Conscious Salon

Eco-friendly business ideas, new products, and issues relevant to "green-minded" salons.


Growing Green

As we become more aware of our health and environment, many of us are making small changes to "go green." Those changes don’t need to end when we walk into the salon. By taking small steps, we can improve our work environment as we "grow" green.

From the products they use to the buildings where they work, salon owners across the country are making incremental changes that help the earth and improve their work environment. The idea of making the salon a green environment may seem overwhelming, even cost-prohibitive. However, every little bit counts. "Eventually, if you take enough steps, you make a difference," says salon owner Robbie Schaeffer. Think less about going green, which can sound like a life-altering change, and instead think about growing green: taking a series of small steps toward a goal, not a final destination. It might help to think in terms of "levels" of growth. For example: immediate, continual, progressive, and drastic.


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Level One: Immediate

Look around the salon. What could be changed immediately without spending any money? "Eco-friendly and sanitation go hand-in-hand," says Michelle Vanderburg, owner of Polished Nail Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz. Let’s start with smells. "One of our basic products is also the biggest offender," says Vanderburg. If your salon smells strongly of nail products like acrylic or polish remover, you can take three easy steps to reduce the smell and make the salon a more pleasing environment. Place used cotton or paper in an air-tight bag before throwing it away, change the garbage in the salon every night so odors don’t linger, and cover all dispenser pumps in a sealed container when you leave work for the night. Other quick and immediate changes include keeping the salon clean, sanitizing work stations, countertops, and the bathroom, and bringing in fresh air whenever possible. A cleaner environment is a greener environment. 

<p>Michelle Vanderburg, owner of Polished Nail Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz., chose a European Aircare station to reduce the fumes and dust in the salon. The station keeps the smell and dust to a minimum, which allows her to offer gel and acrylic services without turning away her natural nail clients.</p>

Level Two: Continual

Salons can make a large impact over time through consistent, small choices that help the salon grow green with every purchase. Choose energy-efficient light bulbs, natural cleaning supplies and hand soaps, and recycled toilet paper or paper towels. No need to clean out your shelves and throw away the old; simply replace products with more eco-friendly choices as you run out, so the cost can be absorbed more easily. Choose towels made of organic cotton or bamboo, replacing one towel at a time until all your towels are pesticide-free. Many salons already opt for polishes that are "three-free" (of DBP, formaldehyde, and toluene), but alternate choices exist for products beyond polish, such as scrubs, lotions, and even polish remover. Look at where you accumulate garbage and see if waste can be reduced. For example, instead of serving drinks from a Styrofoam cup, offer clients mugs that can be washed and reused. 

<p>Christine and Eduard Joseph, owners of Nailbar in Midtown Miami, opted to use concrete for their flooring and non-toxic paint for their walls and displays. Furniture is made from recycled wood, so the salon can boast that whatever a client touches in the salon is natural and toxic-free. The salon offers gel enhancements, but not acrylic.</p>

Level Three: Progressive

The last two levels come with a bigger financial investment. Not all options are possible for everyone, but for those with the opportunity, eco-friendly choices can be made for furniture, wall coverings, and even the structure of the building. Level three focuses on items that are moveable or changeable and not part of the actual building. Choose desks and furniture made of natural products, such as bamboo. Other materials to consider include recycled wood, stone, glass, concrete, or rock. Also to consider when choosing furniture is how the fumes and dust will be ventilated. If possible, choose flooring and wall coverings that are natural and non-toxic.

Level Four: Drastic

The highest level of growing green, as it pertains to a building, is to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified. This means the entire structure complies with green building standards, including paint, air quality, trash disposal, and many other factors. An example is ROB|B salon in Studio City, Calif. "We are extreme," says Robbie Schaeffer. "We went really crazy." Schaeffer’s salon is LEED-certified at the gold level. He built the salon from the ground up, careful to comply with rigorous, eco-friendly standards. As an OPI concept salon, ROB|B offers clients the full range of OPI products, including gels and acrylics. "OPI is a chemical company," says Schaeffer. "But we can give back through our building."

Building a LEED-certified building costs nearly 30% more than a traditional building, but Schaeffer says the initial investment is worth it for the long-term gain. Working in a certified green building means the air quality must meet certain standards. To accomplish this, Schaeffer has an exhaust behind each work station that vents fumes to the outside and brings fresh air into the salon. Floors, walls, desks, and shelving are made of natural, sustainable materials, and lots of natural light comes into the salon through the skylights. All aspects of the salon’s footprint are considered, and to help further reduce its impact, Schaeffer encourages employees to bike or take public transportation to work. "Many salon owners won’t be able to make changes like this," says Schaeffer. "But smaller steps do make a difference."

<p>Ragan.</p>Making the Right Choices

As you take steps to grow green, make a point to educate clients about the choices you’re making in the salon to protect techs, clients, and the earth. Clients will appreciate knowing about your commitment, and you’ll grow your business by attracting people who share your value of growing green.

Randi Ragan, owner of GreenBliss EcoSpa, is considered a green-living expert. Ragan says the chemical and beauty industries are so intertwined that often women are put in a position of having to choose between health and beauty. However, despite this tension, all salon owners can make eco-conscious choices that grow the salon atmosphere toward a greener environment. Below are some ideas of where to begin:

Lighting: Choose energy-efficient bulbs. LED bulbs are available now that offer beautiful lighting and use less energy than traditional bulbs.

Cleaning: What are you using to clean your salon? Choose a non-toxic cleaning agent. Ragan suggests salon owners buy an industrial-sized container of a cleaner that can clean the whole salon to reduce the waste (and save on cost) of smaller containers. Sometimes it’s difficult to comply with green standards because the law requires us to use chemicals that are toxic, for example, those used to clean implements. However, when you can, choose natural options for cleaning solutions and soaps.


Lotions/polishes: Look at the ingredients in your hand lotions, scrubs, and soaking solutions. Look for plant-based products with no fragrance, dye, or parabens. They cost more but go further because they aren’t pumped with filler. Some of Ragan’s favorite products come from Shea Terra Organics.

Remover: Some polishes go beyond being three-free. Zoya polishes, for example, have removed camphor and are vegan. Ragan recommends The Natural Miracle Nail Polish Remover from Tate’s. "I used to use a soy-based remover, but it just took too long to remove the polish," says Ragan.

Paper/linens: Choose unbleached paper towels and toilet paper made from recycled paper. Towels should be organic cotton or bamboo. Launder with a detergent that is environmentally safe.

Recycle whenever possible.

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