It’s happened, even to the best of us. You used a store-brand box dye to change your hair colour, and it didn’t quite come out the way you were hoping. Sometimes, at-home box dyes can lead to minor mishaps like a colour that’s slightly too dark or hair that’s feeling brittle. Other times, though, they can cause disaster in the form of hair that’s totally uneven or even straight-up orange.
According to London-based colourist Leanne Chadwick, there’s a reason those at-home hair dyes that come in a box can be so fickle. It mostly comes down to the developer, the part of the dye that opens up the hair follicle so that pigments can penetrate them. “You have one box dye that ‘everyone’ can use and achieve the same colour, therefore, the strength of the developer will need to be strong enough to lift very dark hair, even if someone with really light hair is also using it,” Chadwick explains. In other words, developers can’t be customised to your specific hair colour with a box dye as they can be in a salon. That’s why at-home box dye kits come with far less predictable results and can lead to all sorts of common kerfuffles.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a select amount of hair salons are open in the country right now, which means seeing a professional to correct a box dye mistake isn’t in the cards for everyone at the moment. If you’ve recently used an at-home hair dye and aren’t a fan of the way your colour turned out, however, there are a few things you can do to course-correct at home, according to colourists.
1. What to do if your box dye job is uneven
According to Los Angeles colourist Guy Tang, at-home hair colour mistakes like this one are pretty common because the application process isn’t as simple as box dye instructions often suggest. “You can’t just slap it on all over and go,” he explains. “You must go section by section.”
If you ultimately like the dye shade you’ve tried but need to even it out, you’ll need to wait for a while before doing anything else to your hair. “To make even tones throughout the hair, you must create an even canvas from the start,” Tang explains. To get that even canvas, he says you can either wait for the uneven splotches of dye to fade out, or you can wait to have it bleached out by a professional (bleaching already-dyed hair at home is way too risky).
You can speed along the fading process, however, pretty easily on your own. “If the tone is slightly darker in some areas, you can try to scrub those areas with a clarifying shampoo to lessen the visibility of the different tones,” Tang says. If you can eventually achieve that even base, you can re-dye the hair—if your hair is healthy enough, that is.
“This [process] really depends on the health of your hair and how much your hair can handle,” Tang says. “If your hair is getting harder to brush and feels more tangled and crispy, you must wait.”
If you do end up re-doing your hair completely, make sure you have enough dye to fully soak all of your hair, because having too much hair dye is better than not having enough, according to Tang. “A big mistake I often see is that people are applying colour to very large sections of hair and aren’t applying enough colour for even colour saturation,” he says.
He advises separating the hair into “small slices” and applying colour by starting at the roots and working the colour down to the ends. If you have a hair-dye applicator brush on hand, make sure you use it. “[You can] really push the colour brush into the hair to ensure the colour application is saturated and even,” he says. “The process may look tedious but it is what gives the best results.”
2. What to do if box dye turned your hair too dark
Chadwick says the biggest rule of DIY hair colouring is to never attempt to remove dye by yourself at home, especially if that dye is darker than anticipated. Unfortunately, you can’t lighten up a really dark dye job by simply dying over it with another, lighter box dye shade.
“People think applying colour over already coloured hair will make it lighter—this is not the case,” Tang explains. “Colour cannot lift colour out of the hair.” Though Tang, Chadwick, and other colourists would never recommend trying to completely remove or colour over a too-dark box dye, there is a quick way you can soften up the pigments for a look that’s less intense.
“All you need to do is try to reduce the colour build up on the hair so your lighter colour starts to show through from underneath the darker colour,” Chadwick says. To do that, you just need a strong clarifying shampoo. St Louis, Missouri-based colourist Kristina Cheeseman always recommends Head & Shoulders Shampoo to clients who need an immediate fix but doesn’t recommend relying on it for colour-correction in the long term.
