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!