Curl-Centric Stylists Reveal Their Toughest Client Challenge

by Teri Evans on Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Every stylist has an unforgettable story. There’s always that one challenging client forever etched in your memory. Looking back, you almost want to thank them for making you a better stylist. As the saying goes, from challenges come opportunities.

Discuss your toughest client challenges here.

Here, we ask a handful of curl-centric stylists to share their most challenging curly client experience. Read on to learn how they coped with common client calamities — ranging from denial and distrust to emotional and physical pain.

Curl Stylist: Pam Bobb
Location: Island Salon in Indialantic, Fla.
Biggest Challenge: A client hides a painful color allergy.

It started as a routine color service for a long-time curly client. But on this day, Pam Bobb noticed her client kept wincing during the process.

Something was wrong.

Taken aback, Bobb asked if she was in pain.

Her answer? “I just have to suffer through this.”

Bobb had been coloring her client’s hair for a year with no problems. Or so she thought. She was confused, until her client confessed that she was allergic to the color. The chemicals caused an itchy scalp and blistering burns that morphed into scabs. The anguish lingered for a day or two.

“She was in pain the whole time and never told me. It really upset me because you don’t want to see your client suffer or go away,” says Bobb, a naturally curly stylist. “Women will suffer to be beautiful and she was just afraid I would stop coloring her hair.”

That didn’t happen. Instead, Bobb experimented with dozens of products to manage the allergic reaction. Tar shampoo ultimately worked, but it smelled horrid.

Not willing to settle, Bobb kept searching until she found a more permanent and palatable answer: Dennis Bernard’s PowerTools line called STB (Stop The Burn). She added 20 drops to the color before applying it, and viola! No pain. No putrid smell.

Today, Bobb is much more probing when clients sit in her chair for a color service. No more suffering in silence.

Curl Stylist: Christo
Location: Christo Fifth Avenue Salon in New York
Biggest Challenge: A client rejects her curls.

Christo says the toughest dilemma he faces over and over again is the curly girl in denial.

“I see it all the time,” he says.

In a memorable example, Christo recalls a client who came to him for a cut and highlights. She hated her textured tresses, and wasted no time asking Christo for a blowout.

“I told her, ‘I could that, but do you know you have beautiful curls?’” Christo asked her.

“My hair doesn’t curl, it’s just frizzy,” she moaned.

But Christo pressed on, encouraging her to go curly that day—and he offered a styling lesson.

“I said, ‘Then, If you don’t like it, I can have one of my stylists blow it out for you. But at least give it a chance,’” Christo told her.

The problem, he says, was that she didn’t how to style her curls, or even care for them. His encouragement worked. The client loved her new look.

“I always style her hair curly now,” Christo says. “She told me, ‘I love now that I have an option to wear my hair curly, I don’t want to blow dry it straight!’”

Christo’s advice to stylists? Be patient with curlies in denial. Encourage them to wear their hair natural — at least just once. And don’t forget to offer a styling lesson, so they can learn to rock their curls at home, too.

Curl Stylist: Kaycee Clark
Location: Dear Clark Hair Studio in Dallas, Texas
Biggest Challenge: An emotional client lashes out.

Kaycee Clark has two jobs. She runs her salon and is one of the stylists. Sometimes, she has to step away from a client to manage the business. It’s part of the deal. One day, while styling a client, Clark was pulled away to handle a problem at the front desk. Little did she know, that day would offer a teachable moment.

“I stepped away a couple of times, and even though I came back to do her hair, my mind was still dealing with the situation,” Clark says.

Everything seemed to work out though, until the next time the client came in for an appointment.

“She chewed me out!” Clark says. “She let me have it about stepping away. But I don’t just walk off from my client, I’m always good at customer service.”

That’s not how her client saw it.

“She was in pain that day, and recovering from two major surgeries,” Clark says. “It was not good timing for her. I didn’t even charge her.”

Clark’s distractions could have cost her salon a client that day, but she was lucky. The woman is still a client of the salon, she just sits in someone else’s chair.

“Now when I see that a client is in a vulnerable position, I take a deep breath and try not to take things personally,” Clark says. “I’ll give them a little extra attention, ask them if they’re feeling OK, if I can get them something to drink.”

In her dual role as salon owner and stylist, Kaycee Clark has to be a master multitasker. It’s a lesson Clark won’t soon forget.

She now tries to fully step back from her role as boss when she’s working with a client.

“When the client is done, then I can go back to dealing with the situation,” Clark says. “It’s about swallowing a big piece of humble pie because at the end of the day: it’s a business.”

Curl Stylist: Charles Farlow
Location: Zapien Salon in Atlanta, Ga.
Biggest Challenge: A client distrusts a product suggestion.

Charles Farlow is always testing new products for his curly clients. He does the research so his clients don’t have to.

By the time Farlow recommends a product, he has already given it a lot of thought. So, when a new client second-guessed his motives — accusing him of “just trying to sell her stuff” — he was offended but chose not to be defensive. Instead, he responded with a disarming tactic.

“I said, ‘I’m not going to even let you buy anything today because that’s what you think,’” Farlow recalls.

He proceeded to send her home with free samples. Ultimately, she tried the products, saw they worked, and eventually bought them.

“She ended up being a good customer and trusting me,” Farlow says.

He still offers his clients free product samples, whatever it takes to earn their trust.

Curl Stylist: Luisa Valdes
Location: Lunatic Fringe Salon in Altamonte Springs, Fla.
Biggest Challenge: A client’s curls bury highlights.

When a client brought in a picture of the highlights she wanted, Luis Valdes tried to duplicate the look. It would prove much more complicated than she expected.

“I took smaller weaves to keep it more natural it didn’t show up as much as I thought it would,” Valdes says. “The curly hair hid so much that you could barely tell.”

The result? Her client was disappointed.

“The highlights weren’t as prominent as they were when we blow-dried a section, just to see it,” Valdes says.

The problem was in the picture. The client in the chair was curly, but the woman in the photo had straight hair.
Valdes needed to try a different technique. So, she went bold, adding thicker slices of highlights that showed up as a swirl in each curl.

“The final look was exactly what she wanted,” Valdes says.

Today, Valdes pays even closer attention to the images her curly clients bring in (no straight photos), and adjusts the coloring technique based on the client’s texture.

It became yet another reminder that one size does not fit all, especially for stylists navigating the many twists and turns of the curly world.

Beyond the end-of-summer cut

by Teri Evans on Sunday, August 9th, 2009

Ah, the end of summer. It’s bittersweet. You mourn the passing of endless sunshiny days, but you’re eager for clients to return for their seasonal (and back-to-school) curly cuts. And, as always, when the damage from scorching heat and chemical-rich swimming pools sinks in, your curly clients will likely expect you to save their wilting spirals — all in a few snips.

Not so fast. Rather than just offering a trim, the new season is the perfect time to suggest a revitalizing ringlet revamp.

Here, a look at what you can offer that goes far beyond a basic cut to give your clients healthy, shiny curls— and generate a much-welcomed boost to your bottom line.

The Deep Treatment

Deep Conditioning Treatment

After the drying effects of summer, deep conditioning treatments will help bring back the vitality and moisture to thirsty curls. And it’s important to remind your clients that it’s time to reinforce healthy hair habits.

“It’s a good thing to get back into a disciplined regimen of being gentle with the hair in the fall and treat the hair like a fine, gentle fabric again,” says Shari Harbinger, director of education for New York’s Devachan Salon. “I believe the combination of the right haircut and the right level of moisture will give the best visual results of the curls no matter what curl type they have.”

Recommend a deep conditioning treatment to your clients, especially if they’re not the type to do it at home. You’ll also want to remind curlies that a salon treatment will be more efficient and thorough than what they will likely do on their own. Harbinger recommends clients undergo a deep treatment in the salon once a week, for at least a month, to restore moisture to post-summer, parched curls.

Bonus tip: “Moisture also shrinks the curl, so a hairdresser needs to be mindful of the spring factor,” Harbinger says. “Err on the conservative side of a cut because the spring factor is directly related to moisture levels and the curl type.”

What to tell your clients: When suggesting this service, remember to explain why deep treatments are a must for healthy curls.

“The moisture is so important because it will restore the spring and elasticity and sheen of the curl that is so affected by beach weather, sun and salt,” Harbinger says. “They’ll see the hair start to shine again. They’ll see less frizz. They’ll see a better curl formation.”

It’s also important to remind clients to lay off the relentless shampooing, says Ethan Shaw of Anne Kelso Salon in Austin, Texas.

“In the summer, since people are swimming a lot, they end up shampooing their hair too much,” Shaw says. “So, now, without the pool time, they need to reduce the number of times they shampoo. Even with a deep conditioning treatment, if you shampoo your hair five times a week you’re going to be back to square one. For people with very damaged hair, shampooing one time a week should suffice.”

The Color Renewal

Shine Treatment

A fast-fading tan can cast a dull shadow on the hair by summer’s end, so consider suggesting a richer color to bring back warmth and a vibrant shine.

“Hair color services can create the illusion of restored sheen, depth, and reflection to the curl,” Harbinger says.

To slowly transition your clients to the new season, suggest adding low-lites to introduce a deeper, warmer tone back into the hair, while still keeping some of the lingering brightness of summer.

“This creates contrast, which a lot of curlyheads want.” Harbinger says, “You can also bring temporary conditioning elements along with it, such as a glaze, which can be either clear or translucently tinted for color reflection.”

