Hairdressers must do more to protect the environment by going ‘green’ and educating clients to be eco-friendly, say researchers from the University of Southampton Business School.

Dr Denise Baden is carrying out an ongoing study funded by the ESRC highlighting how hairdressers can spread the word about sustainable practices. Dr Baden and her colleagues have developed a carbon footprint calculator which demonstrates the effect of hair-care routines on the environment.

It shows that: 

  • a daily hairwash with two shampoos plus rinse-out conditioner creates a weekly carbon footprint of 9kg. This is based on the hot water running for ten minutes.  
  • a twice-weekly hairwash with just one shampoo plus leave-in conditioner equals a 1kg weekly carbon footprint. This is based on the hot water running for four minutes and using dry shampoo once weekly.
  • reducing the use of heated appliances such as hair straighteners, curlers and blow dryers is better for hair condition, your bills and the planet.

Barbers and hair salons impact significantly on the environment including through the use of toxic chemicals; high water and energy consumption; as well as producing harmful waste such as discarded dye tubes and aluminium foil used in hair colouring.

A high proportion of CO2 emissions also relate to haircare – heating water is one of the biggest contributors to carbon footprint.

However this study – one of the first ever carried out into the environmental impacts of hairdressing – is aiming to address the issues via spreading awareness of the topic, as well as to support the hairdressing industry and its customers to become more ‘green’.  
“We’re not asking hairdressers to become sustainability consultants or to compromise on standards,” Dr Baden said. “Instead, we’re trying to educate businesses that less is more and to spread this message to their clients. For example too much heat, water and product is bad for hair condition as well as for the planet. Products such as leave-in conditioner, not only save energy, time and money but are also great for giving body to fine or flyaway hair. Similarly dry shampoo is a great styling product that saves time and money as well as being better for the environment.

“Our approach has been to train the trainers so they can in turn affect the behaviour of their clients. Just one hairdresser can affect the practices of hundreds of clients.”

Researchers at Southampton have used events at training colleges to integrate concerns around sustainability successfully into the hairdressing curriculum. Ninety-seven per cent of hairdressing trainers who attended these sessions said it had resulted in an increase in the amount of focus given to sustainable practices, with nearly half reporting a substantial increase.

Another approach has been to spread knowledge via the web. The Eco Hair and Beauty website is aimed at both hairdressers and the general public to educate them about eco-friendly practices. An online quiz helps people discover how their bathing and hairwashing routine impacts on the environment. The site also features surveys, advice and videos intended to promote less resource-intensive hair care practices across the population.   

The next step for Dr Baden and fellow researchers is to develop a sustainable hairdressing certificate that salons, hairdressers and training colleges can attain once they have attended the sustainable hairdressing workshop and/or completed an online training resource for sustainable hairdressing. 

“We aim to make terms such as ‘carbon footprint’ relevant to hairdressing businesses and to their clients,” says Dr Baden.
“The typical wattage of a power shower for example is about 10,500 watts and around 4,500 for a water heater compared with between 100 and 400 for a TV or computer. People can not only save the planet but also cut down on energy bills if they adopt simple and easy changes to their haircare routine.”