A lot of hair colorists are warning us about this box dye brand

hair compared

L: L’Oreal Feria Smokey Pastel Blue box dye. R: One of Sydniiee Oliveira’s pastel dye jobs.

For years now, we’ve been enamored with candycolored hair, particularly pastel variations. And for those of us who are thrifty and/or experimental, it’s oh-so tempting to try to get to a pastel-friendly icy silver or blonde on your own using a box kit. Which is something we understand, but if you DO go down the box dye route, take note — a meme circulating around the hair colorist social media community strongly warns against this particular line of box dye pastel: L’Oreal Feria Smokey Pastels.

A photo posted by Sydniiee O (@sydniiee) on

Why L’Oreal Feria’s Smokey Pastels box dye really won’t work

Hair colorist Sydniiee Oliveira, who also does makeup at CaLooks Professional Salon in Visalia, CA, created the PSA above after spotting the Feria Smokey Pastels line in store. When asked why she singled out L’Oreal’s box kits, she explained to HelloGiggles, “I don’t have anything against L’Oreal as a color line per se. They make great professional products, but in my experience the Feria line, in any shade, has had the most extreme negative effects. I made the meme about these specific shades because they are SO popular right now for girls to want these pastel colors that just can’t be achieved from a box. I’m afraid all these young girls that can’t afford to make it into a salon will think this is an easy (cheap) way to get these high maintenance shades, and completely ruin their hair.”

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Colorist Christine Silverman, of Beverly Hills’s Ramirez Tran Salon, expanded on the issue with these one-stop-shop pastel promises: “The pastel colors that we use professionally usually don’t have any kind of developer or ammonia in them. It’s a double process — the hair is lifted and then whatever color the client desires is overlaid on top of it, and it’s pretty temporary. Whereas, I looked at the ingredients on that product, and it has ammonia. People going into the store, they might not understand that, if they have dark hair and they put something like that onto it, it’s going to lift it up to kind of an orange-y color. They’re not gonna get the results that they want or that they see on the box.”

As the PSA specifies, the issue isn’t necessarily with what the box dye outright does, but rather what will happen when you try to deviate from or correct box dye results, especially after such an extreme process (for anyone who doesn’t have naturally light blonde hair) to reach pastel-ready lightness. The color correction process, even when done by a colorist who’s aware of a client’s box dye past (to say nothing of those clients who don’t disclose their hair history), can lead to nightmare scenarios.

Fried, discolored, and melting hair: The after-effects of box dye

The worst post-box dye interaction Oliveira’s witnessed included “LITERAL heating of the hair, so hot you can’t even touch the foils, smoking, lots of ‘water’ start[ing] to drip, and eventually melting of the hair itself.” Colorist Mary Assimos, who runs her own studio in Studio City, CA, co-signed this horrific image: “At a different salon I worked at, a client wanted to go from box dye black to blond (the absolute bane of our profession). This stylist was trying to achieve the transformation in a single day and the hair just literally fried off in clumps. Low and behold, the client had dyed her hair black from a box over hair that was previously bleached. So, there was basically bleach under box dye black hell trying to be bleached again! Scary stuff.” 

The thing is, even when box dyes of your shade of choice do work for you, users are left at the mercy of cosmetics companies that are free to tweak their non-professional formulas at will. (How many of us have loved and cherished a product for years, only to find out that its newest formulation is absolute trash?) In addition, bleach and dyes react differently on hair depending on a person’s body’s natural changes, as Silverman explained: “Based on what I know about hair color chemistry and how it interacts with the body, graying hair, different medication, hormones, dietary changes, can affect all of that.” Colorists mix and test their own color blends not just for true tone, but also for an individual client’s coloring and hair type; box dyes don’t disclose formula changes, and don’t account for the body’s natural changes.

It’s easy to chalk colorists’ concerns about box dye as the stuff of competition: Of course professionals who make their living off coloring hair wouldn’t want people to go the DIY route, and the market for box dyes continues to grow. (Sales are projected to hit $2.2 billion this year.) But all of the colorists who spoke to us emphasized that this wasn’t just about business, a sentiment echoed by the many other hair professionals who shared Oliveira’s image. Rather, this was about letting the buyer beware — before she came into a salon in tears.

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So, what makes a box dye different from salon products?

Oliveira explained, “Most box dyes contain cheaper, more volatile chemicals that do not react well to our professional products we use in the salon. They are made in a ‘one size fits most’ kind of way, and that just isn’t the way you can approach hair color.” Even when clients aren’t coming in to correct box dye color — although all three stylists see multiple box dye correction clients a month, sometimes multiples a week — box dyes still make professional colorists’ jobs harder by adding more variables to the already highly volatile processes of bleaching and dyeing.

Stylist Kayla Mauceri conducted a strand test of two L’Oreal Feria Smokey Pastels on non-white-blonde hair. Click through to read her whole caption.

“Box color uses a metallic type of dye that gets in the hair and stays in there longer. Depending on how dark it is, it’s nearly impossible to pull out of the hair. It also has strange chemical reactions with other kinds of hair color, and is difficult to remove from the hair,” Silverman shared, and added, “It can be difficult, even with the demi-permanent stuff salons use that’s an overlay, a color like green is nearly impossible to get out of the hair. I actually did my hair turquoise at one point, and I had to do a lot of processes to get it out of my hair.”

Why highlight the L’Oreal Feria Smokey Pastels line specifically?

So considering all of the box dye lines out there, why did the L’Oreal Feria Smokey Pastels call-out strike such a nerve? Assimos deftly pinpointed the dark humor behind the image, and the reason for its resonance within the colorist community: “Every hair trend out there has been gobbled up by drugstore brands and put on a box, including at-home ombré kits and DIY fashion punky colors. So when it was revealed that the ever-popular Pinterest-favorite pastel hair made its box dye debut, it was just too funny and terrifying to ignore. This particular trend is hard enough to execute for even us experienced professionals … To have a brand make it seem like an attainable one-step process you can do on the fly in your bathroom is just laughable.” (FYI, a professional coloring process should take hours to allow for proper bleaching, coloring, and drying, not to mention a consultation beforehand. Box dyes will clock in under an hour.)

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That’s the thing worth repeating and practicing in every aspect of your life: Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should, especially when that thing involves something as important as your hair. The best beauty technicians, from manicurists to makeup artists to colorists, count on you looking good to make themselves look good. Their warnings against box dye treatments, and especially extreme ones, are based not in paranoia over losing business but rather concern that a client will come to them asking for a fix that they cannot simply, safely, provide.

Or as Oliveira put it, “As professionals, we work really hard to give you the hair of your dreams, but it does take time and money to give it to you in the safest, healthiest way possible.” Pin that to your #hairspiration board.

Related reading:

Things your stylist wants you to know (but is probably too polite to tell you)

What you’ve been told about hair color is wrong

(Images courtesy of L’Oreal, Sydniiee Oliveira/Instagram, Mary Assimos/InstagramKayla Mauceri/Instagram, and Christine Silverman/Instagram.)

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