Bonus tip: If your client is used to just a single-process color, suggest just coloring the roots and then adding low-lites. “It’s a more natural-looking way to transition from a highlighted summer look to a deeper winter look,” Shaw says. “And it’s nice to move away from the really light highlights that are damaging to the hair.”

What to tell your clients: Be sure to explain the benefits of a color service, especially the importance of a glaze to add shine and seal the cuticle. “And if you’re putting a darker color in their hair, remind your clients not to shampoo as much,” adds Shaw. “And when they do shampoo, it’s very important not to use hot water. It’s like washing dark clothes in hot water, it will strip the color right out.”

The Take-Home Products

Deep Conditioning Treatment

No matter what services you provide in the salon, the effects will only be long-lasting if your clients are carrying on those healthy habits by buying the right products and using them consistently at home, says Jacqueline Tennon, owner of Indigenous Beauty Concepts salon in Woodbridge, Va.

“The fall is a good time to start clients on a new regimen,” says Tennon, who sends out a monthly newsletter, filled with hair tips, to her curly clients.

Tennon also carries her own line of plant-based hair oils, which she suggests to clients as part of an overall routine. There are many protective hair oils on the market, which you can research to decide which ones to carry in your salon.

“Curly clients can use oils in their hair every day, but they don’t need to use a lot at one time” Tennon says. “The sun and the wind dries the hair out, but the oils are very protective.”

Bonus tip: Be sure you have a full line of curly products on hand that you believe in, so you can suggest several items to your clients as a way of keeping up their hair-healthy routine outside of the salon.

What to tell your clients: Ask them about the products they use at home. If they’re trying to save money by using cheaper drugstore brands, remind them that those products may be a quick fix, but they could be damaging to their delicate curls in the long run.

Top 10 Lessons
From Veteran Curl Stylists

by Teri Evans on Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

The life of a stylist is fraught with trials, triumphs and many tribulations, especially if you choose to specialize in textured tresses. Yes, some mistakes are inevitable no matter how savvy you are as a stylist— but you may be surprised how many common faux pas are avoidable. And you don’t need years of experience to figure it out, if you’re willing to learn from the wisdom of those who spent decades creating a brave (and curly) new world.

Here, we turn to leading curl experts, and asked: If they knew then what they know now, what nostalgic advice would they share with up-and-coming stylists? Read on for the top 10 lessons of curl-centric veterans—lessons they learned the hard way, so you don’t have to.

Lesson #1: Let go of your ego.



Arrogance ultimately never serves you, your colleagues or your clients, according to Christo of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue salon.

“You should always be willing to learn from your surroundings, what you see and how other people do things,” Christo says. “You can be the best, but you can learn from someone who is not as good as you. You have to be very open minded.”

Diane DaCosta, curl expert and author of “Textured Tresses,” agrees. “Don’t think you know everything,” she warns. “Be confident and secure in your creativity and imagination, but your skills—like any other profession—need to be honed and perfected.”

Bottom line: Leave your arrogance behind, and be a little more humble. “You’ll become a lot stronger, and be a lot better stylist,” Christo says.

Lesson #2: Manage your expectations.

When Ouidad, the “Queen of Curls,” first started cutting curly hair, she acknowledges that her idealism took over.

“I wanted to change the world with the haircut that I gave them. I wanted to fix it all and change it all,” Ouidad says. “But it’s impossible to take a head of hair and change it all completely at once. What I learned is to really look at the hair, study all the curl patterns, and learn exactly how much curls shrink, each section, and how they fit within each other when you cut. It’s not like cutting straight hair, you can’t just change it all at once.”

So, instead of having an image of what you think you’re going to do with the client, like change their life, Ouidad encourages up-and-coming stylists to examine the different hair textures, really study them and understand them first.

Lesson #3: Listen more, talk less.



“Let the client talk, don’t talk over them. Just observe them,” says Denis DaSilva, co-owner of New York’s Devachan Salon. “You win over people when you agree with them. If you try to disagree, you’ll never win. Agree with them and then change them a little to the right or left according to what needs to be done, but never say no.”

No is not a word your clients are going to accept easily. So, experts say, be certain you understand what they want before you react. “You’re going to have to really listen,” adds Christo. “You’re going to have to analyze their hair, so you can give them options and ideas.”

Lesson #4: Practice patience.

Curl experts say you cannot treat curly clients the same way you treat clients with straight hair.

“Most of the time, people with straight hair will let you do whatever you want,” Christo says. “But with curly clients, you have to take into consideration she has already tried many things and ended up in your chair because you claim you specialize in curly hair. So you have to live up to those expectations.”

And that can mean a much longer consultation for new clients. For example, Christo blocks out an hour for new clients.

“We want to make sure that person is going to stay with us because we know we have all the solutions for them,” he says.

He suggests stylists ask themselves if they really know how to deal with curly hair. “Anyone can say they do curly hair, but can they really? Or, are they making disasters out there for us to fix?” Christo asks.

Diane DaCosta

Diane DaCosta

Lesson #5: Find a mentor.

“Always look for a mentor who can guide you,” DaCosta says. “Nowadays, it’s easier because all the veteran stylists are writing books and making videos, so that’s one way, but there’s really nothing like hands-on experience with a mentor. That’s how you avoid a lot of mistakes.”

Even if you can’t afford to take classes with the nation’s top experts, DaCosta suggests seeking out a top curl stylist in your own town.

“If you don’t give them solutions, they won’t come back to you for a haircut,” adds Christo. “If you do, you’ll have a client for life.”

Lesson #6: Your client is not your friend.

“Young stylists sometimes think the client is their friend, but the client is paying you, so they’re not your friend,” DaSilva says.

He warns stylists to always be aware that the client is in your chair for a reason — not to make small talk, but to receive a service and leave as a satisfied customer.

“If you talk too much with the client and get too friendly, you make the client uncomfortable to come back to you,” DaSilva says. “The client may talk about their personal life and you talk about yours and, before you know it, you think the client is your friend. But the bottom line is a month from now she’s going to get her credit card bill and look in the mirror.”

It’s your job to make sure they like what they see.

Lesson #7: Be fearless.

Dennis DaSilva

Dennis DaSilva

Although you may feel fear when first approaching curly clients, don’t give in to it.

“The first 10 years as a stylist, you’re so afraid of clients. When they want what they want, they make you concerned about that. The second 10 years, you learn how to present what is better for them, but the end result is they will push you, even though you gave them whatever they wanted,” DaSilva says. “The third 10 years, now you’re smarter. You listen, but learn how strategically to put them in a spot where you can always give them more.”

Especially when it comes to color, DaSilva warns that if you give the client too much control, it will be hard to get it back.

“I don’t have confrontations with any clients, but if they say I want a lot of blonde highlights, I’ll put the blonde strategically in places where they will see more blonde, but not necessarily doing more blonde,” he explains. “If they say I want a little red, I may know that warm brown for them is red.”

DaSilva says it’s all about understanding how to interpret and balance a client’s wants and needs.

Lesson #8: Watch your words.

Curl experts say your words matter — a lot — when working with curly clients.

“If you say, ‘I know exactly what I need to do,’ it just blows up in your face. Even if you do know, it just puts [the curly client] on the defense,” Ouidad says. “It’s essential to talk about how you’re going to work with the hair, what kind of movement you want to put in the hair. You want to be able to verbalize and explain how it’s going to fit and how it’s going to look like when the hair is dry.”

Ouidad says you can ease a curly’s fear by saying things like, “I know layers would be too rough for your hair or it would shrink too much.” You really want to make sure curly clients know that you’re not going to give them ledges, a pyramid or some other shape they dread— and you do understand their texture.

“Make your client as comfortable and trusting as possible by saying things that resonate with them,” Ouidad says.

Lesson #9: Find a product line you believe in.

“A common mistake stylists make is they like to have two or three different lines of products for curly hair, but that’s misleading to clients,” Christo says. “Different lines have different philosophies. You can’t mix them, it never works.”

He suggests stylists decide which product line they believe in the most, and stick with it.

“When you believe in the products and the philosophy behind them, you become a better stylist,” he says. “Also make sure your station only has curly hair products there. The client will not tell you, but they will feel better already when they’re sitting in your chair and they see a curly product. They don’t care if your salon is fancy, if you have marble floors or beautiful ceiling fans or whatever, clients want answers and if you don’t give them answers you can kiss them goodbye.”

Lesson #10: Pay attention to a client’s emotions.

Gauge the emotions of a client. Never touch a client when they’re emotional or distraught — at all — ever — because they’re never going to be happy with a decision they make, if it’s based on emotion, especially when it comes to a drastic change in a haircut or color.

“You can explain to them all the styles and cuts that would look good on them, but offer them another service,” DaCosta says. “You can always give them a conditioning treatment, a gloss or even a demi-permanent color, until they’re ready for a major change.”

Coloring Curls:

Five Must-Follow Rules

by Teri Evans on Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

While curly hair comes in a tapestry of textures, color is what adds sparkle and dimension. Sounds simple enough to do, but it’s actually much more complex to color curls than stick-straight locks.

“With curly hair, it’s very hard to fix a problem with color,” says Denis DaSilva, co-owner of New York’s Devachan Salon.”The hair is more dense, there’s more hair to deal with, so a little mistake in color can be more painful for the person who has it. Curly hair has a tendency to be dry, so fixing a color means you’re going to damage it even more, and the end result is the curl is affected and so is the shine.”

