The Down-low on Natural Hair Care: An Interview with Nicole Vann
About a year ago, I was looking for a more eco- and healthy alternative for my hair. I’m one of those lucky people who went really gray, really early and I’m just not ready to look 15 years older than I am… I knew that this was probably the most toxic thing I did to my body, and wanted to find a much less harmful alternative. A friend turned me on to Nicole, and over the last year I’ve been learning a ton about natural hair care, AND have been utterly delighted by the results. I watched my over-dyed, frizzy hair come back to life, and realized she’s onto something. Lucky for us, she agreed to share what she’s learned and how to have gorgeous, lustrous, healthy hair without the chemicals and toxins in most commercial hair care products.
M: Tell us a little about your background – how did you get into hair originally?
N: My mother was an artist and a dancer like me, I grew up in the theatre and hair and makeup was just part of getting ready to perform. My mother taught us drawing, painting and sculpture as part of our play time instead of parking us in front of the television. She also cut everyone’s hair in the family. This was all very natural to me so hair and makeup was something I dabbled in as a part time job when I was at the School of the Arts and it became a full-time job when I decided to go to College for Fine Art. Hair, makeup, art and design are very much connected the media simply becomes the body when doing hair and makeup.
M: What made you pursue the eco- and less-toxic product lines?
N: Working in big salons especially in Beverly Hills, I was struck by the inordinate amount of waste we create as hair dressers and the fact that it all goes down the drain and into landfills. I started searching for alternatives.
When my mother died of large cell aggressive lung cancer I became acutely aware of what was going on around me and the fact that I was developing sensitivities to everything in the salon. I was first aware of flu symptoms when working with ammoniated color, but what drove me out of the salon was the Brazilian Straightener and the formaldehyde that was the trend of the moment. I got really sick and had to start seeing clients in their homes as much as possible to get away from the salon.
I had already started using ammonia free and eco-conscious products but could no longer be surrounded by the toxic products in the salon. I dreamed I was the Crypt Keeper from late night horror flicks with long silky straight hair and knew I had to get out before I ended up with lung cancer like my mom.
M: There’s lots of confusing information out there about hair products, especially when it comes to coloring your hair. Are there any truly non-toxic options? (other than the DIY methods using coffee and henna that have questionable results…)
N: The products I use are non-toxic. Some are organic some are not. All of them are ammonia free, formaldehyde free, sulfate free, paraben free and most are gluten free. The main color line I use by Mastey Paris is ammonia free and PPD free. This line has been around for 30 years and I have yet to hear a complaint. I am always trying new things and upgrading my knowledge as to what is going on in the organic color world but keep coming back to Mastey for many reasons. It gives lustrous reliable results and it does not irritate me or my clients’ sensitive scalps.
Many organic colors I have tried have had fumes that still make me sick. The word “organic” is overused in the beauty industry and since opening my salon I have become leery of the word. There are organic ingredients that are also toxic and damaging, and there are conventional ingredients that are quite innocuous. I am kind of a canary in a coal mine: I react immediately to ingredients that are toxic and I won’t have them in my salon. If you are looking for a non-toxic salon and they offer chemical straighteners or perming you are likely to find that the fumes will not be pleasant. To this date I have not found an “organic straightener” or perm that does not at the very least give me a migraine.
M: How can someone find a hair dresser who specializes in using these less toxic options? Are there specific things to ask for?
N: Search the internet in you area for an ammonia free salon or hairdresser, go to the Mastey web site where you can find a contact page to inquire for salons and hairdressers using this product. Check Yelp for an ammonia free “organic” hairdresser who has good reviews. Keep in mind these products take longer to process so don’t be impatient. [MF note: I always set aside a good 2-3 hours when I go see Nicole, and I make an afternoon of it. The results are worth it and I take the opportunity to put up my feet and relax a bit.] You will love the results and so will your hair and scalp. The combination of ammonia and peroxide you find in conventional hair dyes is toxic to your scalp as well as your lungs and brain, and continued use will lead to finer, thinner hair.
