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L’Oréal INOA Hair Color

Is a Solution for:
Dry or Brittle Hair, Limp Hair, Dull Hair
December 22, 2010 Reviewed by admin 27 Comments
As I was flipping through the Fall-Winter 2010 edition of New Beauty Magazine a few days ago, I came across an article called “Hair Innovations.” First on the list was L’Oréal Professionnel’s INOA hair color line, which was dubbed “innovative” by the magazine for being the first permanent, ammonia and odor free hair dye.

Excited by the prospect of sharing my find with TIA readers (I know you’ve shown interest in finding safer alternatives to the toxicity that often accompanies coloring your hair), I began to research INOA and found some pretty interesting information.

INOA stands for Innovation No Ammonia and according to the vice president for marketing of L’Oréal Professionnel, the dye will leave hair “as smooth as it was before hair color” and will cause no damage. How does INOA work without the use of ammonium? L’Oreal is using a new technology called Oil Delivery System that uses oil molecules (instead of ammonia) to carefully open the hair shaft and soak in the dye. For right now, INOA can only be found in select salons and it costs approximately 15% more than most permanent hair dyes. But the price is certainly worth it, in my opinion, if you get the peace of mind that comes along with knowing you are not drenching your hair and scalp with ammonia.

Ammonia is used in the majority of hair dyes in order to open hair fibers so that color can be absorbed. One article points out that ammonia is a skin-irritant that can be just as easily absorbed into your skin and inhaled – neither of which is good for you.

Finding a list of any INOA product ingredients proved challenging. In fact, one of the only websites that provided them is staunchly anti-INOA. Why? Because it claims that the L’Oréal line does, indeed, contain ammonia. A picture of a bottle of INOA shampoo clearly shows that ammonium hydroxide is listed as one of the first few ingredients. The difference between ammonia and ammonium hydroxide is that the latter is water-based. Though ever so slightly distinguishable, it is outrageous that L’Oréal has created an extremely profitable line based on such an overt lie. And it is even more despicable that more of a fuss isn’t being made over it.

Another site features an article written by a hairdresser who actually complained to L’Oréal about the company’s blatant deception, only to be told that he would not receive a refund for the INOA products he had purchased. The hairdresser also posted a comment only a few days ago claiming that in his correspondence with L’Oréal, he received a letter stating that INOA is "...a professional product and should not be used by consumers unfamiliar with hair color ingredients and there is no obligation to disclose the ammonia or other ingredients in the product."

Yet another website brings up a different disturbing aspect of INOA; apparently, in March 2010, L’Oréal discontinued its popular home hair color line called Natural Match which was advertised as being ammonia-free, and INOA was introduced weeks later. Supposedly, the ingredients in both lines are almost exactly the same, give or take a fragrance or conditioning agent. The only differences are that you can only get INOA applied by a professional at a salon, and it costs much more than Natural Match did. While I can’t verify that both lines contain the same ingredients, I do know that Natural Match was indeed marketed as being free of ammonia – though it was still categorized as high risk by the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

So far, I haven’t found any permanent ammonia-free hair dyes that I feel I can recommend to the TIA community. I will keep searching, though, and if you have come across any dyes with better than average ingredients, be sure to share them with us!
  • April 6, 2018

    by Eve

    Initially really liked Inoa hair felt soft color and coverage of grey v.good. But began to notice after each tint baby hairs front of hairline woukd break off. Hair became thinner and looked dull. So instead of 4weekly cycle of tint. Started to tint every 5 weeks. Scalp became dry hair became much thinner & would fall out in clumps after being rinsed at hairdresser. My hairdresser has also lost 40% of her hair. But, she will not accept my complaint nor blame Inoa. Financially she is tied in with Inoa and charges her customers 15% more for Inoa. I'v changed my hairdresser and now use Organics. Glad to say scalp is better and baby hairs are growing back. DON'T BELIEVE THE HYPE LISTEN TO YOUR BODY & RESULTS. IF IT HARMS HURTS DON'T USE.

  • July 14, 2017

    by Eibhlin

    I've been using INOA for a few months. Initially, I loved it. The color is so even, from roots to ends, with full grey coverage. Also, I loved how it has almost no odor, and rinses out very easily.

    Even better, as my hair grew out, there was no harsh line between the roots and dyed hair. Not the darker natural color, and not the grey in it. Everything blended evenly into the INOA-colored hair. So, I didn't need to color my hair so often.

