Stylist applies hair color to a woman’s grey hair

The Safest Way to Color Your Hair? At Home or in the Salon?

Here’s What Your Stylist Wants You to Know About Box Dyes

In over 20 years as a stylist doing hair color, I have seen all kinds of coloring trends. As a Trichologist (hair health expert) I'm often asked about the safest way to color your hair.

You certainly have a lot of color options to choose from. From permanent hair dye to temporary tints, box dyes, and salon color, it can be hard to choose what’s right for you. 

If you're anything like most of my clients, you're becoming more aware of the scalp irritation and hair damage certain hair color chemicals can cause – particularly permanent home hair color. My clients often ask my advice about hair color safety. Here’s what I’ve learned about the safest ways to color your hair at home or in the salon. 


What’s the Difference Between Salon Color and Box Color?

There are 3 main differences between coloring at home and at the salon.

1. Box Dyes Can Contain Harsh Ingredients

Many permanent box dye formulas contain ammonia. Ammonia opens up the protective exterior layer of your hair (the cuticle) so the dye can penetrate your strands. This process is damaging to your hair and scalp skin and can leave you with an itchy, irritated scalp and dry, brittle hair.

Professional hair color formulas are often made without ammonia to reduce scalp irritation and damage to your hair. Even if your professional colorist uses a formula made with ammonia, they have the training necessary to reduce any potential damage. 

2. At Home Hair Dye Increases Your Chemical Exposure

The major risk of at-home hair color, especially permanent color, is that you are applying color directly to your scalp. Have you ever had an itchy scalp or felt a stinging sensation when coloring at home? That’s the chemicals affecting your sensitive scalp skin.

The good news is, that when you go to a salon, there are ways to use hair color more safely. Your hairstylist has techniques that can reduce your exposure to harsh chemicals such as using foils to keep the color off your scalp or using semi or demi-permanent color.

3. Hair Dye Developer Levels in Box Dyes vs Salon Color

In an at-home color kit, you usually mix the color with another bottle – that’s the developer. Developer activates your hair color and allows it to penetrate your hair shaft.

Permanent box color needs to work on even the coarsest, most resistant greys so it needs to use a strong developer. If you have finer hair, you’re being exposed to way more developer than you need. The result – dry, overprocessed hair. It can also increase brassy tones in red or brown shades.

A professional stylist is not limited to one developer level. They can choose from levels ranging from 5% to 12% depending on your hair type and texture. They can also customize formulas with semi- and demi-permanent options to further reduce your risk of hair damage or scalp irritation.

 

Salon stylist mixing hair dye in a bowl


If you’re committed to coloring your hair, especially covering your grey hair, you are probably using hair dye every 4-6 weeks. That’s about 10 times a year. The good news is there are many ways to reduce scalp and hair damage from hair color.

 

How to Protect Your Scalp When You Color

The longer your scalp skin is exposed to harsh chemicals, the more likely it is to become irritated or inflamed. If you're beginning to notice redness or itching after coloring or other chemical treatments, it's a sign that your scalp needs some help.

Calm It Down™ is the first ever clinically effective post-hair dye scalp serum to soothe, reduce redness, and counteract oxidative stress (oxidative stress is a process that damages your hair at a cellular level).  Calm It Down™ is water-based so it is lightweight and non-greasy. It nourishes and cools your scalp and delivers Arey's Mela-9™ Complex to support your scalp and hair health.

Calm It Down™ is both a treatment and a preventative. Here's how to use Calm It Down™ before and after coloring your hair:

✅ If your scalp is more sensitive: massage in a few pipettes of Calm It Down™ 4-6 hours before using hair dye. Calm It Down™ won't affect your dye's effectiveness at all.

To calm scalp irritation after coloring: apply Calm It Down™ to your scalp for as many days as needed.

Calm It Down™ helps reduce the impact of at home and salon color on your scalp and hair. It also boosts your hair health and can help slow, delay and even repigment grey hair.

 

Three Box Dye Ingredients to Avoid if You Color Your Hair at Home

I know that coloring your own hair is sometimes your best option. If you’re using box hair dyes then you can still protect your health and your hair by always doing a patch test and avoiding certain ingredients.

 

woman checks for harmful ingredients on a hair color box

 

There are up to 400 compounds commonly used in hair dyes that are potentially harmful.2  Here are three you should definitely avoid:

1. P-Phenylenediamine:

Also known as Para-phenylenediamine (PPD), this is one of the most common ingredients in permanent, dark-shade hair dyes. When PPD penetrates scalp skin it can cause severe allergic reactions along your hairline including blistering.3

Because you can become sensitized to PPD over time, it’s important to do a patch test at least 48 hours before each use of a box dye.

2. Resorcinol: 

Used in permanent dyes, resorcinol helps bind color to your hair.4 In Japan, it is restricted for use in cosmetics, and Europe requires warning labels on products containing resorcinol. The US restricts its use in manufacturing but not in salons. 