To get the most effective results from your clarifying shampoo, Tang recommends washing multiple times in a row with hot water. “Really work that clarifying shampoo into your hair,” he says. “Doing this three or four times every time you shower will lift quite a bit of colour out of the hair.” According to Tang, you can do this immediately after your dye job if you want to. If your hair feels extra dry and delicate, however, he recommends waiting to do this until you can get it to a healthier state.
Chadwick also recommends using a clarifying shampoo to dilute dark box dyes but warns that it does come with its downsides. “This will make your hair feel dry, so ensure you have a really good conditioning treatment for after,” she explains. “Davines Ol Conditioner is one of my favourites.”
3. What to do if box dye turned your hair brassy
When using at-home bleach kits and blonde dyes, the hair can react by turning yellow or orange because of what colourists call the lightening curve. “The darker the hair on the lightening curve, the warmer the undertone that is exposed when lightening the hair,” Chadwick says. “Box dyes will only lift a certain amount of levels, and lifting darker hair will result in exposing those warmer undertones.”
To combat this, Chadwick and Cheeseman both advise turning to the colour wheel you might remember from high school art classes. As Cheeseman explains, complementary colour—or colours that are on opposite sides of the colour wheel—neutralise each other.
“To counteract yellow hues you need to use something that has violet in it; to counteract orange tones you’ll need to use blue hues,” she says. This doesn’t mean you should cover brassy hair with a blue or purple hair dye. Instead, you should look for toning shampoos and conditioners that can control the undertone of your hair without turning it another colour. Cheeseman loves the Matrix Total Results line, which includes blue and violet shampoos and conditioners. DpHue’s Cool Blonde Shampoo and Conditioner is another favourite duo of hers.
Chadwick, on the other hand, swears by Fanola’s No Orange Shampoo & Mask and No Yellow Yellow Shampoo & Mask. She recommends selecting one of these duos depending on how brassy your hair is, then shampooing and towel-drying before leaving the mask on for 40 minutes.
4. What to do if your box dye turned your hair too light
Another caveat of dyeing your hair with a boxed bleach kit is that it’s possible to leave it in for too long and go lighter than you wanted. In this situation, most people’s instinct would be to buy a slightly darker colour and simply dye over it—but Chadwick says that can just cause further problems. “If your colour is too light, try toning it down with pigmented conditioners,” she recommends instead. “Davines does an amazing brunette pigmented mask, which would tone a light brown to more chocolate and a blonde to a bronde.”
“Try new temporary coloured conditioners—play with spring blush and peach tones,” she advises.
5. What to do if box dye damaged your hair
Thanks to their strong universal developers, box dyes can leave hair feeling dry or damaged—and that, unfortunately, is usually where a professional must come in. “Once you’ve damaged your hair there isn’t anything that will save [it] except a haircut,” Cheeseman says. Of course, you likely do not have access to a salon right now and might not want to give yourself a haircut, either. Thankfully, there is one hair-healing treatment that Cheeseman and Chadwick both recommend in this scenario: Olaplex.
“What Olaplex does is restore broken disulfide bonds,” Cheeseman explains. “You can leave this in your hair for as long as possible—the longer the better.” Certain Olaplex treatments are only available to professionals, but you can purchase the brand’s shampoo, conditioner, and Hair Perfector No. 3 treatment. Chadwick recommends applying a quarter-sized amount of the No. 3 treatment on wet, detangled hair. “Apply the Olaplex to your hair, concentrating on the most damaged areas, then all over comb through for one or two minutes to ensure you are saturating each hair with the product,” she advises. “Tie your hair up onto the top of your head and sleep with this in overnight.”
In the morning, wash the treatment out. You’ll see better results if you avoid heat-styling your hair for a while, Chadwick adds. All in all, the only surefire way to avoid all of these box dye mistakes is to not use one. “Unless you plan on having jet-black hair for the rest of your life, I would never ever recommend box dyes, as you’re creating bigger problems for yourself and your hairdresser afterward,” Chadwick says. If your box-dye mistake is a minor one or you’re still on the fence about trying a box dye in quarantine, heed her advice. “If you have been thinking of buying that box dye during lockdown, don’t,” she says. “Stay strong, hang on in there.”
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