Box Dye vs Salon Dye – Which One is Right For You? [Expert Advice]

When it comes to hair coloring, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of transformation that you get when you walk out of the salon with a fresh new look.

But let’s face it, not all of us have the time or money to drop hundreds of dollars on a professional color job every few months.

That’s why box dyes are so popular—they offer an easy and inexpensive way to change up your hair color in the comfort of your own home. 

So, should you DIY or go pro? Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of using box dye versus salon dye. 

What are box dyes?

Simply put, box dye is at-home hair dye that comes in a box—hence the name!

But don’t let the name fool you. These days, there are plenty of professional-grade products available on store shelves.

In fact, many top professional brands make their own versions of box dye so you can achieve salon-grade results without having to book an appointment or break the bank. 

Box dye vs salon dye - shelf of box dyes in drugstore

The benefits of box dyes.

It’s no secret that box dyes can save you time and money.

Because they are available at most drugstores and grocery stores, they are usually much cheaper than salon services. Most boxes come with everything you need included and cost anywhere from $10-$30 per kit (depending on brand). 

They are also easy to use—all you need is an hour or two free, some patience, and a little bit of know-how. Depending on your desired effect, it can take as little as 30 minutes for a full head application!

However, there are some downsides to using box dyes as well. For one thing, it can be difficult to find the perfect shade for your skin tone without consulting a professional first.

Even if you think you know what color you want your hair to be, it won’t always turn out as expected after using a box dye.

And because box dyes contain lower quality ingredients than those used in salons, they might not last as long or provide as vibrant results as professional treatments do. 

Box dye vs salon dye before and after

What are salon dyes? 

Salon hair dye is professional-grade color that is used by stylists in salons or spas.

It contains more pigment than most retail brands and has been specially formulated with higher-quality ingredients than those found in over-the-counter box dyes.

Not only does this make it easier for stylists to work with, but it also helps them create more vibrant and longer-lasting color results. 

Box dyes usually just offer pre-mixed shades with less pigment so the results don’t last as long and tend to fade quickly

When it comes to application methods, most salons will either use foil highlights or balayage techniques depending on the desired look.

This makes for a much a more natural effect than you’ll be able to achieve yourself at home.

Foil highlights involve separating sections of your hair with small pieces of aluminum foil and applying dye directly onto each section; this method allows for precise placement of color while also creating a dramatic effect with bold highlights and lowlights as needed.

Balayage involves painting freehand strokes directly onto your strands using specialized brushes; this method gives off a softer look that looks incredibly natural when done properly by an experienced stylist or colorist. 

Box dye vs salon dye - shelf of salon hair dyes and tubes in hair salon

The benefits of Salon Hair Dye 

Professional hair colorists have access to high-end products that can give your hair more shine and dimension than what you would get from a store-bought product.

Plus, they know how to mix colors correctly so that your hair won’t turn out brassy or too dark (or too light!).

Going to a salon also allows you to ask questions about aftercare and maintenance so that you can keep your color looking its best between appointments!  

Of course, there are some drawbacks when it comes to visiting a salon for color services too—namely cost (and possibly time).

Professional color jobs typically cost significantly more than boxed hair dyes (depending on where you live), which may not be ideal for some people who just want something quick and easy for their hair.

Booking an appointment with a professional stylist may require more scheduling flexibility than someone with a busy lifestyle may have available. 

What and learn: What’s the difference between box dye and professional color?

Here’s a great video from a L’Oreal hair color expert and professional colorist who tells you simply what the differences are between the dyes and which one he recommends!

Box Dye vs Salon Dye: The key differences

Cost & Convenience 

Box dyes are more affordable than salon dyes because they don’t require an appointment or professional services.

You can pick up a box of hair color from your local drugstore, follow the instructions, and have a brand-new shade in less than an hour.

Plus, if you don’t like the results or if it doesn’t turn out exactly how you envisioned it, you haven’t wasted money on expensive salon services. 

Quality & Color 

The biggest downside to box dyes is that they often lack quality and their colors can be unpredictable.

The formulas used in box dyes tend to be harsher than those used by professionals, which means they can damage your hair if not applied correctly.

The color may not turn out as expected due to differences in porosity (how porous your hair is), texture (the shape of each strand) and pre-existing product buildup. Hair coloring is a science!

It’s also difficult to get accurate results when using at-home products because they are unable to lighten existing color—they simply layer over it—which can lead to unexpected results. 

Box dye vs Salon dye – which one is right for you? 

You should use box dye if:

  • You want an inexpensive and convenient at-home option
  • You don’t need a dramatic change in color
  • You’re comfortable experimenting with colors
  • You want a temporary color
  • You want to match your color or hide some gray hairs
  • You want to go a darker shade

You should use salon dye if:

  • You want long-lasting results that are true to the shade you desire
  • Your hair needs lightening or major color correction
  • You have specific questions about aftercare or maintenance
  • You want an on-trend color technique like ombre, balayage or highlights

At the end of the day it really comes down to what kind of look you’re going for—and how much time and money you have.

If you don’t mind taking a bit of risk, a box dye might be perfect for an easy yet affordable color transformation.

However, if you want something longer lasting or prefer to consult with an expert first, going to a salon is probably the better choice.

Box dye vs salon dye FAQs

Why do hairdressers hate box dye?

Hairdressers seem to have a love-hate relationship with box dye.

On one hand, it’s a low cost option for someone who wants to alter their look without visiting the salon, but on the other hand, the results can be unpredictable, and often lead to more work for the hairdresser having to clean up any mess it creates.

It’s understandable why box dyes drive professional stylists mad: hairdressing is an art form that takes skill and years of practice to perfect.

At-home hair dyes are no match for a trained eye, and quite frankly you can’t put a price on getting it right first time!

