair.

Most people get a box and put it on all over the entire strand. I’m not sure, but I don’t think box colors include directions on applying to the demarcation line and refreshing ends only when needed. This is why that beautiful rich chocolate brown that you once achieved is looking black on the ends…also resulting in more and more straw-like texture, difficulty styling, and frizzing out of control.

I can’t even begin to tell you the difference between doing a blow out on hair that I colored versus box colored hair.  It’s excruciating, difficult, and hair is breaking off every 2 seconds!

6. The outcome of box color is usually an unwanted new haircut.

Do you like your hairstyle?

Whether it’s long or short… it doesn’t really matter because I’ve seen these disasters with all lengths. Damage is almost certain with repetitive use of box color. Generally…the ends to the mid-shaft are affected, and in some extreme cases it can be worse.

We’ve all seen those dry, frizzy ends on someones hair… and there isn’t much a flat iron can do for that. There comes a point where if you want your hair to look good again-cutting a few inches off is the only option.

If you’re not ready to do a total 180 with your hair you may want to think before you pick up the box!

I have a wonderful client that I’ve been working with almost 2 years now. She would like to get professional color but she either doesn’t have time or can’t readily afford it considering the rapid growth and gray that shows. I understand that so I feel for her and we’re working to get her hair healthier. We initially had to cut a lot off, and we do regular deep conditioning treatments. With my instruction she is doing much better, but she went through a year of suffering with hair hassles.

She didn’t understand why this happened, she followed the directions, but boxes do not explain the danger of porosity. Porosity has a different meaning when it comes to haircolor so I’ll give you a short explanation and you’ll soon understand why it matters.

Which one do you have?

If you’re not sure if you’re hair is damaged beyond repair take my quiz- How Damaged Is My Hair?, to find out more about your hair’s porosity!


7. Cap highlights are an accident waiting to happen!


Not all things from the 80’s are great!

Most of you have probably heard of “polka dots” or “bleed lines”,  and you may have experienced them yourself.

This is not a pretty picture, and also not easily reversible at home. I don’t believe in cap highlighting at home or in the salon.

Sorry if I’m offending any “professional” haircolorists out there, but there is simply nothing professional about pulling hair through holes with what looks like a latch hook and slapping bleach on it.

The 80’s were great, but it’s time to move on and leave the cap behind.


Here’s an interesting tidbit about cosmetology education in the 2000’s:

Cap highlights are not even spoken of to students in most cosmetology schools. Some schools may be a little outdated and still carry and teach the cap method, but the more elite institutions don’t even consider it.

After we were taught how to foil and finished our basic color knowledge course I asked about the cap out of curiosity. My learning leader just looked at me and said, “No honey….no…we don’t do that anymore.”

There are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t use cap highlights at home or in the salon. I hope this technique slowly slips out of all stylists and clients vocabulary!


8. You’re not going to look like the celebrities in the commercials.


I know what your thinking, her hair looks great!

Do you think that Eva Longoria really uses box color? NO WAY!

She pays ungodly amounts of money to a top stylist for her haircolor. Same with Gwen Stefani and Beyoncé…two other huge box color endorsers. They are getting paid thousands to endorse at home haircolor for big companies.

Sure, you want to have hair like hers, but she is paying well over the hundreds for her haircolor and you are paying $8. Yea, not going to happen.

If you want great haircolor mimicking celebrity hair icons then find a certified colorist and make an appointment!

If you’re interested in learning about why certified colorists have more satisfied clients, or would like to get certified- read my article on Becoming an Expert in Cosmetology & Beauty. Even if you’re not in the beauty industry you will love the idea behind why I am so motivated when I do what I love!


9. It may be affordable now…but not for long.


Fixing Box color can cost a pretty penny!

So, you say that you cannot afford professional color.

Well, if you can’t pay the $50 for a professional then should you really be spending $10 on a box? Probably not if your situation is that tight.

Just because you can’t afford the more expensive option doesn’t mean you can afford the lesser.


Let’s say you get a box color and the outcome is not what you expected, which is usually the case…
In fact, it’s even worse than you expected and you have a big interview or social event coming up. You may decide to grab another box and fix the problem yourself…piece-of-cake…

It’s not that easy. Now, you’re over-processed and your only option is to crawl in a salon begging for a miracle. This would be true even if you didn’t attempt at fixing it yourself.

