Disclaimer (ish): This is a post all about my pretty new hair. If you want to call me out for being shallow and vain, or vacuous, or something otherwise “brash,” you can go ahead. Sticks and stones, honey. Or consider yourself warned and just turn back now.
Last summer when I was visiting New York City, I went to a release party for my friend Siobhan’s book, No More Dirty Looks.
Think of it as the kinder, gentler, non-food-related version of Skinny Bitch. You will not read about slaughterhouses in this book. (And you should read it.)
The book begins with an intense indictment of a beauty treatment called the Brazilian Blowout. Siobhan and Alexandra, who co-wrote the book with her, heard about how fabulous, sleek, straight and shiny their hair would look after this pricey keratin treatment that had just hit the market. They were all in. “Our eyes watered and the backs of our throats burned,” they wrote, “but we barely flinched when the salon offered us protective goggles. Their hair reeked for days, and they started getting suspicious that the treatment wasn’t everything it promised. Turns out the solution used to shock their hair into submission was made up mostly of formaldehyde.
Yep, the same formaldehyde they use to embalm bodies.
Since I finished the book, I have been 100 percent against keratin treatments. I mean, yuck. Chemicals!
My virgin hair is not meant for such abuse. (Full disclosure: I had a perm when I was about 12 — yes, really — and got lowlights my first year of college, but my locks have been squeaky clean since the color grew out. Especially since I switched to clean shampoo and conditioner about six months ago.)
Fast-forward to early winter, when my stylist that I’ve been near-slavishly devoted to for the past three and a half years tells me the salon has started offering a keratin treatment of its own.
You see where this is going? After just one cut and two bang trims, she’d worn me down. Two hundred ninety-two pages of the cold, hard truth were no match for the allure of a frizz-free Chicago summer.
Now, let me be clear: I like my hair just fine the way it is. Was.
Ooops. Spoiler alert.
But sometimes a girl just wants to take a shower, run a comb through her hair and prance out the door to whatever fabulous social engagement is next. Or, you know, work.
And my hair does not allow this. Ever.
Which brings us to Saturday, the day I could finally get in to have this treatment done.
I was so nervous — any number of terrible things could have happened during this process, which is why I had to sign a WAIVER before they started the treatment — and, of course, the salon was out of wine. (A $400 treatment, and I don’t even get a glass of wine? REALLY? They promised me special wine next time, and please believe me when I say I’ll be taking them up on that.)
I settled for a cup of tea, in case you’re wondering.
And then the fun began. Curious about this two hours of fun? Read on.
First, they shampooed my hair. Three times. To strip every strand of all leftover product, impurities, natural oils and…pride. So it absorbs the product completely.
Not one but two stylists then sat me down in a chair, separated my hair into four sections and started brushing the solution in.
Twenty minutes later, there were two hair dryers. Two people using two hair dryers on me. Some guy walked into the salon while they were working, and he looked at me like I was a movie star. And then the two hair dryers blew a fuse. Knocked out the power for the entire salon.
And suddenly, I was a movie star.
Did I mention I was taking notes and process photos from my phone all along? My two favorite bullet points happened within a few lines of each other:
“1.6% formaldehyde. Gack.
GAH MY HAIR IS SMOKING”
After they’d dried my hair, they put these amazing black plastic covers over my ears to protect them from the searing heat of the two flat irons they were about to hit me with.
I looked like Spock…black Spock.
The roots of each quarter-inch section got 14 strokes with the 450-degree flat iron, and 14 more for the length. I was prepared for a half-hour of coughing and sputtering from the formaldehyde fumes but was surprised to find there was no smell or eye irritation at all.
At 4:16, according to the notes on my phone, I started to flip out. As they dried and flat ironed, tiny sections of my hair fell past my shoulders and laid neatly against my collarbone, smooth and shiny and…dear god, I actually felt like a movie star.
They sent me home with two bottles of La Brasiliana–mandated shampoo and conditioner — free of sodium sulfate, replaced with…ammonium sulfate…plus parabens and a whole bunch of other nasty chemical stuff — and I was momentarily ashamed.
My vanity has rendered me a hypocrite.
A bankrupt hyprocrite.
A bankrupt hypocrite with…really shiny, straight hair.
Even though…I’m groggy because I woke up every two hours in a panic that my hair had kinked. And my neck is sore from overcorrecting in my sleep, trying to prevent said kink. And I had to skip Bike the Drive this morning because I couldn’t wear a helmet. And my forehead is so greasy it’s slick, from all the keratin product trying to soak into my hair.
I CAN’T. EVEN. WASH. MY. HAIR. UNTIL WEDNESDAY.
It’s completely disgusting.
But I am willing to suffer for my beauty.
And the first of my rewards came when I went out into today’s torrential rain and was strolling along in the balmy (frigid) Memorial Weekend hurricane conditions. I fashioned a full headscarf out of a green cotton cardigan and held my oversize umbrella so close to my head I could smell the Macy’s all over it, and when I got home and looked in the mirror…
My hair was still straight.
Yeah, it’s the little things. The little things that cost $400.
So, you know.
I spent a lot of money for really pretty, chemically hair. In four months, I’ll be back to frizzy-Lizzy hair and my clean beauty products. The world won’t end in the meantime — though I know I’m not exactly helping things along on the up and up. But I promise to recycle the bottles of my horrid shampoo and conditioner when I’ve used it all.
Aaaaaaaaaaand finally, the sales pitch: If you live in Chicago and need a haircut, a good color or the La Brasiliana treatment, call Renessence Studio and snag an appointment with Manal. And tell them Paige sent you. Obviously.
Then read Siobhan’s book. And if you somehow become addicted to this product, don’t blame me.