Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (2023)

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.

Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (1)

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.

Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (2) Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (3)

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:

Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (4)

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.

Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (5)
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.

Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (6)

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.

Clairol Natural Instincts haircolor quietly returns to (almost) its previous formula - Jill Cataldo (7)
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.

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