Hair Dye and Hair Health

I used to go into my hair appointments and flat out not pay attention to what they were doing. I hardly asked any questions: they were the experts, after all, (well, most of them were, anyway…) they knew what they were doing! But that’s just it: they are the experts, why was I holding back? Why wasn’t I asking them why my hair was constantly breaking off at the end?

I’ve gotten a myriad of different answers from different stylists, but they all seem to ask the same thing: “Are you using box dye?” All through high school and college my answer was always yes. I’d insist that the leave-in conditioner that Nice n Easy provided was enough to wipe out the damage the dyes were creating, but they always shook their heads and carried on silently, letting me live in my delusion.

Now, full disclosure, my hair still isn’t perfect. I have fly-aways like crazy, due to years of damage from heat and hair dye, abrupt weather changes and unfavorable indoor climate controls. My hair still falls out, a lot, and now that I have highlights, the breakage is at an all time high (thanks, bleach!). But I saw a picture of myself from seven years ago and I realized just how much my overall hair condition has changed. I attribute it to this “one secret trick that hair dressers don’t want you to know about! (Just kidding, they probably do want you to know about it so that they don’t have to tell you 50 times to stop using box dye): Switch to mixing your own hair dye.

The chemicals that are used in box dyes are just too strong for most hair types. Most of them have at least a 30 developer strength. The darker your hair, the less developing strength you need. Personally, I only use 10. On the occasion that I’ve used 20, my hair quality has suffered. I’m not even going to talk about how most box dyes usually slip a drying alcohol into the 2nd or 3rd ingredient, whereas I couldn’t find any even listed on my separately purchased developer and hair dye.

Now, because my hair is so dark, I can’t really speak to the process for lighter colored hair. It probably still stands that you will need a 30 or 40 developer, or bleach and toner as it applies. But I’d hazard a guess and say that you’re probably still better off not buying a box kit, solely due to the unneeded and questionably stronger ingredients that get put into it. I will say that ammonia is another not-so-great feature that pops up in the hair dye that I use today — but there are ammonia free options on the market, in both box dyes and separately purchased hair dyes.

The first time mixing on your own can be a little intimidating, but fear not, as the ratio of developer to color should be 50:50. Most mixing bowls have measurements marked on them, and you don’t necessarily have to even be super precise for the color to develop and ultimately process on your hair. Sally’s Beauty has always been my go-to supplier for hair dye and accessories, but I’ll link what I can back to Amazon even if it’s just for reference.

1- Put on an old shirt that you don’t mind getting dye on. Cover your “work station” with newspaper or towels. Put on some gloves. Any non-powder latex or vinyl glove will do. Buy them online and/or in bulk: they sell ’em at Sally’s, but they’re too expensive. Here are some cool purple gloves:

2- Find an occlusive to put onto your skin around the hair line. This makes the dye a lot easier to “wipe off” if you accidentally get it on your skin. Elta MD’s Intense Moisture does the trick:

3- Get out your dye bowl and brush:

4- Put the developer into the bowl first. The amount you put in the bowl will depend on the length of your hair, but just keep in mind that the ratio of the developer to the color should be about 1:1. If there are measurements on the bowl that you purchased, you could put enough developer to reach the “1” line. I use this 10 volume developer, but again the number could increase depending on the lightness of your hair:

5- Put the hair dye in the bowl over top of the developer. If you have measurement markers, squeeze enough color out of the tube to reach the “2” line, or whatever will accomplish a 1:1 ratio with the developer. Throw the excess hair dye away, since breaking the seal exposes it to air and will degrade the product before you can use it for your next color. I use this hair dye by Zotos:

6- Now all the same rules apply as regular hair dye! Alternate between mixing the product, and sitting and waiting until the color has started to develop. Once the color is showing, you can go ahead and use your brush to apply. Wait 25-60 minutes, and then wash off. ~A