Most salons charge $100 per hour for corrective color services, and only a few stylists generally offer  that service. Now you’re hoping to get someone that knows what they are doing and probably paying $200-$300 for the fix.

That $8 box ended up costing a lot more than you expected!

You don’t have to go to a top salon, but find a credible stylist and explain your concerns. Your stylist will work with you to come up with something affordable. I have a client with gray that only comes in every 3 months for color.

I came up with a solution that doesn’t show a huge demarcation line when it grows in, and it averages out to about $16 per month. Doesn’t sound so bad does it? It gets better… if you have solid gray hair there are products out there like colored mousses, dry shampoos, and hair markers that can stretch you to your next color service!


10. If you decide to switch it’s not going to be easy.

If you’ve ever gone to a salon for professional color after coloring your own hair for any amount of time…you know what I’m talking about!

You probably get a look that says- “Do you think I have a magic wand?”. Box color is so different from professional color, so we cannot accurately predict what may happen when we apply our color on top of box color.  It’s going to be a process and you have to be patient.

The most common result is an odd shade of green shining through, or even purple. I’ve had clients come in with similar situations a few times and it’s not an easy fix. Applying color on top of color DOES NOT wipe the slate clean. You may have months or years of various pigments hiding in there and who knows which ones will pop out!

You will end up spending more money to get your hair back to normal than you would have if you had it done professionally in the first place.


I know I said ten reasons but there is one more…….


11. Box “formulas” may change, but professional formulas don’t.

Box Color on Sale ClearanceHave you ever been to a Big Lots or Ollie’s…and there it is…on the top shelf- discounted box color! You get excited!
You’re already “taking a leap and going cheap”…now you’re getting it for less than you thought!

This is not a good thing.

Just like everything else at discount stores, it’s there because it is OLD or EXPIRED. (That doesn’t mean that some products in grocery or superstores  aren’t expired…and still on the shelves for sale.)

If you buy an old box of color there’s a good chance that it will not turn out anything like you think it will. The same goes with a “new” box color, of course :).

Don’t let them fool you… companies can change their formulas but, it still looks like the same box.  It may say- “New Formula!”, and the consumer just assumes it’s going to be an improvement in their favor.

It could be “improved” by changing hues or levels of developer, which means your hair isn’t going to turn out the same as it did last time. I’ve often heard, “I don’t know what happened, it’s the same box I always get.”.  You might think that you’re buying the same box of haircolor, but you’re not.


Aside from all of the obvious…I think it’s clear that the main problem with botched haircolor is the word “box”.

Hopefully many of you will be wiping that word from your vocabulary and switching over to the wonderful world of professional color! If you can’t or you’re simply happy with your box color…go over this checklist for before you color at home :).


 Still not sure?  Here are 5 More Reasons You Shouldn’t Use Box Color!


What's your first thought when you want to change your haircolor?

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Sources: The ABCH Study Portfolio


You probably need to read…..

“I went to an expensive and reputable hairstylist, but I didn’t get the results I was looking for!”

…before you leave the comment that’s on your mind!


247 Responses to 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Box Color

  1. Bee Gee says:

    I found this really helpful. I just spent $200 on a hair coloring job. I always get my hair professionally done and I’ve never spent that much before. But my regular stylist has had something come up and will be out for months and I needed my hair done. I wanted dark brown with a tint of auburn (my hair is naturally brown with auburn). I even had plenty of pictures to explain what I wanted. The results were nothing like what I asked for. Nothing like the pictures. It was not even brown. It was blonder than how it started, and then there was the red I asked for. The dark brown did not happen at all. I did not wash my hair for 72 hours to allow the color to set and when I wash my hair I used cold water so the red is not stripped away as quickly. I’ve never had a problem before and I’ve had my hair dyed a lot. Even before I washed my hair 24 hours later, all the color was gone from my hair. It is nothing like what I wanted. Nothing like the pictures or how I explained it. And supposedly the guy that did my hair was supposed to be really good. My hair is blonder than it was prior to paying $200 (and blonder than my natural hair). Usually I spend no more than $80 so now I don’t want to get my hair professionally done because I wasted $200 for results that were gone within 24 hours. I expected to have to get my hair redone a month to six weeks later with the red but there was never even dark brown!

