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The Tao of Hairstyling

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Ask an Expert  (under construction)

Something on your mind? Have a question or two about hair? Need a second opinion? You've some to the right place. Jay Lamb has over 30 years experience in all aspects of hairstyling. There's not likely a question he can't give a well seasoned answer to. Ready?

Q. Why is my hair so damaged?

A. There are many reasons hair gets taken to the edge, but here are some of the most common:

  • Poor quality color and application. It's one thing to get a color you like, another not to destroy the hair doing it.
  • ​Straightening irons are very damaging to fine hair, especially if the hair is highlighted. If you must use them regularly, use heat protection spray and only have the iron as hot as it needs to be.
  • Round brushes are wonderful styling tools but they can break hair when rolled in too tightly, especially at the bangs. And please don't hold the dryer in one spot on the hair, keep it moving.
  • Swimming pools with chlorine and/or salt. Use a quality shampoo designed to remove these chemicals after swimming. I like the Malibu line for this. 
  • If you really want to keep your hair healthy, please read "What Kills Hair", a Flow Salon Newsletter. Click here

Q. What's the best way to insure getting a haircut I like?

A. There is no perfect way to predetermine if you're going to like a haircut, no matter how much you research it, who cuts it or how good the haircut is; "good" is a very subjective thing. But there certainly are ways to improve your chances. 

  • Get a measure of clarity about what you want before you go into the salon. You don't have to know exactly what it is, a good stylist can help you with that, but it's usually better not to walk in frustrated and confused. Look through magazines or online and find some general or specific styles you like.

 

  • It's usually best to avoid going to a stylist who is running around like a chicken, doing four things at once. Find someone who cares enough to have a clear, calm, reasonable conversation with you, someone who actually listens and cares. It's usually best to avoid "superstylists" who only want to see how many clients they can get done in a day.

  • This can be a tough one for people. Don't judge the quality of the haircut based on whether you like the way the stylist dried your hair. Most haircuts can be styled a multitude of ways and you will likely do it differently than the stylist. There are many stylists who are great at blow drying but not so hot at cutting. It's the cut that matters. If you would rather your stylist style it a different way, discuss it with them. Determine whether you like the cut by how it works when you style it.

  • Be realistic about the type of hair you have. Every hair type has it's gifts and limitations. A good stylist can make your hair as good as it can be, but if you've got fine, thin hair and want a style that only works on someone with tons of thick locks, you're setting yourself up for struggle.

  • Many people go to a stylist and spend the entire time chatting. As much as this is the norm, and most stylists can do a nice cut while talking to their client, would you want someone distracting you while you were doing something important that takes great skill? To me, a good stylist knows how to balance this and cares enough about their work to do it. I've seen many stylists over the years who seem to put the haircut below chatting in priority. Find a stylist who is present, paying attention and focused. Of course it's nice to enjoy some conversation, but in my opinion, it must not be so distracting to the stylist that the cut suffers. Art requires concentration.

  • Be positive. Bring a positive attitude into the salon and you will have a much better chance of encountering positive things. If you're in a negative mood, that's okay, just don't project it. If you're really in a bad mood, it may be best to cancel and come in another day, unless you know the stylist well and it's all okay.

  • If you do get a haircut you don't like, it will do no good at all to start a war with the stylist. Either leave or, if you feel the stylist to be a mature, well-meaning person with good skills, talk to them in a clear, calm manner. They want you to like the style and want to do what is required to help. This is planet Earth, things don't always go the way we want, no matter how hard we try. It doesn't have to be anyone's fault. Making someone "wrong" is almost always irrelevant and goes nowhere. Everything works better from kindness and clarity.

  • One way to play it safe is to book a consultation and feel out your relationship with the new stylist. If everything clicks, book a cut.

 

Q. I don't have much time in the morning. What are the best styles for easy care?

A. This depends a lot on the type of hair you have and how long it is, but very generally, the more layering you have the more styling required. This is especially true when your hair is straight and longer. But really, there are too many factors to offer a clear answer. Each situation is unique. The one thing I can say for sure is that if you don't want to spend a lot of time styling your hair, you will need a good haircut. An experienced, caring, skilled stylist will follow the natural inclination of your hair, allowing it to do what it wants to and being in harmony with that. This means the hair will fall into place nicely on it's own. A not-so-great stylist will cut only with the intention of making the hair look good through blow drying and styling techniques, which take time and skill. It's all about the cut and how well your hair likes it. Another big factor that many people don't always understand is that most styles you see in magazines, online and on celebrities are created largely through skilled styling techniques. If that same cut was left to dry on it's own or just blasted with a dryer for five minutes, it would look very different.

