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How Does Ammonia Free Hair Color Work?

Posted Apr 23 2012 6:01am

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Mariano Hairdresser asks…The big trend is ammonia free hair coloring with an advertisement for being environmental free, less “HARSH” chemicals, More “NATURAL” and organic, green fresh air, none toxic, etc. the marketing extend so much that it becomes scientifically misleading to the general public and hairdressers off course whom believe anything the brands say and repeat it like they knew. The question is the alkaline replacement for an oxidation hair dye (MEA) or ethianolamine, monoethianolamine truly a better alternative?  Is it not more toxic and stays in the hair?  Being also less effective in developing the hair colour, but being as damaging as ammonia to the hair fiber or more (since it doesn’t evaporate)?

The Left Brain responds: 

Oxidation hair colors are alkaline for two reasons: 1) the alkaline pH causes the hair to swell and allows the permeation of the dye intermediates which then polymerize in situ and give the permanent color; and, 2) peroxide becomes more active (i.e., unstable) at higher pH and therefore does a better job of bleaching (lightening the native hair color) and polymerizing the intermediates into the desired color.

Ammonia is used in the real permanent colors to give better, more durable colors and allows for more significant color changes. You can truly change your hair color with these because it partially removes the natural color. An added benefit for ammonia is that, as is is volatile, the concentration and the pH drops over time.

MEA, used in the “Demi-permanent” colors raises the pH enough to slightly swell the hair and destabilize the peroxide, but because you can’t get the pH as high as with ammonia, there is less bleaching and, therefore, less ability to change the native color. That’s why these are typically “tone-on-tone” colors. The MEA is also there for the duration and the pH remains fairly constant throughout the process. I am not aware of any real fully-functional permanent hair colors that don’t use ammonia. They will refer to MEA containing colors as 24 wash (or so) colors, and they won’t talk about the limited ability to change your natural shades.

A world where MEA is viewed as a “greener”, “fresher” substance than poor little ammonia is a sad world. Ammonia is pretty easily handled by the environment once it gets past the initial smell and the irritation of the mucosal membranes.

“Ammonia-free” hair color may be somewhat less damaging, but ammonia based hair colors provide more durable color and a greater ability to change your natural hair shade.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/clickdead/3568796920/

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