Aussie stylist Alan Buki used traditional ammonia hair chemicals for five years before dermaitis threatened to end his career. His resulting colleciton, Original & Mineral -- a line of gentle hair care products and ammonia-free dyes -- have been making a splash Down Under since the company's launch in 2007.
At long last, the line has landed Stateside -- in the Meatpacking District, to be exact. "As a colorist of 25 years, this is truly revolutionary," says stylist Armando Corrall, the first retailer to carry Original & Mineral in his salon. "It is the future." Here, Buki discusses the hazards of traditional dyes and the challenges of developing an alternative method.
Tell me about being diagnosed with contact dermatitis. Were you worried about how it could affect your carreer?
In Australia, we do a four year apprenticeship where you spend alot of time shampooing and removing hair color as well as working on clients. During that time, I developed contact dertmitis, and saw several skin specialists who recommended I give up hairdressing. I was also allergic to latex gloves so I couldn't wear those to protect my hands. It didn't affect my career other than that it made me more determined to succeed and find a product that I could work with; giving up was not an option. I spent years with different creams and steroids to control the problem, until I started using ammonia-free hair color.
Can you explain why traditional dyes can be so hazardous?
There is lots of research about chemicals in hair color, a lot of it conflicting about why traditional hair dyes are hazardous. Our approach is to review the research out there and to test our products in salon and on ourselves, and to go with the ones that we believe are gentle on hands and on hair. Taking ammonia out of hair color was an easy choice as the smell and fumes are toxic for everyone.
People all over the world dye their hair with ammonia dyes. Do you think people have any awareness of how toxic these chemicals may be?
Generally, I don't think people realize, however the world is becoming more aware about chemicals in general and their effects on the body. We believe that if you can get the same result -- for instance, cover grey or lift to a clean blonde -- without so many chemicals, why wouldn't you?
How did you develop the ammonia-free hair dyes for Original & Mineral?
For the past 10 years, we have been working with different chemists; it has been an evolution of the brand. We have searched all around the world for the best chemists who understand how to get a professional result whilst eliminating harsh chemicals. Having used the product for so many years, we knew the strengths and weaknesses and worked hard to product a professional range.
Was the process difficult?
It was difficult to find like-minded chemists who believed what we wanted could actually be done. Once we found them, the most challenging part was the huge amount of testing that we did. We needed to test every single shade on many different heads before knowing they were at a high enough standard.
What role has your wife, Jose, played in the success of Original & Mineral?
Jose has been integral in the success of O&M. I certainly couldn't have done it without her. We have always agreed that our skills are different, and together they work well. I have the hair passion and expertise and Jose has the marketing and business skills. We both have big dreams and it is exciting when you see them turning in to reality.