Sunday, February 22, 2009

If You Could Design Your Own ...

... what would be your dream styling product?

I talk about product all day long with my clients. A large part of my work is listening to what my clients want in a product, analyzing their hair type and other factors, then trying to match them with the styling mousse/cream/gel/custard/spray/paste/pomade/shellac that will work best for them. It's a daunting task.

In some cases, it has also become unbearably complicated. On other boards, I read that many curly girls use two, three, sometimes four products to get the results they want. Why is that?

So, I'm putting out a call to ask the curly world what it is they would want in a single product. First, tell me about your hair -- is it fine, medium or coarse; porous or not porous? And then tell me, if that mythical Holy Grail did exist, what would it do for you? Give you volume? Shine? Could you live with a little bit of frizz if your curl definition looked like you spent all day with a round barrel curling iron? What are your dream product's most important characteristics?

Let your imagination run wild and send me an email at And feel free to pass the word along to your other friends, pop a little blurb into your blogs, post some messages on Facebook, etc. I'd love to know what the curly world is thinking about styling products these days.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hair Myths?

We now interrupt this blog for two small conversations that will most likely result in having lots of things thrown at me...or a collective belief that I have gone over the edge and no longer have the slightest idea what I'm talking about.

But as I've said before...I am not nor will I ever be 100% right 100% of the time. My thoughts, posts and advice are based on what I believe and observe from my professional training and my professional career as a hair stylist and curly hair specialist. If it works for someone, that's great. If it doesn't and something else works better, then that's great too. But I'm largely Italian, which means I'm always going to open my mouth when I have something to say, LOL. And there have been two topics on my mind lately I feel I need to address.

#1 - There is No Such Thing as "The Holy Grail"
Many curly girls get obsessed with finding what is known among us as "The Holy Grail" for their curls - that mythical, miraculous, one-of-a-kind, priceless treasure of a product that will give us impeccable, frizz-free, red carpet curls--the kind that always snap back into perfect ringlets even in the worst rain, hail, humidity, sleet and hurricane-force winds known to mankind.

The good Lord knows, I was on an HG quest myself for eons and there are times I still find myself falling into that trap. Even when I find a product combination that makes me look great 99% of the time, I'll catch myself thinking: sure, my curls look great...but what if I stop looking now and that one great product--that one single elixir of magical fairy tales--is just over the hill? And what if I never find it because I was happy with "second best" and I stopped looking too soon? It was enough to drive any curly girl to drink.

It was with a mixture of relief and sadness that I finally came to the conclusion--after doing hundreds and hundreds of curly heads, and studying reams of information on hair type and product ingredients--that, despite our greatest hopes and wishes, that mythical "Holy Grail"

just. doesn't. exist.

Yes, there are products that are great for our hair and will work wonders the vast majority of the time, sometimes even 99% of the time. There are products with ingredients that love our particular hair type--our texture, our porosity, our elasticity--and will make our curls look the absolute best they can possibly be.

For a time.

But ...

Hair type changes over time. Texture changes, porosity changes, elasticity changes. Weather changes. The chemical composition of your water changes. Hormones change. Medical conditions change. If there is one thing we can count on in the crazy world of curly hair, it is change. And that means no product is going to work 100% the best 100% of the time.

The same product might work almost as great, but from the bottom of my heart I do not and will never believe one single product can unfailingly give you what I call "red carpet curls"...the perfect, rockin' kind of curls that make any Hollywood A-lister turn around and think jealously, "I want HER hair." Unless you live in an environment and in a body where absolutely nothing changes, the Holy Grail will have to remain the myth it is.

Incidentally, that's why it is all the more important to understand your hair type and your environment and, subsequently, what product ingredients work the best for your particular situation. There might not be a single Holy Grail...but that doesn't mean there can't be a foundational core of products that act in tandem with each other to give you red carpet curls all the time.

#2 - There is No Such Thing as "Ethnic Hair"
Didn't see that one coming, did you?

I get a lot of questions on whether or not I know how to handle "ethnic hair" or about the special needs of ethnic hair. And I'm here to tell you there is no such thing. Hair is hair is hair. Period.

Your hair is fine, medium or coarse. Your hair is porous, overly porous, or has low porosity. Your hair has normal elasticity or low elasticity. Your hair is thin, medium or thick. It does not matter what your ethnic background is. Fine, porous, elastic, thick hair is fine, porous, elastic, thick hair whether it is on an African-American woman, a Caucasian woman, a Native American woman, an Asian woman, a Latina get the picture.

