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Honeycomb Organic Hair Studio

The Difference Between Ammonia and Ammonia-Free Hair Color

The great thing about the color line we use at Honeycomb is that they are a totally transparent company. They completely explain why they use the ingredients that they do. Here is some great information from them to better explain the differences between color lines that use ammonia and those that don't.

"To fully understand this it is vital to understand ammonia’s primary role in a hair color.

The primary function is to raise the pH of the hair sufficiently so as to open the cuticle and allow the color to enter the cortex of the hair. Depending on the percentage of ammonia in each color this can vary as to how high the pH of the hair is taken. The more ammonia there is in the product, the higher the pH of the hair. This is a tried and tested (but outdated method, as proven by the number of companies now launching color ranges without ammonia), as the cuticle is generally expanded to such an extent as to allow the color to easily enter the cortex.

The secondary function of ammonia is to neutralize the existing pigments to a greater degree, which happens when ammonia is mixed with peroxide. Unfortunately there are three main side effects:

  1. At the same time that the color is swelling the cuticle to easily enter the cortex, there is significant protein and moisture loss. This is how the hair is damaged during coloring when using an ammonia color.

  2. The pH of the hair is raised to such an extent by the ammonia that it is physically impossible to return it to its ideal pH after coloring. This means that the cuticle remains open, the hair continues to lose protein and moisture and there is also an increased risk of color fade.

  3. As a result of the cuticle remaining open, the percentage of pigment in the color needs to be as high as possible. This is necessary as a relatively high percentage of the color will be lost when rinsing off at the backwash. Plus, due to the greater neutralization of the pigment by the ammonia-peroxide mix, a higher pigment percentage is required.

More and more companies are now removing ammonia from their hair colors. This is commendable as ammonia is an extremely harsh chemical and doesn’t need to be in hair color. Unfortunately the vast majority of these colors have merely removed ammonia from the color and replaced it with an ingredient called ethanolamine, but the same three side effects mentioned above still apply. The rule that the more ammonia there is in the color, the higher the pH applies to ethanolamine as well. All they have achieved is to remove ammonia from their colors; they haven’t managed to decrease the pH that these colors take the hair to.

The key difference with Organic Color Systems is that the base of the color (the main ingredient) is not only alkaline, so it raises the pH of the hair, but it is also a conditioning agent, so it softens the cuticle at the same time. This softening process means that Organic Color Systems is able to work at a far lower pH and is a far gentler way to color the hair. As a result, the three side effects mentioned above don’t apply to Organic Color Systems.

Organic Color Systems does contain ethanolamine. It is used because the base isn’t sufficiently alkaline to open the cuticle enough for the color to enter the cortex. Ethanolamine is therefore used to increase the pH enough so that this can occur. Organic Color Systems uses oleic acid in the formulation specifically to neutralize any residual ethanolamine."


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