With her sharp blond bob, Jose Bryce Smith looks every inch the hair company founder. The vivacious Australian is on trend in more ways than just her appearance, being at the forefront of producing products that are healthier for hair, but still deliver fashion-forward results.
Right now across the haircare industry the focus is on enhancing shine, being kind to coloured heads, soothing sensitive scalps and offering versatile styling options.
More mainstream companies are bringing out ammonia-free permanent hair colour for use in salons. Garnier, a big player in the supermarket sector, has just introduced an odour-free option for those who colour their hair at home.
"It's not a trend for us. We've been ammonia-free for 12 years," says Bryce Smith, who is a walking billboard for the effectiveness of Original & Mineral's salon colour. Often only around three shades of lightening is possible with ammonia-free colour, which has hindered its uptake, but her platinum bob shows new generation technology can push this result.
"We have noticed consumers becoming more and more aware of product formulas and demanding gentle formulas without compromising on colour results," says Matrix's New Zealand product manager, Rachael Baldwin. Matrix, a leading name in American haircare, introduced its ammonia-free, mid-priced Colorinsider salon system here in March.
Both Matrix and Garnier use an oil delivery system, pioneered by parent company L'Oreal in its ammonia-free Inoa salon colour several years ago. By harnessing the benefits of oils, rather than using an oxidising water-based dye, saturated colour with nourishing qualities and enhanced shine is provided. A revamp of Inoa has increased its ability to deliver enhanced lightening results on blondes, without the harshness of traditional bleaching methods.
Bryce Smith says all this activity among competitors is only good for O&M because they are ahead of the game in achieving high-lift levels and a big range of shades.
"Low-chemical is the way it is going."
During a visit to Auckland to see salon stockists last month, she said the message was now easier to get across.
"When L'Oreal launched Inoa they told the consumer that ammonia-free was the future. It validated us."
With more than two-thirds of women colouring their hair, the market is vast.
Bryce Smith says O&M aims to bridge the gap between luxury and natural while also being a fashion brand with a motto of "use your head". It was developed after her hairdresser husband succumbed to the occupational hazard of dermatitis. The couple was determined to find lower irritant, lower chemical haircare alternatives that did not sacrifice style or effectiveness.
"There's no reason it needs to look green and brown like it belongs in a health food store."
The slickly packaged range, just launched into the US, used to be called Organic and Mineral, but the name was changed to Original because they got sick of people obsessing about how organic it was. "Hair colour is a chemical reaction - I'm not saying I'm in my garden digging this up," says Bryce Smith.
To make an ammonia-free dye work another alkaline agent is needed in the mix.
Ammonia lifts the hair cuticle, to allow colour penetration, but it can leave the hair shaft looking dull and lacklustre. Replacing it with the organic compound monoethanolamine [MEA] is common, providing a gentler, slower process, but O&M uses MEA in a duo of agents for superior lift. The company has also replaced other common hair colour chemicals, including PPB, which can cause swelling, and the colouring agent Resorcinol.
"We believe no client should be exposed to unnecessary chemicals and no hairdresser should have to constantly work with them."
Home hair colour without the pong is possible with Garnier's new ammonia-free Olia range. The nourishing formula is 60 per cent oil, using sunflower, camellia, passionflower and limnanthes alba extracts. Polymers bind to the hair fibre for added protection.
The oil delivery system boosts the lightening effect and, by using MEA rather than ammonia, the unpleasant odour and possible scalp irritation are banished, replaced instead with a light, floral fragrance.
The range of 18 shades covers greys and gives three times tone lift. (A suggested use of the 9.0 and 10.0 shades is to tone regrowth for blondes with foils between expensive salon visits).
Each pack includes a developer bottle, gloves and a conditioner that lasts up to three washes. Available for a recommended price of $16.99 from selected supermarkets, pharmacies, Farmers, the Warehouse and Kmart.
A new permanent colour foam will appeal to users of home hair dye in that it does away with the need for mixing and provides enough product to last for a full head application and a retouch.
Ultimate Colour is one of several innovative products from Schwarzkopf aimed at improving the home hair colour experience. In eight shades, it comes in an aerosol applicator with a keratin conditioning ingredient and costs $25.99 a box. (From Countdown.)
Schwarzkopf is claiming a first in launching a foam lightener which is the only permanent ammonia-free mousse-style colour application for use at home. Perfect Mousse Foam Lightener can lighten up to six shades. The advanced foamy formula is rubbed in shampoo-style. The mousse is priced at $15.99 from pharmacies and supermarkets which also stock the new Live Salon Lighteners ($16.99), a permanent option for blondes looking to neutralise those pesky yellow and brassy tones.
In line with runway trends three fashion shades of violet, scarlet and dark brown have been added to the high-shine Brilliance range of permanent colour creams which cost $15.32.
"The biggest on trend thing with hair is shine," says Wella colour ambassador, Cinnamon Scholes. "People want to look like they have expensive hair without the product."
The Toni & Guy colour expert puts this down partly to red-carpet styling and the use of hydrating and shine-enhancing hair oils. She also talks up the translucent natural look of the newly launched Wella Illumina salon colour system which she has been trialling for a few months. Illumina (which does include ammonia) is described as Wella's biggest innovation in colour technology in 20 years.
I've tried the colour and the result is good and glossy, but I can't say it has imparted the 70 per cent more shine Wella reckons it can give. Light reflectivity is at the heart of these claims. Minute particles encapsulate and remove tiny copper residues left on the hair from the water supply. Conditioners smooth the hair cuticle for a more luminous look.
Illumina is available in 20 intermixable permanent colours to create three palettes of shades in warm, neutral and cool tones. This sort of subtlety in approach is what differentiates salon colour from at-home applications.
You can get good colouring results at home, says Scholes, but she gets plenty of business fixing mistakes. The most common is colour build-up at the front of the hairline.
"It's darker here, with sections missing at the back."
This is best avoided by having someone help apply it evenly.