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Every time you step into a salon, you are greeted with noxious, choking fumes that almost knock you over. Those fumes come from ammonia in hair dye and relaxers. Permanent hair dyes contain ammonia to help open the hair shaft to allow color to penetrate. You may leave the salon with gorgeous color and bouncy locks, but over time, ammonia may damage the hair and cause other ill effects. Ammonia-free hair dye is available at certain salons, and may be a better choice for your hair and your health.
Ammonia combines with peroxide in hair dyes to lift the cuticle – or outer layer – of each hair so that the dye can soak in and last. Unless you want to visit the salon and pad your stylist's bank account every few weeks, you need permanent dye for lasting color and to cover all your gray. Semi-permanent colors may contain monoethanolamine, or MEA, which is also a chemical that helps to open up the cuticle of the hair. It does not do as thorough of a job as ammonia, however, which means color fades over time. It seems that if you want head-turning color, you have to endure the odors and burning that ammonia may cause.
Ammonia may not cause cancer, but it sure can smell and feel toxic -- especially if you are sensitive to chemicals. Pregnant women should avoid hair dye made with ammonia, as breathing in the strong fumes could be harmful to your developing baby. Using hair dye often can lead to dryness, scalp burning and hair loss -- not results you typically visit the salon to achieve. Using ammonia damages the hair shaft, keeping it porous and encouraging the loss of moisture and less shine. You may leave the salon today with vibrant color, but over time your hair looks as drab and dry as a used paintbrush.
If you dream of becoming a golden blonde, vibrant redhead or mahogany brunette, you have hope -- even if you cannot bear the effects of ammonia-based dyes. L’Oreal markets a permanent ammonia-free hair color called INOA in which the color dye molecules cling to the water within your hair and force themselves in for thorough penetration. Other types of ammonia-free colors that are less common use heat to open the hair shaft so that color can permeate. A small company in California, Mastey De Paris, also markets an all-natural, ammonia-free permanent hair color, but with a small distribution base. Their formula uses an amino acid-based formula to force color into the hair. Vegetable or plant-based colors are also available, but these are not permanent and usually wash out quickly.
Fans of ammonia-free dyes say using them is better for your hair and for your health. Stylists say their clients' hair feels softer and natural – rather than dry and over-processed. Using ammonia-free dyes also protects a compound in the hair called tyrosine. Tyrosine produces the hair’s natural pigment, but when destroyed leaves hair drab and unable to hold onto color. Over time your hair becomes less receptive to dyes and even permanent versions fade like an old flower. Many ammonia-free dyes claim to preserve tyrosine, resulting in longer-lasting, vibrant color.
Ammonia-free dyes are not widely available, so you may have to do some searching to find a salon near you that carries them. Ammonia-free may also cost you a bit more, but good health and happy hair is worth it. Just because a product is free of ammonia does not mean it is completely chemical-free, either. You may still incur dryness and breakage due to the use of other chemicals, especially if ammonia-free formulas fail to contain conditioners. The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the use of the word “natural” on hair dyes, so they may still contain harmful compounds that may damage your hair. Speak to your stylist to figure out what is best for you.