Sparrow Hair Salon Flying High

Stepping into Sparrow Hair Salon, in Santa Rosa, CA, visitors are instantly immersed in the gorgeous scent of lavender, frangipani and more, while their eyes soak up the plants covering every surface and tumbling down from high macramé baskets. What they won’t smell, though it might take a while to notice its absence, is the malodorous scent of chemicals so closely associated with the beauty industry.

Sparrow Hair was opened six years ago by Shelby Neubauer as a clean, sustainable space for like-minded clients keen to escape the contamination of modern living, and where she could fully commit to sustainability. It has just three styling stations, creating a harmonious balance between service and retail, where only organic, low-toxin, and eco-friendly products are used and sold. She has ECOHEADS on the basins to save water and a Ping mixer to maximize color, so she uses less, and therefore rinses less into the water system. Since the pandemic, toxicity levels have shrunk even lower.

“During the closures, I had time to research much more into what was in the products I was using, and I realized that there was so much greenwashing still going on,” says Shelby, whose salon nestles below a smart office building populated by small independent businesses. “When you delve into the detail, you find all sorts of unpleasant chemicals and unsustainable practices.”

Even before COVID, but without time to research it, she suspected what she was using – which claimed to be green – wasn’t quite what was suggested because she often felt ill after work.

“I wasn’t as bad as I had been before in my previous salon when I had no control over what products my colleagues used, but I was still getting migraines, rashes, and fatigued. My allergies were multiplying, showing my immune system was under attack,” she explains. “I knew it was the products we used day-in, day-out.”

Shelby’s allergies began in beauty school, where she was unable to handle perms. After she qualified they got worse as she worked next to people doing permanent hair straightening treatments and spraying aerosols all day. But she loved her chosen career, and refusing to give up, battled on for more than 20 years. However, she finally accepted she couldn’t continue as she had been.

Opening her own salon where she could write into her contracts that her colleagues must also use clean products was the only solution, and finally, in 2014 she took the plunge, taking on the small space on E 100 St. Her allergies improved but didn’t go away completely. Then came COVID.

The closures gave Shelby time to seek out pure, clean products that created the same fantastic results she was used to but without the preservatives, additives, and synthetic fragrances. She also changed to an hourly platform and stopped double-booking clients so neither she nor the people in her chair, feel the pressure of time.

“I want to live a less chaotic, pressured life and that’s what I offer my clients,” she adds. “I’m trained in Reiki so I will give treatments as part of the service. I’ve been able to up my prices to reflect the time I give my clients and they’ve accepted it. Time with me is an escape into a gentler, calmer space.”

Sitting among the plants, some might not even realize the time, care, and research that went into the recalibration of Sparrow Hair since COVID, but for Shelby, it’s been life-changing and life-affirming. Her headaches and fatigue are gone, and she is free to enjoy her craft and make her clients happy.

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