- Square One Salon and Spa

March 4 2024

If you’re like me, dear readers, you’ve been around the block with drugstore boxed hair dye. As someone whose been interested in the beauty industry since her pre-teens, I started playing around with boxed dye early on. I box-dyed my hair a bright vibrant red (not my color by the way), a pastel pink, various browns, black, and even tried to bleach it on my own. Let me take you back to February 2022; picture me, a college student surviving off of ramen noodles and cereal, wanting a new and drastic change to my look. I am a natural “dirty” blonde and I was looking for something to radically change my appearance, thus I find myself wandering down the Walmart hair aisle and selecting a deep DARK warm-toned brown. After nine months of damaging my hair with over-the-counter permanent dye, I decided I wanted to go back to a light blonde. I walked confidently into the doors of Sally’s, picked up a box of color stripper and blonde (you guessed it) box-dye, and drove myself home to my apartment – which will be the scene of the incident.

I was so excited for my new blonde hair. I rapidly ripped open the box of color stripper, mixed up the concoction of bleach and other chemicals and slathered it on my head. I set a timer on my phone and waited anxiously as the minutes counted down. My alarm goes off and I head to the shower. I dried my hair and like a scene from a movie, I wiped away the steam from the mirror (expecting to look like Marilyn Monroe, might I add) and was met with a truly horrifying reflection.

My hair was platinum at the top (“hot roots” as stylists call it), orangey-red throughout the middle, and a muddy brown at the ends. I looked like a pint of Neapolitan ice-cream; however, this was not a sweet surprise. I stared at the mirror for what felt like hours and then immediately went through the five stages of grief. I called every salon that google could find and had my first ever salon experience the next day for a color correction. I was mortified but the stylist was so kind and understanding and talked me through what we could do to fix the crime scene upon my head, while also not damaging it more.

Prior to the “incident,” I didn’t truly understand the damage I was doing to my poor hair. It became incredibly clear to be that boxed hair dye is immensely harmful to your hair, and I’m not just talking about the outward appearance, it can ruin the hair from the inside out. Dear readers, I am in the business of sparing you the misery I went through, I implore you – please learn from my mistakes!

            But maybe my personal story is not enough to convince you, that’s okay, I wasn’t convinced by other’s boxed-dye horror stories either. And, even if I was a little persuaded, the prices on the boxes at the drugstore just seemed too good to pass up. So, what’s the deal? Are salons and hairstylists scamming you for something you could do at home? How harmful can boxed-dye possibly be? What’s the difference between salon color and boxed color if the outcome seems the same? Dear readers, allow me to elaborate on why hairstylists call boxed-dye, the cardinal sin.

Let’s Talk Ingredients

            If you’re already wary of boxed hair dye, it’ll come as no shock to you that these drugstore dyes contain multiple, high percentages, of hair-harming chemicals and ingredients. But, if you’re like me, you have no idea what to look for or even what ingredients can be harmful. And hairstylists understand this and cast no judgement upon those who come in from previously dying their hair with boxed dye; hairstylists however understand that this is why boxed-dye is not consumer-friendly. All one sees is a box with a beautiful person with luscious, shiny, smooth, vivid hair, at a fraction of the salon price; why wouldn’t you buy it? Truly, the marketing team for drugstore hair dye absolutely excelled at selling their products. But this is where we come in, I am here to give you the facts of these key ingredients found on the back of the boxes with beautiful people with beautiful hair; and, trust me, the ingredients are far less beautiful than the front.

            Ammonia, Hydrogen Peroxide, Paraphenylenediamine (PPD), and Metallic Salts. These combined and individual ingredients can have a truly terrifying effect on the hair and can damage it from the inside out. I will take you throughout these chemicals and break down the effects, starting with the two most harmful – Ammonia and Hydrogen Peroxide.

