Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula

My regular readers know about my longtime love affair with Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor. I first began using Natural Instincts when I was 22 after silvery streaks started appearing in my hair far earlier than I anticipated they would.

In early 2011, my readers and I noticed that Natural Instincts had gone through some new and unwelcome changes. Natural Instincts had always been a temporary, 28-shampoo haircolor — but some of the new formulas were permanent. The semipermanent formulas came with about half the conditioner they used to, and they also included a second packet of haircolor refresher that was to be used after the first two weeks. (Why? The old formula lasted fine without needing an additional re-dying two weeks later — that should have been the first clue that something had changed, and not for the better…) Clairol’s site erupted with negative reviews, many stating that the color refresher stained their hair and skin various shades of orange, regardless of the color they’d previously dyed their hair.

In 2011, I tried one box of the “new” Natural Instincts. I blogged about my experiences with it:

The new haircolor was supposed to take less time to apply than the previous formula [it instructed you to apply it to dry hair instead of damp hair], but the color turned out flat, dull, and a lot less golden-brown than my old color. Each box now came with an extra color packet to be rinsed in two weeks after the first dye. It was such a horrifying shade of orange when I opened it that I immediately threw it out. Natural Instincts had also changed their in-box conditioner to a new formula… But the new conditioner felt cheap and thin. It did not condition my hair well at all. Some people are very resistant to change, and I’m one of them. This new Natural Instincts was definitely not for me.

I ran around town buying up as many boxes of “old” Natural Instincts I could find. After I ran out of those, I switched to Garnier Herbashine, which I also found to be a fine temporary haircolor product. I used Herbashine for several years, occasionally switching to old-formula Natural Instincts when I could find it. (When Dominick’s went out of business, I found quite a few old-formula Natural Instincts boxes on the shelves too marked half off. Dominicks was great for “time-travel” shopping with all that new-old-stock sitting on the shelves!)

Then what happened? Garnier discontinued Herbashine. I clung to the remaining boxes of Herbashine and old Natural Instincts I had left and tried to stretch out the time between coloring my hair as much as I possibly could.

Now, we’ve had some good deals on Natural Instincts over the past few months – $1.74 per box and $1.94 per box at Meijer. I bought some during both of those deals and put it on my stockpile shelf… waiting.

Last week, I finally faced the fact that I was out of Herbashine. I was out of old Natural Instincts. I reluctantly opened a box of “new” Natural Instincts. When I bought it over the summer, I noticed that the product’s box had been redesigned yet again:

The box no longer advertised the “Week 2 Color Fresh.” (Thankfully!) When I opened the box, I also noticed that it contained a larger tube of conditioner — nearly the size of the tube before the formula change.


From left to right: Pre-2011, 1.96oz. conditioner, 2011 1.01oz. conditioner, and current 1.85oz. conditioner
So, last week, I colored with the “new-again” Natural Instincts. And happily, my hair looks great again. The instructions in the box have returned to the pre-formula-change instructions, advising applying the haircolor to damp hair, not dry. It’s been over a week since I colored my hair, and the color still looks shiny and vibrant after washing my hair too. I wanted to share this with you, as I know there were quite a few readers lamenting both the loss of the “old” Natural Instincts and the loss of Garnier Herbashine.

Because I am a label-reading ingredients geek, I saved the boxes from my last old-formula Natural Instincts, the “formula change” Natural Instincts from 2011, and the new box that I just used last week. I was curious to see how much the ingredients changed between the three formulas. (Why did I save the old boxes? I remember calling Natural Instincts to complain after they changed the formula in 2011, and the person on the phone denied there had been a change. I told her that I had both boxes in front of me and was comparing the ingredients for the “same” color formula, and they were not the same..!)

Without listing every ingredient here from the various versions, the summary is this: There were definitely formula changes between the three versions, and while the newest version of Natural Instincts is somewhat different than the older version, it’s closer to the original formula than the middle formula was. The colorant and activator contain many the same ingredients, but they’re in slightly different order in the ingredients lists. The new activator adds simethicone and cellulose. The new conditioner has some additional ingredients (coconut oil, safflower seed oil, aloe leaf juice) but is pretty similar to the old-style conditioner too. It even smells the same as the old one.


You have no idea how excited I would get when I’d see a shelf like this. Look at that box on the top shelf! Whenever I’d find new-old-stock sitting on a shelf, if it was remotely close to my color, I’d snap it up. This one’s sitting on a shelf at the Huntley, Illinois Walmart right now — I took this picture on Wednesday! If you’re a #28 Nutmeg lover, go get it.
I do wonder why Natural Instincts hasn’t made a bigger deal about returning to its (nearly) previous formulation. With the number of complaints on the web about the middle formula, I would think it would have been a big deal to advertise that Natural Instincts was going back to its previous formula. Had I seen a statement like “Natural Instincts is once again the product you know and love” in an ad, I would likely have returned to the product much sooner than I did. (Trust me, I look at ads for haircolor nearly every week — I wouldn’t have missed this!)