Curls and kinks can also be crushed by color, if the hair is already damaged before you even get started.

“Maybe the client does not do enough to maintain the hair at home,” says Christo of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue salon. “Or, maybe they like to blow out their hair or flat iron it. You have to take that into consideration before you color their hair.”

As a stylist, working with color on curlies requires the skills of a true artist — or at least someone who knows what the rules are and how to follow them. Here, we provide five simple rules to navigate the unique twists and turns of coloring curls.

Rule #1: Choose semi- or demi-permanent color whenever possible.

Curly hair is drier and more porous than straight hair, so you always want to offer your clients color options that will condition their curls instead of drying them out even more.

“Use semi- and demi-permanent color, and you can cover gray almost 100% with less damage,” DaSilva says. “Be aware that permanent color is going to add even more dryness into the hair.”

DaSilva says he always thinks long and hard before making a decision about color. “Never come to a conclusion by what the client wants or what you think,” he says. “You have to look at what the hair can take and what is best for the hair.”

Rule #2: If you must use permanent color, be strategic.

When permanent color is needed for highlights, curl-centric stylist Tamara Mooney creates only a few triangle sections of foils with three different, yet complementary, colors.

“I keep the permanent color to a minimum, and have it just be surprise color popping out from underneath so there’s less damage,” says Mooney, who specializes in curly hair at Tasha’s Beauty Studio in San Diego, Calif. “I’m only doing three or four foils that create a triangle shape on the head and the rest is semi-permanent color.”

Too many highlights or too much bleach can not only damage curly hair (which is already fragile), but can also deflate the roundness of the curls.

“Color can straighten the hair and make it frizzy, so only use ammonia and peroxide, when you’re covering gray or highlighting,” Mooney says. “Any other time use semi-permanent colors.”

Rule #3: Never, ever overlap color.

One of the most commonly overlooked mistakes stylists make is to overlap when coloring the roots, according to Christo.

“Curly hair is more porous [than straight hair], so when you apply color you have to stay on the roots. Whatever you overlap is going to get darker,” Christo says. “The uneven color will create a zebra strip when the color starts to grow out.”

Christo suggests using a brush that is thin and clean enough to easily apply color exactly where the client needs it.

“A lot of stylists make the mistake of applying color 20 minutes on the roots, then the last 10 minutes they’ll do the ends,” Christo explains. “But with curly hair, the ends are so porous that it will become darker, creating a demarcation.”

Michael Crispel, a creative artist for KMS California and owner of Earth Salon in Toronto, Ont., agrees.

“For all-over color, make sure to split up the formulation from roots to ends,” Crispel says. “Because of the porosity of curly hair, the roots get hotter. The roots look lighter than the ends. Good stylists know to watch the roots versus the ends.”

Rule #4: Remember, healthy hair is critical for coloring curls.

No matter the color service, Christo encourages his clients to deep condition their curls before coming into the salon. If they don’t — and their hair shows up damaged and dry— he’ll begin the service with a 10-minute conditioning treatment before he applies even the first drop of color.

“That way the color will look more shiny and it won’t dry the hair out,” Christo says.

After every color service Christo always adds his conditioning treatment (which does not require heat) lasting five to eight minutes, and builds the cost into the overall price of the color service.

“I don’t charge them the price of a full treatment, just maybe one third of it, depending on how often the client comes into the salon,” he says.

Rule #5: Always educate your clients and offer option; never turn them away.

Even if a client shows up with damaged or over-processed hair, it’s your responsibility as a professional to come up with options.

“You can’t promise them the world and then damage their hair and expect the curls to bounce back, but you also never want to say, ‘I can’t do it,’” Mooney says. “You just have to turn it around in a way that will work for their hair, and work for them.”

For example, if a curly client arrives with severely damaged hair, Mooney says your best bet is to focus on semi-permanent color, along with low-lites to get their hair closer to its natural state.

“You want to have a much higher percentage of natural hair with just accent colors in there, unless you’re covering gray,” she says.

For those clients who are addicted to being a bleach-blonde, be careful taking them too dark too fast or it will “freak them out,” Mooney says, “and you’re going to lose the client.”

Instead, move slowly toward the dark side, keeping enough blonde in their hair to keep them happy, while also educating them that hair must be healthy to be at its curly, bouncy best.

Mooney also suggests stylists collect European magazines and tear out examples of beautiful color and curls—and contrast that with examples of hair disasters. Then, put it all together in your own curly book of color (and keep it right next to your chair) so you can quickly show clients, instead of just tell them, what their options are and what will work best.

A Day in the Life:

Carlos Flores
of Mario Diab Salon

by Teri Evans on Saturday, May 30th, 2009

A Day in the Life

This is the third in an ongoing series of features about some of the top curl stylists. We take you behind the chair to experience a day in their life. This month, we get up close and personal with long-time curl expert Carlos Flores from New York’s Mario Diab Salon. Flores has developed an international reputation for his knowledge and passion about curly hair techniques.

Carlos Flores

Carlos Flores

On this soggy Friday morning in springtime, New York’s Mario Diab salon is a welcome haven for curlies. Stepping inside, the classic black-and-white decor is brightened by select pieces of stylish art. The look is minimalist, but not sterile. Soothing, soft music sets a peaceful ambience. Clients are greeted with freshly brewed cappuccinos, a myriad of herbal teas, sparkling water, and a square or two of rich, dark chocolate.

It’s cozy. And that’s exactly how curl-centric stylist Carlos Flores likes it.

A self-described “Jersey boy,” Flores grew up in a close-knit Puerto Rican family. “It was almost like a village, we took care of each other,” he recalls.

Flores sports a buzz cut, but his natural texture is curly. He donned his curls for several years in the past to experience firsthand the twists and turns of textured tresses.

“Curly hair is misunderstood. I remember my haircuts, when I felt tortured,” Flores says.

And although being a stylist wasn’t a childhood dream, his sisters were unwittingly prophetic when they pressed him into his passion. “You never shut up; you should be a stylist,” they would say, with affection.

Throughout his 12 years as a stylist, his conversation skills have served him well. His chats are breezy, sprinkled with bouts of laughter and quick smiles. Often the topic turns to travel, which Flores relishes. He flies to London three times a year to cut hair and enjoy a mini-vacation. But in his view, a stylist should be less about ego and more about simply getting to know his clients.

“Life is a mirror,” says Flores, dressed simply in Levi’s jeans and a black t-shirt underneath a striped, button-down shirt (left open with the sleeves rolled up), with black-leather sneakers. “If you keep it real, you get back real.”

11:00 a.m.

“So, what’s cookin’?” Flores asks Isabel McGurn, a client of six years with shoulder-length caramel curls.

As he begins the cut (always on dry hair), the chat revolves around McGurn’s 10-year-old son, who has no idea how to manage his curly locks.

“First, get him off the shampoo, never use a brush and have him leave in tons of conditioner,” says Flores, offering tips to minimize frizz. He also suggests a curl-rejuvenating spritz or a spray bottle filled with two parts water and one part conditioner, if the curls are “too puffed.”

“Well, it’s less puffy and more like it just goes in a weird curly direction,” McGurn says.

She promises to bring him in for a cut, possibly the following month. “I think he’d be OK with the help. He’s so into curls,” McGurn says.

11:37 a.m.

Flores’s stealth assistant Mitzy steps quietly toward his chair, glancing at him with eyebrows gently raised.

“She’s dry?” Flores asks, referring to an earlier client.

Mitzy, with short, mocha ringlets and a soothing presence, nods yes.

Throughout the day, there will be more nudging nods and gestures exchanged between stylist and assistant, but few words. There’s a comforting familiarity that comes from knowing what each other is thinking, seamlessly guiding clients in and out of the chair.

11:55 a.m.

An out-of-town client arrives with dark-chocolate curls resting just above the shoulders.

“Hi, how are you?” Flores says.

“Well, my daughter is here to visit and says she’s going somewhere to get a blowout,” says the curly client from Florida.

Meanwhile, the rain outside has shifted from a drizzle to a downpour.

“On a day like today?” he asks.

“Yes,” she says, laughing and shrugging her shoulders.

12:07 p.m.

Flores steps into the next open room to check on McGurn who sits quietly under a dryer next to a table decorated with fresh, lemon-yellow tulips and glossy green apples.

Convinced McGurn’s style is on track, it’s back to his curly client from Florida. She has been coming to him for more than two years. Their chat resumes and he mentions possibly taking regular, quick trips (once every five weeks) to Washington to cut hair as well.

“What about Florida? You know, where it’s sunny and gorgeous. Hello!?” she exclaims. “Do you know how many curly clients in Florida would line up for you?”

He says he’ll definitely consider it; they agree to work out the details.

12:35 p.m.

Again, Mitzy subtly enters the room, gives Flores the eye and a smile.

“Ready?” he asks.

“Yes,” she says.

“OK,” he turns to his Florida client, “you’re going to follow Mitzy.”

Mitzy is beloved by Flores’s clients, especially this one. “I love Mitzy because she takes care of Carlos,” the radiant curly from the sunshine state tells me. “Anyone who takes care of him is in my circle of love.”

12:48 p.m.

Carlos makes a few final tweaks to McGurn’s curly do and she’s off. His next appointment is canceled, but the time is quickly filled. While his Florida client is in the back for a cleanse, her daughter arrives and introduces herself.

