A salon without scents -- awesome

A hair salon which doesn’t smell like chemicals or perfume. A salon which uses only less toxic products. It could be wishful thinking, but its real. Ashley Marie Smith, an Edmonton hairdresser has been running DTox, North America’s first perfume and toxic free salon for 9 years. Its been such a success that the salon’s four employees, who provide a full range of services, have all the customers they can handle.

Ashley made the change to less toxic products after 25 years in the hairdressing business. Like so many hairdressers, she became sick from the products she used every day. “My doctor said she would fire me as a patient if I didn’t quit hairdressing,” Ashley recalled. “She was sure my migraines and asthma came from my exposures at work.”

But Ashley didn’t want to quit the work she loved. She developed a list of ingredients which were associated with health problems. Her list including synthetic fragrances, sodium laurel sulfate, propylene paraben, quaternium, DMDM Hydantoin, thioglycolic and ammonium hydroxide and others .

“Basically, I did a lot of research and took a list of ingredients and said ‘no more.’” After searching the world for toxic-free products, Ashley found everything from hair dyes and highlighting products, to shampoos and conditioners that are much safer to use and work just as well as the products that are laced with debilitating and carcinogenic chemicals.

The migraines, nausea and asthma Ashley suffered through working in salons have disappeared.

“She really cares about us,” raves 22-year-old Danielle, a young stylist who joined Ashley’s team. “I know now that not everything out there is safe, just because it’s there.” After just two years in the industry, Danielle’s hands were in terrible shape. The young newlywed’s fingers were so swollen and cracked, she had given up hope of ever wearing her wedding rings again. “The stinging was like lemon juice in a paper cut,” she winces. “It looked like I had a severe burn, like I’d taken a curling iron to them.”

All of the symptoms have vanished since she started working in Ashley’s salon. “I just hope other salon owners will open their eyes to their environment and realize they can make a change that will result in employees who are healthier and more productive.”

Customers love the idea of having their hair washed and coloured with safe products. Many of Ashley’s clients have suffered for years with severe allergies. To them, the perfume-free, less toxic salon is an oasis – a place where they can enjoy the luxury of being pampered, knowing their health will remain intact. “They walk in here in tears after years of not being able to go to salons and say thank you for creating this place,” Ashley reports.

Hairdressing is a high risk profession. The Underwriters Association, which categorizes professions for insurance purposes, gives hairdressing a AAA rating, the same rating they give sky divers. Marion Edgar, a supervisor at Alberta’s Workers Compensation Board has seen her share of devastated stylists who have been forced out of the industry because of dermatitis and allergies to products. “They come to us with chronic respiratory illnesses like asthma, and hands so cracked and bleeding that they're painful just to look at," says Edgar. “It’s well-known throughout this industry that these illnesses are a problem.”

A British study compared rates of asthma before hairdressers began their training and after. They found a twenty-six percent increase in asthma after the training period, before hairdressers even began to work at their profession full time. In Nova Scotia, hairdressing salons are not required to have Worker’s Compensation coverage. Shops may voluntarily opt in, although none have.

Now that Ashley has shown that a perfume and toxic free salon can be a success, she has bigger goals. She wants to see sweeping change in the entire industry, and she’s planning to put her time and energy into making these changes happen. She wants to see mandatory occupational health and safety information in all cosmetology training courses. “People need to be taught how to look for a safe workplace, and how to protect themselves against common occupational problems, like repetitive motion injury, contact dermatitis and respiratory illnesses.” She also wants governments to require hair salons to be WHIMS compliant - to provide all employees with information on the hazardous ingredients in the products they use.

Ashley would love to see salons like hers everywhere, and wants to do her part to make this happen. She is happy to share what she has learned about less toxic products with any professional hairdresser who wants to create a tox-free salon. “My goal is to educate people to read labels and stop using, buying and selling products that are making all of us sick,” she says. “Everybody has an opportunity to make a difference. This is mine.”

DTox Salon’s website is at www.dtox.ca. Ashley can be contacted by email at ashley@dtox.ca.

With contribution by Wendy Theberge, Workers Compensation Board, Alberta.