That’s another issue too — I honestly don’t know when Natural Instincts changed to its most recent version. I was far more motivated to seek out new boxes with the old-formula packaging whenever I found them.

At any rate, if you previously loved Natural Instincts, you may wish to give it a try again.

I’ll wrap this post up with a story I saw earlier this year. When the movie “Anchorman 2” came out last year, Miller Lite released beer cans with the 1970s-era graphics Miller was once famous for. Sales soared — and sales continued to be high long after the movie left the theaters. Miller has kept the retro can design even though the movie tie-in is long over. One Chicago Tribune article notes that sales were still doing well with the retro can in 2014. Another article I read stated that people thought the beer actually tasted better in the old-design cans.

I was talking to my dad about this — neither one of us beer drinkers, so it really was more a discussion on why this marketing continues to be so successful. I mused that people were feeling nostalgic for a time gone by.

Dad said, “It’s simpler than that. People don’t like change.

I believe this is true — especially when those changes are in products they’re extremely loyal to.


  1. Beth says

    I like Natural Instincts also. The lightest blond from Natural Instincts brightens up my hair. My problem with this product is that there are towns that have changed demographically and some stores do not carry the lightest blond shade. Locating the product is not that bad. If the product stopped working I would not like it at all. They need to stop changing it.

  2. Unhappy customer says

    I purchased the color Burgundy Black at the end of June at my local Target. I have used the Natural Instincts product many times before but never this color. I applied the product per instructions and when i went to rinse it out, it never got to the water running clear stage. Since then i have shampooed my hair 2 times and am still having tons of the pink red dye running out of my hair. So much so that my entire shower stall and shower curtain have been dyed this pink color. The color on my hair is also very strange and unnatural looking because the red is all closer to the scalp and the black is on the outer part of the strands. The third thing I dislike immensely is the color smells awful. Like dried blood. I have never had this experience with their hair color before and can only conjecture that they messed up the formula, then shipped this inferior product to their distributors where unsuspecting customers got stuck with it.

    • says

      I need to write a separate post about this, but recently, after using the same medium warm brown Natural Instincts color for years, it turned my hair orange. ORANGE. The color was so off that I called them in a half-panic to complain. They told me on the phone that the product has been reformulated (no surprise) and that mine was supposed to have “more golden tones.” Trust me, they weren’t “golden” — they were orange. I don’t know what is going on, but I had to pull some tricks to get it back to brown…

  3. Linda says

    Keep your eyes peeled for another change. I too have been using Natural Instincts for many years and, like you, was unhappy with the changes they made. That 2 week colour pack was the worst. Very happy with the “new” version but I just bought a box yesterday and saw that they have change the numbering system. I have used #13 for all the time they have been numbered but my new box is #6 (which used to be #13, which used to be Suede). I’m not sure why they keep making these changes but perhaps this time it means there are less colours to choose from. The store I bought mine from did not have a large selection so I will have to check at a larger retailer. Watch out.

  4. Linda A. Davis says

    The last two boxes of Natural Instincts (Shade Black-once Midnight) that I purchased smell differently. The color begins to fade after the second shampooing, and my hair looks dull. The colorant in the bottle looks almost clear versus the once darker liquid. I have used Natural Instincts for years and do not understand why they keep changing the formula, but this is the worst! It’s no different than a color rinse now. So disappointing. Hopefully, I can find a replacement in another brand.

  5. cautious says

    This post & thread was really informative and helpful, glad I found it. However, I’m becoming more & more skittish about using (any) hair color ever again, based on everything I’ve read lately. I really hope someone could help my decision further.

    In the early 90ies, I used Clairol Natural Instincts in Midnight/Black for some years. It was then sold here in Sweden where I live (in this packaging: I’ve since used L’Oreal Féria for many years, both dyeing my whole hair & later highlights a few times/year (frail hair), to my brown-black head (using from 5.0-7-something shades, mostly 6.0 or 6.3).

    I’ve always had very thin, soft, almost straight hairs (baby-like), and not “much” of it, but it’s usually been healthy or relatively so, and long (now mid-back-ish). Many years later, some mishaps with Féria and also actually a burnout (2012-2015 pretty much) I’ve lost copious amounts of hair, to the point where I feel I have just a rat’s tail left. It’s rather long still, but very, very thin. It’s broken off a LOT, all the way up almost. Wouldn’t help if I cut it several inches even; it’s gone too far up.

    Haven’t dyed it at all for a couple years now, in an effort to let it recover fully. Always took good care of it but even better now. Long story short vitamins/supplements don’t help, nothing seems to, and I’m seriously considering going back to Clairol Natural Instincts, now in my own color though; Nutmeg/Dk Brown or maybe Hazelnut/Med. Brown. I feel I want/need the slight, volumizing lift from the scalp that coloring gives hair, and also the extra coating/filling (resilience wise).