“My mom’s a big fan, BIG fan!” says the 20-something, brunette curly just in from the rain — her hair pulled back in a short ponytail. Poking out the edges of a bag she’s carrying are an umbrella and a newly purchased flat iron, still in its packaging. (She opted out of a salon blowout since it’s raining, deciding to try straightening it later herself.)

“Be careful with that,” Flores says, eyeing the flat iron.

“Oh, it’s just for once in a while, for special occasions.” she remarks, nonchalantly.

“Really? I see you have weak hair, and I say that with so much love,” he says. “We need to talk, just to learn some dos and don’ts about it, to prevent your hair from breaking.”

Flores always tells his clients there’s no such thing as bad hair, just bad habits. In fact, almost all his clients are curlies, although he also sees “the occasional curly girl in denial.”

1:04 p.m.

The Florida mom strolls back in the room. “Your hair looks nice!” her daughter says.

“Well, duh,” mom says with a smile.

“OK, Carlos, I’ll work on strengthening my hair. Positive affirmations!” the daughter says, before heading out to shop while her mother finishes up at the salon.

The banter bounces back to convincing Flores to come to Florida. “What time of year do you want to come down?” she insists.

They vow to put something on the calendar soon.

2:00 p.m.

Next in the chair, a cheery curly redhead.

“It’s too long, I’ve had to use a lot of clips,” she says.

Flores knows what to do and moves right in for the cut. The back-and-forth banter now ranges from TV shows (Dancing with the Stars) and musicals (West Side Story, Hair) to travels through Europe and President Obama. He rarely allows more than a hiccup of silence, yet the conversation never seems forced.

After they exchange rave reviews about Oscar-winning movies “Slumdog Millionaire” and “Milk”, Mitzy whisks her away to cleanse her newly trimmed ringlets.

2:46 p.m.

The redhead is back in Flores’s chair.

“How was it?” he asks.

“It was wonderful,” she says, with her fiery ringlets in perfect shape. “If I were a cat, I’d be purring. You know all the comments I get. People stop me on the street and say ‘Oh your hair is so beautiful!”

A Stylist’s Guide
to Fixing Frizz

by Teri Evans on Saturday, May 30th, 2009


When curly clients sit in your chair, it’s never long before they fire off questions focused on frizz—how to prevent it, tame it, get rid of it! Frizz is the curly girl’s arch nemesis and, as a stylist, it’s up to you to arm her with tools for battle. But first, you have to figure out what’s causing the fight—and that’s not always easy.

“We can confuse frizzy hair as being in bad condition and that’s not necessarily true,” says Kaz Amor, a stylist at Warren Tricomi Salon in West Hollywood, Calif. “It’s usually the way curls are being handled that causes the hair to frizz.”

Clients won’t always tell you how they’re handling their hair at home — whether they’re too embarrassed to reveal bad habits or simply don’t know any better. You have to dig deep for answers.

Here, a stylist’s guide to the undercover causes of frizz — and how you can help your clients fight back.

Undercover Cause #1: Your curly client avoids styling products.

If a client refuses to try any products at all, she must know that it will be nearly impossible to avoid frizz. Oftentimes, this type of client thinks a naturally curly style should be easy. They don’t want to bother with styling products. To them, it seems like too much work.

“A lot of people equate using any product in their hair as it being a high-maintenance hairstyle,” Ethan Shaw, a curl-centric stylist with James Allan Salon in Austin, Texas. “The challenge is to convince them they need to change their attitude about all of that.”

Frizz-Fighting Fix: Shaw suggests asking your curly clients what they ultimately want their hair to look like, and then work with them to establish goals to get there, one step at a time.

“You have to figure out what you can do immediately, what they can do at home and what the long-term goals are,” Shaw explains. “Immediately, you can cut off some of the hair that’s damaged. You can show them a better shampoo and conditioner than what they’re using. You can also show them a product and how to use it.”

Yes, the client will have to agree to work at it, but not any more than they’ll have to work at constantly repairing their hair if they don’t manage it upfront.

Undercover Cause #2:Your curly client is using the wrong products.

Curly clients are often product junkies. They hear about a product that is working for someone else, so they unwittingly buy it without really considering if it’s the right product for their curl type. And if the product is not a perfect fit, the result once again can be annoying frizz. Or frazzled curls can come from curlies who opt for the cheapest (read: wrong) products just to pinch pennies.

“With the economy the way it is, I’m finding out that a lot of my clients have been going to different cheaper shampoos that are more drying,” says Teri Parr, a curly stylist at The Strand at Pinecrest, a salon in Miami, Fla.

Frizz-Fighting Fix: Parr suggests probing your frugal clients about how the challenging economy is affecting them.

“I ask about what they’re cutting back on,” she says. “Everyone is trying to cut back on something and the first thing is the shampoo and conditioner.”

Educate your clients about the curl-crushing effects of cheap products, then offer them alternatives at a variety of price points that won’t bust their budget. And if they’re using their best friend’s latest, greatest find, make sure it’s the greatest for their curl type.

Undercover Cause #3: Your curly client is not applying products correctly.

If your clients are using all the right products, but still find themselves buried in frizz, they may simply not be using them the right way.

“I try to guide my clients step by step through the styling process and simplify it as much as possible,” Shaw says. “So much of the style is about the application.”

Frizz-Fighting Fix: “A visual aid is best,” says Giselle Grant, a curl-centric stylist at Curltopia in New Smyrna, Ga.

Grant suggests asking clients to show you exactly how they style their hair from start to finish, so you can figure out what they’re doing wrong. Then, show them the right way to style it, in easy steps they can replicate at home.

Undercover Cause #4: Your curly client is not using enough product.

When you come across a client who has all the right products and is applying them the right way, the problem could lie in the amount they’re using. Chances are, it’s not enough. This problem is more likely to surface in curlies with a longer, thicker mane, which requires more than the standard dollop of product.

Frizz-Fighting Fix: Again, showing versus telling is the key to solving this stumper.

“I’ll show them in front of the mirror what one side looks like without enough product and what the other side looks like with the adequate amount, which is a completely different look,” Grant says. “Showing them what a balance should look like, generally will eliminate the problem.” That is, unless you have clients who are trying to make their seemingly pricey products last longer.

Sometimes they’ll use less product on purpose — not because they don’t know any better.

For example, one of Parr’s curly clients added water to her styling product so she wouldn’t have to replace it as often. But instead of telling Parr the truth, she complained that the product just wasn’t working the way it used to be. Of course, that didn’t make sense, so Parr peppered her client with questions.

“I asked her, ‘What size bottle did you get? How long is it lasting you?’ Since she was using it every day and the product was lasting three months, obviously she wasn’t using enough,” Parr says. “I said to her, ‘Either you’re not using it or you did something to it.’”

Giggling in embarrassment, her client finally confessed to her water trick.

“It ended up being a funny joke between us,” Parr recalls, “but I had to fight to get that out of her.”

Undercover Cause #5: Your curly client skips over maintenance.

Clients may be doing all the right things during the day, but still miss one of the most important steps while they’re sleeping. Frizzy mornings are common when curlies don’t manage their mane in the overnight hours, especially kinkier textures.

Frizz-Fighting Fix: Grant encourages her clients to sleep with satin or silk, whether that’s a scarf bonnet to protect their spirals or a pillow case to rest their curly head.

“Sleeping with silk or satin helps to maintain the moisture in the hair. Cotton and other materials dry it out, which adds to frizz,” Grant says. “The kinkier the texture, it’s best at night sometimes to twist or braid it, so they can control it while they sleep.”

She also urges curlies to apply a leave-in conditioner at night, and reminds them to do it consistently if they really want to notice a difference.

Undercover Cause #6: Your curly client has a drying dilemma.

Curls and kinks can quickly become frazzled into frizz in the drying phase of the styling process. While using a diffuser can add a much-needed boost to looser curls, a hooded dryer is often the best option for kinkier curl types.

Frizz-Fighting Fix: “If it’s a really tight curl and kinky texture, I suggest a hooded dryer because heat flows down and it doesn’t disturb the curl as much as a blow dryer or diffuser,” Grant says.

If a client doesn’t have a hooded dryer at home, Grant recommends braiding or twisting the textured tresses, and letting them air dry.

“If time is an issue and I have to diffuse in the salon, I only diffuse to a certain point and let them air dry the rest of the way,” says Grant, again referring to Type 4 textures. “But since the client doesn’t know when that point is, I encourage them not to diffuse at home because it will be frizzy eight out of 10 times.”

Undercover Cause #7: Your curly client fibs about the flat iron.

There’s no mistaking the burnt, frayed ends or the wilted, weak curls. They reveal a truth that your client is trying to cover up. Or, maybe she’s simply in denial about the damage the flat iron is doing to her curls. “A lot of times it damages the curl to the point where it’s not going to curl up nicely, and it comes up as frizz,” Shaw says.

Frizz-Fighting Fix: The key here is to be direct about what the sizzling heat of a flat iron does, but in a way that won’t offend the client or make her wrong.

“It’s a lot more effective to explain to them that their hair has seen a lot of damage from heat, and it’s affecting the curl type,” Shaw says.

“I tell them they have to be careful,” adds Parr, who works in Miami, a city blanketed in heat and humidity. “I say, ‘I understand you want to change up your look once in a while, but during summertime in Miami? Not a good idea.’”

Undercover Cause #8: Your curly client overdosed on color.

They may deny going too far too soon with color, but there’s no mistaking clients with a head full of frizz that comes from fragile, over-processed curly locks.

