What is in hair color?

Too complex combination

Alkaline agent to spread the scales [environ 5 %]. To obtain permanent color, the pigments must be trapped within the hair itself. It is therefore necessary to open the scales that cover them with an alkaline agent, such as ammonia. This product with its signature scent – and a scalp irritant – breaks the bonds between the keratin proteins in the hair, allowing water to enter the hair fiber. These crusts swell and move apart, allowing the pigments to penetrate. After staining, an acid-containing treatment (tartaric acid, citric acid, etc.) neutralizes the alkaline agent.

The bonds between the proteins are never completely renewed, and the hair over dyes is damaged. When weakened, it often breaks, which leads to a loss of more or less mass of hair.

Hydrogen peroxide to start the color reaction [environ 10 %]. It is kept in a separate bottle as this is what causes the color reaction. Added to the other ingredients, it releases oxygen ions that seep under the hair scales. It causes a reaction that results in the coloring particles from the components (precursors) present in the coloring cream. The ions also attack melanin – the pigments that color hair. Some of these pigments lose their color, which facilitates staining. Red pigments fade less than other dyes, hence a possible carrot-hair effect if the coloring is poorly controlled.

Hair dyes [ jusqu’à 6 %]. In the coloring cream, there are not really pigments, but the so-called “precursor” molecules. They dye the hair, but only after a chemical reaction. These precursors fall into two categories: bases and couplers. During the reaction caused by hydrogen peroxide, the bases are modified, allowing them to interact with couplings. The reaction must occur in the hair so that the larger colored particles remain stuck under the scales. This is what allows the color to be permanent. It is possible to obtain the full range of colors by mixing six bases and eight couplers in different doses. Some precursors of allergens are known, for example paraphenylenediamine (PPD).

solvent [environ 40 %]. These are liquids in which all other ingredients are diluted, often water and/or alcohol. Some brands are touting formulas that contain oils that are supposed to infuse hair with color better. This is wrong, oil performs exactly the same function as alcohol.

complex factors [moins de 5 %]. Some dyes are of mineral origin. Since it is extracted directly from the earth, traces of minerals are sometimes found. However, these cause undesirable chemical reactions with hydrogen peroxide. Complex agents are added to neutralize these mineral impurities.

Modulation agents [moins de 5%] (25 ml in 75 ml of water). In Europe, products containing alcohol are taxed. To avoid this, manufacturers must make alcohol unsuitable for oral consumption. For example, it should not be possible to distill it. This is the reason for adding sodium hydroxide, which makes the alcohol very bitter.

Without forgetting…

  • emulsions [30 %]
  • thickeners [jusqu’à 20 %]
  • surfactant [5 à 10 %]
  • Antioxidants [
  • Des anti-UV [
  • Des conservateurs [
  • Des parfums [ jusqu’à 2%]

Any other formulas that really work?

vegetable formula. Some products feature plant extracts or display the phrase “natural.” But permanent colors are not effective without synthetic ingredients. True plant colors (henna, etc.) are semi-permanent. Do not penetrate the hair (the color is fixed on the surface). It lasts less and covers less gray hair.

Formula without ammonia. No miracle: permanent coloring requires the use of an alkaline agent. If there is no ammonia, then there is ethanolamine, which is a product of the same family, certainly less irritating, but especially less smelly. It is the notoriety of ammonia (an irritant when present in large quantities as in the first coloring products) that has led manufacturers to replace it.

Intense Reflections formula. Some pigments are added that stick to the surface of the hair to highlight it. Over time (the effect of shampoo and sun exposure), the anti-UV products in the colors gradually dissolve. These surface pigments are the first to degrade. Highlights lose their shine or, even worse, change their color: blond turns yellow, browns turn red.

Make your home color

You can prepare the semi-permanent color yourself using natural dyes purchased in a specialized store. Since the result depends on the initial shade of the hair and the mixture of dyes, it is better to seek advice from a professional hairdresser.

  • level 1. Apply the base solution to your hair for 30 minutes: 3g of baking soda (an alkaline agent) for 100ml of water. rinse.
  • The second step. Mix hair coloring powder in a bowl. Add hot water (about 40°C) until you get a smooth and homogeneous dough.
  • Step 3. Cover your clothes and put on a pair of gloves. Apply the paste in a thick layer to your hair. Cover it with plastic wrap and clean it around your face.
  • Step 4. Let stand 1 to 3 hours. The longer the exposure, the more intense the color.
  • Fifth step. Rinse with clear water and then with an acid solution: water with lemon juice or vinegar (25 ml in 75 ml of water).

Find this recipe and color mix that adapts to every shade of hair in Natural Hair, ed. Hachette Pratique, 2017.

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