Box Dye vs. Salon Dye: Here’s Everything You Need To Know

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“New year, new me” — some believe that a yearly transformation can give them a jump start to a changed outlook in life. 

And these transformations usually aren’t complete without dye jobs. 

a woman wearing checkered polo is flaunting her newly colored balayage hair in soft curls

So once you finally decide to pull off a different hair color, you’re left with one more question. Which is better in the box dye vs. salon dye debate? Which road should you take? 

Let’s unravel what lies behind the world of box dyes vs salon dyes. 

The Hair Coloring Dictionary

We bet your hair inspo has been highly influenced by the different images you’ve seen on your newsfeed. But behind their stunning facades is a technique that made them that way. 

The tension between box dyes and salon dyes intensifies as we look upon the different applications and weigh the convenience of using box dyes vs. the expertise of salon dyes.

“Which style can I replicate on my own?”

To help you find out, here are some of the trendiest hair coloring techniques and their differences:

All-Over Color

As the name suggests, all-over color involves using one shade to color your entire head of hair from the roots to the tips.

Now while other hair coloring techniques are better for adding depth and dimension, all-over color is still a great choice when you want to lighten or darken your current hair color and achieve seamless, perfectly uniform results.

It’s also excellent for enhancing the appeal of sleek hairstyles like bobs or covering grays.

Ombre

A young woman with pink hair and glasses is holding a fanny pack on a yellow background.

Flashback to 2010 when almost everybody got hooked on having dark roots and playful, vibrant ends. 

Ombre is stylish and easy to maintain because the seamless gradient still appears beautifully as the hair grows. After all, it uses the natural color of the roots and blends the chosen color by gradually fading towards the ends.

You can be more dramatic by using a two-tone fading or a more subtle take to it by applying it to smaller sections through ombre highlights. 

Sombre

It sounds like an ombre for a reason. Sombre is the softer rendition with a root-to-end transition that isn’t as wild as an ombre.

The shifting of colors is only about two shades apart, making them more seamlessly blended and natural. 

Dip-Dyed

Dip-dyed hair screams color and fun.

It’s a technique that uses two shades of color that are usually far from each other’s hues, where they blend in a way that there is a clear demarcation between them.

Highlights

From the clip-ins to foilings, highlights have been one of the classics. This technique involves weaving or strategically picking out strands of hair and lightening them from roots to tips. 

This is an excellent option if you want to frame and highlight your facial features better and accentuate the hairstyle by adding dimension and a pop of color to the hair’s natural color. 

Lowlights

Lowlights use the same application technique as highlights, but instead of lightening the hair, it creates shadows or darker streaks to add contrast and feature the beauty of the natural color.

Here’s a quick video to distinguish between highlights and lowlights:

Babylights

If you want more natural-looking highlights or have very fine locks, babylights are perfect for giving off the “my hair but better” vibe.

It’s a softer and more delicate take on highlights in which the lightened strands are finer and thinner. They mimic your hair’s natural shine when you’re out in the sun. 

Balayage

Balayage is a French word that means “to sweep.”

This technique creates a gradiated effect, but unlike the latter, it is hand-painted or applied in a seemingly sweeping motion and starts somewhere down the middle of the hair, unlike highlights. 

Since the application is freehand, the lightened portions are less symmetrical, which creates the perfect natural-looking blend. 

Reverse Balayage

By reversing the process of a typical balayage and adding darker shades starting from the roots down to the midshaft in a gradually fading effect, you’ll get a dimensional balayage look and seamlessly add lowlights to the hair.

Frosting

Frosting is a highlighting technique that even the shorties can enjoy and play with.

It involves free-hand painting of individual strands into icy-toned highlights using hair dye while leaving some parts untouched, mimicking a salt-and-pepper look. 

Don’t worry, if you’re the type to rock warmer tones, you can also do so! You can even dye your frosted highlights to conceal gray hair. 

How Box Dyes Are Different From Salon Dyes

Now that you’ve seen a rundown of the different hair coloring trends, can you imagine how the application process will be?

Before making any of those big changes to your hair, let’s weigh the options and see if salon hair color is better than at-home dyes.

a woman applying box hair dye to her own hair using black brush at the bathroom

Cost

Box Dye

The average box of dye costs $5 to $20, depending on the brand and the color. Some shades require a more complex formula, which makes them pricier. 

It’s less of a hassle because most of them contain the complete package: the pigment and the developer that goes in a 1:1 ratio, protective gears, and post-coloring treatments.

