Friday, December 19, 2008

Finding a Stylist

Curly hair care aside, one of the most frustrating problems for any curly girl is finding a hair stylist who knows how to deal properly with curly hair. Of all the complaints I hear from clients who sit in my chair, finding a good stylist who loves, appreciates and knows the world of curls is probably at the top of the list.

There are a couple of reasons for that. First of all, beauty schools do not really teach anything about curly hair. When I was in school, this was the sum total of the instruction I received on how to cut and style curly hair: cut it damp, don't put a lot of tension on the subsection when you cut it, and scrunch while you diffuse. Period.

Frankly, the instructors themselves rarely know how to handle it, so how in the world can they teach the students how to do it? 95% of what I know about cutting, styling and maintaining curly hair was learned elsewhere. It's just not a priority in the American beauty education system right now. It's no wonder most of us look like hell when we walk out the salon door.

Second, as sad as it may seem, it takes twice as long to cut and style curly hair as it does straight hair. This industry is purely commission-based on services, so the more clients you see and the more services you perform, the more money you make. Some stylists will automatically treat you just like they do a straight-haired girl because they don't want you in their chair any longer than you need to be. If the average commission on a cut/style is $15-$25 and a stylist can do two clients with straight hair in the time it takes them to do one girl with curly hair, some of them are going to go for the money and treat the curly girl just like a straight-haired girl.

To further complicate matters for curly girls, some of the hair salon "chains" actually have metrics they use to measure stylist performance. In one popular chain, you have exactly 13 minutes to do a haircut. That means you stick the client in a shampoo sink for two minutes, use your shears to do a standard 45- or 90-degree layered "wet cut" in 11 minutes, then get them the hell out of your chair.

You miss your metrics often enough, you can get fired. Even if a stylist working at one of these places wanted to take their time and do a proper curly cut, they couldn't. Moral of this particular story: if you have any hope of getting a halfway decent curly cut, think about staying away from the chains. You might be lucky and find someone who can give you an acceptable wet cut in that amount of time, but you'd be pushing it.

So, what's a curly girl to do?

First of all, one of the best ways to find a curly-friendly stylist is to walk right up to someone whose hair you love and ask who does it. Tell them you are looking for a new stylist and you think their hair rocks. They will usually be totally flattered and will be more than happy to share info about their stylist. Then get a list together of a few who really seem to appeal to you and call for a consultation.

Whatever you do, please don't just call a salon and ask if they have any stylists who know how to cut curly hair. Of course, they are going to tell you 'yes.' You need to know the right questions to ask to make sure the stylist you choose really is familiar with handling curls.

Your list of questions at the consultation should include:

- where did you learn to cut curly hair? (You can be sure it wasn't in beauty school, so ask them what kind of continuing education classes they took).
- what product lines do you carry/use in your salon that are specific/friendly to curly hair?
- how many curly clients do you have?
- do you have naturally curly hair yourself?
- do you wear your own hair curly?

If you find one who sounds good to you, schedule a styling session with him/her to see if you like how they do your hair (believe me, a lot of hairdressers don't know how to finish worth a damn, so this can be a good indication of how well they handle it). If you like their work and you feel comfortable, then move on to bigger and better things like haircut and color.

The most important thing to remember is that you always have the power to get up from any stylist's chair and walk out the door. There is no excuse to ever let yourself get talked into anything you don't want, whether it be a cut, color or a style ... especially if your only reason is that you are worried about what a stylist or the people in a salon will say about you if you do. Give me (and yourself) a break, please. It is never worth dealing with bad hair for the next three, six, twelve months just because you didn't want to say anything or hurt anyone's feelings.

And if you do manage to find a great stylist, it is worth thinking about posting a review on places like CurlSalons or other review sites so other curly girls can find them, too ... especially if you live in an area where good stylists are scarce. I promise you will be a hero :)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Shampoo Bars and ACV Rinses

I am really getting a lot of e-mail recently about shampoo bars and ACV rinses. I have covered this on the FAQs page of, but I think it will be worthwhile repeating it here since it seems to be the focus of so much attention lately.

First of all, though, I need to make one thing completely clear. My opinions and/or experiences are exactly that: mine. I do not and never will expect anyone to take anything I say as gospel. I share what I know and what I believe so that others can take it, apply their own knowledge and experience to it, and decide WHAT WORKS FOR THEM. Period, end of story.

If my information coincides with your beliefs, then great. If they don't, then it's still great. We are all learning from each other. The day I believe I don't have anything more to learn is the day I need to get my ass out of this business. And that goes for any other stylist, no matter how many years they have stood behind the chair.

So, about shampoo bars. I know shampoo bars are all the rage these days and, for natural clarification and removal of product build-up, you can't beat them -- anything is preferable to using harsh sulfates. I do, however, have a few concerns about possible overuse of this product.

Shampoo bars typically range from 8 to 10 on the pH scale, meaning they are quite alkaline. Alkaline substances will open up the hair shaft, allowing the cleansers to penetrate within the hair shaft to remove build-up. That, in itself, is not necessarily a bad thing; however, it is important to remember that you are stripping your acid mantle every time you cleanse with these bars.

The acid mantle is the very fine, slightly acidic film on the scalp that acts as a barrier to keep bacteria, viruses and other contaminants or chemicals from penetrating the scalp. As an example: one of the reasons that you are instructed to color your hair when it is "dirty" instead of freshly washed is not because the color will take better on the hair shaft -- it is so your acid mantle is intact and will prevent the chemical color from penetrating your scalp.