            Ammonia is by far, the most damaging ingredient in boxed hair dye. When ammonia is dissolved in water, it creates a solution called ammonium hydroxide or ammonia water. Ammonium hydroxide can cause burns, especially on the scalp, tips of ears, and hairline. It can also cause general irritation to the nose and eyes. Aside from rashes and irritation to the skin, ammonia by itself, when used repeatedly, can cause devastating damage to the hair cuticle. The hair cuticle is the outer shell around the hair cortex. The hair cuticle serves as protection and helps strengthen the hair itself. When the hair cuticle is damaged, by ammonia or other harmful ingredients, critical moisture escapes from the hair. Moisture is vital for the hair; Moisture protects hair from external stressors like weather, prevents breakages, improves hair’s elasticity, and adds general shine to the outward appearance. When ammonia causes damage and moisture escapes from said damage, the hair becomes frizzy, dry, and brittle. This leads to breakages in the hair and an overall dire need to repair the damage and remedy the health of your hair. But it’s still coloring it, right? Maybe you’re okay with the damage as long as you’re getting that desired color that appears on the box. But what if I told you that ammonia is actually ruining your hair’s ability to color. Seems counterproductive but is unfortunately, true. Ammonia destroys an amino acid called, Tyrosine. Tyrosine’s function as an amino acid is regulating the production of melanin, AKA hair pigmentation. That’s right, Tyrosine aids in helping your hair hold color; when this amino acid is destroyed by ammonia, the hair loses its ability to hold color. When I learned this, I was shocked to say the least. Coloring your hair via boxed hair dye is actually ruining your hair’s capacity to take and hold any color! If that’s not enough to sway you, don’t worry, that’s just one dangerous chemical in this list of hazardous elements.

            Hydrogen Peroxide is up on the chopping block next. While hydrogen peroxide has its benefits in other areas, it can have immense negative consequences to the hair. Much like ammonia, hydrogen peroxide can cause irritation to the skin and hairline including redness, itching, and minor to mild rashes. Aside from its skin irritants, it can also damage the cuticle of the hair. Hydrogen peroxide needs to permeate the cuticle to effectively dye the hair which in turn, damages the cuticle itself. As aforementioned, damage to the cuticle results in a lack of moisture which then leads to breakage, dryness, dullness, frizz, split ends, and a general lack of protection that moisture provides. On top of this, hydrogen peroxide can lead to hair loss. For those with fine hair, this is truly an even more terrifying fact. How does hydrogen peroxide cause hair loss? I’m so glad you asked. Hydrogen peroxide, as the name suggests, is an oxidative hair dye. Oxidative hair dye works by causing a chemical reaction in the hair cortex to bring about color in the hair, and while this sounds fine it is actually causing something called, oxidative stress. Oxidative stress ages the hair and can lead to hair loss.

            Paraphenylenediamine, or PPD, is another chemical ingredient often used in boxed hair dyes, though usually mostly found in dark hair dye. This chemical can produce some rather unnerving reactions to the consumers. Much like the previous two ingredients, PPD can lead to mild skin irritations such as rashes on the hairline, scalp, ears, eyes, and nose. However, PPD can also cause more major skin irritations. For those who have sensitive skin, like myself, you may experience a skin reaction similar to eczema dry rashes. These rashes are incredibly uncomfortable and become even more so when exposed to heat or clothes with textures that can snag or dry skin. Though eczema is uncomfortable and somewhat hard to relieve, it is bearable and for some, boxed hair dye might worth risking it the chance of a rash. However, PPD comes in with one more disclosure that may have you think twice. PPD can cause severe consequences. This includes spreading rashes, swelling of the face, skin, and scalp, hives, and sometimes, anaphylaxis. Now, I don’t know about you, readers, but I don’t want to have to keep an EpiPen or Benadryl on me just to dye my hair.

            Finally, let’s discuss Metallic Salts. A quick google search will tell you that you have nothing to worry about with these metallic salts because they “sit on top of the hair,” don’t fall for it! This is just another marketing tactic to help those who are considering purchasing drugstore boxed dye feel more comfortable, in reality these salts can be very dangerous. But what are these metallic salts? Metallic salts can include lead, copper, silver nitrate, silver, and bismuth. These salts can cause dryness, brittleness, frizz, coarseness, and breakage. This is especially damaging and risky for those who are using boxed dye to cover their greys. This is because grey hair is already typically dry, coarse, and/or brittle. And I know you’re thinking, but other ingredients also cause breakage and frizz – why are metallic salts “very” dangerous? Well, dear readers, allow me to elaborate. Metallic salts combined with sulfur/hydrogen peroxide can cause a nasty chemical reaction when put with professional salon color. We’re talking heat, smoke, and melting of the hair shaft in some cases. Now that, is truly terrifying stuff.

