Should you go organic with your hairdresser?
We all like to be eco-friendly, yet most of us still use harsh chemicals on our crowning glory. So, should you go 'green' when it comes to hair care? Ruth Griffin tries a tress test...
I wouldn't consider myself a fully fledged eco-warrior, but I do try to follow a natural lifestyle as much possible.
I'm by no means militant about it, but choosing green products is a genuine priority for myself and my family. So, when I first read about a new organic, eco-friendly hairdresser's, my interest was piqued. However, it wasn't until I saw photographs of Oi Organic Italian salon in Dalkey, Co Dublin - with its walls lined in glass jars of clays and oils - that I decided to book an appointment and properly investigate what appeared to be an old-style apothecary-turned-hairdressers.
Stepping through the salon door, I'm struck by the lack of plastic and the abundance of natural materials: wood, flowers and glass. Candle-lit, with soft chill-out music playing in the background and jam-packed with fresh flowers, herbs and spices, it feels more like a day spa than a hair salon.
Oi Organic Italian is owned by Francesco Piccolo and Ivana Margarini, a married couple who first met on the set of a photoshoot. From Italy, they are both trained hairdressers who have worked in hair styling for more than three decades, with stints for top salons and international fashion shows, and teaching for brands such as Alfaparf, under their belts. They settled in Ireland two years ago because they "loved the lifestyle and good vibes here", and opened the salon in November 2017.
"Our organic story started almost 10 years ago when, almost by accident, we discovered the philosophy," Francisco tells me. "We were discovering a new path that would change our lives from a personal, professional and spiritual point of view. Slowly, by embracing the organic lifestyle, we discovered more changes that benefitted our customers and ourselves. We started using organic cleansing products, deodorants and beauty products, and recycling the packaging. The next step was replacing our supplies in the salon with organic and eco-friendly products."
Ivana says that this move towards sustainable hair care was propelled by a desire to work with pure ingredients. "We personally don't want to work with aggressive chemicals in hair products. We also want to reduce pollution to our water supplies. We believe that our wonderful planet deserves to be preserved and respected; we belong to Mother Earth, so we believe we get the best from pure raw products."
Called ConLeMani - which translates as 'the use of hands' or 'hand-crafted' - their system of hairdressing involves hand-mixing herbs, plants, flowers, clays, muds, seaweeds, essential oils and hydrolytes in a formula bespoke to the needs of each individual customer. Working with a company called AILS in Venice, the pair created their own line of hair products from 100pc organic, natural ingredients. They're free from artificial colourants, PEGs, parabens, artificial perfume, EDTA or petroleum - and most are edible!
Ivana believes that embracing an organic approach would be of benefit to the industry as a whole. "Our way of hairdressing gives customers more - and we believe increases your health, your wellbeing, and the essential quality of your life. We want quality, coherence and transparency in the haircare industry."
But do we really need to go organic with our hairdressers? Research has shown that as consumer interest in the benefits of 'clean eating' and using organic ingredients in our food continues to grow, a natural segue has appeared into the beauty industry. Today, we're not only concerned about what we put in our bodies, but also what we put on our bodies.
Our skin is our largest organ, and it's scientifically proven that a certain percentage of the personal care products that we apply topically is absorbed into the bloodstream. This means that synthetic chemicals that are known health disruptors can enter our systems through our skincare, cosmetics, deodorants, talc and haircare. And so, as the public has become more concerned about the use of chemicals in the past few years, the beauty industry has seen a 10pc increase year on year in organic beauty sales. The organic beauty market is predicted to reach €20 billion annually by 2024.
My own interest in natural and organic skincare started 10 years ago. While I was pregnant with my son, I decided to go 100pc natural in my lifestyle choices where possible. When I started to do my own research into what I was eating and putting on my body, I was pretty dismayed by some of my discoveries. Having worked as a model for many years, I thought that I was someone who knew a lot about the beauty business. So, I was taken aback by how little I knowledge I actually had about what was in the dozens of personal care and cosmetic products I had been using daily without a second thought.
Since I became Weekend's beauty writer and immersed myself in the science of beauty, I have become more and more inclined to opt for 100pc natural beauty items. I find myself increasingly intolerant of heavily scented, synthetic products. Perfume in particular is giving me headaches, so I have even opted for a natural cologne - L'Atelier Cologne's California Clementine - instead.
That said, however, one area that I haven't made any great alterations thus far to is my haircare. I've found it difficult to source effective, certified organic hair products in pharmacies and supermarkets. There is an array of products available that are branded as being 'naturally derived', usually in bottles adorned with images of green leaves and flowers. When you read the ingredients, however, there can be as little as 0.1pc of natural ingredients within. Your best bet for sourcing natural beauty goodies is your local healthfood store. Look for the 'certified organic' stamp and you know you're not being codded.
Is organic haircare more expensive? The lines that I have trialled (see panel, previous page) are nominally more expensive than the mainstream brands you would buy in a supermarket, but far less expensive than salon-level products. I find the natural shampoos and conditioners equally effective as the synthetic brands, although the textures are very different: for example, natural shampoos have no sulphates so there is very little lather.
