Q&A: Lorri Weisen on Natural Haircare Line Ahnesti
Ahnesti products at Jaide Organic Salon
Courtesy Ahnesti Haircare
To many hair care professionals, “eco-friendly” can mean lower performance. But for Lorri Weisen, an 18-year beauty industry vet and former salon owner, natural and ethically sourced ingredients shouldn’t have to equal limp hold and subpar style. So she founded the Minneapolis-based Ahnesti (pronounced “honesty”), a new line of haircare products that blends high performance with natural ingredients. The goods are full of style—and absent the more than 400 synthetic ingredients and chemicals typically found in salon brands.
My favorite of the debut product line, which includes two different shampoos and conditioners, a whipped paste, and a smoothing gel, is the hair and scalp refresher, which works like a dry shampoo by cleansing without water by removing dirt and oil from the hair and scalp—and smells amazing, thanks to the organic lavender alcohol. Haircare products that not only perform and keep my hair healthy? I'm in!
I chatted with Ahensti founder Weisen about her background, what inspired her to start her own brand, and what goes into creating a haircare line.
Ahnesti founder Lorri Weisen
Q: You’re an 18-year vet of the haircare industry and a former salon owner. Can you tell me a little more about your background?
A: I first started working in a salon in 1998 after I graduated from beauty school, and I opened my salon, Hairs to You in Roseville, two years later. We were open for almost 14 years, and closed in 2012. I also had a business at the State Fair, Fair Do's, doing colorful hair for kids. I woke up one day and asked myself if this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life? And the answer was no. My husband suffers from continued health issues related to cancer, so that partly inspired me to pursue the natural, organic haircare industry.
Q: What inspired you to start Ahnesti?
A: When my husband was really sick and going through chemo, I started looking at what we’re putting in our bodies. When I started researching, I went to every co-op and bought all the products. Because I was a salon owner, we have standards that we want for haircare. I wanted to reduce breakage, protect color, detangle, and reduce shine, but nothing (from the co-ops) was good enough that I could sell to my clients or use myself. One day, one of my clients said, ‘You should start your own.’ So in 2009, I founded a private-label organic haircare line called Greenbody Greenplanet, which I sold through my salon before reformulating and rebranding as Ahnesti.
Q: How do you think Ahnesti holds up against other salon brands? Other natural brands?
A: I’m going to say the quality is really similar. We’ll be toe-to-toe on the shelf with any professional product—we have the performance of that type of brand. With our ingredients, we like to say we bridge the gap between high quality and high performance. If you’re comparing it to a salon professional brand, our ingredient quality is better. If you compare us to a natural brand from a co-op, they don’t have the performance we have. (Ed. note: Priced at $24 to $28, the line is a comparable cost to other high-end salon products.)
Q: With Ahnesti, you claim to follow standards of ethical production set forth by Whole Foods. What are they?
A: The FDA doesn’t regulate the beauty and salon industries, so you can put just about anything in a bottle. It won’t be tested for safety. So Whole Foods has a list of over 400 ingredients that they won’t use in their 365 line as well as standards for letting in any companies they sell in their beauty and body care department. So those are the guidelines I’ve used. It’s virtually impossible to do 100% organic, but our line is 97% naturally derived, and most products range from about 72 to 77 percent organic.
Q: Your shampoo contains no sulfates and has a pH of 4.5-5.0. Why is this important?
A: Having no sulfates is important because it can dry out your hair and cause color to fade. At the same time, people want lather, which sulfates provide. Organic and natural shampoos made without sulfates have a bad rap that they don’t lather and dry out the hair. Meanwhile, our shampoos are sulfate-free but offer a natural and creamy lather. The pH value is important for color retention. If products are alkaline or neutral, the color won’t stay in—it opens up the cuticle. Acidic pH gives you more shine.
Q: Your products are silicone-free. Why is silicone unhealthy for the hair?
A: To me, it’s not that it’s unhealthy, but it’s questionable. It doesn’t biodegrade. And I don’t like the way my hair feels—it feels fake, heavy, and slippery. We use a plant-based silicone that biodegrades and doesn’t weigh your hair down, unlike regular silicones and derivatives of silicones.
Q: How did you go about formulating this line?
A: I learned a lot from my own research—I’m the kind of person that dives in head first. When I started my Greenbody private line in 2009, there were no chemists in the U.S. that would do what I wanted. They couldn’t even manufacture it. Technology has changed so much since then that there are manufacturers popping up that are certified organic labs. The one I ended up with has a team of five chemists, and they actually do the manufacturing. We went back and forth four or five times on the formulations, and it took eight to ten months to perfect the formulas.
Q: Do you plan to expand the line at all?
A: We would love to, it’s in the works. We hope to come up with a chemical-free hairspray, a serum, and skincare—I’ve actually been making my own skincare for ten years. My husband and I even use our shampoo as a facial wash and my husband shaves with it. It’s beautiful for your skin.
Q: Where will Ahnesti be sold?
A: We’re focusing more on wellness centers as well as some salons, and targeting stores like Whole Foods. We’re doing our first trade show the Green Festival Expo in Portland later this year. Right now, we’re carried locally at Moss Envy and Jaide Organic Salon in Minneapolis, SuNu Wellness in Hopkins, and online.
Ahnesti's haircare line
Courtesy Ahnesti Haircare