            Overall, Boxed hair dye may give you a new color but it’s ingredients can cause long-lasting negative effects such as: damaging the cuticle, shaft, and follicles, rashes and irritation, sensitive scalps, dry and brittle hair, breakage and thinning. What’s more, these dyes may say “semi-permanent”, but the reality is that the chemical reactions and elements found in these boxes makes the boxed hair dye very permanent. The hair is permanently, chemically, altered by the harmful components. This means it won’t wash out within 1-2 months like the box states and though it may fade, the damage will have already been done. In my case, and most cases, I damaged my hair so much by boxed-hair dye, I had to wait and grow my hair out so that I could rid of the damage by cutting it. Outside of the effects of the dangerous ingredients, there are many other reasons to avoid boxed hair dye.

A More Personal Approach

Boxed hair dye is marketed as a one-size-fits-all product when in reality that is far from the truth. Beyond the ingredients and components, you get a much more beneficial and personalized experience in a salon chair versus your home bathroom. No, I am not talking about the conversations – though our stylists love to chat with their clients, I am talking about creating outward confidence in the client, making dream looks happen.

A part of a stylists’ job is to have in-depth conversations with each client to gain information that is vital to understanding how to proceed and how to give the client the hair they desire. Stylists consider many things when assessing client’s hair and how to move forward with creating formulas. A short list of what stylists consider include: desired color/look, natural level, underlying pigment, current artificial color, color history, percentage of gray, the density of the hair, the porosity of the hair, the client’s skin tone, and the overall health of the hair. With this information, stylists are able to provide a better “game plan” in terms of moving forward with your hair appointment and formulas. This means they can navigate which developers to use, what colors they need to cancel out, how many foils and product they will need, how much time will be needed, what processors they will use, what toners they will use, etc. This personalized experience is simply something that cannot be replicated by boxed-hair dye.

Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t need all the bells and whistles of a personalized experience. Maybe you’re thinking that your desired hair color is just an all-over color and that boxed dyes can get that job done. Allow me to further elaborate and give you some facts to consider before you buy another box of dye from the drugstore. Have you ever noticed a brassy look to your hair after box dying your hair? This is because all hair has warm undertones – yellow, orange, and red. Boxed hair dye is not produced to cancel out or consider your underlying warm pigments. After using boxed hair dye and especially after using boxed bleach, your hair will appear much brassier or even orange. Furthermore, if you continue to use box dye, you may never get your desired color because most, if not all, boxed hair dye are progressive dyes. As I previously stated, boxed hair dye is permanent and applying more boxed dye upon the hair will make the hair even darker and even more damaged. Even if you routinely use the same brand and same color, the color is going to appear darker because you are just adding more dye on top of dye, which is a dangerous game to play.

Stop! In the Name of Hair!

I hope that I have given you, dear readers, some things to consider before making that trip to Walmart for a new look. We at Square One Salon and Spa do not offer judgement to those who have used boxed hair dye in the past, rather, we welcome you with open arms! We understand that the boxed-dye is cheap and gives a misleading impression of fabulous and healthy hair, trust me – we’ve all been there. If you have been using boxed-dye and are looking for a change or someone to talk you through the next steps in your hair journey, feel free to call or go online and book an appointment with us! Our hair stylists would love to hear from you and create some hair magic! Just one more note before I go, if you plan on coming to see us and are looking to change your hair, it is important that you tell the receptionist and stylist that you have been using boxed hair dye and what look you’re hoping to achieve. This helps receptionists’ pair you with a stylist and it helps the stylists know what to look for in your hair health as well as create a formula that won’t further damage your hair. Avoid those “Boxed Dye Blues” and come see us at Square One!