What's the damage? More than 90 percent of women use conditioners but nearly 75 percent say their hair is damaged. Bridging the gap between needs and solutions is a no-brainer.
After 26 years in business, a near-record for a Manhattan salon, George Buckner's Hair Fashions East has a stellar reputation among clients and the press. Named "One of the country's top four for hair health" by Essence magazine, the salon is dedicated to hair care.
"Most salons give clients a shampoo and conditioner and send them on their way. You can get that at a drugstore," comments Buckner, who examines clients' scalps with a microscope during each consultation.
"Just like spas take care of client's skin, salons should take care of their hair. Ninety-seven percent of my clients get hair treatments; I don't just do their hair; I care for them and their hair."
Clients Feel the Need
A clutch of surveys has indicated that upward of 70 percent of women think their hair is damaged. A Marie Claire magazine survey notes that 79 percent of women are on a quest to solve their damage problem.
Are salons the solution? They might be, if the professional could get her hands on the client's hair long enough. A Regis Corporation survey shows 46.3 percent of women have been with their stylist for less than one year, or don't have a regular stylist.
For those who grab it, the opportunities are great. Technologies that inhibit damage are improving. Hairceuticals and anti-aging hair care are newly emerging categories which, for now, are concentrated in the professional realm because they require education for consumer acceptance.
But if salons fail to embrace hair health, it won't be long before the simplified messages being prepared by mass marketers will resonate.
"Salons are in a unique position in that women will be happy to do what you tell them to do to restrict hair damage," notes Philip Kingsley, owner of Philip Kingsley Trichology in New York. "Still, genuine hair care specialists are scarce."
Mastering trichology, which has long been accepted in Europe, is one solution. To that end, Kingsley will be offering two-day academies in the U.S. soon.
Another approach is to research hair physiology, the causes of damage and to develop a true hair spa. The financial investment is minimal; the pay-off, enormous.
Cuticle and Cortical Culprits
In his "Colorism" seminars held nationwide, Detroit salon owner and educator Rob Willis separates hair-damage facts from myths. First up, visible changes.
As an example, he says, virgin hair that's relaxed looks frizzy if it is air-dried. "But that doesn't necessarily mean it's damaged; it's just that the cuticle isn't closed."
In reality, says Willis, the greatest damage comes from the combination of relaxing and permanent coloring at home, and from adding the weight of hair additions to hair that's been chemically weakened.
Most specialists agree, noting that abuse of chemically weakened hair or incorrect use of chemicals play the biggest roles in true damage. They also say consumers are more likely to focus on more superficial thermal damage because that's what consumer magazines push.
"The average head can take 410 degrees of flatiron heat, which is regulation for ceramic irons in the U.S." says Willis. "Fine hair or hair that's been relaxed for years and had its cuticle layer compromised may burn at 350 degrees."
Dave Lemke, co-owner of Kings Head in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a salon that focuses on medical and non-medical solutions to hair problems, agrees that the heat threat is overblown. "When hair is dry, it still has moisture in the hair shaft; you really have to overdo it to get heat damage."
According to experts, the primary problem with hair is that as baby boomers age, they're doing more and more to their hair, speeding the natural process of thinning.
Lemke cites two little-reported causes of declining hair health. Much of the damage he sees starts with scalps that have been over-exposed to shampoos with a high pH. Plus, over the past 30 years, he's also seen an incredible increase in diffused hair loss in women because of stress.
When it comes to chemical treatments, over-promising, under-delivering and giving in to client demands all take their toll on hair, says Christina Canche, who heads up the chemical department at the Grand Spa International in Dallas, Texas.
"Take time with each step and don't give in if a person is not a good candidate for a chemical service," she advises. "Stylists should perform a pre- and post-treatment before any chemical service. Thermal reconditioning is like plastic surgery for hair; it changes it totally. It can only be done safely when you follow every step from the manufacturer and do it on the right candidate."
Chemical services always create some damage, agree professionals, but that doesn't mean hair has to be seriously compromised.
"Relaxed hair must be maintained twice a month in the salon with cleansing and a proper balance of moisture and protein," says Willis. "Color-treated and relaxed hair must be maintained with weekly professional care."
What about adding faux hair to color-treated strands? "Get a wig," says Willis, "No matter what attachment method you use, adding weight to weakened hair is a threat."
Other menaces include dull shears, which create a jagged edge that leaves the cuticle vulnerable to further damage. A razor cut's tapered ends similarly compromises the cuticle. The sun's ultraviolet rays behave like bleach, breaking down keratin protein until the strand gradually weakens.
Many of these modern maladies are addressed by