Ammonia versus MEA

Published by bettina on

There are many myths and much misinformation out there about the use of ammonia in hair coloring products. Much of this is propagated to hairdressers and consumers through marketing messages.

Many people are confused.

Ammonia is a product that provides the alkalinity needed to allow the penetration of the color molecules and to help the peroxide to lighten the existing pigments within the hair. It evaporates in a very short time, has a distinct odor yet is rinsed out of the hair very rapidly. Very few people are sensitive or allergic to ammonia. Preparing a color  and letting it rest for 2-3 minutes will usually eliminate most of that odor.

“Ammonia-free” does not mean “Alkaline-free “. MEA (Monoethanolamine) as well as AMP (aminomethyl propanol) are alkalis that are mostly used instead of ammonia. They will mot swell the hair as much, the artificial color molecules do not penetrate as deeply, the color shade that you so carefully formulated will not last as long as when the alkalizer is ammonia. Since it evaporates very slowly, their odor is usually not noticeable. There is some evidence that hair color products that substitute Ammonia for MEA leave behind some oxidative damage, in fact up to 85% more, by converting cystine into cysteic acid.  Just remember your permanent wave chemistry! It is an “adhesive” type of chemical, difficult to remove from the capillary fiber. Every time the hair is washed, the oxygen in the water(H2O) acts as a mild oxidizer. The hair eventually ends up swollen and dry which will cause the color to fade.

We are all aware of the sensitivity and allergy issues of PPD (the color molecules) But we seem to ignore the issues with MEA. The National Center for Biotechnical Information (USA) revealed that MEA combined with peroxide is greatly responsible for dye-induced dermatitis and hair loss.

A small percentage of MEA teamed up with a low ammonia content does not seem to create any extra sensitivity, allergy or poor color retention issues. Many color brands use those mixture (usually between less than 2% and no more then 4%).

A wide range of effects have also been observed among hairdressers exposed to the ingredients. Since the odor of ammonia is a concern, a better approach has been found by some manufacturers to minimize the odor caused by volatility of ammonia by encasing it in a specific chassis rather than replacing it with high levels of a potentially more damaging alkalizer such as MEA.


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