“You have those who say they don’t color their hair, and then I see the root,” Parr says. “If you call them on it, in more of a joking manner, they’ll usually end up opening up to you and telling you more stuff than you really wanted to know.”

Frizz-Fighting Fix: Once you know just how many processes your client’s curls have endured, be honest (yet gentle) in explaining whether her hair can handle any more color-stripping chemicals or if she needs to take a break.

“It’s hard to tell a woman, ‘You can’t color your hair,’” says Stanley of New York’s Christoper Stanley Salon. “But I will never sacrifice hair texture for a beautiful color.” If a client insists on covering gray hair, Stanley suggests a demi-permanent color. “You won’t get 100 percent gray coverage, but it won’t be as damaging.”

And if his curly clients insist on permanent color, he makes them choose between a single-process or highlights — not both.

“It’s tough for the curly hair client because she might be covering gray with a darker color, but also wants to brighten it up with highlights. I just say no,” Stanley says. “I’m not going to have someone walking around with an amazing color on ratty-looking hair.”

You always want to put the interests of the client first, whether they know what’s best for them or not. Yes, they may be frustrated at the work it takes to fight frizz, but they’ll ultimately thank you for preparing them to battle it.

“If you make it playful and fun, they end up walking out of the salon with a smile,” Parr says. “No one wants to be ridiculed or judged or embarrassed by what they’re doing. Life is too short. Have fun with it.”

Stylists’ Product Recommendations

With the ever-increasing (and often confusing) number of products available to curlies, you’ll want to be prepared when clients turn to you for advice on the best frizz-fighters. We asked some curl-centric stylists to cut through the clutter and share their top picks, ranging from conditioners to stylers to serums.


Bain De Terre Jasmine

Teri Parr suggests Bain de Terre products for budget-conscious curlies.

Stanley of New York’s Christopher Stanley Salon encourages his curly clients to opt for a sulfate-free shampoo to cleanse the scalp and hair, without stripping away its natural oils. His favorites are DevaCurl’s Low-Poo and No-Poo, which he says work especially well on thick, coarse curls.

When it comes to Type 3 textures, Giselle Grant, a stylist at Curltopia in New Smyrna, Ga., suggests Carol’s Daughter Tui Leave-in Conditioner or Black Vanilla Leave-In Conditioner. For coarse, kinkier textures, she recommends Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercreme or Curly Buttercreme.

Teri Parr, a curly stylist at The Strand at Pinecrest, a salon in Miami, Fla., prefers AG Tech One Daily Shampoo. And when frugal clients ask her for cheaper options, she suggests Bain de Terre Jasmine Shampoo and Cucumber Conditioner or Healthy, Sexy Hair Pumpkin Rehydrating Shampoo and Conditioner. “It smells delicious and softens the hair,” Parr says.

Deep treatments also help smooth the hair shaft, which cuts down on frizz. Parr recommends a cocktail of AG’s Deep Reconstruction Treatment or Ultramoist Moisture Treatment, along with a few drops of AG’s Liquid Varnish smoothing polish. Leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes for healthier, shinier curls, according to Parr.

Gels/Styling Creams

Carol's Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey

Carol’s Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey

Making sure your client has applied enough styling product, and in the right way, also helps minimize frizz. Stanley recommends DevaCurl Angell or Paul Mitchell’s Modern Elixir styling cream for thick, dense curls.

Ethan Shaw, a stylist with James Allan Salon in Austin, Texas, and Parr of Miami, Fla., suggest AG’s Re:coil curl activator. Parr also cocktails the styler with AG’s Fast Food leave-on conditioner. “It makes the curls soft, not hard and crunchy, and helps a lot with frizz,” Parr says.

For Type 3 curls, Grant recommends Carol’s Daughter Hair Milk. When it comes to finer textures with Type 4 tight coils, she suggests trying a pomade, such as Carol’s Daughter Mimosa Hair Honey.


Murray's Pomade

Murray’s Pomade

Whenever using silicone-based serums or oils, remember a little goes a very long way. “Don’t get it anywhere near the scalp, just take a few drops to coat the hair strand,” says Stanley, who recommends Ecru Silk Nectar Serum, KMS Silk Sheen Therapy Plus, Goldwell’s Kerasilk Anti-Frizz Serum or Earthly Body Marrakesh Oil.

A dab of Murray’s Pomade is enough to achieve success for Shaw’s curly clients. “Just take a tiny, tiny little bit and take your palms and glide it over the top of the head,” he says.

And Parr’s favorites for frizz-free shine are BioSilk’s Silk Therapy Serum, AG’s Liquid Varnish smoothing polish or Moroccan Oil.

The Wedding Dress and the ‘Do

by Teri Evans on Saturday, May 30th, 2009

What makes a picture-perfect bride? The curly coif should match the style of the wedding gown, says curl expert Christo of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue salon.

It’s a critical step in creating the overall look on your wedding day. In fact, Christo says he always asks to see a bride’s dress before even considering how to style her hair.

Here we provide several sensational style options to match the five most-popular dream dresses. Whether your client envisions a wedding day steeped in elegant tradition or dazzling drama, here are some ideas that should suit every bride.


STYLE: A Renaissance dress with a raised waistline placed just below the bust, while the rest of the gown flows freely to the hem.


This captivating gown is reminiscent of the Victorian era. (Think of Ang Lee’s movie “Sense & Sensibility.”)

“This is my favorite dress for naturally curly hair, because you can leave a lot of curls showing,” Christo says. “Curls can either tied back or loose, and it’s very romantic.”

If she chooses to wear her hair half-up, half-down, Christo suggests taking small sections of curls — starting from the temples and then ear to ear — and tie them into small knots (as you would a rope). To sprinkle in more romance and innocence, adorn the ‘do with baby’s breath or miniature roses.

“You can also add extensions for a more dramatic look, as long as they match your hair texture,” Christo says.

Ball gown

STYLE: A traditional, fairy-tale dress with a fitted bodice and full skirt. Think Cinderella!


This enchanting gown also offers several style options for curly brides, especially those with long, textured tresses, according to Christo.

“The ball gown is more dramatic, so you can create more drama with your curls,” Christo says. “You can go with big hair because the gown is full on the bottom. If the dress is over the shoulders and you’re showing the back a bit, leave the hair down, and you can even add extensions. If she chooses a high neckline, put some of the hair up and create big, glamorous curls.”

Or, opt for a modern French twist, allowing some curls to peek out from the back and around the face.


STYLE: A dramatic dress that hugs curves from the bust to the knee, then flares out to the hem.

BEST SUITED FOR: Wavy to Curly

This alluring gown looks best with hair in beautiful waves, letting them flow like the sea’s cascading currents.

“This dress is very romantic, allowing for a lot of movement,” says Christo, noting that brides with tighter curls may want to consider softening the spirals into waves.

His style suggestion? Create a little height at the crown, gather one side of your loose curls or waves and sweep them back with a flower, then let it be!

Consider a richly fragrant, beautiful bloom like a wild gardenia, calla lily, magnolia, or the ever-romantic rose.


STYLE: A classic dress that is fitted around the bust and flows out to the hem, resembling the shape of an uppercase A.

BEST SUITED FOR: Straight to Wavy

This dress can be worn with curly hair, but you will want to simplify the texture, Christo says.

“This dress always looks best when the hair is pulled up,” he says. “If you leave your curly hair down, you’re taking a style that’s very simple and you’re making it very busy. If you have tight curls, loosen them up a bit with a curling iron.”

Christo suggests positioning the hair off the face into a side-swept, loose ponytail or pulling it back into a bun (with a few curls peeking out) and accessorize! If you have wavy hair or loose curls, use a curling iron all around and then tuck small groupings of curls away from the face.

Another option? Create a ponytail at the crown, then loop the hair in a chignon around the ponytail. Add a simple, beautiful flower, and you’re done!


STYLE: An elegant sheath dress that hugs the body from the neckline to the hem.

BEST SUITED FOR: Straight to Wavy

If she chooses this body-contouring style, remember that less is more when it comes to creating a magnificent mane.

“This is another simple style so the hair shouldn’t be busy,” Christo says. “It should be completely off the face. If you show too many curls, it will look enormous compared to the dress!”

Instead, he suggests gently pulling back your textured tresses with a side or off-center part, then create a twist, a simple ponytail or a low bun. Add a touch of elegance with natural flowers — or a little glitter to spice it up a bit.

Planning tips for curly brides:

  • No matter what curly style you choose, make sure the hair is healthy for that all-important day. Encourage them to use a deep-conditioning treatment every week, consistently, to add moisture and prevent split ends. And, make sure they head to the salon for a great cut and touch-up color, if needed.

  • Don’t stray too far from their everyday style. This is not the time to experiment! “Don’t blow-dry their hair straight and put it into a bun, if it doesn’t represent her,” Christo warns. “Don’t do something on their wedding day that is not them, where they look like a whole different person. Remember those pictures will stay with them for the rest of their marriage!”

  • Most important, she shouldn’t put her hair last on the wedding to-do list. “Hair is one of the most important elements of your wedding day,” Christo says. “(The client) should Invest time and money to do a trial session, it’s very important to have style options to choose from.”

  • The Mane Manual
    for Curl Philosophies

    by Teri Evans on Saturday, May 30th, 2009

    The options seem endless. Do you shampoo your clients using a sulfate-free cleanser? Should you cut curls wet or dry? Should you forego the flat iron forever? Confused yet?

