When was the last time you considered the environmental impact of your hair dye habit? If the answer is anything more recent than ‘never,’ I’d be impressed. While I’ve agonised over the tiniest differences between the blonde Pantones on a hairdresser’s chart and spent too long pondering what ‘undertones’ actually mean (if they actually mean anything), I’ve never given much thought to the stuff that’s painted onto my roots every three months or so. Thanks to the bluey-violet colour, I’m vaguely aware that hydrogen peroxide is in there somewhere; that aside, I have little to no idea about what’s in the dye I’ve been so beholden to for over a decade, let alone what it’s doing to the world and, potentially, doing to me.
It’s hard to find conclusive answers to such questions online, where headlines are either scare-mongering or equivocal. The limited research available does suggest that the likes of ammonia, p-phenylednediamine and peroxide, all commonly found in hair dye, are micropollutants that disrupt ecosystems in our rivers and seas; they can also react unpredictably with chemicals we use to treat our drinking water. However, they certainly aren’t exclusive to hair products. In fact, they’re common ingredients in anything from cosmetics to textile dyes to photocopying ink – hence the equivocation. But when we're all attempting to cut down on single use plastic, reduce our meat consumption and adopt a more (Gwyneth Paltrow voice) 'conscious' attitude to, well, everything, it certainly seems like the right time to extend such an approach to hair colour.
What are the advantages of eco-friendly colour?
Ahead of the curve when it comes to eco-friendly hair care is Olivia Crighton, founder of Glasshouse Salon in Hackney’s Netil House. Since opening in 2013, the East London salon has gained a cult following for its fresh, modern approach to colour and environmental ethos, which focuses on long-term hair health using plant-based ingredients. Her team use the Organic Colour Systems collection, a little-known brand based in the New Forest which, as Olivia puts it, ‘is made up of 96 percent natural ingredients and 60 percent certified organic ingredients.’ This means no micropollutants. ‘We use no ammonia, no recosinol and the lowest possible levels of PPD,’ she explains. ‘Ultimately, this means you’re not compromising the condition of your hair to the same degree. Better condition means less colour fade, less breakage and a much more predictable colour result.’ The benefits, then, seem to be twofold: longer-lasting colour and healthier hair, plus a clearer conscience.
How does it work?
The Glasshouse approach isn’t one size fits all. First up is a wet-stretch test, something I’ve never previously experienced in a salon, which Olivia explains helps to identify the type of hair, ‘so that we can care for it in the right way and improve its overall condition.’ My stylist Mia takes a damp strand of my hair and stretches it to test for elasticity, porosity and dryness. What I soon learn is that while my hair looks healthy-ish to the untrained eye, it’s too stretchy around the mid-lengths and brittle at the ends – typical for someone with long hair and a long-term dye habit. The prescription is a quinoa protein treatment, which is sponged onto the ends, then begins to bubble and foam. After this is washed off, the colour is applied wet (another unusual technique), then left to process before again being washed off and followed up with a eco-friendly toner treatment, to take the colour down to a cooler (ie. less yellowy) shade of blonde.
As with any colour treatment, good aftercare is vital. Outside of the salon, it can be hard to cut through the noise of brands purporting to peddle green products (while almost always coming up short in their green credentials). As a starting point, Olivia notes that ‘shampoos and conditioners containing sulphates and sodium chloride can pull colour from the hair over time, so I recommend this regardless of whether you have used conventional or a more naturally based hair colour.’ (Plus, Jonathan from Queer Eye would approve!) Along with Organic Colour Systems, her favourites include New Zealand-based brand Sans[ceuticals] and Austin Austin products, which are certified by the Soil Association.
Can natural colour really achieve the same results as traditional hair dye?
I admit: after years of relying on traditional bleach to lift my natural hair colour, I’m a little skeptical that natural products could ever achieve the same finish – but, as I soon learn, so was Olivia when she first made the switch. ‘When I was looking for alternatives to traditional salon colour, my initial expectation was that fewer chemicals might compromise performance,’ she explains. ‘But I was pleasantly surprised to see that the more gently I worked, the better the colour results. When it comes to blondes, we use an ammonia free powder lightener in place of traditional bleach. By being more gentle on the hair we can actually achieve cleaner, brighter and more even results.’ Pleasantly surprised is one way to put it. The end result surpasses my (admittedly cynical) expectations entirely. Not only is the finished colour as bright as ever, Mia has also managed to give it new life with a more nuanced, fresher shade, and I soon realise that I’ve turned into someone I never thought I’d become: a quinoa protein evangelist.