    In addition, I felt that INOA was gentle to my (very) sensitive skin. I haven't had any of the itching, redness, or outbreaks that some people have mentioned.

    Unfortunately, after about three applications of INOA, my hair became really dry, strangely kinky, and extremely brittle. The breakage has increased to the point that I won't use INOA again.

    I'd thought it might be my shampoo. Or my diet. Or something. I just couldn't believe it was INOA... but I've run out of explanations.

    This morning, I searched online for others' reviews of INOA, and I'm seeing many people with the same kind of experience. I am SO disappointed by INOA, because so much of this product is great.

    I love the color. It was gentle to my skin. The color & coverage lasted longer than most. But, sadly, the weird frizzing and breakage remove INOA from products I'll use in the future.

  • August 8, 2016

    by Colleen

    At the time of receiving my INOA color, I was absolutely fine. This was the first time for me at this particular salon for color (blonde).

    Approximately 6 hours after the color was applied I began to feel tightness around my scalp, forehead and neckline.

    By evening, small fluid-filled blisters covered my scalp, forehead, eye area, neckline and throat. Several blisters were on and behind my ears. I managed to get through the night.

    By morning, the fluid filled blisters had turned to weeping welts that were extremely painful. Any changes in my facial expression or movement of facial muscles caused excruciating pain. The blisters began to cluster and grew to touch others as they expanded.

    I tried home remedies and allergy medicine (Benadryl). But by day 4 the first blister began to scab and I then realized what was beneath each blister - a scar and pigment color change in my skin. Over 40 blisters had begun to painfully ooze and scab over.

    I immediately called my doctor. The doctor said I was suffering from Contact Dermatitis, to which the skin reacted just a if it had been severely burned.

    As I type this now, all blisters and welts are scabbing safely with a regimen of peroxide and Neosporin. I cannot be in the sun, cannot wear makeup, and cannot use soap on the affected area until all scabs have fallen off on their own. Aside from a few blisters that have larger, blood-filled scabs, I am not experiencing any pain.

    Please be aware that the worst moments of blistering took place 2-3 days after the INOA color was applied. The allergy, for some, may take several days to manifest itself.

    I am healing well, thankfully. And I thank you all for sharing your experiences. They have helped me through. PLEASE be cautious if this product caused you even the slightest allergic reaction. Now that your body has the predisposition of the allergy, the next color application of the INOA brand could be extremely dangerous or even fatal in extreme cases.

  • February 9, 2012

    by Amy L

    Essencity is awesome! Not only is ammonia bothersome and toxic, but I am allergic to PPD, which is found in all permanent dyes. When my hair stylist told me about Essencity, I asked to see the packaging. Sure enough, no PPD. It, too, has to be emulsified. However, there is no overpowering smell, no tingling while processing, etc. The color is the most natural that I have ever seen in a dye. The stylist charges me $10 more for it, but just being able to dye my hair is worth it! Before I tried it, I was getting full foils, so that no dye would touch my scalp. The last time I had my hair colored, however, I did have a slight bit of itching afterward. I'm not sure if it's because it wasn't washed well enough, if there is a lot of residue, or what. At any rate, highly recommended!

  • December 16, 2011

    by Gayle

    I have been using inoa for over a year. All of a sudden, my hair started falling out. I lost a grea t deal of it. Stopped using it, hair stopped falling out, but hasn't grown back.

    Has this happene d to anyone else? I am praying it will grow back.

  • December 12, 2011

    by Marta

    Hi Rachel, our mission isn't to only review products that meet our criteria. We look at products by L'Oreal, despite the company's poor standards in a number of areas, because they are widely available and readers are interested in our take. While we are constantly looking for safe and cruelty free alternatives, we don't blacklist companies that don't completely conform. There are many readers who come to TIA who want to know what we think of big brands and so our job is to provide as much information as we can so that the reader can make their own mind up. I hope that helps explain this article.

  • December 12, 2011

    by Rachel

    Um, isn't TIA supposed to be researching and recommending safe AND cruelty free alternatives? I agree that this advertising lie is outrageous, but, why is any product by L'Oreal even being considered by a reviewer here? L'Oreal is one of the worst in terms of animal testing. Please explain. Have I misunderstood TIA's mission?

