For over 60 years, professional hair color manufacturers have relied on and marketed ammonia in their color formulations. So much that when you ask many hairdressers, they will tell you that “permanent hair color cannot work without having ammonia.” Their statement is not factually correct, but what they are trying to say is that hair color will not work without an alkaline agent.
What is an alkaline agent, and what does it do?
Alkaline agents are ingredients with a pH that is Alkaline (above 7) and used in the formula of hair color to open the cuticle. All ammonia does in any manufacturer’s color formulation is function as an alkaline agent. Zero ammonia products use a gentler alternative alkaline agent (AMP/MEA). Ingredients are much softer than ammonia that opens the cuticle but are less damaging.
Why do you need to open the cuticle?
When we are doing a permanent color application, we need to open the cuticle so that the hair dyes can enter the hair. If we did not open the cuticle, the permanent dyes would not penetrate. Thus, the permanent color would not work. All permanent hair color must open the cuticle to deposit the hair dyes. Using AMP & MEA and the specific hair dye combinations allow you to open the cuticle and deposit permanent color without the usual damage you would create using other non-ammonia colors or traditional ammonia-based colors.
So if everyone needs an alkaline agent, what is so bad about ammonia?
Problems for professionals:
Ammonia has been used as an alkaline agent for many years, and the problems associated with its use are well documented. For the stylist constant exposure to fumes and constant skin contact proves to be detrimental to their careers. We have to understand that where a consumer has a hair color process on average once every 4 weeks, hairdressers are exposed to ammonia 4 to 10 times a day. And not only from their own clients but also from their co-workers. For them using ammonia in their service products has a direct relationship to the longevity of their careers.
Problems for consumers:
For salon customers, ammonia represents a different problem. Of course, there is the uncomfortableness of the fumes while your color processes, the itchy scalp as you sit and wait to have it washed out, and the after-effects of having ammonia and color sitting on your scalp for 30 minutes to an hour. In the long term, there is the permanent damage that the irritation to the scalp does. And more visibly, the damage that the hair color process does to your actual hair.
As we learned earlier, ammonia is an alkaline agent that opens the cuticle. Ammonia is a very aggressive alkaline that really blows that cuticle open. Hence, over time it is harder to close the cuticle after the service. After a few applications, your hair begins to take on a very different and damaged look than when you first started coloring.
So how do ammonia-free products address these issues?
Zero ammonia hair color products use Amino Methyl Propanol (AMP) and Mono Ethanolamine (MEA) as alkaline agents. These are milder, gentler alkaline agents that still open the cuticle but not as aggressively as ammonia. These alkalines are used alone or in combination, depending on the color shade, to provide the proper level of alkalinity needed in order to color at that level.
Since MEA and AMP are much gentler than ammonia, their irritation level is also lower. However, zero ammonia products also provide another level of protection against irritation and fume exposure. I like the alkaline agent AMP/MEA in a Vegan Dyhidroxy EthylSoyamine Dyoliate (soy-based solution) that helps to buffer the skin and the stylist from any irritation or exposure to fumes. The alkalinity of the AMP/MEA is used to open the cuticle, but their fumes and any irritants are trapped in the soy-based solution and washed out of the hair at rinse time.
Vegan Moisturizing and Conditioning
Zero ammonia products also use vitamins, antioxidants, rice amino acids, and vegetable-based moisture factors to condition the hair while coloring.
Do you need more reasons to avoid ammonia? I guess you have no excuses, especially when more reliable alternatives are available. I hope I convinced you to switch to ammonia-free hair color. Believe me when I say it will be much better for your hair. If you enjoyed my writing, please share it with your friends so that they’ll finally know the ugly side of ammonia.