Natural hair: The hairdresser vs the Internet
We've said this a bunch of times: if you stay online long enough, you're bound to get some dodgy hair advice. Whether you pick it up from a hair blogger dishing out recs before doing her research or a random, well-intentioned, but not well-informed post on social media, it happens. Often.
But even with all the half-baked tips from everybody and their mama, and the seriously dangerous viral hair trends, here's an inconvenient truth: The hair knowledge base online still outstrips the majority of hairstylists in the real world when it comes to two things:
a) natural hair aka curly hair in all its forms, from 2A to 4C
b) growing afro-textured hair - whether relaxed or natural - long.
Despite all the fluff and fake info, it's still way easier to find a few legit platforms online to help you do either of these things than it is to find a single hairdresser anywhere near you that can. Here's why we think that is:
⦁ The natural hair movement hit critical mass in the early 2000s, and the hairdressing market wasn't ready for it.
⦁ Few hairdressers were trained to cater for customers who wanted something other than the clockwork 8-week relaxer touchup and mandatory steam treatments that came with it. Basically, a hair services model that had run for at least 4 decades was broken. And many failed to adapt.
⦁ Add that to multiple recessions over the past couple of decades - the biggest way to push people into DIY mode - and the industry is still reeling. They still haven't had the time and drive to get it together, as a sector.
But that doesn't mean that there aren't good hairdressers out there.
They might not be necessary for the most competent, enthusiastic do it yourselfers, but that's not most people.
In other words, if you:
a) still can't do your own hair, despite the DIY revolution that's been unrolling for free on the Internet
b) just don't want to do it yourself
c) aren't consistent enough to get proper results like the full, healthy, moisturised, long, shiny, lustrous, thick hair that you crave
. . . then you need to get yourself a good stylist.
But how and where do you find a good hairdresser?
Somewhere between the street hawkers with their "Wanna do your hair?" at the door of every hair shop on the high street, and the "high end" salon who won't touch your hair unless you let them apply a "natural" Brazilian Keratin Treatment to it first, there are some gems.
Now, not all of them are up on every single development in the natural hair game ever, but a true professional in hairdressing is like any true professional in any other profession:
They stay learning their trade. They read about new approaches, new products, new trends, get training in new techniques. They want to be using the best products, tools and methods and they learn how to cater to different kinds of client needs - even if they have a specialty.
These hairdressers invest in themselves so they're more than just a commodity stylist - they're a resource to their client.
Some are even deep in the trenches of the natural hair movement and dedicate themselves to natural hair. But don't panic if you can't get a natural hair specialist. To grow your hair to its fullest or longest potential, or simply keep it in optimum condition, you don't need a 7th dan natural hair master. You just need someone who's going to be good to your hair.
The Signs Of A Good Hairdresser
So without further ado, here's exactly how to tell if a hairdresser is good for your hair.
In this post, we're not going to get into the specifics for all different types of hairstyles or specialised chemical treatments, or anything like that.
What we're going to do instead, is note some core skills and behaviour patterns that you'll see in any good stylist, whether her specialty is blowouts or he's a colour genius. Use this to pick out a stylist that can accompany you on your growth journey.
1. They give free consults!
Good stylists give consultations and they give them for free. They're willing to talk to you for at least 15 minutes, no strings attached, and get to know about your hair: where you are in your journey, what you want to achieve, what colour or other chemical treatments you've had done to your hair, any scalp issues and so forth.
They'll also look at your hair and do various quick tests to check your hair's condition (elasticity, porosity, previous colour are some key points).
They know that you can't just jump into doing someone's hair without checking what it needs first. They also know that you've known your hair a lot longer than they have. They're interested, not dismissive of that info. And they have the expertise to know what is relevant and will make the difference for your hair.
2. You can tell a good hairdresser by the products they use
No good stylist uses just any old product. If the only thing you see on their station or in their cabinet are the same £2 jars of mayonnaise you see in the hair store - the same ones that you swear left your hair feeling worse than the shampoo - then you might not be at a good salon.
