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Box Color: So many Options of Unknown!

Updated: Jan 26

I recently took a little stroll down memory lane in the Walmart hair color isle. The length of it must be twice as long as I remember it from my pre-stylist days! I found brands ranging in price from three to eleven dollars and each brand was labeled with something along the lines of a name such as medium ash brown, or light golden blonde, etc.

Every brand also had a six picture, side-by-side chart that shows what your result would be according to the pre-application hair color. Awesome! As a highly educated and experienced hair colorist, I immediately have an understanding by looking at the box chart that an average consumer might not be aware of. The pre-application picture was most likely “virgin” hair, hair that hasn’t been previously colored.

In regard to going lighter, you cannot make dark, artificially colored hair lighter by using a box color (or any color for that matter! That’s for a different blog!) but if you don’t know that, the chart makes it appear as if you can just put blonde color over brown color and BOOM! Nailed it! Except when the consumer does this, they end up with light roots, and are now in need of a color correction! Bummer!

Moving on, I purchased a box of hair color called light brown. It didn’t even matter which one. I have more than enough experience to know that every box on the shelf, more or less, is housing the same content. I went with the one that costed $3.28 (I am fairly certain Walmart prices are the reasons pennies still exist!). When I got home, I opened the box and took out the content so I could thoroughly examine it. That took about one-minute flat. There was minimal reading and application instruction involved.

The first item I took out of the box was the bottle labeled “cream color developer”. My stylist’s hardwired mindset impulsively brought the first question: What level is the developer? By that I mean, what percent of hydrogen peroxide is in the bottle labeled “cream color developer”?

In my salon cabinet I have five different levels of developer, each necessary to have on hand because, to be frank, every coloring service has the possibility of needing alterations during the process. That is in fact why toners exist! So, if I break it down in a nutshell, the lower levels of developer would be used for depositing color, and the higher levels of developer would be to make hair lighter.

Have you ever heard anyone say, “if you keep dying your hair, it’s going to fall out”? It wouldn’t actually fall out, but there is highly probable that it might break off! Looking at hair under a microscope, the hair’s damage would be apparent. Chemicals applied to the hair create tiny holes in the hair shaft. Those holes get larger with each chemical service, eventually causing the hair to split and breakage to occur through over processing.

As a stylist, one of the main goals is to avoid compromising the hair as much as possible. One of the stylist’s main focuses is to help a guest achieve and preserve the very best integrity of the hair. That cannot be achieved from the unknown volume of developer found in a drug store box of color!

The next item I found in the home hair color box was a small vile labeled color #51. WHAT?! It’s not even labeled with the name on the box of the color I purchased!

Think of it like this. If Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck (still hard to believe that Donald Duck had a girlfriend, no?) wanted “twinning” red hair, it would require each of the characters to go through completely different processes to achieve the same result.

You cannot just purchase the box color labeled light brown, apply it, and trust it to work out just right. It is possible that you will find yourself back in the drug store color isle, or the safer choice, in a salon chair, paying for a color correction!

If a client shows me a swatch in my color book, I generally don’t apply that color specifically, or solely to my client’s hair. I look at my client’s hair’s underlying pigment and from there make choices on what it will take to reach the desired result.

The following step would be finding the underlying pigment of the artificial hair color so that I can create a rich color that isn’t too ashy or too brassy.

If for some reason, though, it were to turn out too ashy or too brassy, I can manipulate the finished result by using a neutralizing color or toner. Sometimes I mix color from three or four different tubes for one color application process, and then use two more for the glazing/toning. This is why box color #51 light brown cannot help in assuring that your result will be the desired color on the front of the box.

The other item that came in the box of hair color is a “color care conditioner”. It says color care. It does not specify, however if it is, in fact, sulfate free, if it contains parabens, if it gluten free, or tested on animals.

To be honest, the conditioner might make your hair soft. A problem with damaged hair is that sometimes the hair can feel soft to the touch! Not all damage can be seen on the surface by the naked eye. For instance, if over lightened hair has been colored darker, it may not appear to have suffered much damage.

In reality, coloring the already over lightened hair with a box of hair color containing a possible high volume of developer is actually putting your hair’s integrity in jeopardy by creating more damage, whether you can see it, or feel it, or not!

With whatever color process you decide on, your best bet is honestly seeking an experienced hair care professional. All of the uncertainty should never be left for the consumer to bare when there are plenty of hairdressers who thoroughly understand the hair coloring process and are looking forward to building a solid relationship with you as their guest!

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