Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Smell of Beauty

Beauty parlors used to smell of unpleasant chemicals. Now, I've observed, they smell mostly of perfumes with undernotes of chemicals. I wondered about this, so I asked an expert: Kim, the woman who always cuts my hair. Her explanation begins with the fact that permanents have always been the source of the harshest chemical smells in hair products. Kim says that coloring products smell the worst when you mix and prepare them, which doesn't take a lot of time and can be done away from the customers. Acrylic nails also involve stinky chemicals besides the banana smell of nail polish remover, she says.

Childhood memories: this is a Toni Doll
that could be given stinky home permanents
Why doesn't the shop smell like these chemicals? Like the beauty shops I remember from the past?

Permanents, at the moment, are out of style, Kim explains. In the past, a salon would have been giving people permanents all day long. Currently they might do one a day (this morning, she says, they did only one permanent at her shop, which is large, and none this afternoon). Hair styles are more natural now, at least those done in her salon. Along with this natural look for hairstyles, people also are less interested in artificial nails than they were a few years ago. In her view, the natural trend is a main cause of the better smell of beauty salons.

Coloring of all sorts is very popular, now, says Kim, thanks to improvements in the products used: you can choose a more natural-looking hair color. But from the smell perspective, your beautician can choose products with milder chemicals to use when doing the job. She says she has several favorites that don't smell particularly bad -- one she describes as "vegan."

Another specific reason why her salon smells predominantly of the perfume in the many gels, hairsprays, shampoos, lotions, and conditioners is that her salon has confined perms being done with chemicals to a single area of the shop, away from customers who are just getting their hair cut and blow-dried. They are back by the old-fashioned dome dryers, used mainly for these processes. I've never been back there!

I thought the government had regulated salon chemicals to protect the workers, but Kim thinks the smell improvements have arisen mainly from change in demand for artificial products and from the choices of the management, beauticians, and nail techs to use products that smell safer and thus are more pleasing to customers and to themselves.

Note: I recently stuck my nose into a couple of salons in shopping malls and so my aroma observation is not just based on the place where I get my own hair cut, for what that's worth. If there are socioeconomic differences in these trends and choices -- which I'm sure there are -- I'm not in a position to have noticed. I suspect the natural look and smell isn't as popular in other areas as it is in Ann Arbor, but I haven't checked it out.

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