M: You recently created your own product line – tell us about it and what inspired it.
N: My product line, Vitafolica, was inspired by the growing number of women I see with issues of hair loss and the need for a natural, luxurious, professional product to care for them. I myself have struggled with this issue and have spent a fortune on products packaged for women but formulated for men.
Continuous chemical damage, braiding, extensions, bleaching, dying, hormonal changes, life changes and overall stress contributes to fragile, aging and thinning hair. My product addresses all of these issues without the medicinal smell and inflammation or side effects caused by leading brands.
[MF note: I have been using these products for the last month and absolutely love them! My hair is shiny and doesn’t need nearly the same amount of product I used to need to keep it manageable and frizz-free]
M: Can you share some of the ingredients you’ve included and why they’re so beneficial?
N: Marketing shows that people believe a product is working if it smells like medicine and sets their scalp on fire, but actually over-stimulating the scalp leads to inflammation, which exacerbates hair loss. I believe women are smarter than that and are not falling for this marketing ploy. I feel most women like me are desperate for a product that pampers them and is all natural. Vitafolica contains Peptides from Maca, Red Clover and Swertia Japonica which reduce inflammation and stimulate hair growth. Natural DHT inhibitors help balance hormones on the scalp. Vitafolica is packed with ingredients that nourish the scalp like Dragons Blood, Arnica and Wild Yam extract. Most products rely on just one active ingredient I wanted to create something better, this is my dream product because I use it and I wanted something wonderful for my hair and my clients’ hair that would take care of all of us from scalp to ends. Whatever the trend or fashion of the moment I have never seen anything that trumps natural healthy, glossy hair.
M: Now in this field, what you specifically chose NOT to include is as important as what you did include. Are there any specific ingredients you made sure weren’t included? What are they and why are they so harmful?
N: I will not use Minoxidil myself so this is not included in my product. Some known side effects are as follows: burning or irritation of the eye, itching, redness or irritation at the treated area, as well as unwanted hair growth elsewhere on the body; severe allergic reactions (e.g. rash, hives, itching, difficulty breathing, tightness in the chest, or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue), chest pain, dizziness, fainting, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), sudden and unexplained weight gain, or swelling of the hands and feet. Hair loss is a common side effect of minoxidil treatment. Manufacturers note that minoxidil-induced hair loss is a common side effect and describe the process as “shedding”. Although this phenomenon demonstrates that minoxidil is indeed affecting hair follicles, manufacturers offer no guarantee that the new hair loss will be replaced with hair growth. The speculated reason for this shedding is the encouragement of hairs already in the telogen phase to shed early.
Cayenne pepper is also not in my product as it simply burns the scalp. While it brings blood to the follicle and is quite stimulating many of my clients including myself have broken out from it. Instead to create gentle stimulation without irritation, I have used a derivative of menthol that is has a lovely cooling sensation without the strong smell of Vicks vapor rub. Vitafolica is formulated with organic Ylang Ylang, Vanilla and Orange extracts so that the scent is mild and uplifting instead of medicinal and masculine. Some ingredients I have left out simply because they don’t work and are not really worth mention because they are not harmful they are just useless.
M: How can Eat Naked readers buy your product?
N: Eat Naked readers can find it at the Vitafolica website or on Amazon. They can also purchase it at my private studio Evolution Salon-Gallery in Venice Beach where I am available by appointment only at 310-450-4466.
Nicole Vann has been doing hair for 15 years as a stylist, colorist and educator. She studied at Vidal Sassoon Academy and worked for Carlton Hair International, she has extensive education from renowned companies such as Schwartzkopf, Redken, Loreal, Mastey, JBeverly Hills,TecItaly, Organic Color Systems, Rusk, Bumble and Bumble and Surface. Nicole worked for prominent salons before opening her own including Yamaguchi Salon in Century City, Ca., Michael John Beverly Hills, Ca. and Joseph Martin in Beverly Hills. Nicole currently can be found in her private studio Evolution Salon-Gallery in Venice Beach, CA.
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