The Ammonia vs. Non-ammonia Hair Color Discussion
Recently there has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the issue of hair color that contains ammonia vs. hair color that is labeled “ammonia-free,” according to Sara Jones, senior vice president and general manager of Joico/ISO. In an attempt to shed light on the matter, a new scientific report from Joico, maker of Joico Vero K-PAK Color, offers clarification and answers to some frequently asked questions.

What is Ammonia and Why is it in Haircolor?
Ammonia has long been used in permanent hair color formulations. This is how it works: first, it sets the stage for color to penetrate the hair strand by opening up the surface of the strand so that the dye can get through. Then it effectively lifts out the natural hair pigment so that the hair color molecules can penetrate and deposit. That’s when you see the new shade. So essentially, ammonia is largely responsible for hair color’s ability to alter hair hue without washing out after only a few shampoos.
What is Ammonia-Free Color and How Does it Work?
Color products that are labeled “ammonia free” generally contain an ammonia substitute called mono-ethanolamine or MEA. Like ammonia, MEA is effective at performing the first step of a permanent color service that of opening the cuticle. However, because the MEA molecule is 3.5 times larger than ammonia, it cannot penetrate the hair as effectively, so it might not be as efficient when it comes to lifting natural color out of the hair and depositing artificial color deep into the hair strand. Therefore, non ammonia colors may be less effective than ammonia based color when the colorist attempts to create lasting gray coverage, or the sufficient lightening required to produce exceptional light blonde or vibrant red shades. Additionally, says Joico Vero K-PAK Spokesperson and renowned hair color expert Beth Minardi, “In my experience, the MEA in hair color products can remain in hair even after the color has been removed, which can lead to progressive darkening and dulling.”
MEA vs. Ammonia What are the Pros and Cons?
Ammonia has a distinctive odor, and colorists and clients find the odorless nature of MEA appealing during the color application, notes Minardi. What’s more, MEA can be quite effective when used in deposit-only demi-permanent formulas which do not lighten hair and which fade gradually. “But when it comes to permanent hair color,” says Minardi, “scientists report that permanent hair color results obtained via use of ammonia based formulas like Joico Vero K Pakprovide excellent predictability. Historically, we note that ammonia-based formulas provide long lasting color, intense vibrancy and superior gray coverage.”
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