Salon Dye 

Comparing that to professionally dyed hair costing about $50 to $200, box dye is definitely way cheaper.

Salon dyes can go up to $300 for premium services.

This is because salon color prices include a carefully mixed and measured formula, new towels that can be stained and damaged, salon quality additives like Olaplex for less damage, and better-looking results. 

Most salons also offer complementary drinks and massages to go with the treatment.

Formula and Process

Box Dye

Box dyes or home hair colors are premade formulas that usually come in three types: permanent, semi-permanent, and demi-permanent. 

They all swear by the same color-altering purpose but vary in process, ingredients, chemical compounds, longevity, retention, and color range.

Still, all box dyes will do either of these: the pigment goes through the internal layer of the hair and penetrates the hair cortex for lasting colors, or the color molecules coat the shaft and sit on the external layer for a shorter period.

Since box dyes are marketed to the public, the formula is fixed and set to fit all hair types.

Yes, it’s inclusive, but it doesn’t necessarily mean what works for you will work for everyone else or vice versa.

Salon Dye 

If you want a more personalized and safer hair coloring session, salon dyes can provide that.

Aside from the touch of experts, you’ll get to have a specifically tailored formula. This means that the chemicals and the dye mixture will be proportioned based on your hair type and desired color.

As much as possible, salon dyes use the optimal solution with minimal hydrogen peroxide content to color the hair slowly but surely. 

Professional stylists likely consider more things such as color theory, skin tone, eye color, hair texture, and all the possible aspects and factors you never thought would affect hair color. 

an individual is mixing hair dye in black mixing bowl while wearing black gloves

Color and Application

Box Dye

Box dyes may give you the convenience of doing your hair at home by providing a manual that guides the application process. But the thing is, it also restricts you from doing more than one color

Without the proper skills and by solely relying on a YouTube video or a manual, the chances of having your hair end up the way you want it to may be slim.

Salon Dye

Professionals spend years of training in application and hair technicalities, so they know exactly what they’re doing. 

From the virgin application and how products react against one another to blending the colors and tones and how to achieve them, they know their way through your hair problems.

When having your hair dyed at salons, the cost may be steep, but that comes with a color service with the proper skills and superior mastery of techniques.

Benefits and Risks

Talking about benefits is easy. But sometimes, we want to achieve the hair of our dreams so much that we compromise on the essential thing: hair health. 

 BenefitsRisks
Box Dyes
  • More convenient
  • Cheaper 
  • More time efficient
  • Gives you the freedom to dye your hair the way you want it
  • It can be done in the comfort of your home
  • Accessible and can be bought in most drugstores or supermarkets
  • Fades quicker
  • Application can be challenging without any assistance from others
  • Application can be messy
  • Can cause severe hair and skin damage if not done correctly
  • Highly possible that the color won’t turn out exactly like the picture on the box
  • Effectiveness differs from one brand/type to another
  • Not all types can cover gray hair efficiently
  • Prone to uneven hair color
  • Can leave a lasting stain to the skin, clothes, and towels
  • Alters and damages the structure of the hair, botching the current and succeeding hair color change
  • Watch out for uneven and brassy colors
Salon Dyes
  • Lasts longer
  • Get a fully customized color
  • More precise and intricate application
  • You’ll get safer formula infused with healthy additives
  • More reliable when it comes to achieving your hair inspirations
  • Get a more relaxing experience
  • An extensive array of color options to choose from
  • Access to professional-grade, high-quality products
  • Pricey
  • Booking an appointment and waiting in line can be time-consuming
  • Possibility for damage
  • Possibility of bad service
  • Possibility of miscommunication with your hairstylist

When to Use Box Dyes

Despite the long list of negatives, we cannot deny the fact that box dye is relevant and useful. 

So whether you’re brave enough or maybe just a die-hard DIY fan, here are some instances when coloring hair at home may come in handy:

  • You want an affordable and temporary hair color
  • You need a darkening dye job or adjusting the tone of your hair
  • You’re in a situation that calls for an immediate change of color
  • You want to cover gray hair and regrowths or want to match your current hair color,

However, if you’re planning to use a box dye for a more complex style or hair coloring technique like the trendy ones we listed above, expect the best but prepare for the worst. 

To help you manage your expectations, let’s put it this way and imagine this scenario:

During a trip to your local drugstore, you reach for that affordable box dye to DIY a balayage, and the next thing you know, you’re left with damaged and blotchy hair. 