    There are a growing number of philosophies to consider when caring for clients’ curls.

    Rest easy — we cut through the clutter and gathered the top experts in the curly world for their bottom-line stance on cutting, cleansing and styling.

    These curl experts have invested decades in studying and styling curly hair. Their life’s mission revolves around curls! Although their approaches may differ, their goal is the same: creating gorgeous, healthy curls for their clients.

     shari harbinger


    Shari Harbinger, partner of Lorraine Massey of New York’s Devachan Salon

    CUT: When stylists at Devachan Salon prep for a curly cut, they know to trust their intuitive eye and their visual eye.

    “You can’t really understand that if the hair is wet because you’re not seeing the hair as you wear it, in its natural form, which is dry,” says Shari Harbinger, who emphasizes that curls should be cut only when the hair is dry.

    When curlies make an appointment at Devachan, they’re asked to stop shampooing their curly locks one to two weeks before their cut, although daily conditioning is recommended. When they step into the stylist’s chair, clients are required to arrive with their hair dry and in its natural state, uncombed and without any products in it at all.

    “We look at the face shape, the hair, the curl type, the hydration level, and all those factors will determine where we cut, and how much we cut,” Harbinger adds.

    The only tools in a Devachan curly cut are scissors and the stylist’s hands — no combs or brushes.

    “Combs aren’t necessary because you’re then stretching the curl out of its natural form, which defeats the whole purpose of cutting curly hair in its natural order,” she says.

    CLEANSE & CONDITION: Curly hair can’t get enough moisture, and Harbinger says sulfates in shampoos add to the dehydration of curly locks.

    “The philosophy is to remove the sulfates from the product, which are the harsh, lathering and dehydrating ingredients found in 99 percent of the conventional shampoo on the market,” says Harbinger, noting DevaCurl’s product line includes No-Poo, a sulfate-free botanical cleanser. “Just by virtue of eliminating those sulfates and replacing them with botanically derived ingredients, the hair responds immediately.”

    If curls are extremely dehydrated, she recommends conditioning every day. For a deeper treatment, Harbinger recommends leaving in the daily conditioner for a half hour to intensify the hydration.

    “But you can cleanse every other day because our styling products have nothing synthetic in them to cause buildup or to make the hair feel dirty,” Harbinger says.

    STYLE: The styling process begins the moment you’ve stepped out of the shower, Harbinger says.

    “Gently tilt your head over, in an upside down position, and squeeze the excess water out of the hair with paper towels or a cotton t-shirt in an upward scrunching motion,” Harbinger says. “Regular towels cause friction and cause the cuticle of curly hair to fray and appear frizzy. They also absorb too much water out of the hair. For the best curl definition, you want to remove just enough water to release the curl of its own water weight and that’s best done by using a paper towel.”

    Once you’ve applied a leave-in conditioner and/or gel, then gently bring your head and hair to an upright position and gently shake the curls.

    “Wherever they lay, they shall stay,” says Harbinger, who recommends adding clips to the crown for additional lift. “Do not touch the curls when they’re drying because that can create frizz and cause the curl to lose its formation.”

    As for flat irons, Harbinger views them as a “death sentence for all hair.”

    “Every time you flat iron or ‘blow fry’ the hair, you’re one step further away from your curls being the best they can be,” Harbinger explains. “You’re compromising the elasticity of the curl. The curls will never be as authentic as they can be if they’re in a push-me, pull-me cycle or back and forth.”

    Harbinger emphasizes that curly hair is not a trend, it’s a lifestyle.

    “If we understand what we have and how to work with it, we can learn to embrace and love our curls,” she says.


    Christo, Artistic Director of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue Salon

    CUT: Christo has always believed curly hair should be cut wet.

    “Curly hair, when you cut it dry, won’t have the freedom of style,” Christo says. “You may wear your hair curly 90 percent of the time, but maybe the other 10 percent, you want to wear your hair in glamorous waves or you want to blow it straight. I think you should have that option.”

    Your textured mane should only be combed (wide-tooth comb only!) when it’s wet and then allowed to bounce back, according to Christo. “That way you can see how the curl is going to bounce, and then you cut accordingly,” he explains. “If the hair is dry, how is it going to bounce? It doesn’t.”

    Since there may be many textures on one curly head, Christo may choose to texturize tresses using regular scissors, channel scissors or a double-blade razor on wavy, coarse hair.

    “Some people have wavy hair on the bottom, while it’s curly on the top, so you can texturize the bottom in long angle layers, but you have to know to know what you’re doing,” Christo says. “You want the waves to lock into each other — not become bushy and frizzy.”

    After the hair is cut and then dried with a diffuser, Christo may make a few touch-up snips on a dry mane, but without combing the hair or disturbing the curl.

    CLEANSE & CONDITION: Christo emphasizes that life is about balance — and he applies that philosophy to curly hair. As an advocate of shampoo, Christo views sulfates in shampoo as simply one cleansing component, balanced with other nourishing ingredients, such as proteins and amino acids.

    “I think your hair needs shampoo once or twice a week,” Christo says. “The reason is this: It’s not only to remove the buildup that you get from products, etc. There’s also the buildup you get from the environment, which is so dirty.”

    He’s also a firm believer in deep conditioners, and recommends feeding your curls with a conditioning treatment or mask once a week — or twice a week, if you color your curls.

    STYLE: To style curly locks, Christo divides the hair in four or five sections.

    “If you want to make it easy, clip each section so it’s not in your way,” he says. “Then, take one section at a time, and apply the lotion or gel according to your texture. Then, run your fingers through your hair, shake it a little bit or scrunch it to get the curl to bounce back.”

    If you want to smooth it with a flat iron for a different look, Christo warns curlies not to overdo it.

    “Use it with balance, once in a while,” he says. “If you use the flat iron once a month it will not damage your hair, but if you use it two or three times a week, that doesn’t work.”

    And if you have a daily addiction to the iron, Christo says there’s no way to avoid damaging your hair, no matter how much you condition it.



    Jonathan Torch, of Toronto’s Curly Hair Institute

    CUT: Jonathan Torch studies curly hair when it’s dry to look at the direction the hair grows, but he always cuts hair when it’s wet.

    “That way I can see the grouping of the curls and the way the curls bounce,” Torch says. “We look at the individual curls and choose the size of the curl. In order to make a ringlet, the hair has to rotate 2.5 times, otherwise you get wings.”

    Since every curly head has more than one curl pattern, Torch recommends against traditional layers for curly hair.

    “Even layers do not work in curly hair,” Torch says. “We have developed a technique called curly layers, and it’s all about creating unevenness, breaking it up.”

    If you’re looking for height, volume or bounce, Torch suggests telling your stylist exactly that.

    “You have to change your terminology. If you want volume, say you want volume. Don’t say you want layers because you’re going to be upset with the result,” Torch warns.

    CLEANSE & CONDITION: Cleansing your curls with shampoo is an important step to maintaining healthy hair, according to Torch, whose shampoos contain sulfates, along with silk amino acids.

    “We chose silk amino acids as our moisturizing protein because it has the tiniest molecule,” Torch says. “The size of the molecule is essential, because the smaller the molecule the deeper the penetration of absorption. The most important thing is getting that moisture molecule inside the hair.”

    When conditioning your curls, he says it’s not as simple as “laying it on thick.”

    “Just because a conditioner is thicker in consistency doesn’t make it a better-performing product,” Torch explains. “People like the heaviness because they feel it’s actually going to be doing something, but in reality, it may be only cosmetic.”

    How a conditioner performs depends on its ability to penetrate and help the hair hold onto the moisture, according to Torch.

    “Naturally curly hair repels moisture, so how do you condition hair that is repelling moisture? Our conditioners have pH levels of 3.5 to 4 — that’s extremely low. The lower the pH, the more you’re going to close the cuticle,” Torch says. “Our products deposit generous amounts of silk amino acids and panthenol.”

    STYLE: Even if you have healthy hair and a great curly cut, you won’t truly embrace your curls until you master the styling process. The key to achieving a successful style, Torch says, is not how well you dry your hair. It’s how well you prepare your hair before it dries.

    “You have to start off with tangle-free hair, and the more hair you group in an individual ringlet the looser the curls,” Torch explains. “If you want your hair off your face, you have to get it back off your face from the roots. If you can get the roots going in a certain direction then you can get successful hair. Allowing the cuticle to dry on its own will guarantee frizz-free hairstyles.”



    Ouidad, author of CurlTalk, owner of New York’s Ouidad Salon, the Curl Education Center

    CUT: Using her “Carve-and-Slice” method, Ouidad always cuts curly hair when it’s wet.

    “Curly hair doesn’t dry the same, so it’s very difficult to cut it dry. You need to know the curvature of the curl in its natural state,” Ouidad says.

    The Carve-and-Slice cut is a process that follows the curvature of the curl, and Ouidad says it allows the curls to puzzle into each other so they don’t expand.

    “I section the pieces and shake the curls between my fingers so I can see the wave pattern and the curvature of the curl,” she explains.

    CLEANSE & CONDITION: Ouidad believes shampoo (including sulfates) is “essential” for healthy hair.

    “It’s very important to shampoo twice a week and apply conditioner daily, starting about two inches from the root so you’re not blocking the pores of the scalp,” she says.

    Although Ouidad warns against shampooing too frequently, she emphasizes the importance of cleansing the oils from the scalp to allow the hair follicle to breathe.