    I literally hate my hair now. Its starting to get this brassy look from the blonde (I did not want blonde! I wanted DARK DARK brown). I want my hair dark like I asked for because the holidays are here and family photos. I do not have the money to spend another $100+ within a month of the last $200 I shelled out so I want to try to get a box with dark brown to do my hair a solid color. Would you recommend against this? I always go darker and I never go lighter.

    • Erika says:

      I think you should call the salon and express your concerns. Try not to sound like you are complaining….just ask to speak to the manager and let him/her know that you felt like you expressed your desires thoroughly and that the outcome was not reflective of what you talked about during the consultation.

      Some people feel uncomfortable doing this, but don’t! I have had clients of 5+ years call me and ask for a “re-do” in the past and it’s usually a result of miscommunication between the client and the stylist. A really great salon (especially one charging those high prices) will want to make sure that you are happy with your hair and do their best to accommodate you ASAP.

      How blonde was your hair prior to the appointment? Going darker from blonde requires an additional step (or a very advanced stylist can do it in one step). Your stylist needs to “fill” your hair with the proper underlying pigment in order to make the darker/desired color “stick”. That means that your stylist would apply two different colors to your hair (shampooing and drying in-between applications)….the filler color would be of an orange/copper/orange-red/red-orange/red base depending on the desired shade and your current shade. After the blonde hair is filled with pigment it is ready for application of the desired color.

      Blonde hair is translucent(depending on the shade)….so the pigment doesn’t hold because the hair is somewhat “empty” or lacking of a base pigment. Even darker blonde hair would need to be filled depending on the desired result. I hope I explained that okay!

      The other option your stylist could have chosen would be to add the “filler” into the color formula that was applied to the blonde. Not many stylists know how to do this properly, and if they know of this method they are probably scared to try it. American Board Certified Haircolorists like myself, and other VERY advanced haircolorists can do this with ease. It’s tricky because the filler has to be just enough of the formula ratio to fill the hair, but not too much because that can affect the outcome of the desired hair color.

      Great color is all about confidence in skills…..if you know that your stylist is confident then you will have great hair color!

      • Erika says:

        Oh yea…if they are like my salon…you will get your hair re-done free of charge. A great salon will want to build relationships and keep you as a client!

        Even though I don’t know all of the details of the consultation, or what your hair looked like….or what your example photos were….this is the color that came to my mind when I read your comment:

        Brown/Copper Hair Color

  2. Erika says:

    This was very helpful, I have been coloring my own hair from a box but I know want to go from black to red but wanted to go to a professional but I don’t know if they will be able to help me since I’ve been using color from a box

    • Erika says:

      Going from black to red isn’t as difficult because red is one of the first tones to show up when you lighten from black. It’s also one of the hardest to break through when you want to go lighter, so going for red is a great option.

      Be very specific with your stylist about what type of red you want. Definitely bring photos! Red is one of the most misunderstood colors when it comes to hair consultations.

      You should tell your stylist how long you have been using box color and whether you applied it from scalp to ends every time, or if you just applied it to the regrowth. That will make a difference in how easily you can switch hair colors with the least amount of damage.

  3. Isabelle says:

    Thanks for the advice Erika – what are your thoughts on purchasing professional dye to use at home? I was thinking of using the Schwarzkoph Igora range (available from an online salon supplier).

    I usually get my hair professionally coloured and every time I’ve been disappointed. My natural hair is the darkest brown and I’ve always wanted a cool ash brown but the salons have never been able to achieve this – probably because of the orange/red undertones that come with Indian hair. I’ve noticed the salons never seem to lighten my hair enough in order to get that cool ash to take. I’m hoping to give my hair a bleach shampoo and dye it with the Igora range (Cobalt Brown colour + oil developer 30 vol).
    Many thanks

    • Erika says:

      Schwarzkoph is only available through a distributor. I can’t say whether or not the online supplier is credible, but chances are that it’s not. Distributors go straight to salons to assist in ordering product, keeping it stocked, etc. As a licensed cosmetologist I can’t even go to a beauty supply store to buy Schwarzkoph color. I would have to contact a distributor…it’s very well regulated.

      The only places you should purchase professional color are at a beauty supply store (need a cosmetology license to purchase), or through a distributor (also has requirements). Schwarzkoph would never agree to sell their product openly online.

      Also, the Igora series is great….but it is a more advanced color system. Doing it on your own is not fool-proof…even some hairstylists are not advanced enough to properly use that color line.

