In March of 2010, L’Oreal Professionnel launched what was tagged as being a revolutionary new hair color system that does not contain ammonia and has “supreme respect for the hair” called INOA. The name INOA stands for “Innovative No Ammonia”. Of course, as one of the top organic colorists in the country, I was immediately excited. L’Oreal, the owner of INOA, is one of the largest companies in the world, not just in the beauty industry. So, I figured with the kind of money that they have to put into innovation, research & development, as well as the incredible amount of talent they have at their disposal in their labs, I thought for sure it would be the end-all-be-all in the non-toxic hair color world. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and try it in my own salon, Raw Hair Organic Salon in Naples, Florida.
EDITORS NOTE: In the interest of full-disclosure, I want to make it clear that I am a high ranking member of The American Board Of Certified Hair Colorists, which is the organization that I quote several times in this review regarding Inoa. I am not only a member of the ABCH, I am an examiner / evaluator, and educator as well. However, I did not and was not involved in any of the Inoa testing or the review of Inoa that was done by the ABCH organization, nor did I have any input. The Inoa product that I personally used for my review was purchase BY ME, with my own money. It was not given to me nor was it purchased at a discount other than the normal trade discount price.
After a discussion with an Inoa professional at their elaborate booth at one of the largest beauty industry trade shows in the country, I purchased the product and took it back to my salon, Raw Hair Organic Salon in Naples, Florida for testing. I took the INOA one-day class (required to purchase INOA products), I watched a number of Inoa videos online as well as read some company and semi-independent literature before I used it. I found a video by Fashion In Motion, that was obviously filmed at a runway show somewhere. There was an interview with Mr. Colin Ford, a 40 year industry veteran, and Education & Events Director at L’Oreal Professionnel. I found it quite interesting that 2-3 sentences into the interview Mr. Ford back-handedly bashes Ammonia color by saying, “It’s (ammonia) effective in what it does but there’s some negatives about ammonia, like the pungent odor for a start, plus it can cause some irritation of the scalp, so it’s not a pleasing experience.” What makes this so interesting (for those who don’t know) is that his company, L’Oreal, owns no less than 500 product lines, and a number of them are made up of ammonia-based hair color treatments. He also claims that (INOA), “leaves hair in a natural state.” In a different Inoa advertising video they state, “Inoa is a breakthrough ammonia-free technology.” I also found a couple other video’s online that were made by some very well-known L’Oreal Professionnel salons, owned by some very well-known celebrity stylists, who made statements telling clients “Inoa has no ammonia”, and “(Inoa is) The first 100% ammonia free hair color.” At that point, I got really interested…because I’m pretty sure (ok, I KNOW) that’s not a true statement, since I’ve been using a 100% non-ammonia, oil delivery hair color which was developed in 1994. So, I scrolled down a few pages on my Bing! search and found an interesting little .gov website with this little tidbit that I hadn’t heard about: Turns out the U.S. government ordered L’Oreal to cease making the claim that this line has “No ammonia” (Advertising Code Commission File Number 2012/00770).
At that point, I pulled out the tubes and bottles from the Inoa system and started reading them myself. Here is the REAL SCOOP: The Inoa color DYE does not have any ammonia. However, part of the procedure requires the stylist to use a product called “INOA Post”. It is a shampoo that is to be used after the hair color procedure is done, and yes, it’s got ammonia in it. A bunch. Misleading? Well…sorta…yes. At the very least, confusing. That’s how I feel, and the United States Government apparently agrees with me.
I also wanted to share the review and test results of my colleague, Andre Nizetich, President of the American Board of Certified Hair Colorists (ABCH). In summary (and I will take the liberty to VERY loosely quote him, since we are good friends), here are his INOA findings:
~Said it took 3X longer to mix and 3X longer to apply compared to other leading brands. ~Said entire process took 19 minutes, while other brands took about 7 minutes. This is mostly due to having to mix a separate oil ingredient as well as somewhat poor consistency of the hair color.
