What is the Difference Between At-Home and Professional Hair Dye?

Skin Care
At-Home vs. Professional Hair Dye

At-home haircoloring now is not what it was 10 years ago.

The major difference between store-bought and salon color is that a professional colorist mixes shades to give your hair depth, says Aura Friedman, a colorist who works with Lady Gaga. “Your color should always be a half shade lighter at the hairline and get darker toward the back,” adds Christopher John of the Garren New York Salon. But how can you accomplish this yourself? Buy two different shades (your true color and one level lighter) and mix a tablespoon of each together for the half-inch area around your face for a brightening effect. Then use your true color on the remainder of your hair to avoid having it look flat, according to Harper’s Bazaar.

[Read more: Are Hair Bleach and Dying Ingredients Safe?]

At-home dyes also tend to have a very high volume of peroxide so that they can easily lighten hair which is significantly darker.

The main difference between at-home hair dyes and salon ones is that at-home dyes are already “matched-up”, meaning the color and the developer are already given and you just need to mix them. For salon dyes, the stylist has more control over the developer strength. Therefore, they can mix colors and control how they come out. Your stylist could have declined to dye your hair because she/he did not know how the at home dye would interact with the salon one. It could also have been for not damaging your hair – it depends how long before, you had colored your hair at home. There can be multiple reasons.

I never use just one color; instead, I often create a formula using two or three colors that will give you the best results. I can  adjust that formula based on the condition of your hair. I also have different techniques for applying color based on your hair condition. Applying color to hair in great condition is completely different from applying color to hair that has been damaged or is very porous. I care about the condition of your hair and want to make it look and feel great.  Over a period of time professional color will still have your hair feeling healthy while long term box color use tends to dry hair and leave it looking dull.

[Read more:  3 Reasons Why Baking Soda and Apple Cider Vinegar Destroy Your Hair –  And What To Use Instead]

Some other factors in the debate between box color and professional color is the actual application process. Once the color and developer are mixed, there is a time frame in which the color is applied and allowed to process. I can color your hair much faster and more thoroughly that you can yourself. I won’t miss spots on the back of your head, and if for some reason I run out out of dye, I can mix up more right on the spot. And if when we’re all done and the shade isn’t quite what you wanted we can adjust it with a toner right there. As a professional, I always want my clients to leave completely satisfied with the color and the service and I will do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

However, you can go to Sally’s Beauty Supply and buy tubes of color and separate developer and get what you want. But you have to know what you are doing. In my Sally’s stores, the help is completely useless. I have always been told to never take their advice on coloring because they don’t know what they are doing.Nowadays I go to Sally and get my Ion hair color and their developer for sensitive scalps (which works like a charm!). Ion also has a fantastic conditioner. I color my hair at home once a month; it’s cost-effective and rather fun! 

 However, if your hair is damaged, breaking, splitting, and not shiny then there is clearly something wrong. 

[Read more: What are the Best Pro Hair Care Tips?]

What I tell my clients is that if they insist on coloring themselves, they should pick one shade and stick with it. Changing the color leads to unattractive “banding”. Also, try to stay within two or three levels of your natural color. Anything more and you’re likely to run into some trouble. 

The quality and quantity of dye/bleach used by a salon is much higher and lower, respectively, than drugstore brands. An accomplished colorist should be able to acheive exactly what you want without a damaging amount of dye/bleach – something that can’t always be said for do-it-yourself versions.

Another important thing to mention is that there is no reason to lie to your stylist about what is currently in your hair. I can’t do a complete job if i don’t have all the information. The most common client fib is “there isn’t any color in my hair”. This creates all kinds of problems and can waste your time and mine. Quick fact: color cannot lift color . In other words,  if you have already colored your hair at some point I can’t just put more color on to make it lighter. Rather, this would require a lightening process. Fibbing will only cost you more money and possibly do needless damage to your hair.

[Read more: How Do I Make My Hair More Youthful, Full, Shiny, and Thick?]

Don’t forget at home care is important to color and making it last. If you are going to color your hair you need to use a shampoo and conditioner made for color treated hair. They are more delicate on the hair, help to seal in the color and protect from fading. There are a lot of color-safe shampoos but the one I recommend the most and use myself is Redken Color Extend ($29.00, Ulta.com) It is the best I have found and all my color clients swear by it as well.

So which cleansing agents are best avoided?  When shopping for shampoo, these cleansing ingredients best avoided due to their potential drying, stripping effect on hair:

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (sodium laureth sulfate is fine);
  • Sodium C14-16 olefin sulfonate;
  • TEA-dodecylbenzene;
  • Alkyl sodium sulfate;

Another tip: consider color depositing shampoos & conditioners, like those sold from John Frieda. Don’t expect miracles, but these can help improve the lifespan of your dye-job somewhat (but beware: these can make a mess of your towels.)

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  • Jackie

    Is it just as damaging as it would be doing it from a box?

  • Thanks for sharing! You mentioned that the stylist will make sure to choose the right dye that will work with the client’s hair, and the condition it is in. How does the stylist quickly determine the condition of the hair, though? I figure that there’s probably another way that they determine how healthy the hair is besides looking at it.

  • Nicki Zevola

    Hi @Tiffany — This was actually a “draft” post on the back-end of the site, but then a member of the staff read and published it before I had the chance to finish it! I still needed more time to research the color-safe versus other shampoo issue as well…perhaps I will revisit this soon!

  • I was really enjoying this article until I got to the point about using a color-safe shampoo. As a hairstylist, you shouldn’t be promoting that myth: there’s nothing different in the formula of a “color-safe” shampoo versus any other shampoo…the shampoo itself (and water and sunlight) are what fade hair color.

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