HAIR COLOR Ammonia & Hair Color: Separating Fact From Fiction

by Better Natured

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The entire Better Natured product line is based on naturally-derived* formulas plus purely science ingredients that deliver high-performance, salon quality results, as gentle as they are effective. The brand is refreshingly transparent about what’s inside every bottle and tube, and the website has a complete glossary of ingredients, including how they’re sourced and what they’re used for. 

Given the line’s commitment to ‘clean’ formulas some may be surprised that Ammonium Hydroxide is among the ingredients listed for the Liqui-Crème Hair Color.  Ammonia – as in the strong-smelling chemical touted in household cleaning products? Why in the world would we ever put that noxious substance on our heads? What about the ammonia-free hair color we’ve all heard advertised?

Well, it turns out, there’s more to the ammonia story than we thought, and it has been used safely in hair color for more than a century. And what’s important to remember is that there is no such thing as permanent hair color that is chemical-free and still effective.

Why Ammonia?

All permanent hair colors, like Better Natured™ Liqui-Crème color, have to open up the hair’s cuticles in order for the pigment to penetrate and cover the most resistant gray hair.

Normally, hair has a pH level of 4.5-5.5. For color to permeate the hair, a chemical alkalizer is needed to raise or adjust the pH so the dye can bypass the outer cuticle and enter the cortex.

Ammonia is an alkaline compound of hydrogen and nitrogen. It has long been the active ingredient of choice because it provides the alkalinity needed to penetrate the cuticle and absorb more color molecules, and also helps lighten existing pigment within the hair. Since ammonia is a gas of low molecular weight, it evaporates quickly (leading to its strong smell), and any residue is easily rinsed away. Better Natured celebrity ambassador and #betternaturedpartner Marcus Francis suggests that when preparing hair color with ammonia, “letting it rest for 2-3 minutes before applying can eliminate most of the odor.”

While it’s true that ammonia can be damaging to hair, it has been used safely by hundreds of millions of women who have colored their hair for generations. It continues to be preferred by colorists worldwide because it is works effectively and vanishes quickly. Additional advantages of ammonia include more vibrant, predictable and long-lasting color results, and impeccable gray coverage.

What’s the Alternative?

Contrary to popular belief, ‘ammonia-free hair color’ does not mean that its organic, natural or naturally-derived. In fact, the only real alternative to ammonia-free permanent hair color contains Mono-ethanolamine (MEA) instead. MEA is a chemical compound made of amine and alcohol. Unlike ammonia gas, MEAs are liquid or oil-based which makes them more adhesive chemicals. Once they’re applied, they do not evaporate and must be manually removed with thorough – and often repeated - washing.

In fact, MEA molecules are 3.5 times larger than ammonia, so they do not penetrate the cuticle as completely, nor do they leave as easily. The net net: MEA-based color may not lighten efficiently; color has a tendency to appear darker and duller than desired; and there’s a higher potential for irritation due to residue.  On the plus side, because they evaporate more slowly, MEAs are generally fume-free which some clients prefer and are considered less volatile than ammonia-based products.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. But there is so much misinformation out there about ammonia-free hair color and Better Natured prefers to give you the facts. We are committed to delivering an amazing product that will not compromise on 100% gray coverage, vibrant color and soft, shiny, radiantly healthy-looking hair. Any questions? Call one of our expert colorists anytime at 800-242-9283.

The Environmental Working Group rates ammonia a 4-6 (on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most toxic), depending on the way it is used. The Environmental Working Group website rates ethanolamine as 5-6, which is slightly higher than ammonia’s rating of 4-6.

*Better Natured™ Liqui-Creme Hair Color shades range between 87% - 92% naturally-derived depending on the shade. We use the Global ISO Standard 16128 which defines naturally-derived as a plant or mineral derived material and water which is found in nature and has undergone limited processing. 

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