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Peroxide, Alcohol, Sodium Lauryl Sulphates and Ammonia

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Peroxide, alchohol, lauryl sulfates and ammonia have become 'the four dirty words' of hair care treatments, shampoos, conditioners and the chemical hair processes of perming, hair straightening, colouring and bleaching. We have all heard that they are bad for our hair but why? The information below should help separate myth from fact and allow you to make an informed choice.


Used in conjunction with almost all permanent hair colourants, including bleach. Also found in permanent wave lotions and permanent straightening products. Note the use of the word 'permanent'. If you want to make anything 'permanent' when it comes to your hair you have to get into the centre of the hair shaft itself and change the chemical make-up of that area. To do this, your product has to be small enough to pass through the outer layer of hair and then it needs to swell to stop it slipping back out (in the case of colour) or react with the natural make-up of your hair (in the case of perms and straighteners). This is what peroxide does and without it most of today's potions and lotions would not work at all.

It is not harmful in itself when used by professionals who know what they are doing. If used in too high a strength, or if too many chemical processes are done one on top of the other, that's when problems occur. So if a hairdresser says you should wait for that next perm or "no more highlights for you right now", believe them it's not because they are too busy, it's because you may end up loosing some of your hair if they do.!


Used in several finishing products, especially common in those that spray. It's there because it's a cost effective carrier of the product e.g. it is the holding factor that dries without trace quickly on the hair. It does make your hair feel dry but that's what it's there to do. Over use of high level alcohol based products can result in overly dry hair.

Sodium Lauryl Sulphate's

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate and Sodium Lauryl Ether Sulphate (SLES) are inexpensive foaming agents used in many of the shampoo's and soaps that we use.

Recently SLS and SLES have joined the ranks of the product ingredients that are often asked about when people are purchasing hair products. The reason for this is that SLS and SLES have been linked to, by reason of urban myth or legend, carcinogens. From our own research the only reason we can see for this is that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been encouraging manufacturers to remove them from food stuffs (as it is not so good when ingested) note the word encouraging and not making it law.

As a product that goes on the skin the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association (CTFA) and the American Cancer Society have done their own research and found that they are not harmful, as far as being cancer causing, when used on the skin in the tiny amounts that are used in shampoos and soaps etc. However they have been proved to be a skin irritant to some more than others and continued exposure can lead to dermatitis. Ask any apprentice hairdresser that is shampooing hair all day and they can attest to this.


Last on the list but the most harmful if large amounts are found in the hair product you are using (normally permanent colours). Yes this is the stuff you clean your loo with and do you really want lots of it on your hair? But certain products rely on ammonia to swell or open the surface or the hair to allow them to penetrate to the centre where they need to be to do their work. Where this stuff is bad is that once the outer layer of your hair has been opened it never quite goes back to its old smooth self. That's not always a bad thing in that it's this factor that makes fine hair feel thick after a color service. However there is a point where the surface is so open that it becomes rough to touch, tangles, has no shine and eventually splits and breaks. So choose low ammonia based products along with regular treatments.

You can suffer from or develop and allergy to ammonia the symptoms of which can be an itchy scalp and or you start coughing or get watery/red/itchy eyes when you have your hair coloured. If this happens to you or you are pregnant (see our section on pregnancy and your hair for more details) or a cancer suffer undergoing chemotherapy where your liver function is often impaired resulting in an inability to process ammonia we suggest you choose an ammonia free product.

At the time of writing the available 100% ammonia free products that we know about are as follows. We have also split the list into home use and professional salon products so that you can request ammonia free from your hairdresser (if a salon does not stock a product you can call ahead and they will often get them in for you):

Home Use Colors:

  • Herbal Essences True Intense Colour Gel by Clairol
  • L'Oreal Castings ColourSpa
  • Revlon Coloursilk Permanent Hair Colour
  • Revlon Frost&Glow Blonding Kit
  • RevlonFrost&Glow Highlighting Kit
  • Schwarzkopf Live Colour
  • Schwarzkopf Country Colours

Professional Salon Only Colours:

  • Affinage b Blobde ammonia-free Highlighting meches
  • Affinage Satin' Aveda Colour Current Energized Gel Colour
  • Aveda Full Spectrum Deposit-Only Colour Treatment
  • Farouk Chi Ionic
  • Farouk Chi Infra
  • Farouk Bio Glitz
  • Goldwell Elumen
  • Indola Supermeche 5
  • Indola Vitamin Colour
  • Intercosmo Viola Avance
  • Landoll Just Lite
  • The Organic and Mineral Research Insitute's Permanent Watercolours
  • PPS Hairware Tone on Tone range
  • Redken 5th Avenue Shades EQ demi-permanent colour
  • Schwarzkopf Igora Viberance
  • Schwarzkopf Igora Personality
  • Schwarzkopf Igora Colour Gloss

You should not notice any difference in the effectives of an ammonia free product to any other similar hair colouring product but it will be minus that awful smell and they also don't stain the skin!

It's all about using everything in moderation. Using any of the above in hair products is not harmful but if you over use then your hair condition will suffer. One of the best examples of this is with permanent hair colour. When you go to the salon to get your co lour done, they apply it very neatly and carefully to the roots or new growth only. When they refresh the co lour on the ends it's with a different type of colour that's low in peroxide and ammonia or a watered down version of what goes on the re growth. However when coloring your hair at home you can't be so careful. The results can be great the first few times but as the hair is coloured again and again the condition starts to suffer and you may even feel that the colour has changed. In fact it has because you are no longer putting it on the same hair!

Visitors to this page also went to:

Salon services and chemical treatments for information on hair colour, perming and straightening.

Hair colour allergies

Patch test for allergic reactions


Medical conditions of the hair and scalp

Itchy scalps

Hair product use in pregnancy

Natural hair products

All about shampoo's, conditioner's and hair treatments

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