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The emergence of Holistic Hair Salons

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of sitting down with Gemma Innes an entrepreneur, a mum and one of Perth’s few hairdressing salons providing a holistic low-tox approach to her hairdressing services. We talked all things hair, low-tox ingredients and trendy and taboo topics. Here is our interview with her below…


With the right products I know I make a positive difference in the experiences of my clients. My big thing is to make sure that ultimately they have a pleasurable experience not just with the results of their hair but also whilst they sit in my chair. They have shared with me that they no longer get headaches, their scalp doesn’t burn or feel irritated, no harsh smells or chest tightness that you sometimes get when we are using mainstream colours. They notice straight away when they step in my salon that it doesn’t smell like harsh chemicals, it smells fresh and nice like essential oils.

I also take a holistic view in the service I provide by looking at their lifestyle as well as what they would like to achieve with their visit to my salon. Sometimes I have to do cleansing shampoos to remove buildup, or if they’ve been on any kind of medication, so I take their whole body into account as well as their lifestyle.

Venus - What are the services of your holistic salon? Can you offer what a mainstream salon can offer?

Gemma - Yes I definitely can do anything a mainstream salon can do! I can still achieve amazing blondes, great grey coverage, everything that everyone thinks you cant achieve, you can achieve with low-tox products.

I also find my blondes comment on how much healthier their hair is because I use quite low volume peroxides which is a slower process but it is so much more delicate on the hair- so my process is different too. Also my selection of shampoos and conditioners which are silicone free are helping their toners last longer, and their blondes stay blonde for longer. Silicones I find wreak havoc on blondes. If your product is leaving silicon on the hair shaft then I find that the toners wash out a lot quicker. I’ve also had a few clients come to me really yellow and to the point where they’ve had enough and wanting to go back dark because I cant stop this blonde from going yellow.  My blonde clients notice their blondes lasting longer, the toners are holding and when they are due for their colours their blonde is still looking fresh. And that’s great to be able to achieve that for them.

Venus - What made you move toward offering a natural hair salon for your clients?

Gemma - It was initially a personal reason that sparked it. I had a lot of health issues when I was in mainstream hairdressing, being exposed to those chemicals on an everyday basis meant I had constant migranes, skin irritations, massive flare ups of eczema. My body had just gone to a toxic overload level.

When I came out of the industry to have my first son and once I noticed that all these conditions had started clearing up, slowly I also started paying more attention and understanding foods & toxins. I also started to see differences in my skin once I had stopped using those products which had been shown to cause skin irritations.

Through research I learned there were safer alternatives, so I thought I’m not getting back into that again! So then I hunted… literally for a colour system, because I had been in touch with companies and some weren’t very giving on their information and if they did provide the info, when I dug further I found out that they had very high doses of the ingredients they replaced with like MEA (monoethanolamine) instead of Ammonia. Eventually I came across Natulique and their rep was the only one who actually gave me a Material Safety data sheet and the ingredients list.


Venus - That is surprising because also when we approach our suppliers, trying to find information about specifics of the ingredients and MSDSs they give us very generic answers because they think we’re not going to bother looking further. But when we dig further and ask more specific questions then their tone changes and they say ‘ok sure I’ll have to refer you to our cosmetic chemist’

Gemma - Yeh that’s convenient isn’t it! Unfortunately people don’t ask. People just go off face value and say ‘oh that’s good’. It’s the same with the ‘Vegan’ word, people are under the assumption that if its vegan that must mean its safe, but it contains 20 toxic ingredients.

I also brought in Everescents because I use that personally myself and coming from using products from products like Redkens I needed something that would really perform. I did try Weleda and Accure but found that it wasn’t enough for my hair personally. I have clients who use Accure and love it but for a hairdresser fried blonde hair it wasn’t enough! We hairdressers have the need at one point or another to take our hair to the extreme so that we can test boundaries and know what it means and also what to do for it!


Venus - What are some of the common misconceptions about going low-tox with hair products?

