The humble box dye is back but there are 8 things you should know before using one.

This post was originally published on March 25, 2020. It was updated on July 28, 2020. 

When it comes to dyeing your hair, nothing beats having it done by a professional. But right now, for some people, it’s not an option.

As a result of social distancing and self-isolation measures put in place by the Australian Government to slow down the spread of COVID-19, some people are quarantining in their homes.  In metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire in Victoria, you can only leave your home for four reasons: shopping for food and supplies, care and caregiving, exercise, and study and work, if you can’t do it from home.

For small business owners and sole traders who provide us with luxuries like cutting and colouring our hair, it’s a devastating but necessary blow. It also means people will be looking to learn how to do small things like shaping eyebrows, removing shellac or SNS manicures and covering regrowth at home until it’s safe to book in an appointment at your favourite salon or clinic.

WATCH: Here’s how to do a braided upstyle, step-by-step. Post continues after video.

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In the bigger picture of what our new ‘normal’ looks like, grown out roots and grey hairs don’t matter. But it’s also OK if they matter to you and you’d like to do something about them at home. The answer? The humble box dye.


At-home hair colouring products you can buy at the supermarket and chemist are affordable, accessible and get the job done. They’re also easy to get wrong. If you’re thinking about dyeing your hair at home with a box dye product, here are eight things to consider before going to town on your hair.

What is home hair dye great for?

There will always be different opinions on box dyes depending on who you ask. Generally speaking, if you aren’t able to get to a salon or need a cost-effective option, box dyes work for:

  • Brunettes or those with a darker colour.
  • Root touch ups and covering greys.
  • Dyeing hair darker.

What is home hair dye not so great for?

Hhere’s what box dye and any at-home hair colouring products aren’t great for:

  • Dyeing hair lighter or bleaching.
  • Those with blonde or red hair.
  • Maintaining a complex, custom-designed colour.
  • Doing highlights, balayage or anything more than touching up regrowth.

At-home hair colouring can be unpredictable. If you’re not confident doing it yourself, less risky options include root spray products for covering greys and toning shampoos specifically designed to maintain blondes or complex custom colours at home.

You can watch how Mia Freedman covers her greys in the IGTV video below.


How to choose your box hair dye colour.

If you’ve ever stood in front of a wall of shelves stacked with hair dye boxes and felt utterly confused, we feel you.

Choosing which hair dye shade to use takes a bit more thought than grabbing ‘brown’ or ‘black’, and the picture on the box can actually be misleading. Most brands use a numbering system to break down their different colours, and while they each have their own nuances, here’s a breakdown of the main things you need to know:

Most box dyes come with two parts – one dye and one developer. Some also come with post-dye hair masks, and others come with the dye and developer pre-mixed. Using a box dye is all about being realistic and managing your expectations (and reading the instructions on the packet). Why? Because when you have your hair coloured professionally, your stylist usually creates a custom blend of different dyes and developers to get the perfect shade. You just can’t get the same result with a box dye.

On most hair dye boxes, you’ll find a number. This could be one digit, two digits or a number with a decimal point. The first number represents the base shade of the dye using the following code:

  • 1 = Black
  • 2 = Darkest brown (almost black)
  • 3 = Very dark brown
  • 4 = Dark brown
  • 5 = Brown
  • 6 = Light brown
  • 7 = Dark blonde
  • 8 = Medium blonde
  • 9 = Blonde
  • 10 = Light blonde

A general guideline for choosing your colour is to stay within two shades of your natural colour, both lighter and darker. The safer option for basic DIY colouring is sticking as close to your natural colour as possible. For example, many brunettes will find their shade sits between a four and a six. However, if you’re naturally blonde and want to go brunette, or vice versa, it’s a risky task best left for a professional.

The other number(s) you’ll see on some boxes relate to the tone of the developer. At-home hair dye has a tendency to turn out warmer with orange and yellow tones, so look for shades labelled neutral, ash or cool. These are often represented by the numbers 0, 1 and 2. If you see a number with a decimal point (e.g. 5.15), that indicates the developer has a mix of tones. The first number after the decimal is the primary tone and the second number is a secondary tone. If you’re worried about the colour turning out too warm, stick to products with two-digit numbers.


Tips for how to dye your hair at home.

1. The difference between permanent and semi-permanent colours.

Box hair dyes come in different varieties – permanent, long-lasting semi-permanent (also known as ‘demi colour’), semi-permanent and temporary. The difference is whether the colour fades out with washing over time, or grows out. In simple terms, semi-permanent dyes sit on top of the hair and permanent dyes penetrate into the hair.

Long-lasting semi-permanent or semi-permanent colours wash out, lasting around 28 washes and between five to 20 washes respectively. If you’re covering greys, you won’t get 100 per cent coverage and your natural colour will gradually come through. A permanent dye will give you full coverage that will grow out (as regrowth) and require maintenance every four to six weeks.

2. Box dyes always turn out darker than you think.

Almost anyone who colours their hair at home will tell you the colour always turns out a touch darker than expected. A great rule is to choose a shade one lighter than the one you’re thinking of.

3. How to deal with colour build-up.

Colour build-up happens when you layer fresh colour over old colour. Think of it like colouring in with a texta: colouring over existing colour = darker colour.

If you have dark brown or black hair, this isn’t such a big deal. Dark blondes and brunettes might find it can make their colour turn out darker or duller than usual.

In-salon, a professional avoids this by being very precise with their colour application and technique. At home, try your best to only colour the amount of hair that needs it (i.e. if you’re doing your roots, apply the dye to the regrowth only). We also have to accept home hair colour application will never be as great as when a colourist does it. It’s why we pay for their expertise, after all.


4. How to remove hair dye if you go too dark.

Taken the plunge with a box dye and the result feels too dark? Your best bet is to wash your hair as soon as possible.

Semi-permanent colour washes out with each wash, but using a clarifying shampoo, or even an anti-dandruff shampoo, will help fade the colour in the short-term. Other at-home methods people have used to fade a too-dark box dye job include adding bicarb soda to your shampoo and dishwashing liquid. These aren’t great for your hair, so proceed with caution.

You can learn more about at-home hair colouring in this episode of the You Beauty podcast below. Post continues after audio.

Best at-home hair dye products.

When we asked the You Beauty Facebook group for their best at-home box dye recommendations, here’s what they said:

Many hair salons and colourists are offering at-home dye kits for clients to see them through while we’re unable to go in-salon. You can also ask your regular stylist to recommend a product or shade number that will suit you best.

Last of all, one needs patience, attention to detail and a bit of luck to get a good box dye result at home.

Thankfully, when it comes down to it, it’s just hair.

Feature image: Supplied and Unsplash.

Have you tried at-home hair dye before? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.