Hair Color that Smells a Little Greener
L'Oreal Professional says their new INOA hair dye line is going to do for hair salons what Klean Kanteens have done for bottled water. But environmentalists aren't so sure a greener dye job is in your future.
Here's the scoop: Most permanent hair dyes contain ammonia, a harsh chemical responsible for the knock-you-flat stink, scalp irritation, and generally bedraggled appearance of frequently dyed hair. In addition to smelling like death, inhaling ammonia (the way hair stylists do when they color hair all day long) can irritate your nose, throat and lungs and may trigger asthma attacks. Splashing it in your eyes will burn and even blindness, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. INOA (that's "Innovation No Ammonia") is a proprietary, ammonia-free formulation that -- L'Oreal claims -- binds dye molecules to the water molecules inside each strand of hair, so the color penetrates more deeply (and lasts longer) than ammonia-free semi-permanent dyes already on the market, without wreaking the usual permanent dye havoc.
So far, so good. But the million dollar question remains: Is INOA any safer? Monoethanolamine (MEA; an ingredient already used in most semi-permanent dyes) is the chemical swapped in for the ammonia. Some forms of MEA receive a "high hazard" score in the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database because it too may be associated with skin irritation and asthma and is classified as a "possible human immune system toxicant" by the National Library of Medicine. "Plus, MEA eventually degrades into ammonia," says Cora Roelofs, ScD, an industrial hygienist in the Department of Work Environment at University of Massachusetts at Lowell. "So much for getting rid of the ammonia!"
While L'Oreal didn't have a complete ingredient list available for INOA at press time, "it's also worth noting that L'Oreal hair dyes commonly score a 10 for their high hazard level in Skin Deep," says Stacy Malkan, co-founder of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and author of Not Just a Pretty Face. And since, as we've reported before, most hair dyes contain another 22 potentially carcinogenic chemicals, getting the ammonia out with INOA seems like not much more than a baby step in the right direction. Until they take another, consider keeping your tresses au naturel, or choose lighter shades; some studies show that women who choose darker hues may have an increased risk for certain cancers.