Gemma - When products mention active ingredients people think those are the only ingredients in that whole entire bottle. That it only has 4 ingredients, well no it has more ingredients not just the actives. Some people don’t even look at the back of the bottle. But I find my clients do look, because they are in that frame of mind of being low-tox and want to know what they are putting on their scalp & hair.


Venus – Another thing that is quite trendy is the ‘FREE from this and that…’

Gemma – Yeh people see all the crosses and think ‘oh good, it has none of that, none of that..etc’ so it must be good for me. And yet it usually contains some of the most toxic ingredients in there.

 Venus – My personal favourite of these is when I see ‘SULFATE FREE’ on styling products. Then you think but its styling product … Why would there be a detergent in a styling product?

Gemma – Yeh, why would it have a sulfate in there?! [laughing] This happens all the time! Everyone is hopping on the bandwagon of sulfate free but they aren’t really that toxic, they might be a little harsh.

Venus – What we try and do with our products is yes ok we don’t use x, y and z but we try and focus on what it does, the quality of the finish and what is in it. Because it’s the ingredients that are in it that do the job not what is missing. But also we think that by doing that you start to be trendy for a while…and then what? We want to deliver great natural results not be trendy for a while!

My next question for you…We've heard of some hairdressers say their bleach / hair dyes products are ammonia free. Isn't a 'base/alkaline' ingredient still needed to lift cuticles to then impart colour? Wouldn't any alternatives still be quite alkaline anyway? Is this just hype?


Gemma - Yes it is hype! It still has to contain something to help lift  colour. Currently they use MEA (Monoethanolamine) to replace the Ammonia. So for example in terms of toxicity; lets say MEA is 9 out of 10 and Ammonia is a 10 out of 10. MEA and ammonia are pretty much the same when it comes to toxicity. I chose my colour from Natulique due to the MEA being as low as 1.5% concentration. Whilst other leading organic brands that don’t use ammonia, instead use as high as 10% MEA in their product. So for me it’s not just about the ingredient used but the dosage being used is just as important.


Also in hair colours the most dangerous ingredients are actually the PPD (Paraphenylenediamine) or PTD (p-phenyldiamine) and these are the colour molecules. So it is needed if you want the colour for your hair. PPD is from coal tar that can be found in hair colours, coloured shampoos, hair bleach and hair dye to give a red or violet colour. You can even find this in some “natural” hennas.

A lot of companies say they are PPD free and the replacement they use; is PTD but it has along the same toxicity as PPD. Once again I chose Natulique because it contains under 1% PPD whereas other leading organic brands have up to 6%%PPD. Natulique also offers a PPD FREE range but I find it is not enough to cover 100% of greys.

Venus - What's your experience and opinion with ACV rinses. They’re popular at the moment. Can it replace hair conditioners?

Gemma – No definitely cannot replace conditioners. Especially if you colour your hair, or dry out your hair with heat styling etc. A shampoo’s job is to open the cuticle and pull out the dirt and the conditioner is there to put back in your hair everything that is lacking from exposture to sun, swimming, colouring by moisturising and sealing the cuticle to protect it. That is how you achieve lovely silky, shiny hair. And apple cider vinegar cannot really do all of this for you.

I do actually use it here as an after colour service, but just white vinegar because apple cider vinegar can stain blonde hair! I mix it with essential oils and spray all over to calm the hair & scalp and help neutralize the alkalinity caused by colouring. So it is good in that regard and good to do every now and then, but its got nothing on conditioner!

Venus - Do you use raw Henna or henna based rinses and colours? Why / why not?

Gemma – I do have some clients who use henna and its completely chemical free …BUT the problem is you have to leave it on for hours to deposit any colour and once its in its not coming out, it just does not shift. So if you’re thinking about being one colour and not thinking about changing it, use it. Otherwise you have to wait till it grows out. I did have one client who only ever dyed her hair with henna and when we went to lift the colour, her natural loots lifted really well but where the henna started, there was this bright almost fluoro orange! So not much you can do there.


