How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

COVID-19 social distancing means that salons are off-limits. Here’s the answer.


Last night I was video chatting with a girlfriend and she told me that her main complaint with the Coronavirus social-distancing situation was that she is being forced to do video conferencing for work, but –gasp!– her roots are showing! If we could all be this lucky. Anyhow, it reminded me of this article that I wrote when I first stopped going to the hair salon. Right now seems like the perfect time to share it with you all again, with an update…

Here’s 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.

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

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.

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.

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.

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

The day I decided to try coloring at home.. Before (with roots) and after (yes, I wanted it to be that shade!)

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

My favorite hair color brand

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. Their products are NOT tested on animals. As a vegan, only using products that are 100% cruelty-free is super important to me!
  3. Their packaging is eco-friendly and made from recycled material.
  4. 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 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

15 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 10 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 with shampoo in the shower. (Depending on the color you’re starting with, you might need to add 10 more minutes.)

What I was left with was absolutely perfect. It was the exact strawberry blonde shade I had always wanted — and all it took was 15 bucks and 15 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.

2020 Update:

How this Salon-Lifer Became a Box-Color Convert

My hair now

I’ve been dying my hair at home for years now and I still love it. I’ve learned through trial-and-error that the color you see on the box is rarely the color you get, so it’s important to try several brands and shades until you find the one perfect for you. You can experiment by mixing up the colors and applying the dye to a small section of your hair (at the front, so it’s easier) to see how it turns out. If you don’t like it, just wash that small section, dry it, and do another experiment with the next bottle.

I decided to switch to ash blonde, which leaves my hair looking a very natural color, with lots of depth and natural highlights. I love that it only takes me 20 minutes at home to get a better-than-salon look. I even cut my own hair at home (sometimes I enlist my husband to make sure it’s perfectly straight, but he rarely needs to make any corrections.) It’s much easier than you’d expect, and there’s no time like the present to try it yourself!

Avatar of Hilary Rowland

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: 76 Comments

  1. Avatar of Katherine


    Hello! I am an American living in Lyon and am super tired of the salon highlights experience. I’m ready to take the plunge and try it at home myself. Did you find a natural hair die while in Lyon? I’ve done some looking and cannot find the Naturigin. Thanks!

    • Avatar of Hilary Rowland

      I use Beliflor (in blonde platine or blonde miel) when I can’t find Naturigin. It’s available in most of the bio shops in Lyon and around France, and on Amazon.fr. 🙂

      • Avatar of Katherine


        Thanks Hilary!

  2. Avatar of Allie

    Do you have a picture of your natural hair color? I’m wondering if this will work for mine.

    • Avatar of Hilary Rowland

      My natural is a dark blonde. This hair dye can lighten hair the same as any other dye, just without burning your scalp and without the toxic smell. 🙂

  3. Avatar of Mary Shum

    I have a co-worker that dyes her hair frequently and after dyeing it, she gets really flaky scalp. I told her that she should switch brands because her scalp seems to be irritated. It actually looks really gross because chunks of skin are coming off her head. She has long hair and it doesn’t look nice and hygienic when she’s walking around with chunks of skin falling off her head. Not sure how she does it but she claims it was just because of the hair color she used. Damn, if I had that side effect I’d freak out and never use that product again.

    • Avatar of Hilary Rowland

      She should definitely switch to a natural brand like Naturigin, Beliflor, etc. (don’t be fooled by brands like Herbal Essences, and other mainstream brands that pretend to be non-toxic). She can also try using organic Neem oil on her scalp on weekends, like a mask-type treatment.

  4. Avatar of Linda LEAHY

    Linda LEAHY

    The reason why I prefer box dyes is that when my hair gets longer, my roots aren’t too even. It looks ombre. But whenever I go to salons, my roots grow too evenly and it really looks as if I need a retouch ASAP.

  5. Avatar of Deborah Maynard

    Deborah Maynard

    I think my hair is hyper active and my roots show pretty fast. Not a fan of salon visits either because I feel like my money is worth something better than just a hair dye. I prefer having about 5 boxes of hair color at home and I can just retouch anytime.

  6. Avatar of Lily


    People who go to salons are too high maintenance. I’ve only stepped in a salon a couple of times in a year and it’s mainly for drastic measures. I just need a big mirror and my hair is dyed!

  7. Avatar of Rosalie Wade

    Rosalie Wade

    My scalp is sensitive so I really just go for natural dyes. I was scared to try Naturigins at first but the first try went well. I don’t think I’m going to go back to the salon anytime soon unless it’s for a haircut.

  8. Avatar of Kristina Prizemnaya

    I’ve used Naturigin before and it was one of the best hair colors in a box. I also love that it doesn’t smell strongly of chemicals that sting my eyes and scalp. I’m rarely allergic to hair coloring but I’ve used brands that gave me a very sore scalp before and everytime I brush my hair, I feel like I bruised that part of my head! It was terrible. My hair is naturally dark so I find that natural coloring doesn’t stain my hair much since it doesn’t contain chemicals that bleach the hair easily.

  9. Avatar of Patty F

    Patty F

    I tried Naturigin and I love the effect it has on my hair. My hair was softer, almost as if I also had a treatment after my hair color. I use the henna variant before but the color selections were very limited. Glad to have made the switch.?

  10. Avatar of Joyce Shealy

    Joyce Shealy

    Been wanting to dye my hair ash blonde but salons can’t get the color right. I always end up with old looking hair which is disastrous! ?

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