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What happened to Loreal Preference hair color?

Loreal Preference hair color has been a top-selling at-home hair dye for decades. Known for its ammonia-free formula and long-lasting results, Preference became the #1 global hair color brand by delivering vibrant color with minimal damage. But in recent years, some consumers have complained that the formula changed and the color doesn’t last as long or come out as bright. So what happened to Loreal Preference? Did they tweak the formula and compromise on quality? Let’s take a closer look at the history and recent changes to this iconic hair color brand.

The History of Loreal Preference Hair Color

Loreal first introduced Preference hair coloring in the 1970s. The ammonia-free formula was revolutionary at the time, promising natural-looking, fade-resistant color that caused less damage to hair. By the 1990s, Preference had become the world’s top-selling hair color as consumers embraced the benefits of ammonia-free dye. For decades, the formula stayed consistent and Preference maintained its reputation for long-lasting vibrant color.

One of the keys to Preference’s success was Loreal’s patented color gel technology. This translucent gel delivered penetrating color while leaving hair feeling soft and silky. Preference also contained oleo-vinyl alcohol polymers to help color stay true. The formula was free of ammonia, peroxide, and alcohol, making it gentler than traditional permanent hair dyes.

Recent Formula Changes

While the Preference formula remained unchanged for years, Loreal did quietly make some minor revisions starting around 2016. They tweaked the fragrance, added more conditioners, and adjusted some of the lower-concentration ingredients. However, the color gel technology and ammonia-free formula stayed the same.

Then in 2018, Loreal introduced new Preference packaging that highlighted being ammonia-free and having “No odor technology” for enhanced fragrance. But according to many consumers, there were significant changes beyond just the fragrance.

Reviews began piling up complaining that the new formula didn’t work as well. Users reported that the color was less vibrant, faded faster, and resulted in more brassiness. Some felt the new formula didn’t sufficiently lighten hair. Many theorized that Loreal had removed key coloring ingredients to cut costs. Loreal insisted the core ammonia-free color gel system hadn’t changed.

Did Loreal Compromise on Quality?

So did Preference really change for the worse? Many believe Loreal tweaked the formula to make it cheaper to produce at the expense of quality. Removing pigments or Changing fragrance and conditioners could alter the color results. Here are some of the formula differences consumers have speculated about:

  • Less or weaker developer/peroxide to minimize lifting and lightening
  • Fewer coloring agents like PPD for less vibrancy
  • More conditioners that coat hair and inhibit color
  • Fragrance changes that interact differently with dye

However, Loreal maintains they still use the same patented color gel technology that made Preference a success. The company points to strict quality standards and testing to ensure their products perform consistently. They say minor formula adjustments over the years have enhanced fragrance and conditioning while still providing the same level of color.

Consumer Complaints and Reviews

While Loreal insists little has changed, consumer complaints indicate otherwise. Negative reviews with common themes suggest real issues exist with the current Preference formula compared to the original. Here are some of the most frequently cited complaints and problems with the new formula:

Less Vibrant, Streaky Color

Many users find the new formula gives less intense, uneven color. Hair comes out with less shine and depth of pigment. The dye doesn’t sufficiently cover grey hairs, leaving an odd mix of dark and light streaks.

Faster Fading

Rather than lasting 6-8 weeks like the old formula, the new Preference color starts to fade within 2-3 weeks. The vibrancy disappears quickly, shifting to a more brassy, dull tone.

Failing to Lighten

Consumers say the new formula doesn’t lighten hair like older versions did. Going lighter or brighter is now harder to achieve.

Unexpected Color Results

Many complain the new dyes give unexpected results, like coming out darker, redder, or brassier than the color on the box. It seems to react differently on various hair types.

More Damaging

While still ammonia-free, reviewers find the new formula leaves hair drier and more damaged. The additional conditioners don’t seem to make up for increased brittleness and breakage.

Based on the outpouring of negative feedback, it does appear Loreal quietly reformulated Preference to cut costs at the expense of performance. However, Loreal maintains any changes have enhanced the brand while preserving what consumers love. But the overwhelmingly poor reviews indicate the new Preference formula is a disappointment for most users.

Preference Losing Popularity

The reformulation of Preference seems to have damaged its standing among at-home hair color consumers. While Loreal doesn’t release sales figures, Preference has fallen to #2 behind competitor Clairol according to market research. Preference enjoyed over 30% of at-home hair color sales in 2014 but has dropped below 20% in recent years.

Additionally, reviews and sentiment for Preference have declined on sites like Influenster and Consumer Reports. The brand still has loyalists who swear by the new formula, but negative sentiment appears to outweigh positive. Loss of market share and consumer complaints indicate Loreal made changes that resulted in a worse product.

Year Market Share Ranking
2014 32% #1
2017 22% #1
2021 18% #2

This table summarizes the declining market share and loss of dominance for Preference as the formula changes took hold. Preference dropped from being the top hair color brand to #2 behind Clairol, correlating to the spike in negative reviews.

The Future of Preference

The consensus is that Loreal made intentional changes to Preference’s formula — whether to cut costs or for other reasons. This likely increased profits but at the expense of a once-loyal consumer base. Looking ahead, Preference faces an uphill battle winning back alienated customers.

Here are a few likely scenarios for the future of Preference:

  • No changes – Loreal seems unwilling to admit mistakes and reformulate again. They could leave the current formula as is.
  • Quiet improvements – Behind the scenes, Loreal may tweak the formula again to address issues but not publicize changes.
  • Complete relaunch – Loreal could completely rework the formula and re-launch Preference as “new and improved.”
  • Discontinue – If sales continue declining and reviews stay negative, Loreal may eventually axe Preference.

Many consumers have already ditched Preference for brands that still work well, like Clairol Natural Instincts and Madison Reed. But Preference still has strong nostalgia factor. A relaunch improved formula that echoes the original could regain market share. But for now, the brand’s reputation remains tarnished.


Loreal Preference revolutionary ammonia-free hair color formula once made it the undisputed hair dye leader. But consumer complaints indicate Loreal made changes to lower costs that ended up compromising quality. Reviews cite poor color results, faster fading, and increased damage from the new formula. While Loreal defends their tweaks, the consensus is they damaged a trusted legacy brand. Preference has lost significant market share and now trails Clairol. Loreal will need more than just fragrance and packaging changes to regain trust. Relaunching an improved formula matching the original pigmentation and performance may be Preference’s best hope for the future.