    “My philosophy is to work from the inside out — not topically” Ouidad says. “The idea is to rebuild the internal layer by connecting your internal molecular layer with protein, amino acid and sulfur — that’s what my deep treatments are made of. The idea is to feed the curls by using deep treatments on a regular basis. They’re essential to have successful curly hair. Curly hair can’t live without deep treatments, it just doesn’t work.”

    And don’t forget that leave-in conditioner before you start styling, she adds.

    STYLE: When it comes to styling, Ouidad believes that less is more.

    “The less you handle and manipulate your curl, the more successful you’ll be with your hair,” she explains.

    Use only water-soluble styling products, and skip the oils, waxes and silicones that boost buildup, Ouidad says.

    When applying gel or styling lotion, she follows her “shake and rake” technique, which uses your fingers to “rake” through the hair, and then “shake” the curl pattern back into place.

    “Section the hair starting in the nape area and use a quarter-size of gel, rubbing the palms together,” Ouidad explains. “Separate the fingers and run them through the hair. The more hair between your fingers, the looser the curl will be. Then, hold it at the bottom and just shake it.”

    To add some lift to the crown, she suggests sliding a few duckbill clips at the roots, allowing the curls to cascade down freely and dry naturally.

    To Poo or Not to Poo - That is the Question

    by Teri Evans on Tuesday, May 12th, 2009


    The downside of “squeaky clean” hair

    Your client has tossed her flat-iron, finally found the right curly cut, and learned how to style her spirals. So why are her locks still frizzy, dull and dehydrated? And why has her freshly colored tresses turned brassy in a matter of days?

    Curl-centric stylists say the answer may be found on the back of the shampoo bottle.

    “You have to turn the bottle around and look for sodium laurel — or laureth — sulfate; it’s in the ingredient list,” says curl guru Lorraine Massey, who started her own line of sulfate-free cleansers in 1999. “If you see that in there, then put it down. That’s one is the harshest [detergents] of them all and just strips the hair of any vitality.”

    Although many traditional shampoos contain sulfates (which are a classification of foaming agents also known as surfactants), curl experts say these harsh detergents steal the moisture that your tresses so desperately need.

    “We’ve been addicted to lather, but you don’t need synthetic substances to cleanse your hair or wash your body, for that matter,” Massey says. “Sulfates harden the hair. They irritate the hair cuticle and dry it out. It’s like washing your hair with salt.”

    Originally, soap and shampoo were similar products in that they both contained surfactants. The first commercial shampoo, Breck, was introduced in 1930 with thick, billowy lather. Over the decades, more sudsy shampoos emerged, as did the advice to make your hair “squeaky clean.”

    Sodium laurel sulfate is quite irritating and can be rather drying to the skin, but companies have come up with milder versions like Sodium Laureth Sulfate, says Jim Hammer, a cosmetics chemist and product development manager at Pharmasol Corp. in Easton, Mass. But with any detergent cleanser, the flip side of removing oils you don’t want is that you also remove oils you do want, Hammer says.

    “Squeaky clean is a myth,” says Chaz Dean, celebrity stylist and founder of Wen Hair & Body Care products and Chaz Dean Studio in Hollywood, Calif. “People thought squeaky clean meant clean hair, but squeaky clean really equals stripped and dried-out hair.”

    How does this happen? Sulfates create a dense lather that strips away sebum, the oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands that prevent your hair from drying out. You’ll find sulfates in countless cleaning products — ranging from car cleaners to laundry and dishwashing detergents to shower gels and toothpaste. And, of course, shampoo.

    “By cleansing your scalp [with sulfates] you’re robbing it of all the natural, essential oils and beneficial bacteria; you killed them and washed them down the drain,” says Dean, who launched zero-lather cleansing conditioners in the mid-1990s. “The bad and harmful bacteria replenish at a much more rapid pace than the beneficial ones. So, you open yourself up to a dry, flaky and sensitive scalp and psoriasis because you stripped the beneficial bacteria and left a minefield open for the bad bacteria to have a field day.”

    Dean began to realize the harshness of sulfates nearly two decades ago when he was in the early stages of his career, starting out as a colorist.

    “At the time, I started putting vegetable color in my clients’ shampoos and sending them home with it,” Dean recalls. “That would help a little, but their hair still looked brassy. I then started to put it in the conditioner. But then the shampoo would strip the color back out. It was a vicious cycle. That’s when I knew I had to eliminate the lathering factor. The No. 1 reason the color was fading was because anything that lathers is going to strip.”

    While shampoos contain about 8 to 10 percent detergents — a fraction of that being sulfates — Hammer says cleansing conditioners use cationic surfactants, which contain softening and anti-static properties. They are technically surfactants and will cleanse the hair, but they’re not a detergent in the classical sense — you won’t see the foam as you would with shampoos. Cationic surfactants are more related to a conditioning agent, so they don’t have the stripping effect of a normal shampoo.

    A handful of hair-care companies and curl-centric stylists, like Massey and Dean, have been touting the benefits of sulfate-free cleansers for more than a decade. But many people have only just started to embrace them after the recent, intensified focus on the environment.

    “People are becoming more responsible now, with global warming,” Dean says. “They are becoming more aware of what we’re doing to the environment and ourselves, and how we can change.”

    But change can be uncomfortable. While curl experts see a shift toward sulfate-free products, they also still see plenty of resistance.

    “Every person I encounter, even if they have interest, still has to be convinced about why and how this works,” Dean says. “They have to hear it over and over, until they’re finally ready to take the plunge and try it. People are afraid of change and shampoo has been around for so long that it’s just what people know.”

    Although sulfates are still widely used, Hammer says a lot of companies are interested in moving away from them.

    The marketing mantra of “wash, rinse, repeat” was firmly embedded in the mind of Kelly Foreman, until she realized how sulfates were stripping her color-treated, curly locks. Two years ago, she launched her own sulfate-free product line called Mop Top.

    “Curly hair, by its nature, is dry anyway, and you have to be very careful with the chemicals you put on it,” says Foreman. “The lack of moisture is the direct result of using a surfactant too frequently.”

    Forman’s Gentle Shampoo does contain coconut-derived surfactants, which she says are much more gentle than sulfates. Her basic recommendation is to start with a sulfate-free shampoo every seven to 10 days — and then adjust based on how your tresses respond.

    “I personally shampoo once every three to four weeks,” Foreman says, “The rest of the time I just use conditioner.”

    Based on customer feedback, Foreman is now reducing the amount of surfactants in the shampoo even further — cutting them in half. She also plans to launch a zero-lather cleanser this fall because of customer demand.

    “It’s an exciting time to be in this industry,” notes Inga Tritt, who launched The Original Little Sprout in 2003 as a sulfate-free hair and skin-care line for children.

    The idea for her own product line emerged after a frustrating search for sulfate-free products that actually worked on her young daughter, Maya’s, curly locks.

    “I used to use products I found in the health-food store because I didn’t want to use anything I had to worry about on Maya,” Tritt says. “But they didn’t perform. They left her hair fuzzy and dry.”

    Tritt’s sulfate-free shampoos do contain some foaming agents, but they’re derived from beets, coconuts, almonds and sunflowers.

    “For curly hair, a sulfate-free shampoo is a win-win because not only is your hair going to look much better, but your frizz is going to be considerably reduced, also” says Tritt, who is introducing a sulfate-free shampoo for adults this fall.

    “A lot of times, with traditional shampoos, they will add extra mineral oil, petroleum oil derivatives or by-products to help counteract the drying effect of sulfates,” Tritt says. “But you don’t want to feel that residue. People are starting to get it. They’re becoming more savvy consumers and educating themselves.”

    Take Jessicurl’s Jessica — yet another example of an educated curly whose relentless research resulted in her own line of sulfate-free products.

    “I was spending all kinds of money and doing my hair over and over again. and trying to get it to look right and not understanding why it didn’t,” says McGuinty, who launched Jessicurl four years ago. “Well, there’s no way it could look right when I was stripping it with sulfates, then loading it with silicones to calm the frizz that sulfates cause.”

    The Jessicurl line includes two sulfate-free cleansers that contain more gentle surfactants derived mostly from sugar and coconut . The Hair Cleansing Cream has a minimal amount of lather for dry, coarse, or color-treated hair, and the Gentle Lathering Shampoo provides a bit more lather for fine hair that tends to easily become weighed down.

    As the demand for sulfate-free products has encouraged the growth of small, independent companies like Jessicurl, the giants in the beauty industry also have begun paying attention.

    “Businesses that are responding and going green are making the money,” Tritt says. “The ones that are still old school are going to fall behind really fast.”

    “It’s not political at this point, it’s moral,” adds Massey. “It’s about getting real and if something doesn’t feel good, it isn’t. Since when was it acceptable to have mediocre blow-fried, dehydrated hair? At what point did you look in the mirror and say, ‘This is okay?’ It’s not acceptable. There are solutions now, and it’s really going to make a difference when you really want to make a difference. It’s up to you.”

    In Defense of Shampoo

    Curl expert Christo of New York’s Christo Fifth Avenue has built his entire career — and his Curlisto product — around helping curlies maintain healthy hair. That is why he is very frustrated by what he calls the unfair “attack” on shampoos.

    “I would never do anything to harm curly hair,” says Christo. “Sulfates are just one small ingredient along with many other good ingredients, like proteins and amino acids, etc. You need them to cleanse your hair properly, remove the buildup and maintain the hygiene of the hair.

