While a lot of us confide in our hairstylists, sharing some of the most private details about our lives, I’ve learned from writing for the hair industry that often we leave out the information that actually matters in terms of how our hair will turn out.
If you’re a stylist’s first-time client, it’s not enough to have the hairdresser look at you and feel your hair. You have a lot of knowledge that will improve your chances of a good outcome. And if you’ve been seeing the same hairdresser loyally on a rigid schedule, things may have changed in your life that are worth mentioning.
Even when asked for information while we’re sitting in the chair, we can forget dates and details. I asked one of my best sources, Todd Faulk, an educator with the Aveda Arts & Sciences Institutes, to run down the list of what clients should be telling their hairdressers before color or scissors ever touch the hair. These are his top five.
#1: Hair Color Candor
Have you ever had hair color take beautifully on the regrowth at the roots but not so well on the rest of your hair? That’s what will happen if the same formula is applied all over to hair that has been previously colored. Typically, the color should be applied on the roots well before the rest so it can process for a longer time. Your roots may need their own formula as well.
According to Todd, clients tend to report that they have color on their hair only if the color is fresh. By the time it’s washed out or faded, they disregard that color application. Rather than asking you whether you have color on your hair, the better question for stylists to ask is: “When was the last time you had a hair color or other chemical service?” So even if that’s not the question you get, it’s the one you should answer.
The “other chemical service” part is important, because a perm or straightening service deposits chemicals on your hair just as a color service does. In a worst-case scenario, the hair could break off if there’s no elasticity left in the hair when your stylist bleaches over an old perm.
Sometimes clients do know they have color on their hair, but they’re reluctant to tell the stylist because either they went to a different salon or they did it themselves.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” Todd says. “I know that people don’t want to be judged on whether they went to another stylist or they used box color. But hair color isn’t like paint – you can’t just paint over it. Hair color is achieved through a chemical process. When you look at your hair you might think the color is gone or the perm has fallen out, so the chemicals aren’t there anymore. But the chemicals are still in the hair even if you can’t detect them.”
#2: Scalp Health
Your stylist can run a thumbnail across your scalp to determine whether there’s a buildup of sebum, which is oil on the scalp. Sebum causes inflammation, and it can drive hair loss if the follicle gets clogged or the inflammation suffocates the follicle enough to keep hair from growing out of it.
You can give your stylist a heads-up, though. If you’ve been noticing any thinning, oiliness, itchiness or flaking, let your hairdresser know. Don’t assume the flaking is dandruff, which is believed to be caused by a fungus and seen pretty rarely after adolescence.
Todd says that, typically, the cause of flaking on middle-aged women is dry scalp. If you’re using a dandruff shampoo on a dry scalp, it may make you feel squeaky clean but it’s actually aggravating the situation if that shampoo is stripping oil from your scalp.
#3: Medical Information
As part of your physical body, your hair and scalp will be affected by an illness, allergies or medication you’re taking. For example, if a seasonal allergy causes patchiness on your arm or generally irritated skin, your scalp may be experiencing the same condition.
If you’ve ever noticed that you “shed” more during a certain part of the year, that’s the reason. You may benefit from using a product just for that season.
You’ll probably tell your hairdresser if you’re undergoing chemotherapy, but that’s not the only time you should mention a new medication. While younger women’s hair can change during pregnancy or from birth control medication, we older women take all sorts of things that might be affecting our hair.
“If you’re trying to cover gray and the color isn’t taking, it could be due to medication you’re taking for high blood pressure or thyroid,” Todd says. “Medication can deplete some of the pigment in the hair, so there will be less pigment left and, if the hair is resistant, you may need to either change your color formula or let it sit longer.”
You probably think that the last thing a hairdresser wants to hear about are your menopause symptoms. But both men and women stylists are very accustomed to that conversation, and it can be important. Menopause presents so many major changes in your body that it can impact hair growth, pigment, texture, strength and elasticity.
Do you have a mole on your forehead, scalp or neck that isn’t visible with your current hairstyle? Let your stylist know. Your hairdresser not only will keep an eye out for any changes in size and color as time goes on, but if you ask for a short cut like a pixie, the stylist will remind you that the mole will be showing and will make sure that’s okay with you.
#4: Lifestyle and Travel
Sometimes you and your stylist will be trying to figure out why your hair feels drier than usual, and the answer is simpler than you think – you just returned from visiting a drier climate, or your home humidifier has been on the blink, or you started swimming for exercise. It can be a lot of things. Always think through what’s changed in your life, and mention it. Diet, stress, activity – it can all impact your hair.
If you’re planning to travel, that’s something to bring up, too. You might want to take along a leave-in conditioner if you’ll be in dry air or saltwater. Todd offers this tip if you’re going to be in chlorine: Rinse your hair with tap water before you jump into the pool.
“The hair will be saturated like a saturated sponge, and then it can’t absorb as many of the pool’s chemicals,” Todd notes. “After swimming, rinse again. You can condition before and after also, even if you don’t shampoo.”
If your finances are tight or they’ve changed, don’t be embarrassed to let your stylist know you’d like to have options for lower price points on the recommended services and products. Maybe you just can’t afford highlights this time. Again, this is not an uncommon salon conversation, and a good stylist will not be judgmental or push you to do anything that’s not comfortable for you.
#5: Home Hair Care Routine
What you’re using at home is important. If you walk into the salon with lots of product already on your hair, your stylist may want to wash your hair before applying color. If your hair feels dry and you say that you shampoo every day, your stylist may suggest switching to every two or three days.
Your stylist should educate you on products. If you color your hair, your hairdresser will probably recommend a color-safe shampoo. A minty shampoo may make your hair feel extra clean, but Todd says the mint is an astringent and will pull color out of the hair.
“People often don’t understand why we recommend sulfate-free shampoos,” Todd adds. “Sulfate makes the product lather, but it’s filler and dries out the hair. Even if it says it’s 100% organic, that refers only to the active product, not the filler, and that filler can take up a lot of the bottle. There’s even an organic sulfate, but it’s still a detergent. Be truthful with your stylist about everything you’re using on your hair.”
Do you visit the same hair stylist every time you need a touch up? How well does he/she know you and your hair condition? Do you share any of the above information?