I already know what you are thinking, this is SO contradictory to what I do and what I preach.

The reason for this short list of guidelines is because I get SO much grief from people that say the following:

  • I’m offending those that cannot afford a professional haircolorist.
  • Some people don’t have a really great salon in their area.
  • Some people are frightened because of previous horrible experiences (which you should not use to judge the work that another stylist may be capable of).
  • Some people don’t have the time to go to the salon (I’m not going there in this article).
  • I just hate box color, I’m “narrow-minded”, etc.

Those are just a few of the negative reactions that I get from my popular post:

10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Box Color

I’m okay with the conflicting opinions because everyone is entitled, and everyone is different.

I do understand that some women cannot afford it, and I give them advice whether the “nay-sayers” see it or not. I feel for those people who can’t get a great professional color no matter what the situation is that prevents them from doing so.

I started this blog to help people, so it would be very hypocritical of me to not help those that just don’t have any other options. This doesn’t mean that I recommend box color as a great choice, but if it’s all you can do….I’d rather you make a better choice than the worst one.


How to Choose a Box Color

For everyone with any hair type:

  • If your hair is damaged, brittle, splitting, hard to comb when wet, etc.-don’t color your hair.
  • Cap highlights are the WORST…and even WORSE when you do it yourself. I simply can’t recommend a guideline for using a box color kit for highlights…you are on your own.
  • Don’t choose anything drastically different from your natural color!
  • Choosing a semi-permanent haircolor is always safer. Most haircolor does not truly “wash out”(only demi or temporary colors do).
  • If you already have color on your hair…don’t apply color from roots-to-ends. It won’t look right…..
  • If you have a different shade of box color on your hair than the one you would like to apply- There are too many variables here and you should contact me before moving forward 🙂

 If your hair is light (blonde to light brown):

  • Choose something that is not darker than medium brown.
  • If your hair is on the “darker” side of light….don’t choose the lightest color there is.
  • Cap highlighting kits are the worst kind….choose a single application color if you can.

 If your hair is medium (brown in it’s many forms):

  • Choose something that is not very light.
  • If your hair is very warm, don’t go too much lighter as it will turn out brassy.
  • If you don’t like red or warm tones at all, choose a cool tone because browns naturally have more warmth in their undertones.

 If your hair is dark (brown to black):

  • Don’t go any lighter than medium brown with a box.
  • The lighter the shade is that you choose, the warmer (red/brassy/gold) your hair will turn out.
  • Definitely don’t go for something lighter than brown if your hair is closer to dark brown/black.

 If your hair is red:

  • What the hell are you thinking?!
  • Don’t color your hair!

 If your hair is gray:

  • The type of color you choose will depend on the look you would like to achieve, how long you plan on keeping up with the look, etc.
  • Your percentage and placement of gray is also a factor for choosing a color.
  • Use semi-permanent (most of the time) if you have less than 50% gray and just want to slightly cover it, blend it in, or “freshen up” your look.
  • Choose a shade that is closest to your natural and has warm tones (unless you are 25% gray or less and your hair is naturally warm).
  • If your hair is 50% or more gray choose a permanent shade if you plan to maintain it regularly, choose a semi-permanent shade if you don’t plan to maintain as often or if you’re not as concerned with full gray coverage.
  • To fully cover gray you will need a permanent hair color.

*Disclaimer:These are generic guidelines for choosing a box color to use at home. These rules do not always apply to professional coloring because your stylist should know how to achieve a certain color without pulling too much warmth or damaging your hair, for example.

These guidelines will not work in every situation as there are many other variables, and I cannot possibly include each one. If you have a lot going on with your hair, you should contact me first for more advice.

Lastly, I am not responsible if you screw up your haircolor, hair health, etc. by doing your own haircolor. I do not recommend it, as haircoloring is an art that should only be performed by a licensed professional.

About The Author


Professional Hairstylist | American Board Certified Haircolorist | Makeup Artist | Beauty Blogger

4 Responses to How to Choose a Box Color

  1. Savi says:

    Hi Erika,
    Just finished reading your articles. WOW! Thank you for sharing your knowledge about haircoloring whether it’s done at home or at a salon. Really appreciate you taking time to write it all down.
    I have one question, I tend to have itchiness after I color my hair, recently been using ION demi with ion sensitive scalp developer. However, my grays r really showing just after the first wash. What r the best options in box form out there for me? Or at Sally’s beauty store?
    Appreciate your feedback

  2. Barbra says:

    Really appreciate the time that you took to help people who do decide to use box color.
    And no, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to a salon to get your hair colored.
    I have blond hair with some white starting to come in and I stay within the blond range(s) for when I choose a hair color.
    I do use Swarzkopf products primarily.
    And I do agree with you on not using some box colors for highlights.
    The one’s with the caps are terrible.
    I’ve tried the ones with the brushes or glamlights with some success.
    As a chemist I am very aware of what goes into these products and what can happen to you hair if you use them incorrectly.
    For my higlights and lowlights I do prefer to see my hairstylist for that.
    And Erika if I’m ever in your area I would love you to do my hair!
    You seem like a very nice woman who does really care about people when they want to change their hair color.
    Very good advice and Thank You. 🙂

  3. Vail says:

    I saw that word, “Box”, and finally realized what it must feel like to be in your shoes! I am a baker who is very serious about my ingredients. I have a very large metaphorical cow if a recipe for “home made” anything has “One box of cake mix” in it. Who knows what is in that stuff, I promise it will not taste as good as my baked -with-love and I trained many many hours to learn to make desserts.

    But, some days people just cant muster up the energy. And something in a box is faster. Not better but faster. And cheaper and a bunch of 5-year-olds can’t tell the difference.
    But I still know mine is better! :0)

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