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Should You Be Using Ammonia-Free Hair Color? An Expert Weighs In

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I’ve been coloring my hair since I was 15, and I’ll be the first to admit—while I always look forward to touching up my blonde every two months, I still worry about chemicals wreaking havoc on my precious locks. While I've mostly sworn off heat styling and rely on a line-up of hydrating masks and leave-in treatments to keep my mane healthy, I know that salon color may always cause some damage.

Luckily, if you're trying to minimize damage, so many hair color brands are doing away with ammonia, a chemical compound found in many professional color formulas and box dyes. Is ammonia-free dye right for you? We tapped Suzie Bond, L'Oréal Professionnel artist and owner of Bond Beauty, for everything you need to know.

Is it better to use ammonia-free hair dye?

In order to answer this question, it’s important to break down what ammonia is and how it’s used in the hair coloring process. According to Bond, this chemical compound is an ingredient in a majority of permanent hair color lines that is used to change your hue permanently.

“Ammonia is used to penetrate the outside of the hair strand to get the color inside,” Bond says.

Ammonia penetrates the hair shaft and helps deposit color into the strand in order to create a permanent hue. It also helps bleach during the lightening process. While ammonia is effective in creating permanent hair color, it can also damage the cuticle as it deposits color. In addition to the effects ammonia can have on your mane, the ingredient also has a strong scent that can make the coloring process unpleasant for you and your colorist.

“While ammonia is proficient in this job, it also can be damaging as repeated application will leave the hair dry and damaged…Ammonia-free hair color doesn’t open the hair strand as far, which leaves the surface in better condition resulting in healthier, shiny hair overall and potentially a more durable end result,” Bond says.

What are the types of ammonia-free hair color?

Want to make your coloring process ammonia-free? Lucky for you, there are more options than ever! Whether you want a major color transformation, gray coverage, a vibrant shade, or to go a few shades lighter than your natural hue, ask your colorist about ammonia-free permanent dye.

“The biggest innovation over the last 11 years has been ammonia-free permanent hair color...As with any new technology, there are very specific directions for application that should probably be trusted to your professional for optimum results,” Bond says.

If you aren’t looking to make a permanent change you’ll be happy to know most demi-permanent and temporary hair color formulas are made without ammonia or any other harmful chemical. These formulas sit on top of the hair and don’t penetrate the shaft, which means they’ll fade after a few washes.

“Most demi-permanent colors are also ammonia-free, so they are great for a color refresh or just to enhance your natural color...Temporary colors come in the form of conditioner or a rinse. These are non-ammonia too and only penetrate the hair where it’s already open,” Bond says.

What is the best ammonia-free hair dye?

Thinking of trying ammonia-free permanent hair color? Bond recommends L’Oreal Professionnel’s INOA line. This product uses a unique oil delivery system in place of ammonia to deliver the hair color to the hair fiber.

“As a hair color professional, I look to L’Oreal Professionnel’s INOA for all of my permanent color needs... INOA’s ammonia-free partners DIA Richesse and DIA Light complete my portfolio, which allows me to perform any color service while maintaining the integrity of the hair, which creates the most durability for my guests.”

No matter what color you choose, it’s essential to give your mane the proper at-home TLC to ensure that your salon color lasts as long as possible. Be sure to add a shampoo and conditioner specifically for color-treated hair like L’Oreal Professionnel Vitamino A-OX Shampoo and Conditioner to your routine. Formulated with an antioxidant complex and UV filters, this system helps prolong color radiance.

Now that you know all there is about ammonia-free hair color, you’re ready to decide if it’s right for you.

Interested in trying a new hair color? Use our salon locator to book an appointment at a salon near you.

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