Can you use box dye on dirty hair? Yes, but not so dirty

Woman applying dye to dirty hair

  • It’s best to dye your hair (with box or professional dyes) between 24 and 48 hours after the last wash.
  • In other words, your hair needs to be a little dirty to color it with any dye.
  • If it’s freshly washed, the hair fiber is unprotected and you may feel a burning rash.
  • But if you spend more time without washing it and it’s too dirty, it may not take the color well.


But wait, there are 2 exceptions:

  • If you have a very oily scalp, you can apply the dye 12 hours after the last wash.
  • If you have an extra dry scalp, you can go 72 hours without washing.


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Hello! If you’ve come this far, it’s because you’ve been wondering about dyeing your hair: can I apply box dyes if it’s dirty?

Should I wash it before coloring?


In this article, I’ll tell you why it’s better to use box dye on “somewhat dirty” instead of clean hair. Come on!


Can you use box dye on dirty hair? Yes, but not THAT dirty

Thoughtful girl with greasy hair

  You may have heard that “the dirtier the hair is before coloring, the better,” but this isn’t quite true.   On the contrary, if your hair is very dirty, the dye may not work as you expected.

So, do I wash it out?


No.   There’s a level of “dirt” that’s ideal for coloring your hair.   Not too dirty, not too clean: this middle ground is what I’ll help you find.


You shouldn’t wash your hair 24 to 48 hours before coloring it with box dyes.

This way, your hair isn’t going to be clean or super dirty. If your hair is freshly washed, the hair fiber is unprotected.

On the other hand,   after a few days without washing, the hair recovers its natural oils.   So, you get protection and the color settles as well.


Do you want to know what happens when you color your hair and it’s too dirty?

The following is for you.


What happens if I color my hair too dirty? The color may not penetrate the hair fiber

Woman brushing her too dirty hair

If you ask any hairdresser, they’ll tell you that dirty hair takes dye better.


That’s true.

  Hair naturally generates oils that help hair dye blend with the hair fibers.   It eases the coloring process and helps the cuticle absorb the color.


In fact, this is one of the things you should know before coloring your hair.

  But if you go more than 3 days without washing your hair, those natural oils can become excessive.   Also, after a couple of days, different residues start to accumulate in your hair. Which ones?


For example, residues that come from environmental pollution or styling products.

  Excessive dirt prevents the dye from penetrating properly   and the results aren’t satisfactory.


Let me explain it this way: The dye has an action time of approximately 35 minutes. It penetrates the hair cortex during the first 15 minutes. It deposits the color during the remaining time.

  If your hair is too dirty, the dye has a big barrier to cross   and may not be able to penetrate and deposit the color correctly.


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Where does the myth that “the dirtier the better” come from for coloring hair?

  Many years ago, box or professional dyes were very aggressive.

So, the hair needed to be dirty to protect it from the chemicals.


For this reason, all hairdressers used to advise that the dirtier your hair, the better.

  Some women would go up to 10 days without washing their hair before applying the box dye.  

Phew, can you imagine?


But today, the composition of dyes and their action have changed. They are much less aggressive, so you no longer need to wait so many days with dirty hair before dyeing.


What happens if I dye my hair when it’s freshly washed?

Woman with manual shower and wet hair

There’s a tendency to believe that the dye could take better with freshly washed hair as if it were a blank canvas ready to receive any color, but this doesn’t work like that. How does it work?


  When we have clean hair, the color slips,   because we don’t have those natural oils I was talking about before.

Also, when we have just washed our hair, the dye can cause irritation, itching, or burning of the scalp because we don’t have the protection of those oils.


These oils act as a “bodyguard” for your hair, so   it’s best to wait 24 hours to 48 hours after washing your hair before applying box dyes.  

This way, you’ll avoid having a bad time while coloring your hair.


Do all hair types need 48 hours after washing to be applied? No; there are 2 exceptions

Exception 1: If you have oily hair, you must wait 12 hours before applying hair dye

The rule of coloring your hair between 24 and 48 hours after washing is for all hair types, but oily hair is an exception. Why?


Because oily hair generates those natural oils I was talking about at the beginning. They protect the scalp from the dye chemicals much faster.

  If you have oily hair, then you don’t need to leave it unwashed for 48 hours.   Waiting 12 hours after the last wash will be enough.


Exception 2: If you have a very dry scalp, you can wait an extra day to color it

  If your scalp is very dry, you can go 3 days without washing it   before applying the box or professional dye.


I tell you a 100% true story of a client who went 7 days without washing her hair before applying the dye

Hairdresser dyes her client's dirty hair

Idalia is a retired teacher who comes to my salon very often.

She’s a dedicated teacher who loves her job above all things.

One day,   Idalia discovered that she could google everything she didn’t know, even her hairdressing doubts.  

Of course, who doesn’t?


The problem is that   in the world of hairdressing there are too many myths and lies floating around the net. .

I spend a lot of time chatting with my salon clients to debunk those myths as I work on their hair.

“If you pull out one gray hair you’ll grow seven more;” “The more you cut your hair, the more it grows”; “It’s not good to dye your hair if you’re pregnant” , etcetera, etcetera…


So,   Idalia had read in an article that for her hair to stop falling out, she should wash it as little as possible.  

According to her, if she followed this “tip,” her hair would be super strong and her hair color would take better when applying the dye.

Do you know what?


Although I tried and tried to explain that this was not the best thing to do for her type of hair, it was no use. She was totally convinced!

She started coming in once a week to have her hair washed and every 20 days to have her hair colored at the salon.


This may sound like a joke, but Idalia threw away the shampoo and conditioner she had at home.
In her opinion, she didn’t need them anymore.  

She had made a point of washing her hair only when she came to the salon.  

Imagine the condition of her hair after a whole week of dirt. Gloves on and let’s get to work!


As expected, when she came in to touch up the dye, we had to apply some extra product because, since she didn’t wash her hair, the barrier of dirt was huge.

In fact,   there were gray hairs that the dye could not cover because of the dirt.  


  In short, you don’t need to sacrifice yourself and go that long without washing your hair before applying box or professional dyes.  

Hair needs to protect itself from the dye with its natural oils, but going 48 hours without washing is enough!


Conclusion: If you have normal hair, wait 24-48 hours after washing it before applying box hair dyes

In this article, we have seen why   it’s preferable to have somewhat dirty hair before applying the box or professional dye. 

But   if you go more than 48 hours without washing it, the effect can be exactly the opposite: the dye will not penetrate properly   and the result of the dye won’t be as expected. You’re already an expert!

I’m sure you’ll look amazing with your new color.

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