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Can A Diehard Bottle Blonde Embrace Eco-Friendly Hair Colour?

© Glasshouse

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.

© Glasshouse

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...