Resorcinol is toxic in high doses and is believed to disrupt your central nervous system. It has also been shown to affect your hormone levels.5  

3. Ethanolamine: 

Many box dyes advertise themselves as “ammonia-free” but that doesn’t always mean safer. All permanent hair colors must contain a chemical like ammonia to allow the dye to enter your hair strands. The replacement for ammonia is often a chemical called ethanolamine.

Worryingly, the Environmental Working Group6 rates ethanolamine as worse than ammonia in its toxicity rating. It is considered unsafe for use in products left on the skin and listed as toxic or harmful on the Environment Canada Domestic Substance List. Other studies have linked ethanolamine as a cause of skin irritation (dermatitis) and hair loss.7

 

hand holding three pill bottles

 

How to Keep Your Hair Strands Healthy When You Color

Chemical processing can be stressful on your hair and scalp. If you color your hair, it’s important to keep your strands strong and healthy. The stronger your hair strand is, the better it will look after coloring. Weak hair is more vulnerable to damage from chemicals in hair color.

 

woman using Arey Scrub scalp exfoliation product in shower


You can easily boost your hair and scalp health by:

    • Taking a hair growth supplement: Arey’s Not Today, Grey supplement is designed to boost hair growth and thickness, combat thinning, and slow grey hair growth.  

    • Regularly detoxing your scalp: Arey’s Scrub is designed for use on all types of colored hair. It gently exfoliates and moisturizes your scalp to reduce buildup and prevent dryness. A healthy scalp is less vulnerable to irritation from hair color. 

    • Using a scalp treatment serum: in clinical trials of Calm It Down™, 90% of users saw an immediate reduction of scalp irritation, while 100% saw a reduction of scalp irritation on day 3.

    • Using a daily scalp serum: boost your hair health for thicker, stronger hair with our topical serum To The RootTo The Root™ delivers peptides to your hair follicles which stimulate collagen, elastin, and keratin production – the building blocks of healthy hair.

Good haircare habits and the right supplement keep your colored hair healthy from the inside out.

 

woman using Arey To The Root scalp serum

How to Reduce Color Fading Between Appointments

Red shades are the hardest hair colors to maintain. They tend to fade quickly after coloring. If you’re going for blonde or brunette, your main issue will be brassiness. Brassy hair is when you get unwanted warm orange and red tones in brown or blonde hair.

Here are the best ways to stop fading and brassy tones in your colored hair:

Wash your colored hair with cool water: hot water, like heat-styling tools, will quickly fade your color. Heat opens the hair cuticle so the color washes out. 

Use a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo: our signature treatment shampoo Wash is free of harsh cleansers so it won’t fade your color. Combined with our lightweight conditioner Smooth, it softens and repairs dry and damaged hair.  

Use a toning shampoo: toners deposit color only on the outside of the hair shaft for a temporary color correction. Using a toning shampoo every 2 weeks keeps your brassy tones in check. 

Protect your hair color from the sun: the sun acts like bleach to fade your color fast. Using a combination conditioner and sunscreen for your hair like Live In Mist, helps keep your hair color vibrant.

Use a heat protectant: hot tools dry out your colored hair and leave it faded and dull. A leave-in conditioner and heat protectant like Mend protects your dyed hair from heat damage and styling stress up to 450°.

With the right color and haircare choices, you can enjoy great hair and less time at the salon. I have clients that now only come for a touch-up every 3-4 months instead of every 3-5 weeks. 

 

woman applying Arey Live In Mist sunscreen for your hair

 

When I co-founded Arey with my client Allison Conrad, we wanted to make products that deliver clean, balanced hair care. That means using only clean, safe, science-backed ingredients that really work. 

 

At Arey, We Make Balanced, Clean, Color-Safe Products

Colored hair needs gentle, balanced care. That’s why Arey’s products are all color safe and free from harmful ingredients that can weaken your colored hair.  All our products are vegan, cruelty-free, and free from gluten, parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde and artificial colors or fragrances. 

We want you to have great hair and a healthy scalp when you are using hair color. That’s why we developed our haircare system of a supplement and topical products that delivers stronger, thicker hair from the inside out. Our goal is to make it easy for you to have your best hair.

Your hair health is important to us so we offer 25% off on all subscriptions to help keep you on track with your hair health goals. Because we know that science + consistency = results.

We are Arey.

We want you to feel happy and confident with your hair. Have questions? Take a look at our FAQ page or send us an email at hey@areygrey.com.

 


Jay Small, Stylist and co-founder of Arey, cuts a client’s hair

AuthorJay SmallJay Small is a sought-after hair stylist and Trichologist in Los Angeles with over 22 years of experience. His clients consist of high-profile business and creative leaders. He trained as an apprentice to the owner of Paul Mitchell and worked in education and product development for Paul Mitchell Systems. Jay is incredibly passionate about the creative process both in terms of styling hair and developing effective products.



REFERENCES:

  1. most-gen-x-women-havent-worn-their-natural-hair-color-in-years
  2. permanent-hair-color 
  3. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles
  4. safecosmetics.org/chemicals/resorcinol 
  5. health.ec.europa.eu
  6. skindeep/ingredients/702286-ETHANOL-AMINE
  7. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22269445