Venus - Do you promote DIY remedies? Are they a good idea?

Gemma – I actually do recommend home treatments for my clients. I do have a few recipes which I do for myself and recommend to my clients with egg, honey and olive oil, castor oil etc.. But you do have to be careful about dosage, for example eggs have a lot of protein so too much can harden the hair!

I also have raw ingredients & oils in my salon which I add on top of treatments & conditioners to really amplify the effect depending on their hair type/thickness, lifestyle and what they need. It’s a really good way to personalize my treatments for my clients.

Venus - Are you a fan of overnight repair masques?

Gemma – Yes I love them! They’re great especially if you are really busy, you just leave in overnight and rinse out when you shower the next morning. But you still need to know little bit about what your hair needs, oils, protein etc. The coconut oil bandwagon is another one I don’t get. It can be good in small doses as it can actually build up in hair. I had one client who used it religiously and she had this waxy slippery feel to it and I couldn’t lift her hair properly so had to do a few clarifying washes before the lift. Also we noticed that her colour wasn’t lasting as long so I asked her to reduce the usage.

Venus – Coconut oil is quite protein rich and it isn’t suitable for all hair types so for example if you have already thick hair it will make it feel dry because you overload it with protein. Sometimes it feels as though you can’t say anything about Coconut oil because people will crucify you.

Gemma – That’s so true! When I do recommend they reduce or replace coconut oil, they are so surprised ‘What do you mean…but I love my coconut oil!’ Yes but your hair doesn’t seem to be agreeing with you!


Venus - What are some of your favourite go-to natural product types you would recommend to clients?

Gemma – Probably my personal favourite because I use it, is the Everescent Berry Blonde shampoo and conditioner because it has no toxic dyes and is really gentle. You can use it pretty much every time you wash. Also I always recommend a leave-in moisturizer because just like our face and skin our hair does need a little bit of extra moisture especially before or after blow drying. You wouldn’t iron a silk shirt without putting something on it.

Venus - Are there any online tools or websites you can recommend so that clients can kick start their low-tox hair journey?

Gemma – Through my website I’ve started offering regular blog posts about going toward low-tox haircare 

Venus – And finally what would you like to see more of in the low-tox hair community? Or hair community in general?

Gemma - I’m a bit of a positive polly and I do believe in ‘you get what you put out into the universe’. And I feel that the industry can be quite cut-throat sometimes and it does create a bit of a toxic vibe around it. And I can understand why some people don’t like going to go to a typical salon these days. Like when you walk up to a salon and there are all these girls gathered round the front desk just staring at you in a judgemental way, no one wants to be walking up to that. That’s one of my pet hates when I was managing salons. Its like a knitting circle! And whilst working for salons you have to dress and be a certain way, always with makeup on etc.. So the whole industry needs to change. Ultimately your vibe attracts your tribe.



MEA:  is an odourless alkaline substance which helps lift the hair’s cuticles so that your hair is ready to accept the hair dye being applied in the next step. It is less harsh than Ammonia and doesn’t have an odour.


PPD : Para-phenylenediamine is typically used in permanent oxidative hair colorants and is needed for almost all shades. It is an effective ingredient in helping to achieve permanent long-lasting hair colour that provides a natural look. Contact allergy to PPD can manifest as acute, subacute, or chronic dermatitis[1] PPD exposure can present itself as an initial topical sensitivity which may progress into delayed hypersensitivity, contact dermatitis on or around the neck, chest or arms and in rare cases eyelid and facial inflammation/infection and blister formation.



[1]  ‘Para-phenylenediamine allergy: current perspectives on diagnosis and management’, published 2017 Jan 18, Krishna Sumanth Mukkanna; Dermatology Department, Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, Swansea, Natalie M Stone;Dermatology Department, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Newport, John R Ingram; Division of Infection and Immunity, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK