Innovation isn’t something that hits the hair color industry very often, so when L’Oréal Professionnel debuted INOA, the first ammonia-free permanent hair color, competitors raced back to their labs to cook up versions of their own. Now, two years later, that next generation of ammonia-free products is coming to market, offering consumers a bevy of options and price points to choose from.But why all the fuss in the first place? As any habitual hair dyer can tell you, ammonia is a necessary component in permanent hair color. It gets the job done—but at a cost. This gaseous compound is used to open strands and allows dyes to penetrate. But not only is this chemical noxious to smell, it can also cause scalp irritation that makes the processing time an itchy, burning ordeal for many. New ammonia-free dyes use a gentler molecular substitution that gets the job done without the fumes or reactivity.QUIZ: How Healthy Is Your Hair?“Ammonia-free formulas really do work and give excellent grey coverage,” says New York salon owner and stylist Mark Garrison, who has used both types of color on clients. “However, the larger molecule doesn’t allow color to lift (lighten) and penetrate as well as ammonia, but it’s still a good option for those who want to avoid the chemical or who have sensitive scalps.”Fresh on the market is INOA ODS2, a beefed-up version of the original formula that uses an oil delivery system that promises six weeks of glaze-like hydration and 50 percent more shine. Sister L’Oréal brand Redken has it’s own ammonia-free formula called Chromatics Prismatic Permanent Color which includes protein extracts to increase hair strength. Both are available at salons across the USA.
Two smaller boutique brands are also bringing versions to salons. The So Pure Natural Balance Color line by Keune Haircosmetics is replete with certified organic plant extracts such as argan oil, jasmine, sandalwood and coconut in a formula that’s paraben- and sulfate-free. Escalation Easy Color from Lisap Hair Care is a gel cream that doesn’t stain skin (yet another common hair color aggravation), and features soy protein, karité butter, jojoba oil and essential oils of mandarin, lemon and grapefruit. The result is a hydrating blend with a pleasant citrus scent.MORE: Choosing the Right Color for Your Skin Tone.On the drugstore home hair color front, Revlon ColorSilk ($4) boasts a UVA/UVB filter that staves off fading and sun damage, while Bigen Permanent Powder Hair Color ($5) activates with water to darken your shade or cover grays. At Sephora, Couture Colour Luxeblend Crème Hair Colour ($30) utilizes antioxidant-rich pequi oil sourced from the Amazonian rain forest to revive, brighten and strengthen locks.Whether at the salon or in the drugstore, it seems like manufacturers finally get it: we’ll take our beauty minus the pain, please.