The Best Style for You
"Right now, more women than ever are relaxing their hair," claims Lisa Mitchell, uber-chic stylist at NYC's A-list-frequented Pierre Michel salon (she counts Tyra as one of her biggest fans). And as evidenced from ER's Michael Michele's glossy blown-out mane and Halle Berry's super sexy shaggy crop, the eye-catching style options are endless with relaxed hair. According to Mitchell, the must-have cut of the season is a jagged-edged bob, (i.e. Iman's new chin-grazing style). Not only is this cut ultrasexy, it's like an instant makeover. "A chin-length bob can make round faces appear thinner, while a shoulder-length bob can add depth to a narrow face." Here's how to get this edgy, perfectly imperfect look: Lock-in body to blown-out hair by putting hair in hot rollers, or using a curling iron (roll curled sections into pin-curls, securing with a bobby pin). After hair cools, wrap it and tie on a silk scarf. In the morning, run a gentle pomade between hands, and finger-style into a chunky, piecy 'do.
Maintenance Do's & Don'ts
Do use a super-moisturizing shampoo. "Chemically treated hair can never get enough hydration," says Mitchell. "Relaxed hair is very porous, so it's difficult for moisture to stay trapped in the cuticle."
Do condition every time you wash. Conditioner protects hair and prepares it for styling instruments. Bi-monthly touch-ups can take their toll, leaving hair dehydrated and damaged but ask your stylist about some of the newest relaxers which are formulated with rich conditioners.
Do use a follicle-building conditioner. "A reconstructive conditioner helps smooth out broken cuticles and makes hair supple and stronger.
Do switch conditioners every third week. "Your hair can reject a conditioner if you over-use it," Mitchell says. "You'll have better results if you find two products and switch, continually shocking the cuticle."
Do monitor the heat of your curling iron. Wrap a paper towel in your curling iron like it's your hair -- if it singes, the iron's too hot.
Don't blow-dry hair without protection. After shampooing and conditioning, part hair in sections and apply a dollop of heat-activated strand protector in a cream or gel form to each piece -- this lowers the risk of split ends and damaged cuticles. Try Redken Centigrade Heat-Activated Gel, $9.95, Redken.com).
Don't wash hair more than once a week. "Most shampoos have strong detergents in them which futher dry-out hair," Mitchell says. Over-washing can result in a dull appearance and split ends. In between washings, freshen up hair (or get rid of "party smells" like cigarettes or other people's perfume!) with an odor neutralizer. Try Salon Selectives Air It Out, $2.99 at drugstores.
Don't leave a curling iron on your hair for more than 8 seconds. "No matter the setting, if you leave the iron on hair too long, or concentrate it on one place, you'll get breakage," Mitchell says. "The tool isn't damaging, the person [with the tool] is!"
Getting a New Look
With relaxed hair, a style change is a cinch. "Cornrows are a great escape from your everyday look," says Mitchell. We're all loving Alicia Keys' glamourous braids right now, so why not show her picture to your stylist for inspiration? Braids not your thing? Try the wash 'n go. "To [add] wave to relaxed hair, scrunch wet hair with a gentle, alcohol-free gel. Then use a diffuser to dry hair." Pro tip: After diffusing hair, hands-off. Too much touching will remove some of the product from your hair and cause frizzies.
It's happened to everyone with relaxed hair: Seconds after walking outside into a rainy, humid, or foggy day, your immaculate blow-out or wrap morphs into a frizzy nightmare (frizz serums and creams be damned). According to Mitchell, this 'do drama can easily be avoided. "On moist days, try wearing your hair in a chic, low bun or pinning it up in a messy updo," she recommends. "For a whole new look, cornrow it at night, brush it out, and sweep it into a ponytail. It's already a carefree, textured look, so if it get's frizzy, it's okay!
Feed Your Hair
"As strong new growth comes in, the shaft becomes unevenly textured and starts to break off where the weaker relaxed hair begins," explains Brian Thompson, traecheologist at NYC's Phillip Kingsley salon. The solution lies in protein, which re-builds damaged hair shafts. If you can't eat protein meats once a day or you're a vegetarian, try soy-based products and vegetable proteins like lentils, peas, and beans.