Now you may be asking yourself, “Should I call a pro?”

Well, the only choice you have now is to go to the nearest salon and pray for victory in the battle of salon dyes versus box dyes. 

But in the hopes of saving yourself from despair, you ended up spending hundreds of dollars at the salon instead of avoiding the salon in the first place.

a hair stylist wearing black gloves are applying hair dye to their client using a black brush while wearing black apron

When to Call a Pro

Before you botch your hair from a home hair color session, consider these things.

Professional hairstylists have years of practice and experience. So one way or another, they’ll have better skills than you. 

If you’re lucky enough to slay a dye job, what are the odds that the chemicals you’ve used aren’t seeping their way into your hair cortex and gradually damaging your bonds?

If you want a more intricate style or need more gray hair to cover, seek salon colors rather than at-home ones.

If you’re skeptical about your hair condition and what color suits you, expert suggestions will help you!

a young woman holding her newly colored hair while posing at the camera

Frequently Asked Questions

Are box dyes more damaging than salon dyes?

Box colors are commercially formulated and marketed to the public. It is a “one size fits all” dye, which means a fixed formula is made to work on hair of all types, colors, and textures when in reality, everyone’s hair is different. 

As a result, you may expect this type of dye to be more concentrated — carrying harsh chemical combinations in its formula.

Meanwhile, professional colors are carefully formulated to be kinder to your current hair situation and fortified with healthy bond-building and repairing additives to deliver lasting color and protection.  

What should I do when my box dye turns orange?

During bleaching or intense hair dyeing, melanin (the natural pigments in the hair) is removed from the hair as it lightens.

Now if the hair is not lifted or lightened enough through bleaching, warm pigments such as red and orange will be exposed and cause brassiness.

Brassy hair can also be caused by other factors like sun exposure, hard water, or hair care product buildup.

Medium to dark hair shades usually show brassiness toward the orange or red hue, while lighter shades turn yellow. And this is one of the possible complications with box dyes and bleaches.

Instead of stacking one color after another, toning shampoos are the most convenient solution to give “first aid” to this situation.

Use the color wheel for your reference. The complementary colors of the tone of brassiness you have will be key to neutralizing it. 

In short, use purple shampoos and conditioners to cancel the yellows, and use blue shampoos and conditioners to cancel the orange tones.

Take note that this may not always be a one-day process. But do add these products to your routine to help you prevent recurring brassiness.

Can you reverse the effects of box dye?

This dilemma can be tricky because depending on the type of box dye used (permanent, demi-permanent, or semi-permanent).

It can be reversible if you play it safe and color your hair with a demi or semi-permanent dye. These dyes are less likely to alter your hair’s structure and get washed off after a few shampoos.

However, if you decide to do dark hair colors, bear in mind and accept the consequences that these colors have color pigments that cling to the strands longer. 

If you decide to reverse that, this is where color removers and bleach enter the scene. But these can trigger further damage, so it would be best to research the process deeply or let professional hairstylists handle it. 

Keep These in Mind

Which do you think won the salon vs. box hair color debate?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be self-sufficient in coloring your hair and choosing box dyes as your primary option. 

But do keep in mind that dyeing is a big decision. 

Take it one step at a time, and work slowly to master the art and science of hair colors. Opt for the types that fade through time and those that are less damaging. 

Do your research, and don’t be very aggressive when doing it yourself. 

If you were to ask us, hair health matters. And if you’re too conscious about it or are not the type to take risks, there’s no better way than to leave it to the hands of the experts. 

Take better care of your hair. 

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Authors

  • Stephanie Martin

    Stephanie Martin blends her beauty industry background with expertise in communications to lead in the fashion and beauty world. As a fashion and beauty editor, she is known for engaging and informative articles. Her lifelong passion for fashion, makeup, and hair shines through her work, earning her widespread respect among readers and clients. Stephanie's style, a mix of classic and contemporary, makes her a dynamic and influential figure in the industry, inspiring others with her knowledgeable and approachable insights.

  • Madeline Hall

    With ten years in hairstyling, Madeline Hall has trained with elite colorists Naomi Knight and Lupe Voss and assisted celebrity stylist Alex Chases. From building a solid clientele at San Francisco's Code Salon to impressing Nashville's finest, Madeline is a force in the industry. Passionate about educating clients and staying updated on trends.

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