Ask a Beauty Blogger: The Truth About Salon vs At Home Hair Dye

Is at home hair dye bad for my hair?
This is something I've wonder about as well. How do the dyes used in salons compare to what you use at home? It seems as if a new at home color is released every few months, one would think that the products of 2013 are better than even 5 or 10 years ago. But, when putting heavy duty chemicals on the hair, there's definitely a lot of ways to mess it up!

I decided to ask someone trained in this, my hair stylist from California, the woman I miss dearly (my hair stylist here in Michigan is good, but she just isn't Shannon), and if I could afford it I would really, truly fly to California every 6 weeks to see Shannon. She is that nice of a person and that good. Shannon Ely works at Salon TM2 in Irvine, if you go and see her tell her I say hi! While Shannon isn't specifically a colorist (she does other stuff too), she does good color, one of the reasons I love her so much!

Here's what Shannon had to say:

The over the counter hair color has come a long way and if you are truly using it as directed it shouldn't be causing the problems your stylist is saying it does. However, if your hair is damaged, breaking, splitting, and not shiny then there is clearly something wrong.

What I tell my clients that insist on coloring themselves is to choose one shade and stick with it. Changing the color leads to unattractive "banding". Also, try to stay within 2 or 3 levels of your natural color. Anything more and you're likely to get into some trouble. I never recommend bleaching on your own. Please know, we stylists pay a lot of money and invest even more time in learning how these chemicals will effect your hair. I like to believe I know more than a box.

Do you have a question? Make sure you ask it! I'll address questions in my Ask a Beauty Blogger post series.


  1. Thanks for using my question! My research has led to the same conclusion: stylists know more about how to get the color to come out right, but there's not a huge difference in the formulas and one is not materially less damaging than the other. My stylist is pushing INOA color, which is a new oil-based color system that claims to return your hair to its "virgin" state. It seems too good to be true. This particular stylist, though I love her cutting skills, is always trying to sell products and add-ons, which is the reason for my taking her advice with a grain of salt.
    I think my damage and splitting is due more to constant heat-styling to fight my hair's natural texture and frizz than to coloring. Sadly, my coarse, wild, 50% gray hair necessitates both. Sigh.
    Thanks so much for answering my question and for having a great blog!

  2. I switch between box dying and going to the salon. I have noticed there are some very harsh boxed ones. I feel the Aveda dyes leave my hair most healthy looking/feeling. This was helpful, though! I didn't know about the banding.

  3. I dye my hair at home and I make sure that the dye I am using does not contain harmful ingredients. I also make sure that I stick to one color or closer color so it won't ruin my hair. As of now, I am still doing it and nothing got wrong.

  4. I think the key here is the training and knowledge that the average stylist should possess, especially compared to the average consumer. Combine that with the fact that the additives and conditioners in salon products can be more restorative for color-treated hair, and it's fairly clear that most people would be better off at a salon.

    On the flipside, I've been doing my own hair for almost 15 years, I've had it just about every color of the rainbow, natural or not. I regularly take my hair from a 4 to a 12 (medium brown to high lift). The reason my hair isn't crazy damaged is that I've done lots of research about hair processing, and continue to do so before I color my hair each time. I take care not to over-process, and I am obsessive about conditioning my hair after and between treatments. My hair usually looks fantastic, and I get compliments all the time.

    TL;DR - Knowledge is important, if you don't know what you're doing, then pay someone who does! Your hair is worth it!

  5. I'm not a stylist but would like to try to answer this question. First, stylists spend a lot of money getting certified to work with heavy duty chemicals that we put on our hair. They have to take real courses in chemistry to learn how different compounds mix, their strength, etc. Many women who color their hair at home, look for the color they like on the box without regard for their actual real hair color. They think their hair will look like the picture if they follow the directions. Not true, It takes a specialist to be able to figure out how to formulate a color that will turn your hair the color you want, taking into account your natural color. Bleach comes in all different strengths. Using a stronger bleach doesn't necessarily make your hair lighter. It just causes damage. Hair is never one dimensional. A colorist general will color the roots one color and then highlight the hair slightly with different lighter shades of your natural color, producing a very natural color. Also, women's bodies go through hormonal changes every month and these changes affect the color of one's hair. Hair color also fades as you wash it. Sometimes, the hair is more washed out than others and the formula needs to be constantly changed. I could go on and on but the fact is, if you color at home, it is my belief that at some point, you will run into trouble. Play it safe. Cut down on other things but when it comes to your hair, get it done correctly. We all know the saying that any time you're having a bad hair day, you're having a bad day. Don't let that happen.

