Getting to the root: Stylist looks overseas for most of her green products

Ah, the Organics craze. Throw a couple of natural sounding ingredients into your product and voila! It is "good for you." Or perhaps a business can sell one or two "all natural" products and suddenly it becomes known as "all organic."

Salon Verve is the real deal. Proprietor JoAnn Zenner has searched the globe for products, searched the web for ideas and searched her soul for a business that would help, not harm the environment.

For 12 years Zenner has been a hair stylist. Her interest in organic hair care products began to grow as more information about the beauty products surfaced.

"Not only were my clients at risk, but so was I," Zenner said. "Some of the ingredients in hair color, hair care and makeup are quite toxic. In fact, it would be healthier for us if we were to actually eat these products instead of rubbing them into our skin and scalps, because at least that way our internal organs would be able to process and remove some of the toxicity. Instead, we introduce these dangerous ingredients directly into our bloodstream."

Pandora's Box opened for Zenner when she began researching products for her new organic salon. She discovered that here in the United States just 10 ingredients were banned by the federal government. Most were petroleum-based chemicals. In Europe, however, over 1,100 ingredients have been banned as proven carcinogens and toxins harmful to humans.

"We are so far behind in this matter," Zenner said. "I was stunned."

As a result, she looks to Europe for most, if not all, of her product. Her ammonia-free hair color comes from the UK. Skin care products come from Germany. Hair care products are shipped from Denmark -although this particular company has recently opened a production facility here in the United States.

Zenner also serves her clients organic coffee from Higher Ground, organic Stash tea and filtered water. When spa groups come in, she orders treats from Home Grown Organic Eatery right up the street.

When it comes time to clean up after a long day, she uses SUDS all-natural cleaning paste for nearly every surface in the salon. All towels and linens are laundered with Soap Nuts, which are the dried fruit of the Chinese Soapberry tree. Hair clippings are swept up and shipped off to California to be recycled into gigantic absorbent mats used to clean up oil spills in the ocean. All glass, paper, plastic and metal is recycled.

The salon, located at 507 Bay Street, has a million-dollar view of West Bay. Zenner has six stylists – including herself – on staff, plus a front desk manager who is a whiz at researching the latest, greatest ways to become earth-friendly (the California hair clipping company was her find). Salon Verve is full-service, meaning it offers haircuts, color and perms, skin care facials, manicures, pedicures and hair removal.

The only concession Zenner had to make was in regards to nail color. After much experimentation with water-based products, she compromised with the safest professional-grade polish she could find. It is still a chemical-based formula and therefore not "all natural" or "organic," but it does not have formaldehyde or the solvent toluene in it.

Zenner has become an organics advocate. She looks forward to the year 2012 when new organic labeling guidelines will take effect.

"Now, you can pretty much put one organic ingredient in among a bunch of harmful ones and call it 'organic.' After the new law takes effect, labels will have to state the percentage of organic ingredients," Zenner said.

When asked what she likes the most about being an organic hair salon, she likes the way it makes her feel, knowing she is not only making her clients beautiful, but keeping them safe.

What does she miss the most about the old way of doing things?

"I dearly miss aerosol hairspray, definitely!" said Zenner.

Salon Verve is located at 507 Bay Street in Traverse City. Visit their web site at or call (231) 932-8378. BN