Some hair looks very "done" on it's own, simply because it's naturally very nice hair. A good stylist will be able to tell you which styles require more styling.

 

Q. I have super annoying fine, limp hair that makes me want to kick things. How can I make my hair easier to work with?

A. First, go kick things, but make them things that like being kicked — like soccer balls. Then, when you feel a little better, listen to this: thin, fine hair is indeed a bit of a pain. The first thing is to come to accept what nature gave you. Once that war is over you can more clearly see the opportunities. First, you'll need a very good haircut. Fine hair is more difficult to cut than other types and requires a much higher level of skill and experience.

Next, some highlights can help give you more volume, but again, fine hair is tricky, the stylist must have the skill and awareness to moderate the damage. Too much bleaching (lightening) will dry the heck out of it and make it look dull, even if it is getting some volume.

Styling tools go a long way to getting volume but you must be careful not to over do it. Excessive heat will cause problems. If you've got some length and have never tried rollers, do. Rollers can be a blessing for fine hair, once you learn how to use them, and it's not difficult to do. Watch some Youtube videos.

Make sure you're using good quality shampoo and other products. If fine hair gets overly dry, it easily looses it's elasticity, making it even more limp. Use conditioners for fine hair as they are usually lighter in weight.

Fine hair is rather like owning an exotic plant. Beautiful when treated with care and skill, dead when treated roughly.  Accept and love what you have, find a good stylist, and don't push the hair too far; all will be well.

 

Q. Why does my hair go gold and brassy when I lighten it?

A. Without getting too complicated, the first thing that happens to most hair shades when a lighter color or bleach is applied is the gold shows up. The gold, to varying degrees, was there, underneath, all along, lightening brought it out. The darker the hair, the more gold/red shows up when you lighten.

The solution to this is you have to lighten it past the gold/red to get to a lighter gold or ash tone. Usually the only way to do this is through using bleach (lightener). Another way is to use a toner (another color) to counteract and balance the gold/red. Either way things can get really tricky really quickly. Major damage and all sorts of odd colors can occur unless you know what you're doing. 

Home hair color is a risky thing. But generally speaking, lightening your hair is much riskier than going darker or close to your natural shade.

If you're planning on coloring your hair at home, you's better read "Women, Booze and Home Hair Color", a Flow Salon Newsletter. Click here

 

Q. As I grow older, my hair seems to be changing. It seems thinner  and dryer. What to do?

A. Bodies can be quite annoying at times. They do all sorts of strange things — like age. Please receive solace at the Flow Newsletter called "Aging Hair". I can't make it all go away but I can help. Please click here

 

Q. Are expensive haircuts really any better?

A. Haircuts are just like anything in this way, you usually get what you pay for — but not always. I have seen very mediocre haircuts come from very expensive stylists and once in long while, a great cut from an inexpensive stylist. It's the same with food and cars and clothes and shoes and wine. But not everyone can appreciate a nice haircut, it may seem just like any other to them, perception is everything. Great haircuts are appreciated and known from not-so-great haircuts by people who love having great haircuts and know the difference.

Q. What's the best way to find a good stylist?

A.

  • One of the best ways is to go into a high-end clothing store and look for someone who looks like they really love fashion. Ask them, they will likely know of some good stylists. It's usually better to ask somewhat older people (meaning over 25) as they have had more experience with different salons and stylists and can often better determine a good stylist.

 

  • You can also ask someone who's wearing a cut you like, but it's best to ask someone with short hair. Short hair requires more skill and it's easier to see how well it's shaped. Long hair can more easily hide a bad cut.

 

  • Keep in mind that if you ask someone with naturally amazing hair, it may not be the cut that makes it look so great, it could just be the hair itself. Although rare, some hair is so naturally beautiful they could cut it themselves and it would still look good!

