IBMC Articles

Dollar Store Hair Dye vs. Salon Quality

At any grocery or department store, you’re likely to find a wall of boxed home hair dye products. Pull a color off the shelf, take it home and do it yourself. You can even pick up a box at your local dollar store. But are you really getting a better deal?

Cosmetology Instructor Chelsea Gillingham recently performed an experiment with her students at IBMC College in Longmont, CO to compare the differences between the more expensive high-quality salon dye, and the ultra-cheap stuff from your local dollar store.


“The first thing we noticed was the smell,” She says. A lot of boxed hair dyes will smell strongly of chemicals like ammonia. It’s something you just don’t run into when you use higher quality dyes. The salon-quality Redken dye had a much less offensive scent. Still, we’re here to dye hair, not to smell it.


When they applied it to the hair “the dollar store brand looked very green and grey—it didn’t look very pretty,” Gillingham says. When the processing was complete, both came out black, but the box dye was dull and didn’t have much shine.

The Redken looked a little nicer during the processing. “It was shiny, blue-ish, and had a little sparkle to it.” When the processing was complete, the two dyes turned out looking pretty close to the same in color, but the salon-quality Redken turned out shiny and healthy-looking.


When Gillingham and her students touched the hair treated with dollar store dye, it was clear that something was wrong. “The box dye felt very rough and dry after the chemical processing,” she says. It had a lot of breakage—not something you want in your hair.

As for the Redken treated hair, it was much smoother and softer. “It had virtually no breakage, and it felt like there was definitely no damage on the hair we treated with it,” Gillingham says.

The Takeaway

Damaged breeds more damage

When we use cheap dye, the consequences are long-lasting. The box dye causes the hair to become brittle and dull, but it also leaves harsh chemicals in the hair permanently. When you dye hair that’s already damaged, the result is a color that will fade quicker.

“If you’re using these products, especially over and over again, you’re just further damaging your hair, causing more fading that you would have had with the professional brand,” Gillingham says.

Not all hair is the same

Home dye kits are harsh, because they’re meant to be a ‘one color works for all’ solution. The truth is, that just doesn’t work. There are a lot of factors that influences the needs of our hair, including porosity, density, texture, condition, history and the current hair color.

“A box doesn’t know what’s on your head —it can’t tell you all that,” Gillingham says. “We have a whole five-week session on pre-hair coloring, because we teach our students how to come up with the best formulation for the client.”

Salon professionals can assess your hair’s needs

If you’re not sure what you’re putting in your hair, it can cause some serious damage later on. It’s important for cosmetologists to ask clients about their hair history. It helps to establish a baseline, and it gives an idea of what chemicals may already be in your hair.

If you use home dying kits, the consequences can get pretty bad…

“The worst case scenario would be foils getting hot, and the hair essentially melting off… You know because with the box dye, the chemicals that they put in there might not be compatible with the bleach that professionals use,” Gillingham says. “Whenever you’re mixing chemicals, and you don’t know it’s a foreign chemical, you could have a really horrible mixture. Again, that’s where client consultation comes into play.”

She says it’s important for her students to educate their clients not use those home dyes. You’ll see less fading, because the hair is healthier, and you won’t have to worry about your hair—literally melting off!