Out of the box

It drives me crazy that my daughter insists that I have BROWN hair. Ugh! She drew the family in color the other day and I, of course, appeared with brown hair. I thought we’d been over this (but at least it’s not gray!)

I don’t know why it drives me crazy, but it does. I realize my hair is a dark (“dishwater,” if you insist) blonde, but it IS blonde nonetheless. I have resorted to highlighting or dying my hair but I’ve always tried to keep it close to the color that it is (the only thing worse for a blonde to not be a blonde is being a fake one! ;) But I’ve always done it at home. Why pay more? Only once have I had my hair professionally colored, and that was because I was at a salon opening and the celebrity stylist insisted … and it was free. It was a beautiful auburn-blonde color that fall. I loved it. But, not enough to shell out the big bucks at a no-name salon with a technician I don’t know. So, I continue to get my not-so-blonde but very natural-looking dishwater blonde color at $7 a box from Target.

Only recently have I learned what I didn’t already know about color in a box. There’s actually a very good reason that salon color is so expensive (aside from the fact that you have a color expert and trained hairstylist selecting and applying the color). Because manufacturers think (and in most cases, rightly so) that people as a whole are idiots impatient and lazy, the chemical makeup of products sold off the shelf are much harsher than they need to be. This allows them to be less expensive and guarantees gray coverage, even if you choose to or are unable to follow the instructions.

For gray coverage and blonding capabilities especially, two things are required: lift, determined by high amounts of alkalinity (ammonia or similar “controversial” chemical), and high opacity of color. More ammonia means effective results but it’s unnecessarily hard on your hair. The innovation in moisturizing creams help, but it doesn’t stop the inevitable damage to your hair (damage, by the way, that is required, in order to lighten the hair, but the amount of damage can be controlled).

Because products on the shelf are produced to be sure that they cover every gray hair, the color is opaque instead of translucent to let natural color through—although there have been advances in this area. Manufacturers have no guarantee that the average consumer is going to follow directions—or even read them. But the product still needs to have worked.

In the salon, however, the trained eye of a professional can evaluate percentage of gray coverage needed as well as provide better conditioning agents (sorry, but nothing compares to professional products available).

Another major difference is that box dyes are generally about 80% oxidative and 20% direct dye, whereas professional color should be 100% oxidative dye. Direct dye is easy to get on the hair, but difficult to correct. When bleached, direct dyes are pushed farther into the hair shaft, causing more damage. That also means, if you screw it up, it’s likely to cost you even more at the salon to fix.

Not enough to convince me to make the switch yet, but I will definitely think twice before dying my hair as often, and gives me reason to consider a salon visit sometime in my future.

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