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Change the Way You Wash Your Hair to Help Save the Environment

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Change the Way You Wash Your Hair to Help Save the Environment
SrdjanPav / E+ / Getty Images

By Denise Baden

When you hear about businesses with a high environmental impact or activities with a high carbon footprint, you are probably more likely to imagine heavy machinery, engines and oil rather than hairdressing. Yet hairdressing, both as a sector and as an individual activity, can have a massive carbon footprint.


Hairdressing uses high levels of hot water, energy and chemicals. Similarly, in our homes, heating hot water is typically the most energy intensive activity. For the cost of a ten-minute shower that uses an electric immersion heater, you could leave a typical television on for 20 hours.

So while it helps to turn lights and appliances off, the real gains in terms of reducing energy usage are in slashing our use of hot water. A quarter of UK emissions are residential and, of those, the vast majority come from running hot water. The longer it runs and the hotter it is, the more energy intensive (and costly) it is.

Little Changes, Big Results

Most people use too much shampoo and wash their hair too often. A daily routine of shampooing your hair twice followed by a wash out conditioner uses annually about 14,222 liters of water and 1252kWh of energy, costs about £245, and has a carbon footprint of 500kg of carbon dioxide equivalents (CO₂e).

On the other hand, if you shampoo your hair twice a week (supplementing that with a dry shampoo if needed) and use a leave-in conditioner, you will use annually just 613 liters of water and 55 kWh of energy, produce a carbon footprint of 25kg of CO₂e, and cost yourself about £27 a year.

Research has also revealed how shampoo can contribute to pollution. Maybe this in part explains why sales of shampoo have fallen over the past few years in the UK—with many people choosing to wash their hair less often.

Washing your hair less doesn't just save you money, it's also much better for your hair condition. It can also help to limit the aging effects of over exposure to hot water and chemicals on your skin.

Increased Awareness

My latest research project looks at the issue of sustainability across the hairdressing sector. Not only is the hair sector a high user of resources, but hairdressers probably talk to more people than any other occupation—and are in a great position to pass on advice about lower resource hair care.

From speaking with hairdressers, it seems that ever since the episode of Blue Planet II in which David Attenborough explained how a whale mother was still carrying her dead baby which, it was claimed, had been poisoned by plastics (though scientists working on the show have confirmed there was no actual evidence to prove this) salons have been seeing a massive increase in clients wanting to know that their hairdresser is doing their bit.

Our research has found that many hairdressers are keen to make changes that are better for the environment. The opportunity to present their industry as part of the solution rather than part of the problem is very attractive to hairdressers, as it boosts their sense of professional identity and pride in offering a well informed service.

Sustainable Stylists

A large focus of the project has been on equipping hairdressers with the skills and knowledge required for them to talk to their clients about sustainable hair care. There are many products out there that are better for the environment, not because they have "organic" or "eco" on the label, but because they reduce the need for hot water.

Dry shampoo is a great example. It is fast, convenient, and great at festivals and on the move. It also makes hair easier to style, is cheap and avoids the need for any hot water. Similarly, leave-in conditioner avoids the need for an extra rinse and again makes hair easier to style. It is also fantastic at giving body to fine hair, and saves water, energy, money and time.

Our ecohair project, run in association with the Vocational Training Charitable Trust and the Hair and Beauty Industry Authority, provides a sustainable stylist certificate at no cost, once hairdressers have completed the training program. The salon owner can also obtain a sustainable salon certificate to let customers know these things are important to their business.

Getting certified as a sustainable salon has numerous benefits, and not just in terms of reputation. Adopting the changes as part of the scheme saves the typical salon 286,000 liters of water, 24150 kWh of energy and £5,300 a year.

And with new research showing the increased threat of climate change and the need for urgent behavioral change, it is great that simple alterations to our hair care routines—and where we choose to get our hair cut (you can find sustainable salons here)—can make such a difference to the planet we call home.

Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.

A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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