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Garnier Olia Oil-Powered Permanent Color ($9) boasts that it’s “unlike traditional dyes” because it contains 60 percent oil instead of ammonia. It’s not the first to go without ammonia, but it’s a big deal nonetheless.
This is a huge leap in the development of less damaging hair dyes. The oils (along with the usual after-care conditioner) help to counteract some of the drying and damaging effects of hair dye by sticking around once the water evaporates. Though, they aren’t necessarily the best oils for protecting hair, they are part of a patented lipophilic delivery system.
Difference and Similarities between Garnier and Traditional Dyes
Garnier doesn’t have ammonia, which greatly benefits users’ hair. Ammonia works by opening the hair cuticle, allowing for the dye to go into the hair shaft (The Tech). Instead, Garnier’s hair dye uses an oil delivery system that’s probably based on parent-company L’Oreal’s patented lipophilic carrier system.
In the company’s own tests — I wasn’t able to find any independent tests — a lipophilic carrier system worked to dye hair, as well as leave it feeling softer than with traditional dyes (L’Oreal Patent).
Other than the ammonia, this dye uses the standard system for a coloring agent –a combination of hydrogen peroxide and p-phenylenediamine. It’s simply the additional oils, like sunflower and mineral oils, that make the system different.
In order to make hair lighter, dyes use the oxidizing agent hydrogen peroxide in a developer solution (Hair and Hair Care). This process oxidizes the melanin — or pigment — found in hair, causing it to lose color. Unfortunately, this pigment is also what protects hair from the sun and by bleaching hair, you lose the natural defenses and make your tresses more sensitive to photo damage (International of Trichology).
To give hair color, dyes typically uses p-phenylenediamine, which turns brown when oxidized (American Chemical Society). In differing proportions, this is what allows dye manufacturers to make darker and lighter shade for hair.
Are these Oils the Best for Maintaining Hair?
The oils used in this may make for a good delivery system — and they may leave hair feeling soft and smooth — but in terms of hair health, they aren’t the best.
Mineral oil is the most prevalent oil in Garnier Olia Oil-Powered Permanent Color, and it makes sense because it’s one of the most effective moisturizing oils out there (Contact Dermatitis). On the bright side, mineral oil has been found to lessen the decomposition of tryptophan in hair, which is used as a marker of photo damage (Society of Cosmetic Chemists). So in this way, mineral-oil-treated hair might be less prone to photo damage.
The next most prevalent oil is sunflower seed oil, which boasts 60 percent linoleic acid, a moisturizing fatty acid that helps prevent transepidermal water loss in skin (British Journal of Dermatology). This means that hair stays more moisturized.
It seems this product is missing an opportunity to use even better oil for hair (though perhaps not for the delivery system): coconut oil. The oil that’s been touted by all sorts of natural product users is definitely one of the best for hair. In a 2003 study, researchers found that coconut oil was better than mineral oil and sunflower seed oil at reducing protein loss from combing force in both bleached and non-bleached hair (Journal of Cosmetic Science). They attributed this to the fact that coconut oil is a triglyceride of lauric acid, and also that it has a small enough structure to penetrate the hair shaft.
This is important because the developer includes hydrogen peroxide, the bleaching agent in hair dyes, which this 1993 study showed damaged hair, reduced the amount of protein in hair, and also made damage to hair more severe (Journal for the Society of Cosmetic Chemists).
Nonetheless, this system is definitely more gentle than an ammonia-based system and once hair is dry, the oils will remain in hair, making it feel softer.
The Importance of After-Dye Silicones
Silicones are a beacon to dry, damaged hair. While some people fear them because they can stick on through several washings and require a good scrub with a surfactant to get them out, that property can be a life-saver for dyed hair.
Garnier’s after color conditioner contains amodimethicone, which is an amine-functionalized silicone (Naturally Curly). What makes this so great? Aminosilicones are attracted based on electric charge. Damaged areas of hair have a more powerful negative charge, attracting these silicones to the places that hair needs them most (P&G Beauty).
The benefits of silicones are smoother, shinier hair that is easier to comb and brush both wet and dry (Journal for the Society of Cosmetic Chemists). It’s crucial to use silicones to help prevent damage to more delicate dyed hair that’s more damaged and more prone to damage that un-dyed hair.
The mineral oil and sunflower seed oil — among others— in this delivery system will most certain benefit hair at the time you dye it. And the silicones after will help bond with sections of hair damaged by the coloring agents. Garnier Olia Oil-Powered Permanent Color is gentler on hair thanks to a lipophilic delivery system instead of an ammonia delivery system. I’m not sure whether this system will dye hair as well as something ammonia-based, because there is little research; but it will keep hair feeling softer and shinier than traditional dyes.