Some stylists do use a mixture of high and low end products, depending on client preferences and client budgets, so don't panic if you see a couple of so-so products.
But even if she mixes it up, you need to see some of the good stuff, or at least stuff that you don't know what it is, but it looks like good stuff, too.
That's because products matter, and every good hairstylist knows this. The best hairdressers are constantly looking for what can deliver more moisture, more strength, more volume, more shine, more length retention, better combability, more heat protection... all the true parameters of a good product.
This doesn't mean that they have to be obsessed with CG-friendly products. They may not even have ever heard of the concept. And that's OK.
CG-friendly is not a synonym for a good product, nor is knowing about CG a credential for being a good stylist. Likewise, not all products that aren't CG are bad for your hair. In fact, many of the best products have ingredients lists that will send your favourite CG ingredients checking app into a pinging frenzy.
But they get incredible results on textured hair. That's because every product works off of the ingredients in the formula as a whole - not just one ingredient. That and individual compatibility are what will decide whether it's good for your hair.
3. A good hairdresser is never stingy with products
A good stylist also isn't cheap with applying product. That means they won't be skimping on the amount they apply, using less than your hair needs, just so they can save money.
I recently witnessed a stylist empty almost an entire jar of an expensive treatment on the hair of a client that came in for the first time with super thick, but super dry, brittle, desert-thirsty hair.
The results she got were amazing. And she'd never have gotten them if she was cheap with her conditioner - both in terms of the product quality or the amount she was willing to use, which brings us to another point:
4. Good stylists don't come cheap
No, you don't have to pay eyewatering sums to get your hair done, but don't expect quality if all you want to fork out is a fiver.
If that's your budget, there is a whole market segment full of people with dubious qualifications and skills who will happily singe your strands into oblivion and twist your baby hairs out of your scalp for that five pound note. If that's the level of service you want, there are certainly people willing to cater for you.
But if you're reading this article, you're most likely not that type of customer. Even if you don't want to fork out extra for luxury or pampering, professionalism and competence are necessary to you. And both of those are something you need to pay more for.
Good stylists do sometimes have low prices: you could chance upon a newbie who's just trying to get a few clients and make their name before they start charging proper prices.
And there are some professionals with experience who lowball their rates too - either because they don't know how to price themselves properly (which is a problem that is common in all creative industries), or because they feel forced into a corner by the downward price pressure in the industry.
But even that is unlikely to be a good deal for you. With the exception of the newbie, if a talented stylist is working for a suspiciously low price, they have to make that money back somehow.
Most likely, they'll be trying to rush and not give you the time your hair needs because they have to pack in more clients to make the math work. Or they'll be cheap with the product. Or so overworked they can't perform at their best. Or something else that makes your hair outcome less than.
That's why it's worth it to take the time to look for someone who's charging what looks like the right price. Ask them how long the procedure takes. Then do the math and check what their hourly rate is. Does it sound like something a professional (who's invested in their training, equipment and possibly their own shop) would charge? If not, it might be a good idea to look elsewhere.
5. They don't let you skip washing and deep conditioning
Again, a good stylist pushed to the wall might be forced to go rogue. They might let you come in with 'clean' hair (who knows if it really is) and work with that. But every decent hairdresser knows that whatever is on your hair will determine how the products and methods they apply will perform.
Most women with naturally curly hair can't bear to let their hair dry 'naked' without product. So even if you promise to come in with clean hair, most stylists know that you will probably sneak in some grease or curly styler to calm down the volume, frizz or tangles.
So they shouldn't trust you to wash it (sorry).
They should wash it themselves, so they can be sure that a) it's clean to their standards and b) that the products they use will work because they haven't been blocked by some incompatible product that you've applied to it.
In fact, if the stylist doesn't work with freshly washed hair, shampooed to high standards by herself or a member of her team, then she will never be able to pull off the next sign of a good hairdresser.
This step is the part of the hairdressing process that can make the biggest difference and really sets that upper 1% of stylists that truly know how to deal with textured hair apart from the rest.
And that step isright here in Part 2.
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