Now, you may have a genetic predisposition to have a certain type of hair based upon your ethnic background. African-American women often have much finer hair and a much tighter wave pattern than women from other ethnic backgrounds. Asian and Native American women can be so coarse and stick-straight, cutting their hair is a huge challenge because every slice of the shears can leave a visible mark. But there is no guarantee your hair will follow a certain pattern just because you belong to a particular ethnic group. I have African-American clients with loose waves and medium texture; I have white clients with coarse hair and extremely tight coils. And that's just the way it is.

That's not to say we shouldn't take pride in ourselves and where we come from, or not seek advice from others who share the same culture as we do! But by realizing that "ethnic hair" truly doesn't exist and knowing that our particular hair type is the key to taking the best care we can of our curls...we will always have those red carpet ringlets, no matter what our ethnic backgrounds.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hair Analysis

In addition to the four main hair properties, a good stylist performing a proper analysis on you will also examine your wave pattern, hairline and growth pattern. Although not critical, I'd still like to touch very briefly on these because it is helpful to understand them for any consultation with your stylist.

First, some definitions.

Wave pattern:
The amount of movement in your hair strand. Your wave pattern can be described as anything from "stick-straight" to "extremely curly."

The hair that grows at the outermost perimeter around the face, around the ears and across the neck.

Growth pattern:
The direction in which the hair grows from the scalp. This is also referred to as your hair's "natural fall." Cowlicks, whorls, hair streams and other growth patterns directly affect how the hair rests once it is dry.

Wave pattern is most often identified by some of the curl classification systems that have sprung up in recent years, such as "2c" or "4a". Again, I am going to reiterate that your wave pattern has absolutely NOTHING to do with what products and product ingredients are appropriate for your hair type.

Hairline becomes important in deciding on how to style and cut your hair...if you have a high hairline, for example, you may feel more comfortable styling your face frame so the curls come over your forehead a bit.

Cowlicks and whorls -- which result when hair follicles grow in different directions from the main hair streams -- can be a huge pain in the posterior. You can't fight your growth pattern, but it again becomes important to consider these when choosing a shape and style.

(A hair stream is an area of hair that grows in the same direction. Two hair streams that flow in opposite directions, incidentally, are what create a natural part.)

Like I said, not critical... but still good to know. I believe the more information we have about our own hair, the better we will be able to educate those who help us to take care of it, right?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hair Elasticity and Density

Okay, up next: hair elasticity and density. Let's see how coherent I am after my Steelers' big Super Bowl win last night :)

Elasticity is the ability of your hair to stretch and then return to its original length without breaking. It is an indication of how strong the side bonds are in your hair, which are the bonds that hold the individual protein chains of the hair strand into place. More than any other property, elasticity is what dictates your hair's ability to hold its curl, whether natural, or created by a wet set or perm.

Hair with normal elasticity can be stretched when wet to up to 50% of its original length and will easily return back without breaking. Hair with low elasticity is brittle, will not return to its original length when released, and usually snaps or breaks easily when stretched. Hair with low elasticity also will not hold a curl from a wet set or a perm.

Previous overprocessing and excessive heat styling (flat irons, etc.) are the biggest reasons for low elasticity. I hear a lot of this from clients who are just starting to let their curls go natural: "I've flat-ironed for a long time and I think my hair has forgotten how to be curly." Hair cannot forget how to be curly; only your genetics and medical condition can determine your wave pattern. But if you flat-iron or blow-fry your hair over a long period of time, you compromise the health of the hair by killing the elasticity in your hair strands. No elasticity = dry damage, high porosity and less curl.

To check the elasticity of your hair, wet a single strand, then stretch it to 50% of its original length. If it bounces back to its original length without breaking, you have normal elasticity. If it does not return to its original length or breaks, you have low elasticity.

Hair density is the number of hairs on your scalp per square inch, and is classifed as low, medium or high -- we usually describe it in layman's terms as "thin, medium or thick." Typically, natural redheads have the least amount of hair strands on their head: about 80,000. Black hair averages 108,000, brown is 110,000, and blondes average the highest density at about 140,000.

Density is important for two reasons: cut and product types. A good stylist will take both your hair texture and your hair density into consideration when determining the most appropriate cut for your hair. On straight hair, for example, someone with fine, thick hair would take a heavily-texturized razor cut well, but using a razor on someone with fine, thin hair will be unflattering since they need more weight, not less of it.

For curly girls, choosing product type is where knowing your density can be quite helpful. If you have very thick hair, gels -- which are volume-minimizing -- are often the best choice in creating a more structured, less "poofy" look. Girls with thin hair, however, will most likely get much better results by using a volumizing mousse, which creates the appearance of more hair.

Now that we've discussed the hair properties, next I'm going to touch a bit on hair analysis, which determines the behavior of the hair. This includes density and texture, which we've already covered, but also wave pattern, hairlines and growth pattern.