Ah yes, the ever-burning and often polarizing question within the community of stylists who work with curly hair: should curls be cut wet or dry? During The Truth About Curls session at the annual Paul Mitchell Gathering, the artists and educators provided their expert option on the subject matter: curly hair can be cut both ways!
The truth about cutting curls is that a wet cut or a dry cut should depend on the client’s unique texture. Before deciding which cutting technique to employ, a stylist should first discuss how a client typically wears their hair and analyze their texture. Attendees at The Gathering watched how textures with more shrinkage were cut dry using a “stroking” technique to “open up the hair” and create space while other looser textures were clipped wet. Watch how a Platform Artist analyzes and cuts this 3c hair:
The moral of the story is that as a stylist, you have flexibility in how you decide to cut your clients’ curls. Take the time to listen to the client and look at the texture before deciding which technique will work best for each unique curl.
Some stylists prefer to cut wet hair; others like dry.
Christo believes cutting the hair wet gives his clients more options. Austin stylist Georgia Bramhall of Pink Salon cuts all of her curly clients’ hair dry.
“It shows me their real hair and what it naturally wants to do,” Bramhall says. “When it’s wet, it totally changes into something different. If it’s wet, it’s practically straight.”
Mia Fanali of D. Sabrina Salon in Westport, Conn. never cuts hair dry.
“When you comb out the curl and you try to cut it dry, it won’t fall that way again.,” Fanali says. “I also like to get all the dead ends off — from the perimeter to the layers. When you cut the hair dry, it doesn’t give you that opportunity.”
Scottsdale, Ariz. stylist Victor Sabino always starts off his curly cuts on dry hair to get a basic shape. Then he shampoos it and cleans it up when it’s wet.
“Then I dry it and finish up the cut from there,” Sabino says.
Three stylists. Three different philosophies about whether curls should be cut wet or dry. It’s no wonder curlies are confused.
Curl experts all are passionate about their techniques, whether they cut the hair wet, dry, wet into dry, dry into wet, or some other variation on the theme.
Cutting hair dry is not a new concept. Many hairstylists over the years have used variations of dry haircutting techniques. The late John Sahag is generally considered to be the pioneer in the the dry-cut technique. Sahag, who advocated the shift to dry cutting in the late 1970s, believed that when the hair is cut dry, it creates a natural shape according to the way the hair grows, enabling the stylist to remove bulk and weight to create movement and dimension. Wet hair, he believed, did not allow for natural inconsistencies.
In recent times, one of the biggest proponents of cutting curls dry is “Curly Girl” author Lorraine Massey of Devachan Salon in New York. All stylists at Devachan Salon cut curls dry.
All stylists at Devachan Salon, including Lorraine Massey, cut curls dry.
“Unless a stylist can see how much spring there is in your curls, he won’t understand your hair and he’s likely to cut too much when it’s wet, only to discover that fact after your hair dries,” Massey writes in her book “Curly Girl.”
Rosie Da Silva of Devachan Salon likes to cut her client’s hair curl by curl.
“I can’t do that with dry hair,” Da Silva says. “You have to feel the texture. When you cut curly hair wet, you’re not really seeing how it’s going to look.”
New York stylist Jose Valdez has been cutting hair dry for the past 15 years. He believes it enables him to sculpt the hair, chiseling away to create shapes with dimension and balance.
“Why not cut hair dry?” Valdez says. “You do, after all, wear your hair dry. Cutting the hair dry lets me see exactly how your hair will fall as you’re wearing it. I can create perfect angles that not only accentuate your best features, but that suit your personality as well.”
Stylists who cut curly hair wet also have valid reasons why they prefer to do it that way.
Jonathan Torch of the Curly Hair Institute in Toronto says he prefers to cut curly hair wet because he can manipulate the curls and read the ringlets.
“When I work with dry hair, the more I play with it, the bigger it gets,” Torch says.
If a person has a combination of loose and tight curls, Torch said he might cut the looser curls dry to help them blend it with the rest of the hair.
“Then I wash the hair and do the full design,” Torch says.
Christo of Christo Fifth Avenue believes cutting the hair wet gives his clients more options.
“You can wear it curly, wavy or straight,” Christo says. “I may make adjustments when the hair is dry, but I never cut a full haircut on dry hair.”
Dustin David of the Dustin David Salon in Los Gatos, Calif. takes a customized approach to his clients. For clients with tight curls, he cuts it dry, shampoos and styles it and then cuts it again. For clients with looser, wavier curls who wear their hair both curly and straight, he irons it straight and cuts it flat ironed. If the curls are looser and the client always wears her hair curly, David cuts it wet.