~Said INOA doesn’t allow the stylist to be innovative, due to the their difficult tube dispensing system. It’s great for begining stylists MAYBE, but not for ones who want to be creative. Andre also thinks it would be hard to complete a single application with 4 ounces of color.
~Said INOA produced a “course cuticle” and “became increasingly difficult to comb the hair the more it was exposed to the sun.”
Here are my personal thoughts on INOA:
Price: INOA is expensive. It has a higher cost per application.
Gray Coverage: Not great. It’s very hit-or-miss, sometimes it covers, sometimes it doesn’t. There have been complaints of color fading off -tone. The ABCH test called it “significant fading”, and “mixed results” on gray coverage.
Damage: My colleagues (not me personally) found it had a tendency to damage the hair on the second application and more so with further subsequent applications. This is disheartening, as one of the main reasons I, as a sylist and salon owner, use organic and ammonia-free products is to avoid damage to the hair. If I can’t give a client better, healthier hair after a couple of visits (if not at the first visit), then I’m not happy.
Irritation: No significant irritation.
The “Green Factor”: INOA is not organic, not natural, and appears that it is not cruelty-free or eco-friendly. PETA (whether you like them or not) has publicly ridiculed them. However, they have announced that they will, as a company, be cruelty-free by 2013. Time will tell.
Ammonia: Marketed as “Ammonia-Free”, but the system itself has plenty. In the one of the latter steps, you wash the clients hair with a product called “INOA Post”. It has ammonia in it. The reason I was told is that it needs it to wash out the residual oils from the “oil delivery system”. However, it is the only product in the INOA line that has ammonia in it. I’ve seen a number of reviews that state that the entire line of INOA is ammonia based, and that is simply not true. Make sure when you choose a review of a product line to guide your purchasing decisions, that the reviewer is unbiased and that they don’t have a financial motive to comment one way or another.
General Application: I found the color to have a consistency that wasn’t difficult to work with. I personally found the entire process taking almost 3 times as long (19 minutes compared to about 7-ish minutes), which for me was excessive. There is one step called the “Dry Emulsification”, where you massage it through the clients head. It adds more time to the process, but I’m used to that because the color line I use on a regular basis at my salon has a similar step. Some stylists might find that to be a problem.
Client Experience: Without being exhaustive in my description, I’d have to say that I’m not happy at all with the fact that INOA isn’t clear in their marketing regarding the “ammonia-free” claim. I own a high-end organic, non-toxic salon. I get a lot of clients that come to me who either have terrible allergies or allergic reactions, cancer or undergoing cancer treatments, auto-immune disorders, or are pregnant. There is ammonia in the INOA Post shampoo, plain and simple.
Melanie’s LIKES: Good selection of colors, good consistency to work with, low MEA. The amount of MEA is the same as their demi colors which is the “lowest on the market” according to the L’Oreal educator.
Melanie’s DISLIKES: Too many steps with the 3 part system (oleo oil gel, developer, and color), not good gray coverage, ammonia in Post Shampoo, high cost (the tubes of color are little – have to use more than one).
If I have to rate on my scale of 1 to 5 (five being highest, one being lowest), I’d rate it overall a 2.
Being that INOA is L’Oreal’s first leap into the non-toxic /organic / ammonia-free hair color market, I know that in time they will come out with a better product, or significantly improve the product. In fact, at the time of this writing, they have already (as this review was in the process of being done) relaunched a new INOA and introduced Redken Chromatics. As stated above, they as a company just have way too many resources at their disposal to not get this product to the point where it is THE best in it’s segment, or at least very close to the top of the list. L’Oreal has been around since 1907, they are a multi-billion dollar company with a rich history of innovation and development. They understand the paradigm shift to TRUE ammonia-free and organic, non-toxic hair color. Again, time will tell if they raise bar or not.
Feel free to contact me directly with comments or questions, as well as suggestions of color lines that you would like to see me review.
Until next time, here’s to good, healthy hair and good, healthy hairdressers.