YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Style / Beauty

Conditioned Response

Though Damage From Coloring, Curling and Straightening Can't Be Undone, the Latest Treatments--at Southern California Salons and at Home--Can Make a Difference

May 04, 2003|Hillary Johnson | Hillary Johnson last wrote for the magazine about shopping L.A.'s ethnic neighborhoods.

I'm about 15 minutes away from turning 40, and I've begun to notice that an alarming number of the women of my acquaintance have begun to have a little nip and tuck done here and there. It surprises me, since not one of them earns a living based on her appearance, but one of the hazards of living in Southern California seems to be that nature is never good enough. A few of us pretend to be above such nonsense, but I sometimes suspect that, if it weren't for squeamishness and/or poverty, we'd all be doing it.

What every Angelena I know does do, however, is alter the natural shape, color and/or texture of the hair on her head. Men too--a theater critic I know recently let drop that he perms his graying hair on a regular basis. There are very few holdouts. I've lived here for 12 years, and in that time I've known exactly three people who didn't own cars, and about as many who didn't color, straighten or curl their hair. If, like me, you have parents who live in a normal city and you visit them once or twice a year, you'll know that people in other places have brown hair, gray hair, dishwater blond hair, usually topping a pair of healthy, blushing cheeks and bright, clear eyes surrounded by merry crow's feet.

The problem with all this coloring and texturing is that it ruins your hair, and pretty soon your flaming pre-Raphaelite curls or your Veronica Lake platinum waterfall has turned into a brittle, thorny fright wig. Somewhere in the early '90s I bleached my hair to a tender shade of blond the color of jasmine petals. I looked great for about six weeks, but the bleach damage took its toll. For years after that, I had a head topped with an angry Brillo pad. When I combed it, I ended up with a lap full of pale little twigs. Despairing, I finally cut it all off. Since then, my excesses have often led me to resort to scissors, since hair damage can never really be undone. Or can it?

Conventional wisdom has long held that products claiming to "restore" or "repair" damaged hair are bogus. At best they coat the hair with something slippery like dimethicone, which gives the appearance of health but does not affect the hair's structure. Hair cannot be "healthy," the experts will tell you, because hair is dead. However, home conditioning treatments have improved greatly in recent years. Bumble and Bumble's deep conditioning treatment, like the rest of its products, has no particular gimmick other than high-quality ingredients in quantities significant enough to actually have an effect. Most products, especially those you buy in drugstores, have only tiny amounts of the aloe, jojoba, tea tree oil, peppermint or ylang ylang that they tout as performing miracles, too little to be effective. When Bumble and Bumble puts an ingredient on a label, though, you can count on it being a major component of the emulsion.

Other lines, such as Prive and Graham Webb, also offer high-quality products for home use. Home conditioning has a lot going for it: there's nothing quite like sitting in the bathtub with candles, a glass of wine and a fragrant coating of Prive's Masque Intensif on your head. A new product, Phuse, is a fruit-acid based additive meant to turbo-charge your hair-care regimen. Like those quarts of high-octane stuff for your gas tank, it's supposed to boost the performance of whatever conditioner you normally use. The revolution in hair fitness started when the Yuko hair-straightening technique migrated from Asia to Beverly Hills. Sure it costs up to $600 (how much is that per strand, one wonders?), but if it can make a Fran Lebowitz look like an Ali MacGraw, it's worth it. And the price of miracles has just been lowered significantly with another Asian import, a process called ionic conditioning. It works whether your hair is straight, curly, long, short, permed or colored, and is about half the cost of the Yuko system.

Nelson Chan, a colorist who works out of Estetica Salon in Beverly Hills, was one of the first to bring the ionic treatment stateside and is teaching the technique to other stylists around the country. He claims to be able to restore any head of hair, no matter how damaged, to a state of leonine luxury.

The ionic conditioning treatment is the first procedure to introduce a substance that can actually bond with the structure of the hair. The stuff Chan uses is a gloppy paste dotted with little black specks. It's painted onto the hair, and then a flat iron is used to heat it up. The specks dissolve, releasing ions--negatively charged particles that attach to the empty slots in "broken" molecules. The ions bond to the roughened the surface of the hair, thus smoothing out its texture. It's a simple, easy procedure, and costs less than $100 per treatment. The results from the first treatment last for four weeks, and are cumulative over time if you keep coming back.

Los Angeles Times Articles