In my previous article, we talked about how color removers work to lighten, correct or remove oxidative permanent hair dyes. Here we will discuss whether these hair color removers are actually as gentle and damage free as they claim to be.
Do hair color removers cause damage to hair?
Hair color removers work by oxidizing or reducing the hair dyes (see article). In doing so, they break down the color and these colorless molecules can then leave the hair after shampooing.
Because these are reactive molecules (oxidizing/reducing agents), nothing prevents them from also reacting with the proteins of the hair itself.
For example Color Oops Remover uses sodium hydrosulfite (also known as Sodium dithionite) which converts to sodium thiosulfate and sodium bisulfite in water. The bisulfite is used in perming treatments to reduce hair. This indicates that Color Oops could also be reacting with the hair itself to some degree.
Other brands like the Wella Color Remover Kit, use persulfates and hydrogen peroxide. These are used to bleach hair. In other words, while the kit will break down the dyes, it will also interfere with the proteins and melanin of the hair. Note that Wella says that it only contains a low level of peroxide to help with color lifting.
Similarly L’oreal’s Effasol Color Remover uses persulfates to oxidize the polymerized dyes. In the absence of hydrogen peroxide, the persulfates are not as strongly oxidizing as in Wella. However, they still have oxidizing power which means that they can have an impact on the melanin/protein of the hair.
Another well rated product is the Jherri Redding’s One ’n Only ColorFix which is a 3 step process. This product contains Sodium Hydroxymethane Sulfinic Acid. This chemical is a reducing agent.
- The reducing agent is activated when mixed with the conditioning catalyst that they provide in the second bottle.
- After you achieve the desired level of lightening, the hair is shampooed.
- The processing solution which contains hydrogen peroxide is applied to re-oxidize the hair back. Note that remaining dye precursors will also get re-oxidized to form colored molecules. Some people might find that the hair gets darker after the final step. This then requires another color removal session.
There are lots of chemical reactions going on in this color removing process. With that being said, it is clear that some level of damage will be involved during the process.
Note that many of these color removers are highly irritating and should therefore not be handled with bare hands and they should not touch the scalp.
While I couldn’t list out every color remover out there, it is very probable that they share a common mechanism: they are either oxidizing or reducing the dyes.
The marketing for these hair color removers points to the absence of ammonia, peroxide or formaldehyde. Why? To reassure us that the common hair damage culprits are out. But what about the other ‘unpopular’ chemicals. Clearly from the examples discussed above, the ingredients used in the removers can weaken the hair structure.
So, the question is: how badly do you need them? People who use them occasionally will probably not notice any major damage effects. However, those who regularly switch their permanent hair color, will eventually feel the damage impact. Symptoms can range from breakage, roughness, increased porosity, dryness or any other.
On a final note, many of these color removal processes require several sessions of shampooing which often times are done with strong surfactants like Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS). Over-shampooing can cause physical damage to the cuticles. Additionally using a strong surfactant will strip the hair of any conditioning layers making it weak.