How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert - URBANETTE: Lifestyle Magazine & Blog


How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

How I finally gave in, after 18 years of salon coloring, and tried box hair color for the first time.


While I’ve colored my hair since I was 16, it took me until my early 30’s to try boxed hair color. Wondering why I didn’t try it sooner? Well, it all started in Africa. No, wait. It all started as a teen model.

You see, models usually get their hair colored for free. I know, it’s not fair. Like, at all. I’m not even sure why models get it for free, but I assume it’s because they can then say “I colored her hair before this shoot” and point to a photo in a magazine (although I’ve never actually witnessed such an exchange). But I digress.

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

So there I am, a newly-scouted 16-year-old model, and my agent at Ford tells me (surprise, surprise) that I need to lighten my hair, like, pronto. As a full-fledged hippie country girl in Canada, I really didn’t know much about makeup or hair coloring, and I basically believed anything that anyone told me. So when my new colorist – Fritz – at Vidal Sassoon told me that I should never use at-home color, and that I could never grow my baby-fine sparse hair long because it would just look oh-so flat, I took  him at his word.

So therein began my love-hate relationship with hair salons, and the time-consuming and expensive ritual that I endured every two or three months. The thing is, they never seemed to get it right. Even at the most posh salons, the color always seemed to fade or go brassy, and the highlights they gave me always seemed to look artificial; a dead-giveaway that my hair color wasn’t my own. And as a girl who’s always coveted the natural look above all others, I found this to be far from ideal.

Fast-forward about 20 different salons in two countries, and fourteen years later, and I’m in Africa for my 30th birthday. I had just colored my hair a week or so prior, with the same highlights and low-lights that probably 90% of NYC-salon-blondes sport. Basically, the only blonde that the salons I’d been going to thought I’d look good in.

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

Then something hairmazing (yeah, I just made that word up) happened. The red dirt in Africa actually dyed my hair red. I mean, the perfect golden strawberry blonde shade. And I really (I mean really) loved it. It was me! This was how I was supposed to look! I’m not exactly sure how it happened; my best guess is from the dirt in the air on dusty roads clinging to my porous hair. The color lasted a solid month, during which I took lots of photos to make sure my salon colorist knew what I wanted.

Back in NYC, my colorist couldn’t seem to match the color. It somehow always seemed to come out looking, well, too blonde and too streaky. It just didn’t look natural.

Eventually, I moved uptown, but I was loyal to my downtown colorist. Each visit took about four hours door-to-door; and though I’d work during the visit, taking that much time became harder and harder, and visits became more and more seldom. Finally, I decided to try at-home coloring instead of finding a new uptown colorist (plus, I called around and for full-head highlights, lowlights, cut and blow-dry, salons up here charge between $400 and $600!)

By this point, my roots were about four inches long, and very dark blonde, so I swallowed my fear and went to a drugstore. I picked out a box of at-home hair color and brought it home. I resisted gagging (it smelled awful!) as I tested it on a small section of my hair (to see how the color would turn out), and on my arm (to test for bad reactions). I left it on my roots for about 30 minutes, then put it on the whole length of that section of hair for 10 more minutes.

My eyes stung from the chemicals — without even getting any in them! When I washed it off and blow-dried it, I showed my husband. “Where?” he kept asking. He couldn’t tell which was the section I’d tested the color on. When I looked very carefully, I could see a very slight red tinge, but my roots definitely weren’t lightened. #ug

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

Not one to give up, and not one to want to use any more harsh chemicals on my body, I did a bunch of research (#ThankYouGoogle!) and found a natural hair dye brand with good reviews called NATURIGIN (which is made in Denmark). Here are a few more compelling reasons why I chose this brand:

  1. Their hair dye ingredients are 98 % naturally based and contain natural oils and extracts that are certified organic by ECOCERT (which has stricter regulations than USDA organic). The dye also has the lowest level of PPD (a yucky chemical that’s –unfortunately– necessary to make the color stick long-term) on the international market (0.07 %) and all the colors are 100 % free of ammonia and parabens.
  2. NATURIGIN is the winner of the best natural beauty product by Natural Product Awards in the USA in 2014 and 2015.
  3. Their products are NOT tested on animals. As a vegan, only using products that are 100 % cruelty-free is super important to me!
  4. Their packaging is eco-friendly and made from recycled material.
  5. NATURIGIN is based in Denmark, and the motivation to start the company was Mette’s diagnosis with breast cancer. She wanted to make sure that other women had a healthier and cleaner choice of hair colors without dangerous and unhealthy ingredients. Having had cancer myself, I really appreciate this!