  • December 10, 2011

    by Jim

    Dear John, The labeling reflects the AMERICAN STANDARD (CTFA) which says that ingredients comprising less than 1% of the total may be listed anywhere on the label. As for for the rest: ethanolamine is made by reacting ammonia with ethylene oxide to produce a larger, more stable molecule which is a WEAK BASE with lower skin penetration. Ammonia does not contain ethanolamine , ethanolamine contains ammonia - you're the one who needs the chemistry lessons. - Thank You.

  • December 6, 2011

    by Bronwyn

    As a stylist who tried using INOA for the last year, I too was sadly disappointed. On my own head I experienced extreme ithing and irritation. My regular clients who have had 2 or more touch-ups have all complained about dryness, brittle hair and fading out to brassiness. Gray coverage is difficult, mixing is a huge pain in the ass, as is removal. The price is ridiculous. I am on the hunt for a suitable replacement from a company who will swap out my inventory.
    Has anyone tried Schwarzkopf's Essensity?

  • October 3, 2011

    by KMK

    First, I would like to see ,in print, Dr. Brown's review of ingredients in INOA. Secondly, are you a chemist? What type of Physician are you to make the statements you have?
    Yes, ammonia is a GAS and when released it dissipates or dispels into the air. L'Oreal is using MEA, methylethalammonium , a derivative of ammonium.
    I've been a colorist since 1980. Ammonia has never been proven an irritant to color sensitive clients. Working with Dermatologists who TEST color sensitive clients, it is always the phenylmelomene (sp) color molecule that is the irritant and allergic reaction, not ammonia.

    False advertising.. well.. possible. INOA.. HUGE ad campaigns.. 4 page spread in Vogue.. etc..
    Not a fan of this line. Tried it. I didn't like the inconsistent color results or the application or mixing. Zero problem with scalp sensitivity, though.
    Aveda color line.. not so "organic" either. Check those ingredients out.

    New kid on the block, Schwarzkopf"s Essencity. 0% ammonia.. 90% organic, organic color molecules..

    Something HAS to open that cuticle up to penetrate that cortex..
    in ALL the color lines.... If not ammonia or ammonia hydroxide..then what?

  • October 2, 2011

    by Dr. Brown

    I have done a comprehensive review of INOA's ingredients and the line does contain ammonia hydroxide. Ammonia is a gas, and ammonia hydroxide is nothing more than the liquid form of this gas. INOA is ripe to be liable for false advertising and I am shocked a case has not been brought against them as of yet. I am sure it is coming.

  • August 17, 2011

    by PAL

    If innoa has amonia substitute..which damages our skin..we need to know ..and all consumers should sue Inoa for this Marketing Fraud

  • July 20, 2011

    by Jeanne

    Thanks Marta. I will follow up on that suggestion.

  • July 17, 2011

    by Marta

    A friend of mine who is always looking for safe hair dying procedures recently tried Aveda - some of their shops have salons and there is certainly one in NYC. It would be worth asking them what they use.

  • July 17, 2011

    by Jeanne

    I have been dying my hair at a salon for the past 10 years. I tried Inoa. The dye felt like it was burning my scalp - it was VERY intense and scared me. I spoke to the spa manager and I called L'Oreal to find out what was in it. I was told that the aestheticians should have done a patch test on me first. They sent me an email with the ingredients. I spoke to the spa manager again and told them how L'Oreal blamed them for not doing the patch test. 3 weeks later, at 4:45 on a Friday I received a phone call from a manager at L'Oreal calling to follow up with me (because the spa wasn't happy with the way my initial call had been handled.) I didn't bother to call back. Why did they wait so long to call? I felt that it must not have been very important to them.

    Is there a safe hair dye procedure? If so, where can one have it applied in the NY/Metro area?

  • July 15, 2011

    by momiji

    i have a question...does loreal inoa have any bleaching products?

  • June 23, 2011

    by John Bailey

    Jim, you are simply wrong. The INOA shampoos use an extraordinarily high amount of ammonia as indicated by its high ranking of order on the ingredients label per INCI standards. The amount of ethanolamine in ammonia is not the issue, it is the type. DEA is the dangerous kind and INOA contains a lot of it. Your not being irresponsible for stating your opinion, but asserting it as fact is not very becoming. Please research your ingredients and chemistry knowledge before posting any more.