“To me, each person is an individual,” David says. “No matter how similar their hair seems, the cut needs to be customized to take into account their texture, density, length and lifestyle.”
All stylists stressed the importance of having the client come in with their dry and styled so they get a realistic look at the the curl pattern.
“Before I do the haircut, I analyze the curl, analyze the volume, touch the hair to see how much it expands,” Torch says. “But I couldn’t even imagine cutting curly hair dry.”
Today, more than ever, individuality is the story of fashion. After our team did hair for 35 fashion shows this season that were all uniquely crafted and interpreted, I can truly attest that individuality is this season’s buzz word.
Creating looks for our clients is more than trend-based. I call it the feel-good, look-good factor. Our job is to understand what makes our clients feel comfortable and secure. Then, design a look that is esthetically pleasing and fashionable. Of late, I have noticed how clients are looking for more of an effortless, organic look in their style. Whether it is the effects of the economy and the desire to tone down our lifestyle or a desire to simplify and create more of an organic look, I’m not sure what’s leading this but it’s definitely main stream.
Freehand hair cutting and coloring techniques are designed to customize and cater to the uniqueness of every client, even to the extent of their individual hair strands.
We are pushing these freehand techniques and working with the hair’s natural texture, whether curly or straight. So the end result is that air grows out better and is easier to maintain.
The best thing we can do for our clients is to not only listen but hear their desires. They will guide us to what’s fashionable. INDIVIDUALITY.
As hairdressers, we always want to change, but the unique canvas we are given — with its imperfections — can be the most beautiful thing about them.
Freehand cutting is a different way of looking at the approach to cutting hair. It is less rigid than the way hairdressers are initially taught when they first learn the art of cutting. We are usually taught to keep the hair wet, and that by cutting straight lines, we create the foundations. This is very important because it gives us a good understanding on how to build a solid shape.
Then we learn to combine the different forms of layering and graduation cutting to enable us to create other shapes. This form of cutting is generally done in a fairly technical manner, and is easy to put into a blueprint, which makes it reasonably easy to teach others.
With freehand cutting, the hair is often dry, which allows you to see the hair for what it is. Sometimes you use scissors without a comb, leaving one hand free to move the hair around. This may be where the term “freehand” comes from. Observing the natural textures of the hair is what it’s all about to get the most out of it.
Like most things we do, the more you practice this approach, the more you begin to really understand it. To the untrained eye, it can appear that the cutter is randomly cutting without any real logic or sense, moving around the head in an unconventional away. This is because you are looking at the haircut as a whole as opposed to looking at it in small sections, moving the hair around to reveal areas that appear to weak or to strong. You are looking at the balance of your shape as a whole in relation to the face and body, as opposed to pulling pieces of hair from either side of the head to see if they are the same length.
When you first start to use this form of cutting, it can feel very unusual and leave you feeling uncertain as to where to cut and what to look for. It is important to have a strong idea in your head of what you want to achieve.
It can take time to “train your eye to see,” and have a good vision as to where you want to end up. The journey can often change while you’re cutting, so having a good vision as to how to keep things on track is essential. Be honest with yourself and move the hair around to truly see that the cut is working from all angles. The bottom line is that once you have fine-tuned this technique of cutting, the client needs do very little to her hair to achieve a great shape because it has been sculpted with the scissors and not the dryer.
Everyone’s hair grows differently, with different growth patterns, textures and thicknesses. Allowing the hair to dry while cutting allows you to see this better and work with what you think of as the imperfections.
Sometimes you may wash and dry the hair before you start the cut, and sometimes you may start the cut before you wash. There are no set rules, if your client shows up with her hair pulled back, it is difficult to see what is working with the previous haircut and what is not. Educate your client to come in with their hair free so that they will get more out of your consultation. It will be much clearer what needs to be done.
I have had clients with curly hair who I’ve asked to wash their hair a few days prior to coming in because that’s when their texture works best, leaving me more time to cut there hair in the appointment time given. Again, educate your client how to get the most out of you.
At the end of the day, they are paying for the appointment time and not a wash, cut and blow dry, so the way you use that time to get the best result is up to you.
I personally believe that the so-called imperfections in hair are what give haircuts character. It’s just a matter of knowing how to make the haircut work in a way that it has good character. Relying on the blow dryer or flat iron to make the haircut behave a certain way can be an easy trap to fall into. While good styling techniques are an art, relying on those skill to make an average haircut look like a great one can shift the emphasis away from the cut.
Let’s face it, how often does a client comment they can never get their hair to do what the hairdresser does?