Knowing hair colour better
Kanishka Ramchandani in conversation with Maria Castan, Wella’s Scientific Communication Expert from Germany, on the truth about hair colour.
It has always been a pleasure to meet Maria Castan, Wella’s Scientific Communication Expert, and on the few occasions that I have interacted with her, she has left me feeling more scientifically knowledgeable with her easy-to-comprehend explanations, and has always responded to all my queries in detail. So, when I heard about the ammonia vs. no-ammonia hair colour tug-of-war, I was naturally eager to speak to Maria about it.
How hair colour works?
Maria took me through a detailed presentation on how hair colour works and acts upon the hair shaft. She showed me visuals of the various treatments and processes that their team of experts had undertaken to evaluate the damage done on different kinds of hair strands. This research was part of Wella’s endeavour to dispel the myths about hair colour.
"We intend to make the consumer curious about the difference between ammonia and no-ammonia permanent colour and help them make an informed choice."
Maria said, “Hair colour is predominantly used for grey coverage and then for fashion. In India, the popularity of hair colour is on a rise. Currently, the general perception of consumers toward hair colour is that no-ammonia is less damaging, just because there is no foul smell.” She further explained, “Hair colour has two components — the tube that contains the dye and the alkalizer, and the developer, which is hydrogen peroxide. The degree of concentration of each of these ingredients is what causes hair damage.”
Wella Professionals has been at the international forefront of colour innovation for over 133 years. Since the brand believes in providing superior hair protection and colour results, hair damage is a very crucial aspect for it, which cannot be ignored. After extensive research and analysis, Wella decided not to go down the path of ‘no-ammonia’ for permanent hair colour.
Maria expounds further, “Latest permanent colour products claiming no or low ammonia typically replaces ammonia with another alkalizer — that is MEA. Neither MEA nor ammonia on their own are good or bad — it largely depends on the concentration of the alkalizer (ammonia or MEA). We have also not seen any advantage of ammonia-free permanent colour products in terms of hair protection. This is evidenced by both internal and external test data we conducted, as part of our regular innovation benchmarking process.”
Speaking in defence of ammonia, she said that ammonia smells because it evaporates. So, the smell is an indication that the ingredient has done its work, which is actually a good thing. Moreover, the ammonia molecule is smaller, which allows it to complete its task quicker (that is to open up the hair cuticle). MEA, on the other hand, is a much larger molecule, which is required in higher concentration. You also need a lot of water to rinse it off, conditioning and oil treatments as follow up for hair’s maintenance; and it might also lead to hair breakage.
From the consumer’s point of view
Although the general perception is that only no-ammonia products are safe, it is not really so. Maria says, “With ammonia, there is less protein or lipid damage. The technology that we use in Wella's Koleston Perfect requires the ingredients to interact with the hair protein to create the colour. This allows for deeper penetration and long lasting effect, unlike competitive hair colour, which develops outside the hair, thereby making colour penetration difficult. The lesser the damage to the hair shaft, the more long lasting the colour would be. Our findings have been endorsed by the Institute of Trichologists, which also conducted its independent research.”
Regarding Wella's new hair colour campaign, she opined, “The consumer today lacks education; we aim to create awareness amongst the end-users about ammonia. We intend to make the consumer curious about the difference between ammonia and no-ammonia permanent colour and help them make an informed choice.” According to Maria, ammonia is the best alkalizer till date and scientists are yet to discover a better molecule than ammonia to do its job.
When asked about the innovations that she is working on currently, Maria elaborated, “We are trying to create a new range of hair colour — one that gives your hair natural colour and shine. We are also looking at the big question of hair colour allergies. We don’t know enough about allergies. It is best to do a patch test every time you colour your hair as you can develop an allergy even if you didn’t do so the previous time.”
Maria Castan, Scientific Communication Expert, Wella Professionals