Straight to Hell

Photo: Ruth Marten

Much to the distress of women who not long ago had their tresses ironed flat with a Japanese straightening treatment, curly hair is in. The latest slew of trendy salons don’t even offer the treatment (which costs from $200 to $700), not only because big hair is back but because stylists have seen the process wreak havoc on clients’ locks.

Ted Gibson, who opened a Flatiron salon in December, bought the straightening chemical—a blend of thioglycolate compound and other solutions—but hasn’t used it. Other celebrity hairdressers who’ve opened salons in the past year or so—Mark Garrison, Eva Scrivo, Charles Worthington, Ric Pipino—have also chosen not to offer the treatment. Garrison says clients who underwent it more than twice had “disastrous” results, especially if they had highlighted hair: “In some cases, the hair was melted off. They were left with fried-out stubs.”

The procedure—sometimes called thermal reconditioning or ionic retexturing—weakens the hair, breaking down each follicle’s cystine bond (the molecular arrangement that gives hair its shape) so that it’s vulnerable to restructuring; the hair is then flattened with a special ceramic iron, after which a neutralizing serum is added to keep it straight.

It’s a precise and difficult process, and if a stylist is inexperienced or a less gentle metal iron is used, the effect is dried-out and damaged-looking. (Fred Pirkey of midtown’s Salon Ishi suggests intense conditioning treatments with steam to salvage damaged hair.) And whether it’s done properly or not, the resulting look is there to stay. “Your hair gets stuck in one particular style,” Pipino tells his clients. “I keep explaining, once you do it, that’s it!”

Straight to Hell