      The reason why you may feel that they don’t lift your hair enough is because it only needs to be lifted to the level of the color you desire. Then a special formula would need to be mixed to achieve the cool brown you want. Applying a cool brown color itself probably wouldn’t do it (depending on how warm the undertones are). The formula would need to include the proper hues to cancel out the red/orange undertones. Your stylist would need to determine whether your undertones are red, red-orange, orange, orange-red, etc. Each one is very different even though they seem similar. The colors you would need to add to your formula in order to eliminate those warm tones would be different for each of the examples I just gave.

      So, I think your stylist just didn’t know how to properly cancel out the warmth in your hair. It’s very specific and a lot of stylists don’t take care in formulating like they should. An ABCH stylist would be your best bet!

  4. Jenn says:

    What are your thoughts on getting hair colored at a beauty school?

    • Erika says:

      That’s a tough one because it really depends on the school. If you decide to get a color service at a school I suggest finding a well-known/highly rated institution. For example, in my area there are 3-4 beauty schools within a 50 mile radius and neither of them are alike. One is exceptional (Paul Mitchell), and another is known for it’s poor reputation. There was a girl at my school who spent a few months at the low-end institution and switched to Paul Mitchell despite the fact that she would lose a lot of money and have to start over completely. That says a lot!

      Our school taught forward thinking and was always introducing us to new trends while making sure that our techniques stayed solid and consistent. For example, foiling was to be done that way it was taught and we could not change it. This assured that everyone was doing quality work all the time.

      Another thing to consider is that instructors may want students to learn from their mistakes. Every color service (at a good school) is consulted with an instructor and overseen during the process. Instructors usually have to approve the service before the student can proceed.

      Lastly, if you’re unsure about it you can ask if there are advanced students available. At my school they were called “Phase 2” and had to audition as well as pass several tests (hands-on and written) in order to qualify for the Phase 2 program. There was also an hour requirement, so you know that the advanced students are close to graduating and are the best of their class!

      Like any salon experience….use your judgement and if you don’t feel comfortable just wait. You can also schedule a consultation and come back for your color. I’ve had clients do that from time to time and they come prepared with questions for me. It’s my job to prove to them that I am qualified to do their hair to their liking. Again, if a stylist doesn’t have the skills then you’ll know and you can try someone else!

    • Erika says:

      I don’t know if my reply posted, but if you didn’t get it then check out this post:

      Should I Get My Hair Colored At A School?

  5. Hi! So I’ve always had fairly porous hair – the first time I dyed my hair (at a salon), it washed out pretty quickly (it was gone within 1-2 months). Not sure if it’s important to note, but I only dye my hair dark-brown and black – my natural color is brown with red highlights. I got it done at a salon a few times, but got tired of paying so much to see my color washing out quickly. I box-dyed my hair for the first time last year, and it was the first time that the color stayed and I was super happy with the result (although after about 8 months that had faded as well). Obviously, if a $8 box is lasting me longer than a $50+ dye, it’s very tempting to go with the box, even though I know the salon would be better for my hair. Do you know any reason why the box stayed better than the salon did, or if there’s anything I should tell my stylist when she’s doing my hair? Thanks so much! :)

    • Erika says:

      It could be the type of color that was used and/or developer. If you’re someone that goes to the salon once every 2-4 months, then your stylist may use a semi-permanent color rather than permanent.

      Semi-permanent color is better for people who won’t get their hair colored every month because you won’t see as much of a demarcation line as your hair grows out.

      Box color is VERY strong, but in a good way. The levels of chemicals in it are much higher than what is used in the salon, so it damages your cuticle more while packing in more pigment. Yes, it may seem to fade slower(depending on what you use and what you compare it to) but your hair will not look natural and it will be damaged more and more with use.

      It all depends on what your preference is and what’s most important to you. Some people prefer the natural colored look and like to maintain the integrity of their hair, some don’t. Some people have never had their hair consistently colored in a salon enough to know the difference in really great hair, and not so great hair.

      The #1 problem with salons is that the consultation is not thorough enough or the client does not give the stylist enough information. All of the concerns you told me about should also be expressed to your stylist. I know that some stylists rush through the consultation because they’re ready to get started, but your stylist owes it to you to spend that time talking about your hair. If your stylist doesn’t do a thorough consultation, chances are that you will not be happy with the results!

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