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Alkalizers 101--What is an alkalizer and what does it do?

There are 3 alkalizers most commonly used in permanent and demi-permanent haircoloring products, they are:​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​ ➡️Ammonia​​​​​​​​ ➡️Monoethanolamine (MEA)​​​​​​​​ ➡️Aminomethylpropanol (AMP)​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​ The alkalizers perform several functions;​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​ First, it helps maintain an alkaline environment in the tube or bottle of haircolor. The reason that this is important is because the colorants must be stored in an alkaline environment while their in the tube or bottle or they degrade.​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​ Second, when the haircolor is mixed with developer two functions occur:​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​ First, the alkalizer reacts with the developer which is acidic to initiate the oxidation process. This basically means that oxygen is being liberated or freed from the developer. The release of oxygen is what creates the lightening action of the hair or what we sometimes refer to as “lift”.​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​ Second, when the haircolor mixture is applied to the hair, the alkalizer helps to raise the pH of the hair in order to swell and expand the hair shaft so that the colorants can penetrate past the cuticle layers and get inside the cortex.​​​​​​​​ ​​​​​​​​ Ammonia is the most common alkalizer used in permanent haircolor. It is considered by most haircolor chemists as the most effective alkalizer in the industry.​​​​​​​​

Ammonia is the smallest of the 3 alkalizers. Think of ammonia as small but mighty…like the cartoon character Mighty Mouse.

Ammonia is so small that is can completely pass through the entire hair structure. What this means for the hair is that it leaves the hair very quickly after it does its job, i.e. it doesn’t hang around in or on the hair itself.

Ammonia is added to a haircolor formulation as a liquid and then when it catalyzes (reacts) with developer, it becomes a gas and is released into the air. It has a definite smell, however the fact that you can smell it is actually a good thing as you know that it is leaving the hair after its done doing its job.

It creates the most lift with the least amount or concentration of alkalizer, and it processes the fastest of all the alkalizers.

Ammonia content in most permanent hair color is approximately 1% - 4% depending on the brand ​​​​​​​​ MEA is used in lots of ammonia free permanent and demi haircolors.

MEA is much bigger than ammonia. Due to its larger size is has a harder time creating the same level of lightening action that ammonia can create. You need a higher concentration of MEA (up to approximately 8%) to create the same kind of lightening action that could be done with less ammoniaAlso, it typically requires a longer working time for it to do its job.

Think of MEA like an elephant, big and slow moving, but steady. It takes the elephant more time to lighten the hair than Mighty Mouse takes.

MEA does not have a smell like ammonia does.

MEA is liquid and whereas ammonia starts off as a liquid and becomes a gas and essentially leaves the hair, MEA starts off as a liquid and stays a liquid and must be properly removed from the hair.

Post color removal of haircolor is important when removing ALL haircoloring products, but it is especially crucial when dealing with products powered by MEA as MEA has an affinity for the hair, it likes to stick around in the hair. ​​​​​​​​ Now AMP is even bigger than MEA, so I want you to think of AMP like a mountain—its huge and its not going anywhere.

Due to its very large size AMP really has a difficult time creating any visible lightening action in the hair. It is most commonly used in demi-permanent haircoloring products for that very reason.

Each of these alkalizers has a place in our industry--knowing how they work is key to your success as a haircolorist.

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