MEA or Ammonia?

MEA or Ammonia?

I have always been very sceptical when it comes to faddish new products, never more so than when a representative from any brand is telling me how wonderful it is.

It happens all the time in this profession with the amount of new products available. Each company championing their own particular brand of wonderfulness on an endless factory conveyer line! One company will bring out a new product only for the rest of the pack to catch up with their version. Tit for Tat.

So I was very sceptical about the new lines of ammonia-free colour ranges that started to emerge into the marketplace over the last couple of years.
My scepticism turned into reluctance when even thinking about trying these new ranges after having tried the first ammonia-free product that appeared on the marketplace. This particular colour sounded great in theory but the reality of the product was let down by it’s inability to cover grey hair. Now this was just my personal experience and I’m sure the manufacturers sorted out this technical glitch. It also seemed contradictory that this massive corporate entity started to show concern about what we put on the scalps of our clients. I saw it as an extra, like having a tasty wee bit on the side. Keep the ammonia based colour in your cupboards for the bread and butter of everyday salon life, but crack out the ammonia-free when wanting to up-sale a chemically conscious individual.

We had started using Davines Mask as our main colour in Fabrik roughly three years ago. We were always familiar with the Davines styling range as we supplied Evo in the salon and the lovely Ryland Wood who is the rep for Boutique Brands who supply both ranges always kept us well informed. The main reason we swapped to Davines was purely based on the fact that Angelo Seminara had just became their Creative Director. If it was good enough for him then it was certainly good enough for me. So it was through this connection with Davines that the term ammonia-free crept back into the salon with the launch of their ‘A New Colour’ range.

I was invited to a demonstration of Davines’s A New Colour as part of the launch of the product. I was really intrigued by the quality of the vibrancy on all three of the fashion orientated colours on show that day but was still a bit disheartened from my prior experience when it came to the coverage on grey. I was impressed by the theology behind the product and the packaging was also stunning.

I was still miles off the notion of going completely ammonia-free. I had even dismissed the notion of stocking an ammonia-free product as well as an ammonia based product in the salon. I knew that other bigger salons in NZ were providing both services for their clients which didn’t seem right to me either. What’s the point in going into a hair salon for an ammonia-free service and breathing in the toxic smell of the neighbouring clients more traditional form of colouring?

It wasn’t until Mr Wood told me about the Original & Mineral ammonia-free and that Stephen Marr in Auckland were about to swap over to it. I was also aware that D&M in Ponsonby were also swapping to ‘A New Colour’ roughly at the same time. I thought this was massive news in the world of NZ hair. These are 2 of the best salons in the country who employ a number of people and I could only imagine how difficult it was swapping over to a whole new concept in hair colouring technology.

After going to an educational morning and seeing the product in action, I knew I wanted it. I’d like to thank both salons just mentioned for taking away a lot of the hard work involved when changing brands.

The other problem I had with the ammonia-free ranges was the illusion that most people are under, clients and hairdressers alike, that the product was natural. There’s nothing more grating than a salon parading as a conveyer of natural hair colouring. A chemical reaction has to take place for hair to change colour and any crimper who tells clients otherwise is a charlatan, unless of course they only use Henna.

I speak very generally from what I have experienced through the years and my conclusion is that the ammonia-free products are not as natural as the manufacturers lead you to believe. The ammonia replacement in these products are actually a derivative of ammonia, MEA. The difference being that it is in it’s liquid state so the fumes are essentially odour-free and when you add key ingredients such as illite, kaolin, sunflower seed wax and sweet almond oil it makes it some a lot more wholesome and marketable for the conscious consumer.
The marketplace is saturated with products that are hugely misleading. Just to stress again my body shudders with cringe when a client tells me that her last hair colour was ‘natural’ or ‘organic’! To be a certified organic product you only have to have 3 organic ingredients in the product. This to me seems crazy to float a product as organic which of course makes it seem more earthy and natural but can still be made up of a heap of manmade chemicals. It just goes to show through peoples ignorance that you can make someone believe anything you tell them.

Here are some basic facts about both ammonia and MEA……..