    “There’s not one ingredient that harms the hair or is good for your hair. It’s the combination in a formula.”

    Sulfates are a common detergent in shampoos, dating back to when the first bottle appeared on store shelves in the 1930s. Although a number of hair-care companies are opting not to include these detergents in their products today, some curl experts say the shift away from sulfates is nothing more than a gimmick.

    Only a small fraction of the ingredients in shampoo are detergents, including sulfates, according to Jim Hammer, a cosmetics chemist and product development manager at Pharmasol Corp. in Easton, Mass. He says many shampoos also contain a combination of nurturing ingredients that will provide enhanced mildness, even in the presence of a sulfate.

    “The word ’sulfate’ has become part of a marketing scare, and there’s a lot of propaganda,” adds Jonathan Torch of Toronto’s Curly Hair Institute.

    “You can’t just look at that one ingredient. I would never use anything that would irritate the scalp. When people say they have an itchy scalp, they’re not rinsing out the shampoo properly. You have to spend a lot of time getting the water all the way down to the root. I haven’t found anything better or that remotely comes close to [sulfates].”

    Torch’s product line includes a Treatment Shampoo and a Silk Shampoo, both of which contain ammonium laurel sulfate.

    “There may be a product with one drop of sulfate and 20 drops of silk amino acids to counteract anything that could happen from that one drop.” Torch says. “Concentration is important. Quality is important. All these things play into it. So, it’s an art and it’s a science.”

    Rather than skipping shampoo altogether, Christo emphasizes the importance of continuously feeding curly hair the moisture it needs.

    “You’re going to gain a lot more by focusing on treating your hair with deep conditioners,” Christo says. “If you think you shouldn’t shampoo your hair at all, then you’re going to end up with no shine to your hair, and it will eventually cause damage to your hair.”

    Shampoo is critical to cleansing the pores of the scalp and allowing the roots of your hair to breathe, according to Ouidad, author of CurlTalk and owner of New York’s Ouidad Salon, the Curl Education Center.

    “If you don’t use shampoo to get rid of your own natural oils, not only does the hair become dull but the hair root starts dehydrating, and it starts shrinking,” Ouidad says. “The hair becomes weak.”

    The key is moderation, say the curl experts. Shampoo once or twice a week rather then every day.

    “It’s not going to damage your hair,” Christo adds. “It will bring the luster back to your hair that a no-sulfate shampoo cannot do, unfortunately.”

    Day in the Life:

    Devachan’s Denis DaSilva

    by Teri Evans on Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

    A Day in the Life

    This is the second in an ongoing series of features about some of the top curl stylists. We take you behind the chair to experience a day in their life. This month, we get up close and personal with Denis DaSilva, co-owner and master Stylist of Devachan Salon and Departure Lounge, a growing chain of salons catering to the world’s curlies.

    Denis DaSilva

    Denis DaSilva

    Denis DaSilva has the gift of gab. But unlike some stylists who overindulge in chatter, the co-owner and master stylist of Devachan Salon reveals his charm in peekaboo moments. Mostly, he appears unassuming, focused and nearly obsessive about precision. Even with an assistant always at the ready, he unconsciously glances at his watch in five-minute intervals. On this chilly winter morning, it’s just after 11 a.m. on a Friday, and DaSilva is mixing color for two clients while responding to a phone message.

    “Tell him to call me in exactly 10 minutes, no sooner, no later, please,” he says.

    The phone rings constantly for him on this December day. DaSilva not only manages more than 90 employees, he is in the midst of a new product launch and a second salon opening in White Plains, a New York City suburb. His attention is captured in moments. Right now, he focuses on a client who chose blonde highlights and another curly who drove in from Long Island for DaSilva’s color expertise.

    Devachan salon is also the home of Deva products, which are among curlies’ favorites!

    “That’s the most stressful part of the business, doing color,” he tells me. “You really need to hear what the client is saying and understand it because one word could mean many things.”

    Within 10 minutes, the call he’s expecting is back on hold. He slips away to take it, then sneaks in a few nibbles of a berry-bran muffin. Within minutes, he’s back to his clients.

    “Denis, he’s the master,” says the Long Island client with chestnut curls.

    “One day the master will be born, but he’s not born yet,” he replies, appearing almost uncomfortable with the praise.

    Despite his self-deprecating talk, DaSilva exudes a quiet confidence that commands his clients’ trust. His cautious demeanor comes from decades of experience with finicky clientele. Just when you make one client happy, another strolls in with a dilemma.

    12:00 p.m.

    The sister-in-law of the client from Long Island arrives. She also has an appointment with Denis for color.

    “My hair’s a mess,” she says with a sigh. “I have to tell you the color was too light last time.” Of course, she asked for a blonder look at the time, DaSilva later tells me, but he says nothing about that to her today. Instead, he indulges her grievance and offers a solution.

    “Let’s go with low-lites,” he says.

    Meanwhile, his assistant finishes styling the previous client who received blonde highlights. She quickly walks over to DaSilva: “I just want to say thanks a million! It’s absolutely perfect.”

    “Some of our clients come from far away and they expect the best,” DaSilva tells me, “So the pressure is on, whether we like it or not.”

    Thankfully, he thrives under pressure because the salon sends all the difficult or unhappy clients straight to him. “Tough clients make you a better professional,” DaSilva says. “When you please them, they stay with you for life. The easy clients are willing to go somewhere else.”

    1:00 p.m.

    A mother (also a long-time client) walks in with her daughter for the teen’s first haircut with DaSilva.

    “Tell him what you want and then do what he says. I’ve learned the hard way,” she tells her daughter, with a wink.

    “When was your last haircut?” DaSilva asks the teen with all-one-length honey curls hanging to her waist.

    “A long time ago,” she says, softly.

    “Well, we’re going to bring the length up a bit, and don’t worry, it will be pain-free,” he says, smiling.

    Once that cut is complete, it’s back to the client who came in with a grievance. The plan is to tone down her color with a combination of low-lites and highlights.

    “I’m going to do what I think is best for you and you can give me your input,” he tells her. “I don’t want to make it too dark because then you’ll say ‘Oh no, I’m a brunette.’”

    “The toner will bring her down a shade and a half,” he explains to me.

    2:00 p.m.

    Trying to stave off hunger, DaSilva slips to the back for more nibbles of the same muffin. On this day, he’s too busy even for his usual sushi lunch: a salmon roll.

    “I have the same thing every day because I don’t want to think about what I’m going to eat,” he says.

    Meanwhile, another client arrives, this time a Brazilian woman who chats with him in their native Portuguese. For her, he touches up the roots and adds highlights.

    Then, it’s back to the teen with honey-colored curls for some finishing snips on her new ‘do.

    “It looks absolutely beautiful,” the mom says to her daughter.

    “She looks gorgeous, no surprise,” mom tells DaSilva.

    Next up, a new client. “Nice to meet you,” DaSilva tells the brunette curly. “So, talk to me. How can I help you… (pause) with your hair, of course,” he says with a touch of humor.

    “I’m really open-minded, I just don’t want a triangle.”

    “I hear you,” he says and nods.

    “My sister got the best haircut by you and that’s why I’m here.”

    They discuss a few details of the cut. DaSilva shapes her mocha-colored curls to allow the movement she’s looking for, then his assistant takes her back for cleansing and styling.

    3:00 p.m.

    The verdict is in from the long-time client who wanted a color adjustment, claiming her curly locks were “too light” after her last visit. Today, she emerges with a swirl of caramel and honey-kissed curls. She makes a thorough inspection in the mirror.

    “Much better,” she says of the color.

    “Looks great,” DaSilva adds.

    After she leaves (happy), DaSilva scurries to the back room to check the schedule of his remaining clients. “I’m very much behind,” he says. Just one late client can throw off the entire day — and today a particularly impatient client just arrived. DaSilva has styled her textured tresses for nearly a dozen years. He knows she won’t wait quietly.

    “I’ll be with you shortly,” DaSilva says.

    “Really, how long?” she says, with an obvious hint of frustration.

    “About two hours,” he deadpans.

    “Well, I have to get somewhere, so seriously, how long do you think you’ll be?”

    He manages to soothe her irritation long enough to go back to his chair and start on the client scheduled before her. A 20-something woman with dirty blonde waves says she’s ready for a change— even though she already mixes up her style, going from curly to straight and back again.

    “How are you going to wear your hair today?” he asks.


    “Good girl.”

    “Well, it’s raining outside,” she says, and then changes the subject: “I feel like my hair is getting thinner, like baby hair.”

    “I think you spend too many hours in the mirror,” he says, poker-faced. “Your hair is not getting thinner. You’ll have to wait about 50 years for that.”

    She chuckles and rolls her eyes, her body language shifting in and out of sarcasm. Their camaraderie is endearing. Like many successful stylists, DaSilva is able to adapt quickly to the many personalities he encounters in the salon.

    4:00 p.m.

    DaSilva asks his assistant to check on the new client who should be styled and ready by now. Meanwhile, he steps away for a minute to finish the last bites of that same bran muffin he started eating five hours ago. The new client is back in his chair for a few of DaSilva’s final snips and, voila! She’s done.

    “So, what do you think?” he asks.

    “Amazing,” she says, ever so matter-of-factly, confirming her expectations were met. “Love it. Just love it.”

    Comforting praise like that helps DaSilva remain passionate about an industry he first entered as a teenager. Still, he never takes the accolades for granted. He knows he must earn each and every one, with every cut, and every new client.

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