Concord salon proves that green can be gorgeous

Last modified: Thursday, April 19, 2012
If you didn’t know what was unusual about Earthly Roots Hair Studio, if you were to just walk in off the street, you might not notice what’s missing at first. You’d be too busy making acquaintance with Bo, the 4-year-old Bull Mastiff who hangs out at the salon with owner Moira Brouillard, or admiring the original artwork from local artists for sale on the walls, or checking out the irresistible little make-your-own perfume counter near the rack of unconventional salon reading material.

But at some point, possibly while you were sniffing the patchouli and ylang ylang essential oils and realizing you could actually smell them, certainly by the time Brouillard had you in her chair and began gently educating you on the beauty industry, it would hit you: Hey this place doesn’t reek like a normal salon. It doesn’t smell like a meth lab sitting in the middle of a chicken farm that’s downwind of a paper mill. Aaaaaaaaaah.

Brouillard, a lovely red head with an enviable sense of fashion, opened Earthly Roots about a year ago as a way to escape the nefarious chemicals that saturate conventional beauty routines. A longtime stylist who had worked in Atlanta and Concord, she at first expunged harsh chemicals from her life as a way to take better care of herself and the environment.

“When I stopped using those things, I became more sensitive and had a hard time being around them,” Brouillard said. She also began noticing how many of her clients had sensitivity issues. “I would have to rush them to the sink because the ammonia was burning their scalp,” she said.

Brouillard began researching the beauty industry and seeking out products that didn’t contain potentially harmful chemicals. There was little she could do to change the practices at the Concord salon where she was working at the time, so Brouillard decided to strike out on her own, opening Earthly Roots in a small upstairs office in the Concord Business Center on Hall Street.

Here, clients can choose from a menu of services that includes haircuts, highlights, all-over color treatment and even perms at prices that are similar to regular salons. You can also try henna highlights or get a henna tattoo from a tattoo artist who contracts with Brouillard. What you can’t get here is a dousing of ammonia, formaldehyde, petroleum-derived products or other toxic chemicals.

“It’s just unbelievable the things we put on our bodies,” said Brouillard, who tests and researches all the products she carries. Luckily, awareness about the harmfulness of traditional beauty products is on the rise, and numerous manufacturers have responded with organic and all-natural products.

Still, you have to be a savvy consumer, Brouillard said, because many companies will try to dupe you with false claims. This is another benefit of patronizing Brouillard’s salon: While she’s doing your hair or giving you a complimentary hand massage as your color sets, she’ll share what she’s learned about beauty products and their effects on human beings and the environment. She’ll tell you the five most common toxic chemicals to avoid in your beauty routine, and she’ll let you in on cheap, easy things you can do for healthier hair and skin (she swears a spray bottle of vinegar and water will transform your hair and scalp).

Brouillard considers education to be a key component of her business as well as her mission. She recently did a presentation at the Manchester School of Technology, where she attended high school, and is planning for students from St. Paul’s School to visit the salon and learn about greening their beauty routines.

Brouillard is also plugged into the local green movement and tries to carry as many local beauty products as she can, including Sukesha shampoo and conditioner, which is made in Manchester; and mineral make-up from a Maine-based company. She’ll tell you where you can get holistic treatment for your pet, an all-natural manicure or even a Mayan abdominal massage.

Of course, the big question clients have is how well this all-natural stuff actually works. I submitted to an ammonia-free color treatment to find out for myself.

Much like my battle against gray hair, my personal battle against harsh chemicals has varied in tactic and degree of ferocity over the years, depending on what enlightening article I may have just read or how flush with cash I was feeling. I’ve tried various “all-natural” shampoos and conditioners, from the pricey, Parisian formulas pushed on me at the salon to the grocery store varieties that tend to leave my hair feeling like my kids’ Barbie dolls’ after they’ve spent an hour in the Barbie Glam Pool. Of late I’ve been covering my gray myself with an all-natural product I buy at the co-op.

Brouillard hooked me up with a rich brown permanent color made by Mastey de Paris. It went on much like regular hair dyes, but without the accompanying odor and stinging feeling on my scalp. She washed it out with Sukesha shampoo and conditioner, blow dried it and then dry-cut it: Brouillard specializes in dry cutting, which she says is more of an art than wet cutting. A persuasive salesperson, she also sent me home with some make-your-own perfume, which makes me feel slightly exotic even in my Target fashions, and a bottle of make-your-own shampoo, a combination of Dr. Bronner’s castile soap and essential oils.

I took her advice and replaced my conditioner with a spray bottle of half vinegar/half water, and a few days in I’ve got to say I’m liking my ’do. The color seems a bit richer than what I’d been using, and I’m hoping that using all natural products to wash it will keep it looking good longer. It feels shiny and looks less frizzy than usual, and I really love how by the end of the day my natural oils have lent it additional shine and body.

I know what’s missing – parabens and sulfates and probably some propylene glycol – and I’m not missing them at all.