The Truth About What's Really In Boxed Hair Dyes

The pandemic really made self-care — especially dying our hair at home — a thing. A survey conducted by Garnier found that 30% of 2,000 women dyed their hair themselves in 2020, with more than half of respondents saying they chose a bold color because "it seemed like a good opportunity while at home," (via Allure).

But before you shake the pre-mixed chemicals in the plastic bottle and start to apply the liquid on your locks, take a moment to reconsider the chemicals and ingredients you're exposing your scalp and strands to. The long list on the back of the boxed hair dyes may include resorcinol, MEA, ammonia, persulfates, parabens, propylene glycol, and metals. "Some of these ingredients can cause serious problems," says Colorist Cassi Frielich to New Beauty. Frielich goes into detail, adding, "Resorcinol is known to be irritating and also interferes with normal hormone production, as do parabens. MEA is damaging to the hair and effaces the cuticle, and propylene glycol can cause dermatitis."

Consider a semi-permanent option

If you want to try your hand at an at-home dye job, find a dye that doesn't require a permanent commitment. "More specifically, it's safe if you're using semi/demi-permanent color at home because they fade away much more softly than permanent color and are also way less damaging, as they usually deposit only and don't alter the natural hair shaft," says Christine Arndt, a colorist at Baja Studio in NYC, to Byrdie.

You may also want to find ingredients in boxed hair dyes that are less harmful. Colorist and stylist Thomas Heinz advises you go peroxide- and ammonia-free if you can find dyes that substitute those ingredients with others, though that may be challenging, per New Beauty. Before you make a permanent or semi-permanent commitment, it could be helpful to take stock of the state of your hair before a DIY dye job. Heinz explains that every time you expose your strands to the chemicals of hair dye, your hair is stripped of its natural moisture and weakens as a result. So even if you achieve your desired new hair shade, be aware that you may have to add damage control to your hair care routine.