Explore the Grazia team's favourite London salons in the gallery below...
Who goes here: Mr Ward's clientele includes the Duchess of Cambridge. Probably best not to expect her to swing by the salon, but Pippa Middleton, Liz Hurley and Sam Cam have all been spotted on site.
Why we love it: It's set in the idyllic Duke of York Square in Chelsea, minutes from the King's Road. Pop out for some shopping after.
Best for: Natural highlights and bouncy Chelsea blow dries.
Who to ask for: Shelley Hard. She's a genius at recovering bad dye jobs and finding your perfect shade.
Follow them on Instagram: @RichardWardHair
Blow dry from: £25
Why we love it: After a trip to Glasshouse, you'll be a full convert to their eco-friendly haircare philosophy: all the products you'll find here, from shampoos and treatments to dyes, are as natural as possible, without compromising on results. Plus, what's not to like about an Instagram-friendly salon set up and an extensive menu of herbal teas?
Best for: Whether you're after an icy Scandi blonde or something a little more vibrant, Glasshouse is our new go-to for fresh, modern colour. We'd also recommend the nourishing quinoa protein treatments, which leave hair feeling soft for weeks afterwards.
Who to ask for: Senior stylist Mia gave new life to our reviewer's tired highlights.
Follow them on Instagram: @glasshousejournal
Blow dry from: £30
Who goes here: Model Neelam Gill and the Made in Chelsea crowd.
Why we love it: The salon is calm and oh so chic. We challenge you to turn off your phone while there.
Best for: Their one-of-a-kind Nashi Filler Therapy Treatment, from £65, works to plump the hair shaft from within, for thicker, healthier swish.
Who to ask for: Hiro Miyoshi himself. His wealth of knowledge blew our tiny minds. Plus his haircare line is excellent too.
Follow them on Instagram: @HiroMiyoshiHairandBeauty
Blow dry from: £35
Name: Larry King
Who goes here: Many of the most handsome men in the world. According to us. Think Poppy Delevingne, David Beckham and David Gandy. Plus lots of models too.
Why we love it: Its major décor – Risk stepping into the baby pink toilets not emerge for 15 mins or more - In aid of the perfect selfie we mean…
Best for: A brand new cut. Larry's hair cutting expertise is phenomenal.
Who to ask for: Larry or colourist Amy Fish. Her baby highlights are the best.
Follow them on Instagram: @LarryKingHair
Blow dry from… £45
Taylor Taylor London, Liberty
Name: Taylor Taylor London, Liberty
Who goes here: The A-list clientele are as diverse as Rachel Weisz, Sir Ian McKellan and Gisele.
Why we love it: Everything about Taylor Taylor is catered towards making your cut and blowdry feel like a pampering experience; from the individual antique mirrors to the endless supply of mimosas.
Best for: Colour. All four Taylor Taylor salons use pioneering olaplex technology and Davines organic products to ensure that the hair is left in the best condition possible after dying. Just one look at their Instagram shows you how successful they are in this area: we spent hours scrolling through trying to decide whose hue we wanted to channel the most...
Who to ask for: Natalia Nadolska. She somehow translates your vague descriptions of a hair colour you saw on Instagram into the perfect hue for you.
Follow them on Instagram: @taylor_taylor_london
Blow dry from: £35
Who goes here: A-listers like Sienna Miller and Keira Knightley. And a seriously long list of fashion and beauty editors too.
Why we love it: Founder, Luke Hersheson is a regular backstage at fashion weeks and brings his runway expertise straight to the salon.
Best for: A flawless fashion wave. Be sure to get a beauty treat while you are at it. There's everything from waxing, to IPL laser removal, to manicures.
Who to ask for: Nick Lathan (Luke's amazing right hand man) for a super chic blow dry.