So, if you are over-cleansing with shampoo bars, you are interfering with the natural acid mantle function and leaving a very vulnerable part of yourself exposed. Your acid mantle is there for a reason and it needs to remain undisturbed as much as possible so it can do its job to keep you healthy.

Also, with the nature of these bars, you must follow with some type of a vinegar rinse, usually apple cider vinegar (ACV), which can cause its own issues from overuse. Now, about ACV rinses. Several people have told me their stylists say they can do as many ACV rinses as they want. Maybe not such a good idea, though.

You need to bear in mind that apple cider vinegar (ACV) is an acid -- over 100 times more acidic than your hair -- and it needs to be respected as such. Acids can and will start to degrade your hair shaft with overuse, so you must be cautious and pay strict attention to your hair's reaction to frequent ACV rinse use.

Depending on your hair texture and porosity, you may be able to support a greater amount/frequency of usage than others can, but you must be careful to judge yours accordingly. If you are doing frequent ACV rinses and are seeing positive results, then your dilution ratio is most likely suited to your hair type.

If, however, you begin to notice degradation in your hair shaft -- breakage, frayed ends, dryness, brittleness, or more porous hair -- then your dilution ratio is way too strong. You need to revisit your proportions and make adjustments accordingly.

Verdict: I personally think using shampoo bars followed by an ACV rinse is a great idea, but that using them once a month is more than sufficient to keep the hair and scalp clean, healthy and beautiful!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Our Curly Kids

Since my daughter's birthday is Tuesday, I thought it was only fitting that my first "official" post should be about her and her curls :)

Katie -- the love and pride of my heart -- will turn four years old on December 9. She inherited her mommy's curls but, unlike most children of her age, will tell you all about her "pretty curls" with little prompting. And she always notices others with curls. "Look, Mommy," she'll say when we are out shopping and pass a woman with curly locks. "That lady has pretty curls just like you and me."

I can't describe the joy I feel at being able to give her a positive experience about her hair. So many of us grew up feeling self-conscious about our curls, with mothers or other guardians who simply didn't understand how to deal with it.

Some of us had all our curls shorn off in short pixie cuts for "control"; some of us had our hair painfully brushed out until we put the caveman dudes from Geico to shame. We felt ugly and "different," wondering why fate was so cruel and why we couldn't just look "normal" like everyone else.

The good news is that, as we educate ourselves about how to deal with curly hair, the more equipped we are to pass that education along to our children. The hardest thing to remember, though, is how quickly our children sense and pick up our attitudes.

I had a huge reality check myself about a year ago with Katie. I've learned to love my curly hair, but that doesn't mean I don't still have bad hair days or days in August where I'd trade my left arm for an afternoon of straight, shiny, frizz-free locks. One day last summer, I was fussing and complaining about how I didn't want my curls anymore when this tiny voice suddenly piped up beside me.

"Me either, Mommy."

Talk about a major smack in the face. The first thought through my mind was: what was I, a supposed curly hair specialist, teaching my daughter? How could I expect her to love her hair if I didn't lead by example and show her I loved my own? I can't even begin to describe how mad I was at myself.

It took a while after that for Katie to understand that our curls were special and mommy really did love her hair. Today, I don't hide my bad hair days from her, but I am very careful to make the distinction between disliking my curls and disliking how they are falling on a particular day. And she gets it, thank goodness :)

One of the best presents we can give our children in any aspect of life is honesty and knowledge. And I think teaching our curly kids how to love their curls while educating them on the realities of their care is a good part of the game plan.

Happy birthday, my beautiful, curly-haired angel :)

Welcome to Curly World!

Hello and welcome to the wonderful, wacky world of curly hair!

My name is Tiffany Anderson, and I am a hair stylist located in the St. Petersburg, FL area. If you are a regular visitor to, you most likely know me as StruttsWife. I am a curly hair specialist and the owner of a web site called Live Curly, Live Free -- a soup-to-nuts, unbiased look at the world of curly hair from a beauty industry professional who doesn't own her own salon, manufacture her own line of products, or owe her loyalty to a particular brand/company.

The lack of focus on curly hair today is shameful. Over 65% of the world's population has curly hair, yet many curly girls straighten and damage their hair with blow-dryers and flat irons rather than wear their natural curls. Why? Because they are sick and tired of struggling with dry, unmanageable frizz day after day, tired of bad haircuts from stylists who don't know how to properly handle curly hair, and tired of spending large sums on money on products that promise silky, perfect curls, but only let them down time and time again. No more dealing with their "problem hair," they vow, so they resort to straightening it -- only to end up damaging it further. It's a vicious, never-ending cycle.

I created Live Curly, Live Free because of the many issues I've had throughout my life with my own curly hair. There isn't a horror story you can tell me that I haven't experienced for myself, or a problem dealing with curly hair that I haven't faced firsthand. I've been butchered, carved, razored, poofed, dehydrated and dessicated through the years within an inch of my curly life.

Since 2002, I have been studying the care and maintenance of curly hair. Live Curly, Live Free was born in an effort to provide objective curly hair education and end the daily frustration so many neglected souls are still unfairly experiencing. My site was launched just a little over six weeks ago on October 20, 2008 and I am stunned to report I have received over 2,200 hits since then. Clearly, there is still a huge need for curly hair education despite some of the strides we've made in recent years.

I receive a lot of e-mail from curly girls all over the world with concerns, questions or just because they need the opportunity to vent about their curls. Several have asked me to start a blog to share information and give everyone the opportunity to ask questions or leave comments. I think that's a fine idea. While I can't promise to post every day, I think it will be nice to share information and post breaking news from Curly World without having to update my web site continuously!

Onwards and upwards then :)