My hair is, shall we say, difficult.
When I lost it during chemotherapy, I told anyone who would listen, “I just hope it doesn’t come back straight.” All the nurses talked about how patients’ hair textures sometimes changed—often for the better—after treatment, but all I wanted was my natural waves. So I guess this is a lesson in being careful what you wish for because my hair didn’t come back straight, and it didn’t come in wavy, either. It came back curly.
I have nothing against curls. In the past, depending on the humidity, my waves turned into them. But when you’re trying to grow your hair from scratch? They’re killer. On good days, I resemble Gene Wilder. On bad days, you don’t want to know.
I met Etienne, a stylist at David Mallett’s Paris salon, when he was visiting New York. I think he could tell I needed help. My frizz halo basically spelled out “S.O.S.”
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“How often do you shampoo your hair?” he asked. I told him I washed it, shampoo and all, every day. He gasped. Later, he sent me home with a hydrating hair masque, a warning to cut down on my shampooing, and instructions to arrange a hot-oil treatment with someone named Emmanuelle should I ever visit Paris.
A few weeks later, I went to Paris—for the pastries more than the hair treatment. Still, on Etienne’s orders, I called and made an appointment for a hot-oil treatment with Emmanuelle. (I know. Life is hard.)
I walked over Pont des Arts, past the Louvre, and into the second arrondissement. I climbed a spiral staircase to the salon, which had soaring ceilings, light-filled rooms, and a stuffed ostrich. (Carla Bruni, former first lady of France, gets her hair cut here. I was in good hands.)
Emmanuelle, who didn’t speak much English, led me through the salon to a private room. It looked like a treatment room at an upscale spa—complete with candles and a lounge chair. The only difference was the sink basin at its head.
In French, she instructed me to lie down, which I did. She shampooed my hair and gave me what is probably one of the great luxuries in life: a scalp massage. (Pro tip: It’s worth going for the scalp massage alone. Like, whoa.) She spritzed a spray all over and then massaged in a cream. Once she covered my hair in a cap and hooked a steamer up to it, I began to get the feeling that this was not a hot oil treatment.
“J’ai un question,” I said, curious about what she was doing. “Qu’est-ce que vous faîtes?” (I should add here that I’m about as conversational in French as the average six-year-old bébé, so I can scrape by, but speak too quickly or about politics and I’m a goner.)
Emmanuelle slowly explained that she was doing “un soin de Tokyo,” or a Japanese keratin treatment. It’s a four-step process that repairs the hair to make it shiny and soft—and, apparently, it’s a way better option for me than hot oil. After 15 minutes, she rinsed my hair. I waited for my hair to dry beneath a heat lamp back in the salon and resisted touching the ostrich.
I returned a few days later. Apparently, my curls required not one but two keratin treatments. But they’re not all created equal. This time, after shampooing my hair, Emmanuelle applied pure keratin. If le soin de Tokyo repaired my hair, this would help it dry to a softer, smoother curl. I know this because she tried to translate “cheveux mousseux.” After a long game of charades and a futile attempt with Google Translate, I realized that she meant it’d be less frizzy. (I’ll save you the click: It means, “Fluffy hair.”) Then, she wrapped my head in saran wrap—keratin still tingly on my scalp—and left me under a revolving heat lamp to bake for 40 minutes.
Finally, Emmanuelle rinsed my hair and instructed me not to wash it for three days. “The longer you go before washing, the better it gets,” she said in French. “Three days is the minimum, four days is better.” She also advised me to only use sulfate-free shampoo, or risk stripping my hair of all the goodness (read: keratin) she’d put into it.
It’s been just over a month since my back-to-back keratin treatments, which I’d always avoided because I thought they’d deflate my curls. Please. My curls are still here—just less frizzy, more obedient, and a little looser. The most dramatic difference is in the texture: What was once coarse is now smoother and shinier than ever. Sadly, these effects won’t last forever, so excusez-moi while I start scraping together more airline miles.
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