L’Oréal Blackett finds out whether ethical and beauty standards measure up at Kokoa eco beauty bar

THERE’S no salon smell, it’s the first thing you notice; the familiar noxious waft of ethyl acetate found in nail polishes and removers is completely undetectable. The polishes are ‘five free’ – exempt of five known carcinogens – so none of the nail technicians need to wear those surgical masks to protect them from the fumes. 

Kokoa eco beauty salon is a literal breath of fresh air. 

The fume-free polish is one of the distinct differences between Altrincham’s new, all-vegan beauty salon Kokoa (pronounced ‘cocoa’ like the bean). The fledgling eco beauty bar has made a commitment to ethical beauty and set the bar for moral standards high; here, even the candles that flicker across the two-storey shop emit a saintly smoke. 

When it comes to veganism and being cruelty-free, the cosmetic industry has a reputation for being anything but – even your average red lipstick contains the pigment from crushed cochineal beetles. 

As we found in our ‘Top 10 Cruelty-Free’ makeup brands review, the cosmetic industry is a minefield if you’re a conscious consumer. While some brands are labelled cruelty-free (this is loosely regulated too), they might contain animal by-products and may not be considered vegan.

Just how difficult is it to avoid animal extracts and animal testing when setting up a beauty salon?

There’s a great deal of ignorance surrounding what’s actually in skincare products.

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“It’s very tricky,” says owner of Kokoa eco beauty, Akosua Akobeng from Altrincham. I’ve had to research everything intensely. A product may be cruelty-free over here, but if they export to China, where there is an extensive level of animal testing before you can sell, then it’s no longer cruelty-free.”

23-year-old Akosua Akobeng – aka the ‘ko’ in ‘kokoa’ - fell into the beauty business after finding nothing worked on her problematic, sensitive skin other than all natural products. After studying biomedical science at university, the impressive young entrepreneur set up a skincare range featuring shea butter and African black soap – a traditional natural cleanser made with cocoa beans, water, shea butter and vegetable oils. 

A small slick of Kokoa’s shea butter on the back of the hand and you can see why Akosua is championing all natural ingredients. You'll want to bathe in it. 

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Now open, the Kokoa salon was a natural progression for Akosua. The salon uses all of her homemade products for treatments and they’ll be soon offering holistic massages. On the face of it, Kokoa is like most beauty salons: smiling therapists, a solid mix of services from brows to waxing and their luxury gel nail polish looks just as good as my last non-vegan manicure. Yet purely from a vanity standpoint, why should non-vegans really care about vegan skincare and beauty?

“It’s two fold,” says Akosua. “It’s healthier just to have natural raw ingredients in skincare anyway. And then the not testing on animals is a whole other conversation about ethics and morals in the industry.”

She adds: “There’s a great deal of ignorance surrounding what’s actually in skincare products. When you start looking into the ingredients, the mass production and the extent of the animal cruelty that went into making one bottle – it’s crazy when you think about it.”

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People are certainly thinking about it. The number of vegan converts rose by 360 percent in UK during 2016, and here in Manchester vegan restaurants are sprouting quickly. In a city where you can easily hunt down vegan junk food and cauliflower rice, more vegan beauty salons feel like a great business move in an unexplored market. 

“A lot places don’t make it clear when they are cruelty-free,” says Akosua. "Customers have to research it and that takes time. We display it everywhere; on the packaging to the window display so there are no worries.”

Going vegan is a lifestyle change that goes beyond renouncing eggs and dairy, you also have to consider your shoes, jackets and makeup in your everyday choices. The Kokoa beauty salon – bright, friendly, welcoming with soya lattes on tap – makes clear skin and a clearer conscience far easier to achieve.

Find out more about Kokoa beauty bar and its list of treatments on the Facebook page

13 The Downs, Altrincham, WA14 2QD