Every time you wash your hair, you may be slowly killing yourself.
Every time your hair is coloured or you apply lipstick or smother lotion on your body, you may be slowly killing yourself.
That’s why Shari McIntosh has moved to organic-based products, ridding her hair and body salon Head to Toe of cancer-causing chemicals.
“I couldn’t sell nail polish with formaldehyde to a pregnant woman anymore,” said McIntosh, who has been a co-owner of the salon she shares with her sister, Staci Kindervater, since 1998.
“You get a really guilty conscience.”
McIntosh began researching cosmetic chemicals last year. As a result, she has slowly phased out her old products.
Her interest began with the book Not Just a Pretty Face: The Ugly Side of the Cosmetics Industry.
“Once I started reading, I got a freaked out about what we put on our bodies,” said McIntosh.
Concerned about her clients, employees and herself, she started looking for alternatives to the multi-billion-dollar cosmetics industry, which relies on toxic substances.
Instead, she’s switched to product lines with lead-free lipstick and mascara and those that lack toxins, like sulphate, toluene, dibutyl phthalate, formaldehyde and parabens, which some studies have linked to cancer.
Parabens, used to increase the shelf-life of products, are commonplace and have led to scientific debates about how dangerous they are.
The average woman uses 12 cosmetic products per day. The average man uses six.
Picking and choosing what clean cosmetics to use wasn’t an option — it had to be 100 per cent or the change wouldn’t be effective, said McIntosh.
“We’re almost there,” she said.
Make-up products are 100 per cent vegan and paraben-free, and the nail polish, skin-care and body-care lines are paraben-free. Products are all third-party certified organic.
The store is composting hair and has even exchanged its plastic bags for cotton for the clients who take products home.
Nervous at first, McIntosh was reluctant to change her entire product line.
Rejecting the $35-billion cosmetic industry isn’t an effortless path, and people are hesitant to drop long-used brands, she said.
“Some people feel afraid to change, so we made the change for them,” said McIntosh.
“There are people who could care less if their lipstick causes cancer if the colour looks good.
“In this industry, people really look up to their stylist of their esthetician and look to them for advice, and I felt we could influence people enough to make them understand they should be making a change.”
But it’s not just customers who benefit from cleaner cosmetics; hair stylists and estheticians take in a lot of chemicals everyday.
Friends left their jobs because of allergic reactions to the cosmetics chemicals, said Tony Siprani, who works at Head to Toe.
“A lot of people have grown allergies and had to leave the industry completely because of it,” he said.
People are stuck in their routines, so educating the general consumer is a priority, said Kindervater.
New kinds of greener shampoo might not lather as well as usual brands, she said.
“If the shampoo doesn’t soap up, people think it’s not working and give up, so it’s important to keep people informed,” she added.
But green is in and people are more willing now than ever before to embrace the green-vegan-chem-free philosophy, said McIntosh.
“Whitehorse as a city is making a change,” she said.
The nascent trend in green cosmetics complements the growing interest in organic food, but it’s still early for a large shift in consumer habits, said McIntosh.
“Some people are so careful with the food they put in their bodies, yet they put a whole slew of toxic product on their bodies,” she said.
Europe has banned the use of 1,100 cosmetic chemicals that are known to or suspected of causing cancer or birth defects and there is a push in North American for similar legislation, but it’s met with resistance from current administrations.
The United States has banned such 10 ingredients.
“To change the whole line you’ve using for 12 years and invest in an unknown venture is intimidating,” said McIntosh.
Products without the formaldehyde and parabens spoil more quickly than with those with the chemicals — some people keep hand lotion under the sink for years — so bringing in the new brands is a risky venture, said McIntosh.
“The stuff that doesn’t sell is thrown out,” she said.
But the response has been encouraging, despite a slight increase in price.
“It’s been flying,” she said. “People are cleaning out their bathroom and changing their entire stock.”
McIntosh’s move may seem small in the large, stubborn cosmetic industry, but the almighty dollar speaks loudest and if people start spending differently, a tipping point will be reached where on greener products are more common.
“Even a few years ago, this (green trend) wasn’t even a thought in the industry,” said Siprani.
The industry is slowly reacting to the increased customer interest.
“With it being trendy, more people get on board and more change happens,” said McIntosh.