While salon clients only come in contact with ammonia in hair color about once every few weeks, colorists work with it on a daily basis. The Agency for the Registration of Toxic Substances and Diseases classifies ammonia as a toxic and known carcinogen. It is one of the main causes of respiratory disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and many types of cancer. The career of the average salon professional will last only 8 years because it will be cut short by illnesses related to breathing, depression, obesity or chronic fatigue syndrome; all of which have been closely related to chronic ammonia exposure.
Ammonia is used in hair color to lift the hair cuticle allowing pigments to penetrate the hair shaft and oxidize to create a permanent color effect. All permanent hair dye contains an alkaline agent that allows hair color to penetrate the cortex of the hair. However, ammonia is a caustic corrosive that irreversibly damages the cuticle during the hair coloring process. It also damages the protein tyrosine in the hair which is responsible for regulating the production of melanin, which is the hair’s natural color pigment. Damaging the protein tyrosine makes it impossible for hair to “retain” both its natural and artificial color, which is why the use of ammonia-based colorants inevitably leads to color fading. Finally, ammonia corrodes both the sebaceous glands and the hair follicles of the scalp, resulting in brittle and thinning hair.
Although many salon professionals have accepted ammonia as a “necessary evil” in permanent hair dye, there are actually very good alternatives. Two of these alternative alkaline agents are ethanolamine and sodium carbonate. These two alternatives, although substantially more expensive as raw ingredients, are far more suitable and safer options than ammonia in hair color. While many manufacturers have embarked on large-scale campaigns to raise questions about the safety of these two ingredients, these efforts have been driven entirely by their preference for cheaper ingredients that bring them higher profits rather than their honest concern. for health or well-being.
It is interesting to note that both ethanolamine and sodium carbonate have been used in demi-permanent hair dye for decades. The purity, or grade, of ethanolamine or sodium carbonate that is needed enough to lift the cuticle is much higher in permanent hair dye than in demi-permanent color, making the cost higher. However, health, performance and pleasure (neither ethanolamine nor sodium carbonate share the same putrid and noxious ammonia odor) compared to ammonia cannot be ignored. The following benefits of ethanolamine and sodium carbonate should be considered when selecting a healthier and better performing alternative to ammonia-based hair color:
Ethanolamine: Ethanolamine is by far the safest alkaline agent available for hair dye today. Ethanolamine is an organic compound that occurs naturally in coconut oil and is a primary amine and a primary alcohol. While some accuse ethanolamine as a “silent substitute” for ammonia due to its lack of odor, this is simply a misinformed classification. Actually, ethanolamine has the same odor as ammonia. However, some innovative hair care companies have developed advanced hair coloring technologies that suspend ethanolamine molecules in a soybean oil base. By doing so, they are able to soften the cuticle and prevent ethanolamine from vaporizing as a gas, thus removing both the odor and any damage to the cuticle. It is the primary alcohol characteristic of ethanolamine that makes it possible for it to be suspended in a soybean oil base, as neither sodium carbonate (a primary salt) nor ammonia (a primary base) will dilute with the oil.
Ethanolamine tends to gently swell the hair cuticle to open it up rather than causing the corrosion associated with ammonia. It will not destroy the tyrosine protein in the hair, it will not disable the hair’s ability to “retain” natural or permanent pigment, it will damage the hair follicles or oil glands of the scalp, or irritate the sensitive scalp. Ethanolamine does not pose any health risks, has a large enough molecular weight to be too large to be absorbed through the pores and follicles of the scalp and into the bloodstream, and (when suspended in an organic oil like soy) does not vaporize and really has a deep conditioning effect on the cuticle.
Hair dye grade ethanolamine, of the quality necessary to produce a permanent hair coloring effect, is cost prohibitive for most hair color manufacturers. As such, the only permanent hair color lines that use ethanolamine as their primary alkaline agent are advanced hair color lines for professionals only.
Sodium carbonate: more commonly known as “sodium carbonate” or “washing soda” it is a strong base commonly used in swimming pools to neutralize the acidic effects of chlorine and is also used as a water softener. Sodium carbonate is a sodium salt, so its use in hair dyes has been limited to demi-permanent ones because its damage to the hair cuticle is almost as bad as ammonia. Although sodium carbonate is a much healthier option than ammonia, it has allowed several demi-permanent colors to be manufactured and mass-marketed to younger populations. However, because sodium carbonate does not improve overall hair color performance and the concentrations needed to lift the cuticle enough to produce a permanent color effect, sodium carbonate has not been adopted in any hair color. for professional grade permanent hair today.