I have difficult hair.
After two years of cue-ball baldness, the dark curls started growing with a vengeance on my toddler head. I screamed when my mom tried to brush the gnarly nest, even after we'd doused it with "No More Tangles" spray. I quit Brownies because my five-year-old fellow girl scouts told me I looked like a boy.
For years I saw my hair as the main obstacle between me and a normal social life: My unruly locks laughed in the face of crimping irons and made the "carefree" Jennifer Aniston layer cut look like a pagoda. After spending the entirety of middle school shellacking the curls flat to my head with uber-powerful (and pungent) styling gel, a friend finally broke the news that people referred to me as "the girl whose hair smells weird."
So maybe it was an outcry against cruel society when I decided at 18 that "natural" was my new strategy. "Natural," in this sense, meant "chaos." I cut my hair myself (so what if the back was uneven? I wasn't looking at it), and nurtured three very half-hearted dreadlocks on the right side. When all else failed, I tried to go blond.
So it was nothing short of an omen when I stumbled across the Aveda Institute in Lincoln Park, and subsequently discovered that "natural," when properly interpreted, means "lovely." Their staff is sympathetic, patient and capable, their planet-friendly products are divine nectar for the hair and skin, and the low, low price tag of student hairdressers and cosmeticians means that the treatments are not indulgences to simply lust over...they're something to schedule immediately.
The pinch? The school takes its last appointments at 4:30 on weekdays, so nine-to-fivers need to wait in line for the limited Saturday openings. I waited six weeks, and when the day finally came, I bemoaned my decision to trek to Clark and Diversey at 8:30 a.m. But the staff welcomed me cheerfully with organic tea, and I was soon too engrossed in color samples to maintain my angst.
After scrutinizing my roots, an instructor on the floor informed me that, "other people pay thousands for that color, you know," and advised the student colorist to return me to a bottled version of my natural hue. While I waited for the dye to soak in (my malnourished tresses drank up no less than three applications), the hairdresser treated me to a stress-relieving hand massage. The advice was dead-on: The earthy color made even my skin look healthier. A trim and a blow-dry later, I was headed out the door to the tune of $44 (haircuts cost $14).
The sweetest news, however, was what the plant-based dye and conditioner did to soften up my hair, an effect that lasted weeks. Given my very personal relationship with the ornery stuff that grows on my head, the decision to fork over the few-bucks difference between chemical products that contaminate and guilt-free natural goodies that seem to work wonders has been a no-brainer.
Reasons to green your hair products:
In all seriousness, there are tons of reasons beyond hand massages and cheap haircuts to make the switch to natural hair products. Some reasons why I'm phasing out my current collection:
Parabens, which are ingredients in most conventional shampoos (check labels for methyl, propyl or butyl), interfere with natural hormone production, are likely carcinogenic, and may even contribute to weight gain. Your skin absorbs chemicals from your shampoo, including isopropyl alcohol (which dries out the skin) and mineral oil (a petroleum by-product that clogs pores). The drain deposits harmful ingredients contained in conventional products directly into the water system, exposing even people who are doing their best to avoid them. Going natural helps your neighbors (and the fishies and duckies). It's more affordable than you think. Aveda is a great company (even the wooden fixtures they use to display their products are eco-responsible!), but there are tons of choices out there like Kiss My Face, Tom's of Maine, Burt's Bees, and house brands at Whole Foods, Wild Oats and Trader Joe's that offer products no more expensive than your normal regimen. Forgo label-reading altogether by making your own natural hair cleanse. This woman says the baking-soda and vinegar wash gave her natural bounce and style and weaned her off gels and other products.
After four greener-than-average college years as a co-op dweller-turned-aspiring-permaculturist, Julia Steinberger finds it hard not to feel guilty about her one-bedroom apartment, daily commute and indulgence in the occasional dollar burger. She'd like to dream that she could live in a tent/treehouse/rabbit hole, but the truth is, she'd rather stay in the city while doing her best to leave a lighter footprint on the earth. You can contact her here.