Luxury Organic Hair Care Born In A Sink

Leah Bourne

 Luxury Organic Hair Care Born In A SinkBorn-and-bred in Los Angeles, Julio Romano is often credited as one of the organic beauty movement’s earliest adapters, having whipped up his own all-natural hair and face products since childhood under the careful tutelage of his boho-chic mom. Since diving into the hair care world he’s worked on the tresses of celebrities like Madonna and Christina Ricci.
Last April, Romano opened his first salon—aptly-named A Shampoolio Experience—on Melrose Avenue, where he not only cuts, colors, and gardens (and, with a new outdoor BBQ on the way, even grills), but also stocks a unique collection of all natural hair care products, all of which are made by hand in small batches in his private studio. Here, the Shampoolio hair guru dishes on his hair secrets, and why he wouldn’t even wash his car with commercial shampoo.
The Vivant: When did you know you wanted to be a hair stylist?
Julio Romano: Well my sister was a hairstylist, and she was a punk rocker, so she used to play around with my hair when I was a kid, and she would do all kinds of crazy different things, and my hair was always long, but she would backcomb it into mohawks or liberty spikes, hairspray it up all crazy—so we were always doing that. And my sister, she always wore her hair really cool too, so it was always fun for me, because that was my older sister and she told me it was a cool thing to do.
How long have you been working in the industry now?
Since 1992, so that’s a long time. Twenty years now.
What motivated you to start experimenting with your own products?
My mom made her own products, so when I was a kid, it was a group thing. We would all get together and learn how to cook, how to make masks for our faces, for our hair—and I had two sisters and a mom, and I was the youngest. I also had an older brother, but he was sort of up and out of the house already—so it was pretty much me and three girls. So I learned to do a lot of girly stuff, and also my mom was really into natural things. We’d play around in the kitchen and make dinner, and we would also come up with our own mask and hair treatments for after dinner. And we’d all help each other, and pretty soon we had guys in the neighborhood doing it too. It was cool, we were way ahead of our time. People caught on. It was back in the ’70s, and people wore their hair really long, and we got good at helping them achieve their goals. I’ve always been around [natural beauty products], so now it’s just me making it modern, and also wearable and recyclable and preserving it so you can take it home.
Is it true you started making your own products in a bathtub?
I have a little studio, and in my studio—it’s very small, like 200 square feet tops, the tiniest freestanding house you’ve ever seen and it was built in the ’20s—I have a sink, but also my bathtub has stronger water pressure, and sometimes if things were going to be a mess I would mix it over the bathtub. Nowadays, I have a steel top table so it’s easier to keep clean. It’s still pretty low key, though. That’s what makes it special. I’m also in touch with every single aspect of Shampoolio, all quality control. I know what’s going in, I know every step. 95 percent of the products that are made today for hair are done by chemists—the hair dresser doesn’t touch any of it. So this is a unique way to do that now, and it’s also very innovative. More and more people are starting to do [organic products] now, it’s becoming a trend, but I was one of the first to do things in a different way. And also in a way that makes it work—these are high-potency, organic, nourishing hair products. I also have one product firmly planted in the skincare community, too, and that’s because a lot of my friends do skincare. So when I was putting this line together I consulted with a lot of them, and all of my products are skincare friendly as result. So not only is this line good for the hair but the products also work on the hands as lotion, or on the lips as lip balm, and so on and so forth.
What are some of the ingredients you find yourself working with most often?
I use lavender oils, I use a lot of dry oils. And what I mean by that is they’re not greasy to the touch, they just go in and do their moisturizing. A lot of cosmetic grade oils are on the drier side, meaning you don’t see the grease and they don’t pick up dust. I use a lot of camellia oil, which is a Japanese oil, and it’s extracted from flowers. I use coconut oil as well—organic coconut oil. Every single product I have has raw apple cider vinegar in it, and that’s to preserve it and also to seal it. It’s acidic on the pH scale, so it forces the cuticle to lay down flat, so it get lots of shine. It also keeps out moisture, so it’s anti-frizz, as well as anti-static. We’re in southern California here and people wear their hair really, really long, and they want to do something nice for the ‘vintage’ part of their hair, meaning the last four or five inches.
“Vintage” is a really great way to describe it. What was the first product you made for the collection?
It was Day 2, that was the first one. I have really curly, wavy kind of Jesus hair. And it can get really fluffy if I’m not careful, so when I was developing my product line I wanted to make sure I didn’t look like the guy from Creed, because my hair was long and sort of Fabio-ish. I was not into that look. I wanted something a little more organic, a little more of a rolling, shaggy curl as opposed to fluffy, blow-dried hair. So that product was created specifically to handle my needs because I almost have ethnic hair. I mean, I’m half Mexican, but it’s almost between African American and Mexican hair and it has to be tended to. So that was my elixir to save my hair and make me more presentable to go out there and groom my clients.
Stylists are exposed to such an insane number of chemicals on a daily basis. Was that a frustration you had before going into the organic product business?
99 percent of the products we use today are loaded with chemicals, and I wouldn’t even wash my car with the shampoos that are on most of the shelves. It will destroy the paint on your car, and it will destroy the basic moisture balance of your hair. It’s almost like, why would you spend so much money getting a nice face wash and then wash your hair with something so horrible, and then go ahead and condition it with three thousand chemicals, and the perfumes, and all the rest. Because that’s what you wear everyday, and so it’s close to your heart. For me, it makes sense to wear something natural and something I believe in. I can put my products on my clients children and be 100 percent sure it’s going to be a good thing.
What’s your best seller so far?
Calm has been the best seller so far. That’s because it smells great and it does what it’s supposed to—in such a crazy world, Calm is such a smart product because it does what it says. You open the bottle and you smell it, and you immediately feel calm. Put it on your hair, your hair feels calm. Put it on your skin, your skin feels calm. So that’s by far my best seller. And now the curly-haired people are starting to figure out Curl, and they’re getting hyped on that, too, because it’s a very soft product. That’s what these products are all about—creating softness in our life. There are so many sharplines and so much hardness in the world, and these products are designed for a softer look, which more people are into now, whereas back in the day when it was all about hard gels and hairsprays. That crunchy look. But today, softness is a very coveted look. And you notice almost everybody is wearing their hair longer in one way or another, whether it’s real or extensions, so it’s very important that we’re nourishing the hair and the things that light up our face.
What’s next for you and the collection?
I’m coming out with my Scalp Tonic, which should be out for holiday. That will be used in lieu of shampoo. Basically what it does is clean your hair and your scalp without taking the natural moisture balance out of it. It’s just using botanicals and natural astringinents and making them into a nice, pH-balanced tonic that makes your hair and your scalp clean. It’s also anti-dandruff and a natural alternative to harsher products like Head & Shoulders.

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