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Texture Trifecta

Three approaches to maximize your hair's potential, with a little help from your stylist

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Fashion is as fashion does. If we want to be in style and follow the trends, we often have to make do with what's available to us — be it the designer clothes that run too small for hips that don't change no matter how much we exercise, the lipstick that costs 50 bucks and wears off in 20 minutes or the $500 pair of shoes that we save for special occasions so they aren't ruined by wear. We often forget that there's one thing we can make completely our own — our hair. No matter what shape, texture or color, your hair is unique to you and can be cut, colored or styled in a way that expresses your individual tastes and sense of style. With that in mind, here's a review of what your stylist can do for you, whether you want to transform your hair or simply accentuate what you've got.

 

In-Salon Treatments

The notion that people will always want what they don't have is particularly evident when it comes to hair quality and texture. Often, the woman with glorious curls desperately wants shiny, board-straight hair — just look at the number of straightening irons and styling products on the market — while the woman with baby-fine locks goes to great lengths to achieve a little volume. Though at-home solutions can be useful, for more dramatic results, enlist the help of a professional.

Conditioning and Damage

Treatments Julie Brauner, a stylist at H2O Salon and Spa, says there are many salon product systems designed to offer individualized hair treatments during a color or cut, or as a separate appointment.

H2O uses the Kerastase system, which has conditioning treatments for curly hair that needs to be relaxed to reduce frizz, a protein treatment to prevent breakage by up to 56 percent within the first treatment (especially effective on over-processed hair with strands that tend to snap off), a "chroma-perfect" treatment to wrap hair in a sealant after receiving color, an "age recharge" treatment that combats hormonal changes in the hair that occur with age and a basic treatment for those looking for a little extra shine and conditioning.

For added shine, most salons also offer another service usually referred to as a glaze. "It's like a topcoat, where you have a choice of clear shine on hair that's never been colored, or you want to tweak the natural a little, you could add a bit of color and get lots of shine," Brauner says. The glaze works like a silicon sealant that holds moisture and nutrients in the hair to maintain its health and shine.

Retexturizing

Most salons offer professional straightening treatments for people with curly hair who want to go straight permanently.

Brauner describes the Japanese straightening treatment she uses as an eight-step process that takes about five hours, during which time the hair is "basically broken down from one stage to the next in a very gentle process that preserves the integrity of the hair."

"Everyone wants a smooth look, and this takes the hair from kinky-curly to bone straight," she says. "It's very popular, especially in the corporate world. When you're finished, the hair feels phenomenal."

Brauner says she doesn't get many clients who want to go the other way — from straight to curly — largely because professional color is very popular right now, and it would put a lot of strain on the hair to do a perm and color at the same time.

She notes, however, that there is much more flexibility in the type of curl you can achieve in the salon today, compared to the tightly wound perms typical of the last few decades. Depending on the length of a person's hair and the size of the roller used, a stylist can create a wide range of curls from small and tight to longer waves. Likewise, a stylist can achieve a bouncy look without having to perm a customer's entire head of hair by doing just the crown or a partial section.

Cuts & Styling

"From the stylist's point of view, as soon as someone sits in the chair, you look at the type of hair they have — as far as smooth or coarse texture — and you look at the density of the hair — either fine, medium or heavy. Then you assess the attire, lifestyle and face shape of the client," says Chris Guidry, a design specialist for Paris Parker.

The great thing about hair and fashion today is that everything in the industry is very individualized, Guidry says. Sure there are trends, but for the most part, he says, there's a lot of room for everyone to find something that works well for them. "It's not like the '80s, where everyone's back-combing their bangs. It's very individual and has been for a long time," he says.

What's Right for You

The type of cuts that work best on curly hair depend on the density of the curls. "Usually, nine out of 10 times I would say longer, more solid shapes work best on curly hair because of the weight," says Guidry. "Weight basically equals control. So the longer it is or the heavier the layers are in this humidity, in this environment, the more control the person has in dealing with it at home, going [shopping], out to dinner, or whatever it is. That would be the best overall formula for satisfaction."

For straight hair, the thicker the hair, the more layers it can stand. "You can go in and take away some of the weight and have that kind of piecey look," explains Guidry. The less hair, the more blunt the lines need to be in order to make it appear more solid."

Maintenance

For curly hair, less shampooing is best because curly hair tends to be dry and shampooing too often can remove the natural oils that add moisture and shine to curls. In addition to a deep conditioner every week, Guidry recommends shampooing every third day and using a daily conditioner formulated for curly hair.

For styling, he recommends using products that add a little weight and some shine. "Right now a lot of people are producing creams and powders," says Guidry. "Mousse was really popular in the '80s, and it's making a comeback as well. But I don't know anybody that's still using a gel. It's mousse for something a little lighter and creams for a thicker hair that needs a little more weight."

In terms of styling, curly hair is better when left alone. Try to use your fingers or a wide-tooth comb and a diffuser on your blow dryer. "The less manipulation the better for curly hair, because it's when you disrupt the curl pattern that it becomes open to breaks," Guidry says.

Maintenance routines for straight hair also depend largely on choosing a hair-care system that corresponds to your hair texture. A basic shampoo used two to three times a week often works best with a light conditioner for fine, thin hair and a more intense conditioner for thicker hair.

