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Business

Saving the World With Your Hair

German hairdresser Peter Lehnert shows that you can look Vidal Sassoon good without using chemical-based products, which can be bad for your skin and the Earth.

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Hairdressers at Peter Lehnert's salon are doing what they can to save the planet

"Suffering for beauty" is a motto that trend-conscious men and women seeking the latest in hairstyles have long been familiar with, often quite literally. If you want a new hair color, or even just simple curls, you generally have to pour a lot of chemicals onto your head.

The results can be anything but pretty, since chemicals can easily burn the scalp or trigger allergies. Some hair care products are even suspected of causing cancer.

And these are just the physical consequences: After the chemicals are removed from a customer's hair at the salon, the chemically harmful solutions and tinctures are then sent into the sewage system, creating serious disposal problems.

The first-ever green salon

Peter Lehnert, a hairdresser with his own salon in the city of Nalbach in the German state of Saarland, is trying to tackle the problem head on. Lehnert's salon recently became the first ever to meet strict European rules for environmental soundness and receive a stamp of approval from the EU's rigorous environmental audit.

Products with famous brand names typically associated with haircare are conspicuously absent from the shelves of hairdresser Peter Lehnert. Instead they are filled with environmentally friendly and healthy products. Rather than relying on modern techniques, Lehnert and his staff of five concentrate on traditional hairstyling.

"We don't differentiate ourselves from other hairdressers," Lehnert told Deutsche Welle. "The only difference is the way we do it and with which materials."

But that's not entirely true. There are always tradeoffs when it comes to creating an environmentally sound business. And there are some to be found here, too.

No bad bleach jobs here

Unless a customer insists otherwise, the salon does not bleach hair, give perms or do colorings with chemical dyes. Instead, the salon relies almost exclusively on ecologically sound dyes made from plant extracts and other skin and ecologically friendly products. Chemicals are only used if a customer demands them, which few do.

Workers at the salon provide customers with information about each of the products available to them so they can make an informed decision before using any products, chemical or natural.

"It's just like smoking: There's a warning label on the package noting that some services can trigger allergies or cause other health problems," Lehnert says. "But we inform our customers and provide them with the information they need to make a decision on whether or not to proceed."

The concept is to place more personal responsibility on the customers, and many seem to like it.

"It's very comfortable for me as a customer," says one woman. "The information they provide me is great and very positive."

Energy-efficient lighting, massive water savings

Many of the environmentally conscious aspects of Lehnert's salon are invisible to the customer. The lights, for example, are energy efficient, and water consumption has been drastically reduced from the 60-90 liter average per customer at tradition German salons to 38 liters. And then there are the environmentally friendly hair care products.

None of this comes cheap. If it weren't for financial subsidies from the Environmental Ministry in Saarland, it wouldn't be possible for a company this small to undertake such an ambitious green goal.

But Lehnert is finding success with the concept – at least critically. He says he wants to use the knowledge he has gained in years of environmentally friendly hair care and create a Beauty School on the Internet that would include a clearinghouse of product information and also show other hairdressers how to apply environmentally sound methods in their salons.

At the end of the day, Lehnert says, his salon is no more expensive than traditional salons. Natural cosmetics are cheaper than their chemical cousins, but the work Lehnert does also requires more time. In the end, the differences cancel each other out, he says.