I've stopped dyeing my own hair recently as I couldn't handle the smell and feel of my usual semi-permanent hair dye any more. Coupled with that, my mum had a severe reaction to her hair dye that made us both want to find an organic alternative. When it comes to hairdressers, however, I hadn't found somewhere that could do my balayage highlights without using synthetic chemicals. Until now, that is: at Oi Organic Italian, the menu includes balayage, flamboyage, ombre and other colour services, all done with organic colour and shampoos.
Today, however, I'm here to try out the Fango Vegetale (scalp mask) and Energia Vitale (hair conditioning treatment), which are the salon's most popular offerings. I begin by having a mug of organic coffee and nibbles of nuts and coconut pieces with Ivana, as she talks me through the process.
I'm a big believer in scalp health - a totally overlooked element of personal care - being the secret to great hair, so I am impressed to hear that Ivana carries out a scalp test on every customer. "Our scalp is the most important part for the wellbeing and beauty of our hair," she says. "No matter if you are doing a fantastic colour and an amazing haircut, if your scalp is suffering, your hair won't look good, shiny or healthy. We have to look at our scalp like the ground of a tree. Before planting, we have to care about it, strengthen and nourish it, for a better growth."
Ivana uses a magnifying camera, which she runs from the scalp down the length of my hair to assess the condition of my follicles and determine what I need from the treatment. She tells me I have some dehydrated areas on my scalp - I am just back from a sun holiday and my scalp and hair feel parched and thirsty, so no surprise there. There's only minimal damage to my hair shaft, most likely because I lopped 5in off my hair earlier in the summer.
Ivana then goes off to her wall of lotions and potions, and in a huge earthenware bowl mixes aloe vera, spirulina, bhringraj, sidr and tulsi for me. It combines to make a vivid green concoction, which she warms and applies to my scalp. For the rest of my hair, she applies a mix of purple clay, Greek fennel, althea, white clay, kapoor kachli and pineapple and moringa oils to deeply condition and nourish.
Next, she settles me down with some more healthy nibbles and pops me under a helmet diffuser - which steams my hair with filtered water, herbal infusions and essential oils.
After 20 minutes, my hair is then washed with an organic shampoo (there's a divine oil head massage included in the process) and then again with an acid-wash mix of lavender, rose and rosemary water to close and smooth the cuticles - it gives an amazing shine to the hair. Lastly, Ivana finishes the process with a top-notch blow-dry.
I feel as though I have been through some sort of a 'hair spa' experience. There was none of the bright lights, loud music, cloying smells, advertisements and endless plastic bottles on the shelves that you find in many mainstream salons, so I am refreshed and relaxed. My hair is glossy, soft and smells amazing, with no sharp chemical odours. In the past, after treatment in regular salons, my hair has felt like it's artificially 'coated' - it may look shiny but it goes after a few days. Now, however, it feels soft, and is nourished and healthy-looking.
When it comes to the price tag, you might be surprised to learn that treatments at Oi Organic Italian are the same price (some treatments are actually less expensive) as other salons. The scalp treatment I had is priced from €30, and the hair conditioning from €45. Haircuts at the unisex salon start at €55, highlights at €87 and balayage at €140.
So, who might this suit? I think this is a brilliant option for pregnant women and those looking to start a family; people recovering from an illness or undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy. Mature women can definitely benefit from the personalised approach of ConLeMani hairdressing, as Ivana says organic haircare is ideal for menopausal women experiencing hair loss, dry skin and a sensitive scalp.
Of course, this organic experience would also be ideal for those who want to detoxify, live plastic-free and who believe in zero waste.
Will I go back? Absolutely. I floated out of my first organic hairdresser experience. My hair looked great but, maybe more importantly, I felt so much better - it was a mini spa break for my hair and my head. If it's true that our hair is the crown we never take off, then we need to look after its health. If it's an added bonus that we're helping Mother Earth at the same time, so much the better.
Oi Organic Italian is at 20b Castle Street, Dalkey, Co Dublin; oihairsalon.ie
Organic and natural hair brands to look out for
Shampoos, conditioners, hair-styling products
● Aveda ● Phyto ● Burt's Bees ● Trilogy ● Rahua ● Green People ● Dr Bronner's ● Nourish ● Barefoot Botanicals ● Warrior Botanicals (does a great dry shampoo)
Hair dyes and tints
● Naturtint ● Natulique ● Naturigin ● Surya Brasil ● Aveda
Haircare chemicals to avoid
● SLS - sodium lauryl (aka sodium laureth sulphate). This chemical is also used as an engine degreaser - seriously. Dries hair out.
● Isopropyl alcohol. Used in antifreeze and wood finish. This chemical is designed to dissolve oils, which can strip the hair of moisture. Used in many hair gels, root lifters, volumisers and hairsprays. Causes hair to snap.
● Propylene glycol (PG). Found in certain conditioners, shampoos, hair dyes, and styling gels and lotions, this breaks down healthy hair proteins and cellular structure while giving the appearance of shiny, smooth hair. Can cause scalp irritation. The United States Environmental Protection Agency lists propylene glycol as one of the top 10 haircare ingredients that can potentially impact health with overexposure.
● PEG or polyethylene glycol. The intended use of this chemical was actually deep-cleaning ovens! Found in some shampoos, it can cause hair to become dry and brittle.
Photography by Gerry Mooney