An Eco-friendly Hair Salon with Style

At worldSALON, you can have your eco-cake and look cool too!
Photo courtesy of worldSALON

For many of us, a visit to our hair salon is practically a sacred right - not to be trifled with or changed. Our hairdressers are confidantes with whom we trust our little secrets, not to mention our grey hairs. And yet, we know in our heart of hearts that the chemicals with which we are slathered during these “pampering” escapes are not doing any of us any favours.

Enter worldSALON. I will confess that I cheated on my hairdresser of 15 years (sorry Lucy!) to visit Toronto’s greenest salon in order to find out if kinder hair care could really stack up. Owner and CEO Brian Phillips is not only an accomplished stylist (having worked the tresses of celebs like Kim Cattrall and James Marsden), but a concerned eco-activist at the helm of Canada’s salon greening movement. When asked what set him on the path to detoxing his salon, Phillips explains, “I developed contact dermatitis on my hands after 10 years in the industry dealing with nasty chemicals and got rid of it when I stopped exposing myself to perm solution and one gel that I used often. The light bulb went off. Clients were not so receptive to the idea of limiting their exposure to toxic chemicals at first.”

Far from neo-hippy crunchiness, I was struck by just how chic, urban and contemporary worldSALON is. Its decor is light and airy, and the smell of chemicals is distinctly absent. Also gone are the energy sucking hooded dryers of the conventional salon. Instead of henna or patchouli, I was treated to a cut and La Biosthetique colour by stylist and colour specialist, Lucas Suter. He was also kind enough to provide me with a little Hair Dye 101 lesson, explaining that the Biosthetique system had the staying power of a traditional dye but with practically none of the toxicity. “PPD (paraphenylenediamine) is the chemical typically used that helps colour stick to the hair. Without it, it fades quickly.” Biosthetique has developed patented, safe micro-pigments that don’t require the hair shaft to open as much in order to penetrate, thus removing the need for PPD, an allergen and known carcinogen.

The brand is also free from direct pigments that bind to and oxidize the outside of the hair, which are known allergens and are virtually impossible to remove. Suter also cautions against some other brands that claim to offer a greener choice by being ammonia-free. Most of these, he warns, use a chemical called MEA (monoethanolamine) instead of ammonia and, because it is ultimately a less effective chemical, much larger volumes of it are required. Furthermore, MEA remains in the hair much longer than ammonia does.

After my lesson, a lovely scalp massage (heaven!), and a great wash and wear cut, I emerged from the little green-oasis that is worldSALON with shiny, healthy and “styley” toxin-free locks. While this greener option in hair colour is still somewhat more expensive than its conventional counterparts, it has held up wash after wash at least as well as the mainstream salon brand that I am used to using and has, in fact, remained more vibrant in tone. Honestly, whether you’re so eco-conscious that you have given up on salon visits, or so style-conscious that you’ve decided to accept the chemical fallout of the beauty industry – worldSALON stands a solid chance at converting you. You really can look stylish and feel great about getting that way. They have also developed WORLD, their own clean line of skin and hair-styling products.

Can your salon measure up?

Here are some of worldSALON's eco-efforts and some of the best practices to look for:

  • Recycle all foils, colour tubes, and colour left over in bowls
  • Recycle hair cuttings - these can be used to help clean oil spills, as with the recent Gulf disaster
  • Solar panels to heat hot water
  • LED lighting
  • Worm composting
  • No hooded dryers - focus on energy conservation has reduced world’s electricity consumption by 70% since 1999
  • Have their own plant-based salon brand with no parabens, sulphates, phthalates, fragrance or colour
  • Haircolour used (LaBiosthetique) has the lowest available ammonia content (less than 1%) and no PPD (a known carcinogen)
  • Plants everywhere to purify the air

What to Avoid

Avoid Fragrance, says Phillips. “I have become really sensitive to smelly products and when I found out that phthalates were present in anything that has “fragrance” in the ingredient listing, it made sense. Phthalates have been linked to testicular cancer, skin and breathing sensitivities and hormonal abnormalities, including genetic deformities. If nothing else, get rid of products that contain fragrance.”

Opt for Fewer Chemicals: “If you walk into a salon and it smells strongly of chemicals then you are going to be pummelled as long as you are in there,” Phillips warns. Avoid PPD, MEA, and high levels of ammonia in hair colour. Avoid perms.

Green Circle Salons

“Making Beauty Sustainable.” Green Circle Salons is an organization that helps salons to recycle many of their waste materials, like foils, colour tubes, and hair cuttings, as well as diverting excess hair chemicals away from the drain. While the degree to which Green Circle members are eco-friendly varies - all are making some better choices. Use their site to find a greener, kinder salon in your area! 

Also, check out our EcoParent roundup of some great eco-friendly shampoos & conditioners

*Originally published March 3, 2013