I’d found a winner! I immediately bought their golden blonde shade (it’s available on Vitaminshoppe and on Amazon) and tested it on a small section of my roots. It smelled very faintly like the pleasant natural fragrance my aunt wears, which I love. No chemical smells or stinging eyes.

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

20 minutes later, it’d done what it was supposed to do: lightened my roots. Halleluyah! So I put the NATURIGIN color all over my head and left it on for 20 minutes, then I added the rest to the length of my hair. I left it for 5 more minutes, then started washing it all off in the shower.

What I was left with was absolutely perfect. It was the exact strawberry blonde shade I had always wanted — and all it took was fifteen bucks and 30 minutes (during which I also meditated, checked email, and made a smoothie). It even gave my hair parts that look like highlights and lowlights (I had been afraid it’d have no depth, but –thankfully– it does!)

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

Some people may love the salon experience, but personally, I plan on never setting foot in a salon again. I mean, why would I? Now that I know that box color won’t make my hair fall out or turn green (as Fritz would have wanted me to believe), I’ve saved myself what probably amounts to months of valuable time over my life. #DIY #Excited!

A writer, artist, and designer since she was young enough to put pencil to paper, Hilary taught herself code and created Urbanette when she was a teenager. Currently, she lives in Monte Carlo, but spent the past decade living in NYC, still considers herself a New Yorker, and visits regularly. She's always traveling, looking for hot new topics, destinations, and life hacks to bring to Urbanette readers.

Reader Discussion: 75 Comments

  1. Lucretia Asher

    I can relate! I used to go to the salon to color my hair, but now I just go for cuts and I color myself. So much easier and less expensive. Just wish I’d done it sooner – I’d be tens of thousands of $$ richer now!

  2. Just keep in mind that when coloring, the final result will be the same “tone” as the picture on the side of the box, not the front. This is common with all hair dyes. I use Garnier because the avocado oil that they give you to add to the mixture really keeps your hair from drying out. And the results are on par with anything done in the salon. But now that you’ve made me think about it, Garnier probably isn’t very natural. I’ll try out Naturagin because if it works just as well, I’d rather use it than the chemical drugstore brands’ stuff.

  3. Love the strawberry blonde color on your hair! Sometimes salon treatments can be misleading and it's worth a try to color your own hair. I haven't dyed my hair at all (it's a really dark brown) but maybe I will try more natural highlights eventually…

  4. Randie Cadiogan

    I've definitely had my fair share of box dye disasters. Thankfully since your hair was already light, you were in a great position to use those. However if you have dark hair and you want to go lighter, never try and do it yourself! Trust me, I've had to walk around with flaming orange hair many a time. I agree how exhausting salon visits can be though, I've spent at least 6 hours there once trying to go blonde. Who has time for that?!

  5. Don’t you think you will miss that salon experience? I realize that the savings are tremendous, but I think I would miss the pampering and the lines and the sales pitch…oh, wait, what was the name of that brand again?! (jk) 🙂

  6. Gabrielle Williams

    I've heard some horror stories about using products to color your hair, but it seems that you managed to get it just right. I have never actually changed the color of my hair, in fact, the only time when my hair has ever changed color, was from going on holiday to France, when it was a particularly sunny period.

  7. Courtney Watson

    Luckily you got that mix right. I'm very 'bold' in the way I go with my hair. I go very dark, very light, very everything, but I do it from home. I was lucky enough to have my sister work at a shop where she could buy the product and give it to me to use. It was awesome. And you can go to Sally's and find professional stuff you can buy there too. Brava for giving it a try and kicking butt.

  8. Interesting to hear how doing it yourself can turn out better than the (more expensive) salon alternatives. I've been thinking about cutting my own hair, since I have a really simple style. I have long hair, which spikes up salon prices, but the thought of doing it myself makes me a little nervous. This article was encouraging, maybe I'll give it a try!

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