Follow them on Instagram: @Hershesons
Blow dry from: £28
Percy & Reed
Who goes here: Actresses Diane Kruger, Anna Friel and Joely Richardson.
Why we love it: After opening their Great Portland Street salon in 2007, there then came a super cool East London branch in 2015. Perch on old school barber chairs, surrounded by exposed brick walls.
Best for: Their smartly named 'Makeup For Hair' colour menu features 'The Concealer' a root touch up for greys, 'The Bronzer', a wash of colour that gives your hair a sun-kissed glow and 'The Glow Dry' a gloss boosting blow dry, for lacklustre strands.
Who to ask for: Founders Adam Reed and Paul Percival float between salons, editorial shoots and red carpet events. Book them if you can - they are some of the nicest men in the biz.
Follow them on Instagram: @PercyandReed
Blow dry from: £30
Who goes here: The fashion cool crew, aka Alexa Chung and Rachel Weisz.
Why we love it: Its so relaxed it feels like you're getting your hair done in a seriously trendy sitting room.
Best for: A cool, shaggy cut.
Who to ask for: Roi - he picks up the clients that George can't quiet squeeze in. He's very handsome too!
Follow them on Instagram: @GeorgeNorthwood
Blow dry from: £35
Why we love it: It's speedy and the people watching is excellent.
Best for: A fabulous yet affordable finish. We recommend their Fade Out treatment for those who wish to grow out highlights.
Who to ask for: Cetera is a colour genius, while Katsun gives a great blow out.
Follow them on Instagram: @johnfreidasalons
Blow dry from: £60
Why we love it: Each service comes with a wellness ritual using your chosen aroma and a head, neck and shoulder massage. Lovely.
Best for: Its colour service menu is seriously extensive and has recently been expanded to include Thickening Highlights, Full-body Balayage and Transformational Tints.
Who to ask for: Luke Castillo for a catwalk-worthy blow-dry
Follow them on Instagram: @AvedaUK
Blow dry from: £37
Why we love it: Because they have a snack menu as long as our arm. Tuna mayo on crackers, anyone?
Best for: Styling. There are endless menus: Choose from endless blow dry styles, buns, ponies and even a feather bar.
Who to ask for: If you're after a colour change, Salvador in the Parsons Green salon will do just the job. For fresh cuts, ask for Jake at the Kings Road branch. Francesca in Parsons Green for a 'blushing blonde' makeover.
Follow them on Instagram: @harishair
Blow dry from: £30
Who goes here: The gorgeous actress Carey Mulligan when she's in town.
Why we love it: For the KeraStraight Intense Boost Treatment, from £25, ideal for smoothing and thickening, it totally transformed our at-home blow drying skills by miraculously cutting down drying time, while eliminating frizz.
Best for: A much speedier, less abrasive version of the Brazilian blow dry.
Who to ask for: Gianmarco, he's one of the few trained in giving the KeraStraight treatment.
Follow them on Instagram: @TrevorSorbieSalon
Blow dry from: £30
Why we love it: Their Scandinavian Blonde Service is everything - offering cool, clean, bright tones which moves away from the classic, golden blonde.
Best for: Giving your blonde a boost.
Who to ask for: Christel - the Swedish hair sensation has an artist's eye for colour. Craig is a great go-to when you can't book in with Christel, with a knack for clever hair contouring.
Follow them on Instagram: @stil.salon
Blow dry from: £35
Why we love it: When you walk into Bluetit, you can almost immediately tell that you're going to leave with a good hair cut. Why? There's just something about an aesthetically-pleasing space that always makes us instinctively trust the salon, and Bluetit is very easy on the eye. With a modern Scandi-esuqe feel, thanks to copper accents, wooden floors and rustic furniture, reading material from the likes of Heroine and 78-87 magazines, and a fridge stocked with beer and wine, there's a chilled out vibe that's perfect for settling any pre-haircut nerves. The salon uses Davines natural hair products, and can throw in a hair mask if your hair is damaged or dry, but the best part of the washing process is undoubtedly the little head massage, which is a rarity in many wash-and-go salons these days.
Who to ask for: Christoph, the salon's wunderkind
Follow them on Instagram: @bluetitlondon