So while they may not necessarily hate it, hairdressers really do know best when it comes to achieving the perfect hair color.

How does hair dye work?

Hair dyeing can be a fun and creative way to experiment with your style, but how exactly does it work? Well, the type of dye used makes all the difference.

Generally speaking, there are three varieties of hair color: semi-permanent, permanent, and temporary.

Semi-permanent hair dye sits on top of the hair shaft and cannot penetrate or permanently alter the natural color unlike its permanent counterpart. It usually only lasts for a few washes and provides a subtle change without doing any real damage.

Permanent hair dyes will make more dramatic changes because they contain chemicals that actually change the underlying hue of our locks. This makes permanent hair dyes last longer – up to 3 months with the right care.

Temporary hair dyes do exactly what their name implies; they typically wash out within one wash. If you’re looking for something to bring more flair to your situation without fear of commitment – this is your go-to!

Is box dye bad for your hair?

Is box dye bad for your hair? The truth is, it depends on what type of box dye you choose and how to use it.

The main ingredients that hair colorists worry about in box dye is ammonia and peroxide, which are used to lighten and open the cuticle of your hair so that the dye can penetrate it.

If you don’t use box dye correctly or you dye your hair too often, it can cause damage to both the hair shaft and scalp.

It’s important to follow directions carefully when using at-home dyes and make sure you do a patch test 48 hours beforehand in case of any allergies or sensitivities.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for quality color results with minimal damage, it’s best to seek out the expertise of a professional hairdresser who can assess your needs and give you an accurate solution.

How to choose the right box dye for you.

Dying your hair can be a daunting prospect. With so many box dyes available on the market, it can be hard to know which at-home hair dye is right for you.

Whether you are looking to experiment with a bold new color or just want to touch up your existing hue, here is what you need to know about choosing the perfect box dye for you. 

Hair Type & Texture Matters 

The first step in choosing the right box dye is determining your hair type and texture. Is your hair straight, wavy, curly or kinky? Is it coarse or fine?

Knowing these details will help you decide on which type of color to use.

If you have fine hair, use a lighter shade of color as heavier colors can weigh down the strands.

For thicker or coarser hair types, go with a darker hue since it won’t weigh down your locks as much. 

Semi-Permanent vs Permanent hair dye

Once you’ve chosen the perfect shade for your locks, it’s time to decide whether you want semi-permanent or permanent color.

Semi-permanent color will last about 6-8 weeks until it fades away and will only work on pre-lightened strands (unless you’re using semi-permanent blue or purple dyes).

Permanent color lasts up to three months and covers gray hairs better than its semi-permanent counterpart.

It’s also great if you’re looking for more dramatic changes in your hair color like going from dark brown to light blonde in one application! 

Skin Tone is important

When selecting an at-home dye color, it’s important to take into account your skin tone as well as your natural hair color.

Cooler shades tend to look great with cooler skin tones while warmer shades pair better with warmer skin tones.

A good rule of thumb is that if you have warm skin undertones then go for golden or red hues and if you have cool skin undertones then opt for cooler (ashy) hues like ash browns and blacks. 

Always do a strand test

No matter how confident you feel about choosing the perfect at-home dye color for you, it’s always wise to do a strand test first!

This involves taking a small strand of your own hair from behind your ear or near your nape and testing out the new shade on it before committing fully–this way there are no surprises when all is said and done! 

How to dye your hair at home.

What happens if I don’t like my box dye results?

Don’t worry—we’ve all had a bad box dye experience at one point or another.

Sometimes it’s either too dark or too light, or maybe the color just isn’t what you expected or some patchy, color banding has happened.

If you don’t get the color you wanted though, there’s no need to worry – just keep in mind that it typically fades after a few washes or a trim.

You could also consider toning your hair or doing an at-home gloss treatment if the end result isn’t quite what you were aiming for.

Hair color removers are effective at removing permanent hair dye only. If you want to remove semi-permanent hair dye, stripping your hair or even bleach bathing it might be the only way.

Before you get to this stage though, visit your local hair salon!

There’s nothing they haven’t seen before by way of hair dye dramas and color correcting bodged box dyes are what they’re there for!

Parting words

Both box dyeing and visiting the salon have their advantages and disadvantages—it really depends on what kind of look you’re trying to achieve!

If all else fails? Consider rocking your natural hue instead!

Ultimately though remember this; whatever route(s) you choose—you do YOU!

Color is supposed to enhance how beautiful YOU already are – whether that means bold ombres or subtle highlights – go with what works best for YOU!  At the end of the day confidence is key when it comes to looking great – never forget that!! 😉

This article was written and reviewed by:

  • Nicola Freeman, Creative Director & Content Lead
    Creative Director & Content Lead

    With over two decades of passionate hair dyeing experience, I've experimented with nearly every shade imaginable. My journey began long before blogging; as an award-winning copywriter in London and New York, I shaped narratives for iconic brands. However, when friends sought advice during lockdown for at-home hair dyeing, I realized my true calling. Beyond being your hair color expert, I'm a mom of two girls, wife to artist Tony, and an avid soccer player!

  • Enza Piazza, Hair Stylist & Color Consultant
    Hair Stylist & Color Consultant

    I’m Enza Piazza, your go-to hair stylist and color consultant with over 23 years of professional salon experience bringing vibrancy and life to hair of all hues. My Italian roots from sunny Sicily infuse passion into every snip and color, a passion that’s been recognized with top honor awards including bridal and party hair at the National Hairdressers Federation’s Championships. After training in Surrey, UK’s most prestigious salons including Head Master Academy, I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and set up Enza Hair Styling, offering tailored hair care for 13 years, and treating each client like family. Away from the salon, I cherish moments as a proud Nonna to grandson Joseph and as a playful companion to my Jack Russell, Bo.