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


Surprisingly enough 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 always hear things like “Doesn’t all color make your hair dry?” or, “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.  You probably don’t trust your friends with your color by now and you know you’ve made one too many mistakes.  Now it’s time to trust a professional.  I did go through 7 grueling months of intense studying and practicing to further my understanding of color from chemistry to psychology.  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 assure 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)


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 turn out the way you want it to.

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 process has its own factors.  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 temporary color, 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.

Do these items come with your box color?

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 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, yellow, 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 all over.  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.

Eva Longoria DOES NOT use box color!

I know what your thinking, her hair looks great!  But do you think that Gwen Stefani really uses box color? NO!  She pays ungodly amounts of money to a top stylist for her haircolor.  Same with Eva Longoria and Beyoncé, two other huge haircolor 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 party coming up.  You may decide to grab another box and fix the problem yourself.  That’s an even worse idea.  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 created 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?  And if you have solid gray 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?”.  Because box color is so different from professional color we cannot accurately predict what may happen when we use our color on top of box color.  It’s going to be a process and you have to be patient.

The most common outcome 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.  You will end up spending more money in the beginning that you may expect.  Putting 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!

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


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

Professional Application

Have you ever been to a Big Lots or Ollie’s and there it is on the shelf….discounted box color.  You get excited!  Not only are you going cheap, now you’re getting it even cheaper.  This is not a good thing.  Just like everything else at discount stores, it’s there because it is old.  That doesn’t mean that some products in large chains 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.

In the same sense 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 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 :).



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

  1. Cole Serigne says:

    Erika, I needed to comment on this because the few comments I read were horrible! I agree with you 100%! Most hair stylist are not perfect and everyone will make mistakes. I have done so much to my hair. I have used box dye, Sally’s products, and salon! I have to admit they all work well for me. I have really nice hair though. Its smooth a little oily and yes a few dead ends. I have been getting highlights now for almost a year at a salon and I love the look. However I dont understand why my stylest can’t get all the way to the roots. But anyway he does a great job! And I wantto tthank you for your article. These women posting rude or disrespectful comments don’t understand your reasoning. But I do! You are passionate about what you do and you want women tojknow what you know about the box! Thanks for your advise!

    • Erika Brown says:

      Thank you so much! I believe that no matter what a persons opinion is, it is always a good idea to understand the flip side as well. Most people who write or voice their opinion feel strongly about their views and those who oppose will always argue it….naturally. No one is right or wrong depending on the individual situation, which is why I bring attention to the fact that some people do make out okay with box color.

      My aunt used a box for years…then one Christmas everyone was like…”Wow, you went dark!”. It was hilarious because she was getting tired of explaining that it was the same box! It said “new formula”, how bad could it be? So, my point is that even the experienced box user can have a flub….as well as any hairstylist. It’s all about education and skill.

      Does your hairstylist apply your highlights fairly quickly or does it seem slower and with more care for precision? My clients love that they leave the salon with no regrowth and it’s because I am meticulous or just can’t move on to the next foil until it’s applied properly :) Those that “speed foil” can’t get as close because without being careful about the amount of product and how it’s applied you will get bleed lines…and that looks horrible. That’s where seeing an ABCH haircolorist comes in handy…not that your guy isn’t great…but one of the requirements for certification is perfect application of highlights. Or find someone that has practiced this until mastering the skill :)

      Thanks again for reading and commenting!

  2. mcheramie23 says:

    […] was not an option. I decided to color it. I took my best friend to Kroger and she helped me pick a box color that I really liked. It was a dark tinted red and would give me the “cherry-cola” look […]

  3. Sarah says:

    I hate to admit it, but I have been coloring my hair for 25 years. In my teen years I was broke and relied on a box. When I got my first job I thought I would treat my hair to a real professional dye job. At that point I had taken a break from dying and had virgin hair. I went to a highly reviewed salon and walked out with straw hair, to make matters worse the color was washed out in under a month. I tried in vain for 5 more years to find a salon which was worth anything. Now, 10 years later, I dye my own hair. My hair is soft and silky, I am very happy with the results that the “box” provides. $100+ for a dye job is not worth it for me. Maybe my hair is just weird, but I am more than happy with my routine.

    • Erika Brown says:

      Like I have said in many comments and my article, everyone is different. Depending on your hair type and which box you choose you could have no issues. My aunt uses box color and has for years. One Christmas everyone kept saying “Oh, you decided to go darker!” She’d laugh and say…”Well..it’s the same box I always get, but this time it didn’t turn out right.” The company had changed the formula and the box simply stated “new & improved”. There are many points to not using box color, the fact that it is never custom to your hair type or tones is one of the biggest.

      I can guarantee that if an ABCH certified haircolorist does your color you will see and feel the difference….it’s like night and day. Lost of people may feel satisfied with their box results, but it is my belief that they have not experienced results from a true colorist. The public doesn’t see the complexity of haircolor which is why they put all colorists in a category with “the one at that trendy salon”.

      I can’t say this enough…. IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW UPSCALE/HIGHLY REVIEWED THE SALON IS! WHAT MATTERS IS THE PASSION, WILLINGNESS, SKILL, EXPERTISE, & KNOWLEDGE OF THE COLORIST YOU CHOOSE! ABCH is the only way to truly find a stylist with these qualities, I’ve seen all types….worked with all types….there is nothing like a certified colorist. I went from a high-end salon to working at a Hair Cuttery because I’m in a rural area with little options. The salon does not reflect my abilities…..just as a pricey salon does not mean the stylists are top-notch. People seek me at a chain salon for my skills, others seek the salon and get unwanted results.

  4. […] e-mails and comments.  This infographic is the first of a series that will help explain the difference between salon and box color.  If you just can’t wait for my next infographic…10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t […]

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