Woman getting her hair washed in a salon.

Shampoo is just one way stylists are exposed to toxic chemicals on the job. 
Photo © Viktor Pravdica \ Fotolia.com

A new generation of conscientious hair salons is cropping up across Canada, offering a breath of fresh air in a usually toxic industry. Here’s how salons and their customers can – pardon the pun – join the cutting edge of sustainability.

Chop lightly 
The average salon produces 821.76 kilograms of waste annually, and Canada’s salons produce 20,355 tonnes of waste per year combined. But Green Circle Salons (GCS) offers an innovative way to lower that number with certification. Nearly 500 participating salons separate their hair clippings, chemicals, foils, colour tubes, paper and plastics for pickup by GCS, which ensures that 85 to 95 per cent of solid waste and seven to 10 per cent of liquid chemical waste is diverted from landfills and waterways. The materials are repurposed in unique ways – clippings can be transformed into absorbent booms for oil spills, chemicals can be incinerated into waste for electricity, and more. 

Choose conscientiously 
Many salons offer paraben- and sulfate-free shampoos and styling products, but that doesn’t mean these options are necessarily toxin-free. Customers may only be exposed monthly when they get their hair done, but stylists risk exposure almost daily (one in five suffers a job-related illness). “I’ve talked to many hair stylists that were told by sales reps that certain brands were ‘all natural’ and ‘organic’ and yeah, the product may contain a handful of natural ingredients, but those claims are still completely misleading,” says journalist Adria Vasil. “That’s why it’s incredibly important to do a close ingredient check yourself.” She stresses that many hair serums and conditioners still contain toxic siloxanes (silicone-based hair-smoothers), even though companies advertise natural ingredients like argan oil. While Vasil says some greener pro hair care lines still need to try a little harder (like Alterna, which still uses siloxanes), a growing number are doing it right. She recommends Organic Matter, John Masters Organics and Aveda

Toronto’s award-winning worldSALON is really pushing the envelope with its own hair care line, worldPRODUCTS, which contain no parabens, sulfates, phthalates, fragrance or colour. The little green oasis is making headlines with other eco-initiatives, too, like reducing its energy consumption by 70 per cent since 1999. The salon is a perm-free zone and even uses water heated by solar power.

Hold the hairspray 
Ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) have long been banned from aerosol products, but CFC-free aerosol sprays still contain hydrocarbons and compressed gases that contribute to global warming, as well as air-polluting volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Use pump products instead. 

Green is the new blond 
Hair dye is a tangled issue. According to a John Frieda study, 55 per cent of Canadian women say they can’t live without hair colour. Unfortunately, permanent hair dyes – even those tagged “natural,” “herbal” or “organic” – contain at least some chemicals of concern, like paraphenylenediamine (PPD), ammonia or resorcinol (or toxic alternatives like PTD, MEA or heavy metals). The “better” brands just use less of them. The only truly natural, plant-derived, permanent hair colour is henna, which salons generally avoid because it’s notoriously hard to work with. The colourists at Montréal’s alternative Studio Sundari are among the brave souls who will apply pure henna!

Luckily, industry leaders are responding to the demand for safer permanent dyes with an impressive array of less-toxic options. Toronto’s Green Beauty uses Organic Color Systems, a certified professional line that’s ammonia-free and lower in PPD than conventional products. Essensity by Schwarzkopf is a gentler line with predominantly biodegradable formulas. Vancouver’s eco-gem Clover Earthkind Salon has an assortment of sustainable options, though colour technician Jen Vanderleij says they like to keep them a secret. (She will spill that Organic Salon Systems is the salon’s most popular brand.)

Use your melon
There are many other ways to go green, from big (using renewable energy and sustainable construction materials) to small (compact fluorescent lighting, serving organic fair-trade coffee or sending email appointment reminders). Thanks to some forward-thinking salons and their customers, we’re seeing true examples of environmental leadership and responsibility. After all, trendy haircuts come and go, but being kinder to the planet is always in style.

Courtney Richardson is a uWaterloo Environmental Studies grad and a freelance writer.

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