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What is Ammonia in Hair Color?

If you are a colorist, chances are that you have heard the term “ammonia” before.

It’s a common ingredient in hair color and more recently has been getting a bad reputation.

I want to talk a little about what ammonia is, its role in hair coloring, and what “ammonia free” color really is.

What is ammonia?

Ammonia is a chemical compound that is commonly used in hair color. It is composed of one nitrogen atom and three hydrogen atoms. It is a colorless gas with a very strong and distinct smell.

What is ammonia’s role in hair coloring?

Ammonia does a few things, one of them being an alkalizer.

An alkalizer is an ingredient that helps raise the alkalinity of the product, in this case, the hair color, and allows the cuticle layers to soften and swell so that the hair coloring process can happen.

So it's because of AMMONIA as an alkalizing agent that the cuticles can soften and swell to allow the hair color to deposit. The higher the amount of ammonia in a product, the more lightening you can expect from the hair. Ammonia ALSO is what helps ignite the chemical reaction of the developer so the developer can release the oxygen and lighten the hair.

It’s the dance between ammonia and developer that allows hair color to lift and deposit.

So, what about ammonia free color?

Ammonia free hair color made its debut about a decade or so ago. The reason behind why manufacturers were opting for ammonia free color was because there were studies done showing that ammonia is damaging to the hair and can cause scalp sensitivities and irritation.

While this may be true, the bigger question is this:

What is being used in place of ammonia as an alkalizer for permanent color?

See, you need some form of alkalinity for permanent color to work…without it the cuticles cannot soften and swell to allow the dyes to penetrate…this is the million dollar question.

What’s typically used in ammonia’s place?


Check back next week for a lesson on ammonia free color!

Until then,

Happy hair coloring!


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