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Box Dye and Colour Corrections

Published: 02/Nov/2012     

Colour corrections are probably the most challenging work that I do. The majority of drugstore quality hair colour (also known as box dye or box colour) ads on TV promise all sorts of strange things to convince us to use them. With this post I hope to dispel some of the common myths about box dye as well as cover a few of the processes I use to correct colour mistakes. If I can, I’d also like to  help habitual box dye users to learn to apply their colour properly.

Please have a look at the photo to your right. Amanda was an amazing client and now that she’s moved away from Vancouver I hope that she continues to take awesome care of her hair! I don’t have a photo of the colour we started from, but it was about a shade away from black with a mahogany undertone. We worked together over 2 months to make her hair perfect for her wedding, then bring it up to a bright beige blonde.  These photos have not been edited other than cropping and changing the brightness so that the wall behind her is basically the same (this would give the truest impression of the actual colours). If you are interested in a similar transition please contact me for a consultation.

Box dye is used generally for one of 2 reasons: it’s cheap, and it’s quick.  If you know how to apply it properly and plan to use the very same colour forever, I would suggest it’s best that you continue to use box dye.  However, the majority of people using it are buying it impulsively and without an understanding of what hair colour actually does. Sadly there are too many box dye nightmares that could be prevented!

Let’s focus on the ‘cheapness’ of box dye. Yes, it’s certainly cheap, but did you know that it’s costly to repair any mistakes if you use the wrong colour or apply it carelessly?  If you shop around you’ll find that local salons quote hundreds of dollars for colour corrections.  Also, the quality of the actual product is often poor and it’s fairly damaging for your hair.  If you were to lighten your hair this way, you would lack the professional touch and probably end up with orange or yellow hair…and it’s even worse if you darken it, as the dark browns and blacks are often greenish or dull.  Basically I’m telling you that you get what you pay for.

Sometimes we decide that we need to change our hair colour and it must be done immediately.   Assume that you’ve had some highlights done and they are way too bright for your liking – you may feel there is no time to wait two weeks for your regular colourist’s first available appointment.  Impulsive colouring is usually where the worst disasters happen.  If you are wanting a change, it’s best to book in advance and think carefully about it (go to your colourist with lots of photos to help them).

Also! Be warned that many ‘natural’ dyes contain herbal or metallic components in lieu of chemical pigments. I cannot stress enough how horrible these are! Natural dyes such as henna leave an ugly green tinge in the hair if you try to change or lighten it.  This does NOT come out and your only option is to cover it with a dark brown or black and wait for it to grow out. Metallic dyes (Grecian Formula and some root mascaras) will make your hair smoke, bubble and melt off your head if applied overtop of old oxidative colour or if oxidative colour is applied overtop of it. I have seen it happen and I will never get the sound of that poor wailing client out of my head! Thank goodness it’s never happened to me…but this is why it’s important to tell your colourist everything you’ve done to your hair, even if you feel embarrassed about it.

It really ticks me off to see some of the hair colour commercials out there.  One shows a brunette gently shaking her hair in slow motion as her dark hair magically changes to champagne blonde. This is a blatant lie unless you are applying the blonde tone to virgin hair, and it’s not worth it anyway because you’re not likely to get such a neutral blonde with box dye if you start from dark virgin hair (it’ll probably go orange).  Colour does not lift (lighten) previous colour.  You must bleach the brown out, and this is technically a corrective process done over a few appointments, especially if your hair is dark and you want to go blonde.  Again, this is a source of many hair colour nightmares and it is very hard to fix. Remember Katy Perry’s transition from black to blonde, with the awkward ‘gingery’ stage in between (see my client Lerissa to the right) and you’ll understand what I mean. She herself got impatient and coloured it pink rather than wait until her next appointment!  My client Lerissa is fantastic because she understands that beautiful hair is an investment, and uses products to care for her hair and keep her blonde looking natural and perfect.

I want to specifically mention Feria by L’Oreal for causing me a few problems. They make beautiful shimmering colours, and I recommend them if you must have box dye. Strangely enough, to get the shimmer they include a green opalescent component to the dye that is virtually impossible to get out of the hair. Now that I’ve mentioned it you’ll notice it when looking beneath the ‘hotspot’ highlight from direct sunlight, or upwards against the growth of the hair. In the salon you can actually request this glaze from L’Oreal, and it looks awesome in punky, alternative hair colours.

So how do we use box dye properly? I will teach you. Always apply only to your roots.  I will say again, at full volume: ALWAYS APPLY ONLY TO YOUR ROOTS. If you just slap it on all over your hair each time, you’ll get bright roots and black ends from layering colour over and over…then you’ll have to call me to fix it.  This is very hard to fix, and usually I apply a few rounds of highlights over 6 months to softly blend the colour out.  When using box dye, apply with the squeeze bottle directly to your scalp and squish it upward with your gloved finger to cover the regrowth.  You can also use a tint brush and get a friend to help you reach the back of your head. Never do anything drastic with box dye.  Keep it close to your natural colour. If you are blonde and you want to go dark, it’s best to go to a salon or else you’ll end up with a weird tone that fades to green.  If you are dark and you want to go blonde, you have no choice but to go for a correction.

Gracefully Going Grey!

Finally I just want to mention a growing trend among mature ladies. I like to call it “Gracefully Going Grey” and my client Tam has generously allowed me to use these before-and-after photos of her to show you what I mean. It can be shocking and upsetting to go grey all at once, so I like to apply grey highlights to match my client’s natural tone. Usually we transition over 6 months to a year so there’s time to get used to the difference. I think she looks way better with her natural silver – it’s quite a beautiful shade, isn’t it?

I think that’s the end of my big fat article for today.  I hope you learned a lot! Do you want to know more about colour corrections? Did I miss anything I should have covered? Let me know.


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