After ten years of being a hairdresser, my skin started to fall apart. Contact dermatitis, which I discovered three months after the initial red rash showed up, was due to perm solution and hair gel. My hands cracked, bled and itched like hell. Steroidal cream, antibiotics, latex gloves... all proved useless. A client and naturopathic student at the time saved my career by advising that the problem must be due to something I was using daily. Through a process of elimination, I discovered the culprits were the perm solution and gel that I stopped using at worldSALON in1993. Twenty plus years later, worldSALON is known as a leader in sustainable, healthy practices in the salon and small business sector. Our WORLD Hair and Skin personal care line was borne of this desire to work with and promote healthier products, and now the line is selling in NYC as well as throughout Canada.
As an educational exercise, and part of our Halloween 2012 festivities at worldSALON, I got dreadlock extensions. I have always encouraged openness, experimentation and having fun with hair, so it was time to go big or go home. I was going to be a human litmus test for toxic chemicals, since the synthetic dreads were going to be attached with nail glue and I half suspected that it was only a matter of time before my head would turn into a giant brown watermelon. A year and a half later and no skin irritations, some of the original dreads are still attached and the ones that have fallen out, I have been replacing with human hair and no glue. My own dreads are 5 inches long and in another year, I could be extension free.
Strangely, hairspray, cologne, perfume or any products that are heavily scented still get my gag reflex going instantly and can cause my skin to break out.
This has led me to the idea of Personal Ecology. I believe that the sensitivities we develop are specific and in many cases due to overexposure. In my case, all the fragrance in salon products over the years have made me intolerant of those sets of chemicals - specifically phthalates. Phthalates were banned in children's products in 2011 in Canada, but are still used widely in personal care to enhance fragrance. A few years ago, however, a fragrance free arnica cream that I used for sore IT bands from running also made me break out in hives all over my legs. Just because products are "all natural" or "organic" doesn't mean that they won't have adverse effects on certain individuals.
With the WORLD Hair and Skin line, I have really appreciated being a small and nimble company. Since launching the line in 2001, we have reformulated our ingredient profile 4 times, to eliminate things discovered to be toxic or unsustainable. Most recently, we eliminated all palm oil derivatives, hydrolyzed wheat protein and all siloxanes. Now we can boast the line is free from parabens, SLS, fragrance, colour, phthalates, palm oil, gluten, and silicone and is also biodegradable. The synthetic ingredients that remain are effective and safe and allow our line to perform better than many brands in the marketplace. Science has created many things, derived from natural organic compounds, that have worked for decades and we all have to find the balance of natural / derived ingredients that work for us.
We should always search out healthy food and products as much as possible, but the idea of all synthetics being bad for us I think is ill informed. We all have a Personal Ecology that is specific - due to our exposure history and DNA. This biological tapestry is also evolving as we age and a most important feature for staying healthy is learning to tune into our bodies changing needs. Being disciplined mentally and physically will keep us nimble and strong, but a debauched evening every now and then is also good for the soul.
I am proud to be a Cabinet Member on Environmental Defence's Just Beautiful Campaign. To support our work bringing healthier products into Canadian homes please visit http://environmentaldefence.ca/educate-yourself/just-beautiful-pledge/ .
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