  • June 20, 2011

    by Jim

    The reason L'Oreal® NATURAL MATCH™ was taken off the store shelves was because - IT DIDN'T SELL. I can't name one person (Out of hundreds) who use(d) home haircolor who really liked it and used it on a regular basis. Most said the color was FLAT and lacked highlights, others said it faded too quickly, didn't lighten enough or didn't cover their gray. L'Oreal introduced a NEW product called HEALTHY LOOK™ which is Ammonia-Free to take it's place and followed it with EXCELLENCE® To Go 10 Min. Color and SUBLIME MOUSSE™ by HEALTHY LOOK™. There are also many Ammonia-Free Professional Colors including, AloXXi Chroma, CHI infra color and Mastey Teinture.

  • June 20, 2011

    by Jim

    More INOA bashing. The Ammonia used in the shampoo is in a very small quantity and only for the purpose balancing the pH of the product. As for Ethanolamine, it is found in cellular membranes and is far less toxic to the skin than ammonia. I might point out that WATER is considered CORROSIVE and TOXIC in pure form in large quantities. So anything can be made to look dangerous when presented out of context.

  • May 18, 2011

    by ruth

    wow - i'm just catching up on this and recently had a special (in price) INOA coloring - and the color and shine were fantastic and natural looking, and it did indeed cover my very gray long roots...don't like the animal testing aspect of it though, and i was just thinking how it was worth the extra cost...

  • May 18, 2011

    by David Kelly

    INOA is an awful product in general. However, I am not a fan of L'oreal's animal testing practices.

    In trying their color, I found it very expensive (2x - 3x more than average color), hard to mix, and provided different results that were somewhat unpredictable. Sadly, the product also cannot cover grey hair.

    My two cents: save your money and find another color!

    I have been a certified professional hair colorists for 25 years and INOA is the worst product I have come across.

  • April 1, 2011

    by jude

    Just to add there I had the INOA hair colour treatment at a salon about a year ago instead of my usual ammonia-based colour and it was the most unpleasant experience I have had at a salon.

    Although I had passed a patch test a week before the product itched and irritated my scalp whilst I sat there for 30-40 mins. Then the removal of the product was the worst thing. It cannot simply be rinsed in the normal way but needs to be emulsified first. This requires the assistant having to vigorously massage the hair and scalp (which was already quite irritated) for about five minutes before it can be washed off. Ghastly experience and although I had no lasting irritation from the treatment and the colour was nice enough my scalp was sensitive for at least a week.

    Needless to say I have gone back to my usual colouring method.

  • March 21, 2011

    by Elise

    INOA....I have attended classes on this color line and in the class they will tell you all about the oil deliery system...then they will tell you there is MEA in it. MEA is a derrivative of ammonia. It is NOT ammoinia free and gray coverage is awul.

    Thought you should know!

  • February 1, 2011

    by Judith Barrientos

    you need to read this article.
    I knew the ammonia free meant they were using Ethanolamine ", a 'silent substitute' " of ammonia which doesn't work as effective as ammonia but is unscented,
    but what I DIDN'T know is that it's used in a higher percentage to try to attain the same permanent results and is more TOXIC!

    I'm going to use this as a topic for my blog when I decide to launch it properly.

    I'm so pissed.


  • December 28, 2010

    by Kim Cowen

    INOA gave me an itchy scalp and made my hair very dry and brittle. The color did not come out as I expected. I wouldn't recommend this product to my worst foe.

  • December 28, 2010

    by Jeni

    I have been curious about INOA and whether or not it's really much gentler than regular dye. I have been coloring my hair at home for years with no problems, but when I did it a few weeks ago, my scalp got really itchy and tingly, so now I'm afraid of dyeing it at all, but I dye it lighter to disguise my thinning hair. UGH I can't win! So I'm on a search for a better/safer hair dye capable of lightening hair a few shades, but I have a feeling it doesn't exist.

  • December 23, 2010

    by Aubrey

    I was sad to see Natural Match leave the shelves, because I believed the ammonia-free advertising. I have long ago given up the search for an alternative. I now use Clairol Premium Crème, which can be found in Sally Beauty Supply shops. The permanent version does have ammonia, but it's soy-based and supposed to be gentler. I have found that it leaves my hair in good condition, much better than Natural Match did, to be honest. But the main reason I use it is because it comes in ultra ash shades. Those plus the blue additive are the only way I can avoid an ugly orange-toned result.

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