If you love your stylist, ask what he or she is doing with the hair clippings.
As a young thing, I always suffered for my hair - and so, no doubt, did the world around me. I needed a good bucket of petroleum gel to maintain my godawful side-swept flock-of-seagulls-esque do, and soon thereafter nose-singeing perms and cans of ozone-depleting hairspray for my Cosby Show-inspired "curls."
Happily, the worst of the 80s hair chems haven't returned with the rest of the 80s revival, but there are plenty of air- and water-polluting hazards stewing in modern hair salons.
Today's hairsprays and mousses may be CFC-free (which means they shouldn't burn a hole in the ozone layer), but they're loaded with air-polluting and lung-irritating VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
The hydrofluorocarbon 152A in most hairsprays is classified as a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Fuggedaboutit.
Tell your stylist to forgo the can and, if you need spray hold, reach for a pump instead. You'll see more and more salons offering paraben- and sulfate-free shampoos like Kevin Murphy. Brands like KM may still have ingredients of concern like polyethylene glycol (PEGs) and synthetic fragrance, but they're generally cleaner than run-of-the-mill salon brands.
What's your salon doing with all those hair clippings and foils to keep them out of landfill? If it's a Green Circle salon like, say, Grateful Head on Roncy or Salon Mod on the Danforth, that means cut hair goes into oil-spill-sopping booms; foils, colour tubes, paper and plastic get recycled; and excess hair chems get collected for hazardous waste.
Who's taking their eco commitment to the next level? In this town, the original eco hair joint is WorldSalon on Adelaide East. It's a perm-free zone where they'll wash your hair in water heated by the sun (thanks to their spiffy solar hot water heater) with their naturally derived World line of hair products (world.ca).
Green Beauty, which just opened this summer on Yonge, is an eco-beauty web boutique turned fab spa and hair studio. They'll lather and style your head with all-natural brands like Original Sprout. They'll dye it with Essensity (free of parabens, silicones, formaldehyde derivates, paraffin and mineral oils). They even offer a free all-natural makeup touch-up, using brands like Revolution Organics.
When it comes to hair dye, I won't lie, even safer pro brands contain at least a few ingredients you wouldn't want to welcome into your world every day, like resorcinol, an allergen and suspected hormone disruptor. And all permanent hair dyes, even health store products, contain some level of dodgy rash-triggering, cancer linked PPDs. (p-Phenylenediamine). The natural lines just use less.
These chems start to explain why the World Health Organization says hairstylists are at higher risk for bladder cancer. The best way to avoid PPD is to ask for a semi- or demi-permanent line. FYI, even these dyes contain one of either ammonia or MEA (ethanolamine). Some lines make a point of using very little of either of them, like Organic Color Systems, offered at Evoke Salon on Bloor West.
One family of chemicals that's tougher to avoid even in many eco salons is siloxanes like cyclopentasiloxane. The feds declared these bad boys toxic to the environment a couple of years ago, then quietly revoked that designation after industry complained. Why are they so common in salons? Well, to be honest, they're killer at smoothing hair, which is why even health store brands like Giovanni include siloxanes in their smoothing serums.
Alternatives do exist. WorldSalon uses its beeswax-based Hair and Body Pomade instead. Speaking of smoothing, most straightening products still contain some formaldehyde (a known carcinogen and irritant). But Health Canada says it's cracked down on straightening/keratin treatments like Brazilian Blowout that had off-the-chart readings of formaldehyde.
A formaldehyde-free pick is Organic Color Systems Keragreen Keratin Smoothing System. Keep in mind, no hair line is 100 per cent organic, though brands like John Masters and Intelligent Nutrients come very close, offering some certified USDA Organic products (meaning they're upwards of 95 per cent organic) and products with at least 70 per cent organic content. (Beware: some brands may weave a couple of organic ingredients into iffy synthetics and claim to be organic.)
In case you were wondering, Aveda isn't organic but is now free of parabens, most silicones and formaldehyde-releasing preservatives like DMDM hydantoin, and it's cleaned up its ethoxylated ingredients (PEGs and -eths) to be 1,4-dioxane-free.
If you love your salon and are loyal to your stylist, request less toxic hair dyes. Push for more sustainable shampoos. Tell them to go Green Circle. And, yes, opt out of aerosol, even if it means not getting quite the same hold. And don't be shy. Ask for the bottle of shampoo/dye, etc, and do your own ingredient scan.
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