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Hair 101: Common Questions About Hair Treatments and Extensions

Brazilian Blowout? Balayage? You have questions, we have answers in our comprehensive Hair FAQ.

Hair Perming and Curling

1. What is a Perm?

A perm, short for permanent waves, is a treatment where chemicals are used to change the hair’s natural structure. Perms are frequently used to create curls or waves in the hair. To do this, first the hair is wrapped around rods and coated with the perming solution to break down the hair’s original structure. Once broken, the hair is saturated with neutralizers that set the permanent shape of the curls. The type of perm (tight curls, loose waves, etc.) that you end up with depends on the size and shape of the rod used, as well as the solutions applied. Note that most stylists will tell you to wait 24-48 hours before washing your hair after the perm. Perms usually last between 2-6 months. The average cost of a perm is around $75, with prices in New York on the higher end and Houston on the lower end.

2. What is a Body Wave Perm?

A body wave perm uses large perm rods to create loose curls with slight waves. This is ideal for women who want to add more movement and volume to their hair.

3. What is a Spiral Perm?

A spiral perm uses long, thin perm rods to create tight curls, or ringlets, with a lot of bounce. This gives the impression of fuller and thicker hair. The actual end look of a spiral perm will vary depending on the size of the rod.

4. What is a Root Perm or Root Lift?

A root perm, also known as root lift, focuses on the roots to give the hair a lift. Women who have limp hair find that a root perm makes a tremendous difference in the height of their hair, giving the appearance of more volume. Root perms are also frequently used as a hair per grows out. A root perm can add body to this straight section of hair without further damaging hair that is already permed.

5. What is a Digital Perm?

A digital perm, also known as a hot perm, is achieved by first applying chemicals to the hair and then wrapping strands of hair around rollers that are connected to a machine that keeps the rollers heated. Getting a digital perm tends to take more time than your typical perm; however, digital perms are less damaging to your hair and result in less frizz and a softer, more natural look. Of note, you should not wash your hair for 48 hours after treatment to ensure that the curls are set.

Hair Straightening and Smoothing Techniques

6. What is Japanese Straightening (aka Thermal Reconditioning)?

Japanese straightening, also known as thermal reconditioning, is a type of chemical treatment that will give you permanent, stick-straight hair until it grows out. A strong solution will be coated on your hair to break down the internal protein bonds, allowing your hair to be reshaped and straightened by the heat of the flat iron. A neutralizer is applied after the flat iron to help hair retain the new shape. This process can take up to 8 hours and afterwards you must keep your hair dry and straight (e.g., no ponytails) for 72 hours. Once completed, your hair will remain straight until it grows out. Japanese straightening is very expensive and can cost $200-$800+ depending on the salon you go to and the length and texture of your hair. Because of the chemicals used in Japanese straightening, it’s generally not recommended for hair that has already been processed (e.g., bleached, colored, highlighted) – though a trusted stylist can make a better assessment.

7. What is a Hair Relaxer Treatment?

Similar to Japanese straightening, a hair relaxer treatment is also a type of chemical straightening that uses chemicals to break the protein bonds in hair and permanently straighten it. A cream or lotion is applied to the hair for a set period of time before being washed out with a neutralizing shampoo followed by a deep conditioner. It is recommended that you go to a salon to receive this treatment as many non-professionals who do this treatment at home have reported chemical scalp burns and permanent hair damage. To note, sodium hydroxide, which is also found in drain cleaners, is a common chemical used in chemical relaxers. These relaxers are referred to as “lye” relaxers versus “no-lye” relaxers which use guanidine hydroxide. A relaxing treatment lasts for about 2 months and may require touchups. It costs significantly less than Japanese straightening, ranging from $50-$300, but the process tends to be harsher on your hair because of the chemicals used. The hair also tends to have more frizz and requires more maintenance.

8. What is the difference between a Brazilian Blowout and a Keratin Treatment?

Brazilian Blowouts and Keratin Treatments are hair smoothing techniques that help you achieve temporary straight, frizz-free, shiny hair. The underlying difference between the treatments is the branded product that’s being used – for example, Brazilian Blowout, Coppola Keratin Treatment or Keratin Complex. The Brazilian Blowout is generally less expensive than Keratin Treatments and takes less time, but also doesn’t last quite as long. Something important to note about the Keratin Treatments is that you have to leave the product in your hair for 72 hours (no washing or tying it up), while the Brazilian Blowout is finished when you walk out of the salon. Another important note is that some of the products are known to contain formaldehyde or a formaldehyde/water mixture.

9. What should I expect when I get a Brazilian Blowout or a Keratin treatment?

Your hair is first washed and dried before one of the smoothing solutions is applied and a hot flat iron is used to seal the product in. For the Brazilian Blowout, the solution is washed out and your hair is dried and flat ironed again. The entire process takes about 1.5-2 hours and you leave the salon with the treatment completed. For the Keratin Treatments, the keratin solution is not washed out after being sealed. You leave the salon with the keratin in your hair and are instructed to not wash or dent your hair (i.e., pony tails, clips) for 72 hours. The treatments can last 3-5 months depending on hair type and how well you take care of it. The average cost of a Keratin treatment is $190, with New York on the high end at an average of $235.

10. What is the difference between Japanese straightening and Brazilian Blowout/Keratin Treatments?

While Japanese straightening breaks and reshapes the bonds in hair molecules to achieve a straight, flat texture, Brazilian Blowouts and Keratin Treatments do not. Thus, the effect tends to be less straight and less permanent.