The toxicity of ammonia solutions does not usually cause problems for humans and other mammals, as a specific mechanism exists to prevent its build-up in the bloodstream. Ammonia is converted to carbamoyl phosphate by the enzyme carbamoyl phosphate synthetase, and then enters the urea cycle to be either incorporated into amino acids or excreted in the urine. Although ammonia is regulated in the United States as a non-flammable gas, it still meets the definition of a material that is toxic by inhalation and requires a hazardous safety permit when transported in quantities greater than 13,248 L (3,500 gallons).

Monoethanolamine is produced by reacting ethylene oxide with aqueous ammonia; the reaction also produces diethanolamine and triethanolamine. The ratio of the products can be controlled by changing the stoichiometry of the reactants.

Monoethanolamine (often abbreviated as ETA or MEA), is an organic chemical compound that is both a primary amine and a primary alcohol (due to a hydroxyl group). Like other amines, monoethanolamine acts as a weak base. Ethanolamine is a toxic, flammable, corrosive, colourless,viscous liquid with an odour similar to that of ammonia.

MEA is used in aqueous solutions for scrubbing certain acidic gases. It is used as feedstock in the production of detergents, emulsifiers, polishes, pharmaceuticals, corrosion inhibitors, chemical intermediates. For example, reacting ethanolamine with ammonia gives the commonly used chelating agent, ethylenediamine.

You can see from the last few paragraphs which I nicked from Wikipedia that all this chemical chat is really boring and confusing. The way these chemicals are made are not for a humble hairdresser to fully understand or grasp. We place a lot of confidence in the information we receive from the people representing the company in which we buy these products from.

I think hairdressers all over the globe are happy to tell their clients that the product they are using is natural because it’s easier than actually looking at the box and typing a foreign word into Google. It is also much easier to reiterate what your lovely sales rep told you about the product and it’s also easier to sell.

I have a good relationship with both, the product I use and with the people who sell it to me. I think it is very important to trust the people in which you buy your product from as you tend to spend a lot of money with these people. You also rely on the technical staff from product companies for education. It is essential to know what you are using, purely so you can pass on correct information to your staff and clients.

I liked both the Davines and Original & Mineral ammonia-free products because the information and education I received from Boutique Brands was excellent and honest. Not at one point did anybody start sprouting on about how natural the product was. I wasn’t led to believe that the ammonia replacement was anything but a safer more pleasant chemical. The colour results were also stunning, obviously.

MEA does sound far safer than Monoethanolamine though, which is down to cooler marketing. Not only does MEA sound sexier but could you imagine a bunch of hairdressers saying, ‘the ammonia is replaced with Monoethanolamine .’ Not only is it really hard to pronounce but it makes it sound less natural than what you have always used.

I’m in no position to tell any salon owner what is best for them in their salon when it comes to colour results, the health of the client and hairdresser or even the environment. I can say that in my own opinion from working with the ammonia-free Original & Mineral, I really don’t miss the toxic smell.

Our salon now smells delicious. The wonderful aromas of the fantastic styling ranges we use can now be enjoyed by the client and hairdresser alike. The smell of fresh coffee is also there to be enjoyed without the lingering toxic chemical smell. It’s like coffee has branched out on a solo career, free to sing and hum on it’s own without it’s toxic odour partner ammonia that normally sat thumping away on a heavy bass and snare drum. I can also state that my staff suffer less headaches, due to not standing above a noxious gas all day, it’s fumes rising in their faces.

The colour results are a bit different to what I’ve been used to in the past. I have worked with all the major brands and I would describe all of them as deeply intense and rich. Each brand has it’s pros and cons but their density is always very similar, very cosmetic. The ammonia-free O&M never seems this dense. The colour is never over processed but always consistent with the tone you want. I find the colour intensity lasts longer as well. On a clients return to the salon after 6 weeks the coppers, reds and brunettes have had little fade. The ammonia-free colour takes a bit longer to process as the cuticle doesn’t get blown open in the same way as ammonia based colour therefore I feel the colour lasts longer as it doesn’t escape as easy. The blondes are also excellent but very specific to the individual, so there is no change there.

All of this isn’t intended as some kind of sales pitch but an honest opinion from a fellow hairdresser. Anyone who hates the smell of ammonia should really consider checking out ammonia-free. Also anyone who suffers from contact dermatitis should also look into it. But do not be led to think you are using a natural alternative. The ammonia-free is every bit as chemical but far less, both on the hair and for everyone in contact with it. The only way to use the product effectively though is to terminate ammonia completely so the salon is free from it’s odour, we have and we will never look back.

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