    While I’ve never had any allergic reaction to a hair color, I’ve now become aware of the allergic risks with PPD & co (which, as I understand, NI contains, right?), and the general, long-term risks with damaged hair from a bad hair dye. I’m also quite happy with my current (natural) haircolor. All of the above and this post & comments make me increasingly wary of using NI again. Especially as I remember the black color from back then NOT washing out, but rather acting as a permanent dye. Any words of advice?

    Also, coupon maven, I have a slight hope that you might be able to help regarding comparing the current formula and THAT old one (which I used) – or did you start later than I did?
    Big thanks in advance!

  6. Sally Laura says

    I loved the color refresher because it added lovely highlights to grey hair showing up. It was easy, caused no hair damage and if you’re clever and careful no color is on your skin as a residual. Please find Natural Instinct Hazelnut #20 Colour Refresher for me, my twin sister and my daughter who uses your brand.

  7. Mary says

    I’ve used Natural Instincts for years. The “new” formula does not last any longer than 3 weeks. I didn’t have to color for 5-6 weeks and it changed with the new numbering system. So this is their way to force you to purchase more of their product ??

    • says

      Mary, I have noticed the same thing! This post is two years old now. I have been using the Brass Free Brunettes for almost a year after my “hair turned orange incident.

      I ran out of Natural Instincts Brass Free Brunettes (it’s hard to find sometimes in stores!) and 3 weeks ago, I bought a box of regular medium brown Natural Instincts instead. Something has definitely been changed again with it, because it didn’t even last two weeks & all my gray strands were back. What the heck?! I’m also using Wen to wash my hair, which is color-safe, so the color should not have taken anything out.

      I just re-dyed it with Brass Free Brunettes again last night, but if they change the formula of that too, I’m going to have to look for something else.

      • Brenda says

        I have been using NI for over 20 years. I noticed that for the last few years, my hair didn’t have as much body. I wasn’t able to pouf it anymore. I couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t work anymore. I’m glad that they changed it back. I also heard on the news not too long ago that women were losing their hair from using Wen. That’s scary.

  8. Grace Ann says

    Glad to know it’s not just me. Lately the Dark Cool Blonde (7A, formerly 10) lasts eight days and dries out my fine hair.

  9. Carol says

    Those color refresher packets were GREAT for redheads… too bad they wouldn’t keep them for just those colors. Reds traditionally lose pigment very quickly anyway. I LOVED them! Medium Auburn was flaming red on me, though, so I could see how it might not be the best for someone who was actually looking for a medium auburn color.

  10. Karla says

    Consumer reports recommended Natural Instincts for covering gray on brunet hair. I started using the light brown about six months ago. At first I totally bragged about it, leaving my hair shiny and soft and never a grow out line. I color my hair bout every three to four weeks. Now after six months my hair has become brittle, dry, and flat. What has happened?

    I also have been confused by the two choices of Natural Instincts in the store. One has Kerita(something like that) and the other doesn’t. What is the difference?

    One other question I have tried to get answers for is why did Clairol ever stop making Loving Care. This was a fantastic product that my mother and I used for 30 years. Covered the gray and left our dark hair with body shine and softness. Why was that taken off the market? Any chance that it will come back?

    Desperate to regain my beautiful full hair with a safe and healthy non permanent hair product.

  11. Mary says

    Loving Care was the best. This garbage leaves your hair brittle.
    I am a former hairdresser, and I swear I think it made my hair fall out.
    I wish we had an answer to why they took it off the market.
    My hair was always always shiny and it never caused any damage to it!
    Bring it back!

    • hilary says

      ‘Loving Care’ was a product I used for eons; it gave hair volume, softness, and lasting colour for grey hair.

      Two of the very best things about ‘Loving Care’ were moisturising and ease of use.

      Unfortunately, I’ve found, that for my hair, at least, none of the non-permanents can match ‘Loving Care’.

  12. Michael hart says

    Hi I’m a dude and used Just 4 Men, guess what ?? I got a PPD reaction and broke out in a rash for 4 weeks, not gonna use that again. So I tried Herbashine, pretty GOOD no smell not invasive and not drippy and lasted for like 7 weeks. Now it’s GONE??? is their anything like it? I snapped a couple of boxes on e bay, not my color but I mixed black with light brown and it made like ash brown ( dark ) If anyone knows where to get it or what’s similar please LMK thx…Mike

    • says

      I liked Herbashine too! Garnier discontinued Herbashine in 2013, so if you bought any recently, it was likely new-old-stock. Unfortunately nothing new has really popped up to replace it. I am back to using Natural Instincts again.

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