Hair Color

11. What is the difference between semi-permanent, demi-permanent and permanent hair color?

A semi-permanent hair color can only make your hair a darker shade because it does not contain any peroxide and only deposits color on the outer layer of the hair. The color lasts about 2-3 weeks. A demi-permanent color contains a small amount of peroxide that allows the color to be deposited between the outer cuticle layer and the cortex. However, similar to semi-permanent hair color, you cannot use this method to lighten your hair color. This result lasts between 3-5 weeks. A permanent hair color will last until the hair grows out. With permanent hair coloring, you can choose any shade of hair color that you desire.

12. Is it possible to lighten hair color without bleaching or stripping the natural color?

No, some sort of bleach or agent containing peroxide is necessary when aiming for a hair color that is lighter than the original shade. Without stripping the original hair color, the lighter color pigments will not be visible.

13. What is the difference between hair glaze and hair gloss?

The term hair glaze and hair gloss are often used interchangeably; however, experts in the know point to important differences. A hair glaze is a sheer, no lift color formula that adds shine and can deposit semi-permanent color on your hair. Glazes do not contain ammonia or peroxide, but rather acts as a coating on your hair. It can be used to intensify your natural hair color, to keep it at the same shade, or to darken it. Glazes usually last for about 12 washes. A hair gloss is commonly used to refresh fading hair color. It contains peroxide and is therefore stronger than a glaze when it comes to depositing color. Similar to hair glazes, glosses can either be clear or come in different shades and can add great shine to your hair while also slightly adjusting the color. Hair glosses can last up to a month.

14. What is hair toner?

Hair toner is generally applied to hair that is pre-lightened and used to help the hair take its final tone. It helps to neutralize unwanted tones such as a brassy color or yellow hair. It’s a great way to add a hint of color to your highlights.

15. What is the difference between single process and double process hair color?

A single process hair color is one-step, with the same color being applied from root to tip. This is the more common process and is a great way to cover grays. Double process color is usually used when you are trying to lighten your hair – for example, going from a brunette to a platinum blond. The first process uses bleach to remove your existing hair color. This is followed by a second process where color is added.

16. What is the difference between highlights, lowlights, and a multi-dimension hair color?

All three add color and dimension to your hair. Highlighting involves the coloring of several selected strands of hair to be lighter than the base color. Conversely, lowlighting is the process of coloring the chosen strands to be darker than the base color. When both highlighting and lowlighting is involved, the process is called multi-dimensional color.

17. What is the difference between a cap highlight and a foil highlight?

With a cap highlight, your hair is covered with a plastic cap that has holes in it. The stylist pulls strands of hair through these holes with a hook before applying color to these strands only. With foil highlights, the stylist selects specific strands of hair, places them on a piece of foil, adds color, and then folds up the foil. This allows the stylist more control and also the ability to add different colors. Needless to say, foil highlights tend to be more expensive than cap highlights.

18. What does full-head, half-head, partial-head, and face-framing highlights mean?

Full-head highlights are highlights applied throughout your hair. Sometimes this is called full foils or full head of foils. Half-head highlights generally refer to the top and side of your head, while partial highlights is usually some amount less than half-head. Both are great ways to touch-up highlights as they cost less than full-head highlights. Oftentimes, these two terms are used interchangeably. Face framing highlights are highlights applied to just the hair around your face.

19. What is a balayage hair color?

Balayage, also known as hair painting and sometimes spelled baliage or balliage, can create more natural looking highlights that are easier to maintain. To execute this look, the stylist sweeps color onto hair using a brush, creating scattered highlights throughout your hair. Balayage is easier to maintain because of more natural looking regrowth – unlike foil where there’s a clear line where the color starts and stops, balayage is much more blended and natural. Balayage is a great way to add depth and dimension and frequently used to achieve a sun-kissed look. It also looks great on curly hair. To note, it is important to go to an experienced stylist – balayage can look amazing when done right, but also terrible in the hands of the wrong person.

20. What does ombre hair color mean?

Ombre hair color is darkest at the roots and then gradually becoming lighter through the tips. It is usually achieved using a balayage technique.

Other Hair Treatments

21. What is a clarifying hair treatment?

Over time, dirt, oil, and other particles build up along the hair shaft, causing your hair to feel dull and weighed down. A clarifying treatment will strip away these impurities, leaving your hair shiny and manageable. Clarifying treatments will also unclog your hair follicles, preventing bacterial growth on the scalp, and restore the effectiveness of hair products such as shampoos and conditioners.

22. What is a conditioning hair treatment?

A conditioning treatment helps to restore moisture and body to your hair when it becomes dried out and damaged from frequent coloring and styling procedures.

Hair Extensions and Weaves

23. What are hair extensions?

Hair extensions can help add length and volume to your hair by attaching real or synthetic hair to your natural hair. When deciding on hair extensions you can choose to either attach strands of hair, which is good for people with thin hair, or a hair weave, which is good for people with textured hair. With a hair weave, your hair is first braided and then a weft – basically a line of extensions that are sewn together – is attached to the braids. A common misconception about hair extensions is that they’re used just to add length. In actuality they are also great for volume and can be used to pump up a bob!

24. What is the difference between a full weave and a partial weave?

With a full weave, all of your hair is braided and then the weft, or curtain of extensions, is applied. Sometimes, a protective weaving net will be used over the hair and the weave can actually be applied to the net rather than to the hair. This can help protect the natural hair. A partial weave leaves a portion of the natural hair out and tends to look more natural.

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