 

  • You don't have to find someone with the particular haircut you want, just someone with an obviously good cut. A skilled stylist can create any haircut you desire, given the parameters of your hair.

 

  • If you do get a recommendation, make sure it's for a particular stylist, not just the salon. Hairstylists are like mechanics and cooks and anything else, a few are very good and the rest are either not bad or terrible. One more thing, don't just walk into a salon off the street without knowing a stylist. You will likely get a newbie — which is fine if you're willing to risk it.

 

"Good" is a very subjective thing. So asking another person for an opinion isn't a guarantee of getting a haircut you like, but it's certainly better than taking a blind chance. As with anything, there are always a few stylists around that are famous but not all that skilled. Many people get hoodwinked by all the glitz and marketing. A truly good stylist may look like they just walked off a fashion runway, or they may appear rather unremarkable and be off in the corner, quietly creating magic. The less mesmerized by glitz you are, the better your chances of finding someone who has the real stuff.

 

Q. What is the best way to grow out my hair color?

A. I won't answer this here, since I have an full-on explanation at The Flow Newsletter archives.

Click here, scroll down and enjoy.

Q. I've heard that damaging the hair can help my hair get more volume, why is this?

A. This is actually true, especially for finer hair. Damage swells the hair shaft and roughs up the outside (cuticle) of the hair, which has scales, somewhat like those on a fish. When the cuticle of the hair is very smooth, the hair has shine because the light bounces off of its smooth surface, but it can have a tendency to lay flat because it's so silky. When the cuticle is roughed up a little, the scales are more open. The scales of different hairs catch on each other somewhat like blackberry bushes that get entangled, allowing the hairs to pile up, creating volume.

On coarse hair, which often has enough volume on its own, damage can also be of help. Coarse, straight hair is often very stiff and inflexible and hence, doesn't want to move in different directions. It just wants to go exactly where it wants to go and it is difficult to make it do anything else without a lot of forcing. Damage softens the hair, allowing it to flex more, giving its owner more options.

So damage can be a good thing. But as in all things, moderation and balance are crucial. Too much damage on any type of hair will result in a lack of shine, elasticity and bounce. The hair will look and feel dry and lifeless. Too little damage and the hair may be difficult to style.

Each different type of hair can tolerate different degrees of damage. Fine hair is naturally weaker than coarser hair and is more easily over-damaged.

It even makes a difference how the damage is created. Damage from good quality color, applied with skill, can be quite helpful. Damage from sun and wind, however, is often not so good, leaving the hair dry and dull. In reality, damage is damage, regardless of how it occurred, but there are some other factors that determine the end result. The main reason good quality color works well in this way is that even though there is some damage occurring, the hair is also being filled in with nice proteins, oils and conditioners. That's why your hair looks so nice after a fresh color. You get the benefit of the swollen hair shaft and roughed up cuticle, adding volume, but the cuticle will be somewhat smoothed out by being filled in, insuring shine. But I must stress that skill of application and quality of color is imperative. Most of the hair colors I see when I'm out in the world are dull and dead looking, even of there is volume.

Bleach (lightener) can really give fine hair more volume but very often hairstylists overdo it. The highlighted hair looks dull and all elasticity is gone. The hair may have more volume then it would in its virgin state, but it isn't worth it, balance has been lost. Again, moderation is key and skill is required.

Finally, there are exceptions to all of this. Some hair works best when it is kept in as healthy a state as possible. It depends on many factors, the most important of which is the particular style desired by the client. Soft, shiny hair can be very beautiful, whether it gets volume or not. A few fortunate people have hair that gets plenty of volume even though it's very healthy. But they don't often tend to be North Americans. This type of hair is more often found in European and Asian countries where you see that thick, dark, shiny hair.

Overall, I absolutely, 100% prefer healthy hair over dried out hair and my work is very much about keeping hair and client as healthy as possible. But, as in all things, wisdom and awareness allow balanced choices to be made.


Q. What's up with Comb-Overs?

A. The mighty and misunderstood Comb-Over. A historical icon. Click here to learn something you'll not soon forget (even if you want to).

 

Q. How do I wash my hair?

A. Everyone thinks they know this one in and out. Perhaps not. Better click here and check it out.