Hair Color: Thinking Out Of The Box

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As a professional hair stylist and colorist, I get a lot of questions about store-bought “box” hair color, and I fix a lot of problems caused by home hair colorists. It’s important to understand how these products work, what can go wrong, and why I always recommend using an experienced professional.

Most box colors are permanent hair colors that are designed to replace color pigments in the hair shaft so the results can last until new hair grows out. To do this, they contain ammonia (or an alternative) to swell the hair cuticles open (think of them like scales). Then a peroxide developer is added, opening the cuticles further, lightening the existing pigment, and helping carry the new color pigments into the hair shaft.

While this sounds simple enough, the process must be carefully controlled to prevent damage. If the hair swells too much, the hair shaft is compromised, which results in damage or breakage. This is one of the problems with box colors. They are made strong enough to be effective on a wide range of hair, but as a result, they tend to cause damage. You can minimize damage by choosing a high-quality product and following the instructions and timing carefully.

Another common problem with box color is “build-up” and “banding” that can occur due to heavy pigments combined with improper application. After your roots show, and you apply color again, the previously colored hair gets darker and the new hair is lighter. After a few applications, a “build-up” will form and you will see visible “bands” of color. Professionals avoid this by sectioning your hair and applying color only to new growth and then blending.

With these tips, you can minimize damage and get decent results, but only if you want boring color and there are not any other factors to consider. Colorists consider many other factors: natural hair color, porosity, gray coverage, deposits from hard water or chlorine, heat and sun exposure, etc. They know what’s best for your specific hair. They use high-quality products (like Davines) to mix custom colors at strengths that are perfect for you. Like an artist, they also use special application techniques to add subtle or bold dimension.

Think of it like this; you can buy the best paint in the world, but that doesn’t make you an artist. Professional colorists use quality products and have the creative talent, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve beautiful results that are tailored to your specific hair condition, which changes over time. They also place color precisely, use toners for special effects, add vivid accents and much more.

So if you want professional results, find an experienced colorist who uses quality products from responsible companies. Work with them to get custom color that you love and are able to maintain. Then, use the hair care products they recommend to help maintain that look for longer.

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