  6. I wanted to ask - what kind of hair-dye is the least harmful? (for dark hair)?

  7. This was very telling: A local salon often donates unsold product to a thrift store I frequent. When a new batch comes in, there are often 20+ packets of the conditioner that comes with the boxed dye I use in with the expensive product still hand labeled with the original price. This tells me they are using it at the salons as well, at a hugely inflated price I'm sure!! I have brown hair and have been dyeing it red for years. I experience no difference in fade time between salon and boxed (I use Colorsilk). Stylists I know compliment my color all the time-you really don't have to pay ALL THAT outrageous money to have your color done unless you want complex highlights or something. It's probably all the same or very similar chemically.

  8. In my 13+ years of doing my own hair w box color and only getting pro-color maybe 3x, I stick 2the box. as a brunette I've typically stuck 2 auburns and recent Blonde. With many formulas using ammonia free I've been more prone to box color. Many important things. not dying too frequently, treating ur hair after with oils and conditioners in moderation, using heat protectants, and most of all... learning your limits when it comes to time and our own hair. I use Colorsilk. I use the blonde dye but place it in front first, wait 10min then apply n blend to the rest. Remember your dye gets stronger the longer it sits. Be smart, if u suck at dying hair, leave it to the pros. I'm an artist w lots of practice ;) be well and stay beautiful!

  9. I do my own colour, mostly because I am saving money, but also because I follow the directions. I have a university degree in chemistry, so I think I'll be okay with that aspect! The thing that really solidified my choice to do my own colour is the number of compliments I get from stylists in the salon when I go to get my hair cut. At first I thought they were having a go at me, but realized my colour isn't outrageous and my hair looks and feels really healthy and shiny, and I only ever use the "box dyes" from the drugstore.
    I appreciate that stylists have done a lot of training to be able to get good results every time, and they are getting paid to provide a trade to the public, the same as an electrician or plumber, so the people who complain about the "inflated" cost are a little clueless. That said, I can do a good job on my own so I will keep at it!

  10. I've been buying professional Redken Color Gels and the matching developer on Amazon for 10 years.

    TONES......N or Neutral covers grey best.....NA/A or Ash corrects I mix N with NA.

    LEVELS.....for perfect brunette I mix 5NA with 7N.....for perfect blonde I mix 8NA with 9N.

    Always put coconut oil on hair before coloring. Always color just the roots and put conditioner on the rest of hair to act as a barrier.

  11. I am a chemist and work in a lab. I use box hair color for my hair.
    The products that I have been using for many years are Garnier, L'oreal and Swarzkopf.
    My hairdresser really loves the hair color and says my hair is in excellent condition.
    Sometimes I do the base color myself and my hairdresser adds either highlights or low lights.
    John Frieda has a hair color line which I have also with excellent results too.
    And I've also bought hair dyes from a beauty supply store that have products available for sale to the public and Swarzkopf hair dyes were among the products sold there and many salons use that product. I also buy that now at my local pharmacy.
    I follow the directions very, very carefully whilst coloring my hair.
    Also use coconut oil in between coloring.

  12. Where I grew up there weren't very many olive or warm skin toned women back then so the stylists didn't learn how to color hair for us. They used "cool" and "neutral" tones. I don't think they even had warm tones for hair back then. They didn't for makeup. I can't tell you how many times I came home with the wrong cut and/or color. I finally quit going as much and started doing my own color, and it looked better. I learned a lot and I even started doing highlights on my friends. I would never do a bleach blonde but to go one or two shades different isn't really difficult, especially with all the tutorials out there. There's now even a box out there that takes off the color right after you've used it if you find it's not what you wanted. It'll damage your hair of course, but it exists.


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