Styling products range from creams that add weight and serums that add shine and smooth fly-aways to volumizing tonics and powders that add volume and texture to fine hair. To style, use a round brush to get bounce and movement and a flat brush for smooth styles, Guidry says. You also should stay away from metal brushes because they tend to heat up when used with a blow dryer and damage the hair. Natural boar's hair bristle brushes are the best.

Guidry says you should determine the frequency of your haircuts based on what your hair looks like. Those with definite shapes often need a cut sooner to maintain their look than those with longer, more solid styles. The other way to tell, he says, is to take a quick look at the ends. If they're split and dead, you need a cut. If not, you don't.

Professional Hair Color

When it comes to hair color, stylists need to understand the nature of chemistry, says Christopher Hoggatt, a color specialist at Coloriage. "You really need to understand just those basics — that there's a chemical reaction occurring and what that's going to do to the hair."

The amount of ammonia used in commercial color kits for use at home is much higher than in professional color applied at a salon, he says. The higher ammonia content ensures that all of the pre-existing color is lifted out of the hair before the new color is deposited so the consumer is guaranteed to get something close to the shade on the box. It also is more damaging to the hair than professional color.

"It's the stylist's main obligation to protect the hair's integrity by making sure they understand (a client's) hair texture and to give predictable results by understanding the chemistry," he says. After determining the client's hair type and goals, the stylist must decide how much color to lift out of the hair before depositing new color, which often requires less ammonia than products sold for use at home.

"There's still a cycle of lift-then-deposit, even in the darker shades," says Hoggatt. "If you're using a low-ammonia product, you don't have as high a cycle of lift before the deposit begins, so when the color starts to fade away, you don't fade back up to what the hair was lifted to. You always hear [about color] fading, and [people] complain they've faded to this brassy, unwanted color. But if the ammonia content is low, the hair isn't open as much, and it doesn't have to be lifted to an orangey stage before the new color is deposited on it."

The lighter you want your hair to be than your existing hair color, the higher the ammonia content is going to be in order to open the cuticle to release the color. "Each strand of hair is comprised of a cuticle covering, kind of like fish scales, and underneath that is the cortex of the hair," says Hoggatt. "You have to lift the cuticle — which requires the combination of ammonia and hydrogen peroxide —so that the color can go deep within the hair and rearrange the color molecules. Then, when the hair is sealed afterward and closed back down, the color is sealed in."

What's Right for You

The terms highlight, lowlight, single process and double process almost always refer to ammonia-based products that do more than stain or blend. A single process is performed when a person wants to move up or down by only a few shades, Hoggatt says.

"You do a single color applied to the entire hair shaft, whereas double process typically refers to someone with dark hair who has the right skin tone and eye color and wants to be very, very blond, but not highlighted. So you do a scalp color that lifts the color to the palest blond we can make, and then we tone it, which is the second part of the process," he explains.

"Toning means that when you've lifted the hair to its raw state, it has no real color. It's just raw, pale yellow hair. When we put the secondary color, or finish color — the second part of the process — that gives the hair depth and tone value," he says. "If a person wants to be a golden blond, you'd go with a gold tone; beige usually means a muted gold or something soft, and we've got very cool tones like platinum — blue and violet-based colors which make the hair look pale, baby blond."

Single process color usually lasts about six weeks, and double process color lasts about four weeks because the difference between the new hair growth and the colored hair is much more drastic.

The terms lowlight and highlight refer to working within the realm of dimensional color, Hoggatt says. Highlighting simply involves putting in lighter pieces, while lowlighting adds more depth with a richer or slightly darker color.

When trying to decide how light or how dark to go, "your stylist should be able to tell you according to your skin tone, eye color, personality and lifestyle whether or not that's really an effective change for you, and help you understand what your maintenance picture will be," Hoggatt says.

Certain types of hair can better withstand color changes by a wider margin than others.

Hoggatt says there is a definite relationship between the density of the hair and color chemistry. "Typically people with medium, high density-per-square-inch numbers of hairs and sort of a medium texture hair in terms of strand or diameter of strand are the ones that tend to have success going in any direction," he says.

"It's the ones with finer hair that have to be handled delicately so that you can wind up at exactly the level of lightness and the tone value that you want. It's the hair that's the best mirror for whether you did it right or you made a mistake," he says.

If someone is looking for a hair color change that is less noticeable or drastic, there also are non-ammonia-based products available, known as semi-permanent color. These products are used mostly for blending gray and darkening the hair like a stain and are designed to last for 15 to 30 shampoos.

Maintenance

To keep color from fading, Hoggatt recommends using a shampoo and conditioning system designed to support the type of color you have, one your stylist can recommend. It's best to use lukewarm water and shampoo no more than two or three times a week. Some product lines also come with other support products such as a toning mousse, which can be used once a week to revive color, he adds. Using a clarifying shampoo and a good conditioner to prep hair for optimal color acceptance before going to the salon also is a good idea, Hoggatt says, especially if your salon doesn't shampoo before applying color. "I think that when you've taken the hair and you've pulled all the hair spray and gel and everything off of it, you've given the color a much better chance of being successful and effective by virtue of not forcing it to use 35 to 50 percent of its effectiveness eating through this layer of garbage to get to the hair."

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