Confessions of a Cave Girl

13th November 2015

Lisa Botwright finds out if it’s possible to beat the frizz the Brazilian way...

Here are five facts about me and my hair. 1. When I say I’m staying in to ‘wash my hair’, I’m not being rude. It is genuinely an event that can take hours. 2. My husband’s pet name for me is ‘Captain Caveman’ (the portly 1970s cartoon character whose frizzy, mousy hair covers his face in an impenetrable mess. Yes, charming.). 3. When someone takes a brush from their handbag and runs it through their hair, Without-Even-Looking-In-The-Mirror, I gaze longingly at them with undisguised envy. (I take a brush to my hair and it mostly gets stuck halfway through, leaving me to wrench it forcefully from the tangles.) 4. When I wash my hair and leave it, it looks fine when wet, but then it rises slowly and malevolently to become a triangular halo of frizz, even though I could support a narcotic habit with the amount I spend on wonder products to try and tame it. 5. People say I’m lucky to have thick hair, and, yes, a professional blow-dry will transform it temporarily into something swishy and glossy (some people want their children to be dentists or lawyers. I hope mine become hairdressers); but ,on the whole, my hair takes so long to look after that it spends most of its time stuffed in a scrunchie.

Little wonder then, that when someone recommends a product that ‘eliminates frizz, repairs damaged hair and allows easier styling’ and asks if I would like to try it out, I nearly kiss them with gratitude. The product in question is the Nanokeratin System Smoothing Treatment, a type of keratin treatment AKA the Brazilian blowdry.  

A little bit of googling ahead of my appointment – I’m booked in to Toni & Guy, Watford – reveals a startling amount of controversy, particularly about the levels of formaldehyde (a chemical used for embalming, amongst other things) contained within these products. When I arrive, Salon Manager Charley immediately reassures me. An earlier type of Brazilian blowdry flagged up some concern within the industry with its high levels of formaldehyde, apparently, but she points out that this new product contains just a trace level, well under the EU legal limit of 0.2%, “to stop bacteria”.

She talks me through the process – and it’s a long process, she warns, taking up to two or three hours depending on the length and thickness of the hair – and then we begin. Trainee Katie washes my hair thoroughly to strip away any lingering product. “I’ll wash it twice, so it’s nice and clean... as you won’t be washing it again for a while,” she says ominously.

Afterwards, a senior stylist blow dries my hair roughly, then applies an acrid-smelling paste to my hair in small sections and combs it through. I’ve been warned in advance about streaming eyes and see boxes of tissues places strategically around the salon, but I’m told that this is the ‘pleasant stage’ – the “nice bit,” Carla says in her charming Portuguese accent. She tells me how the product originates from the heat and humidity of Brazil, how the Brazilian women, with their big curly hair find it difficult to manage. Never mind their tropical climate, I think privately, finding it hard to sympathise – they should try dealing with English drizzle. “One client recently told me that it was the ‘best money she had ever spent’, as she had found it really difficult to manage her hair.” Carla confides, and I start to feel really excited that I will get the same result. However, my natural cynicism soon reasserts itself and I ask if there has been any negative feedback.

“Only that some people expect their hair to be completely straight afterwards. This is a treatment that wears off after a few months; it’s not the same thing as a chemical straightener that would grow out. What the treatment would do is repair any damage to the hair that colour or straightening treatments could cause, so you could have a keratin treatment afterwards. Even on the same day in the case of colouring.” She also explains that the salon doesn’t recommend the treatment for pregnant women, because of the steam. “Steam?” I ask quizzically, checking I had heard correctly. A little bit of steam doesn’t seem innocuous... but more of this later.

The salon is clearly promoting their nanokeratin treatment, with leaflets scattered liberally around – but the stylists seem genuinely enthusiastic about its benefits. I take the opportunity to read up on the technology bit, and learn how the product has been developed to ‘break down keratin (which is found naturally in healthy hair) to a micro molecular size, enabling it to penetrate into the hair shaft to create smooth manageable hair, even to those with the most unruly hair types’. This last bit makes me smile, thinking of my Captain Caveman nickname.

Charley comes over to chat and I ask this glamorous beauty professional about the feedback she has received from her clients. “Who has been most appreciative?” I wonder, thinking of the trendy clientele the salon must attract. “My mum,” she says firmly. “Her hair is brittle and damaged from too much bleach. She had a treatment last week and says her hair has been transformed. She used to take 45 minutes every day to blow-dry her hair, but now it takes just ten.”

By now, my hair has been basking in the sticky treatment for around three quarters of an hour, with the last ten minutes under a heat lamp. Style Director Sara takes over to apply more of the necessary heat to seal in the product. Carla had already explained that the steam comes from blow-drying hair that is already so damp with product. “Like blow-drying hair covered with conditioner.” And there is indeed a lot of steam. As Sara works, it billows and billows; soon it feels as if we’re sitting in a Turkish bath. “You should see it when we have several treatments on the go,” she laughs. It’s not unpleasant though, and I’m relieved that there’s still no sign of the stinging eyes, but I can see why Carla considered the earlier stage to be “nicer.”

The final stage, after blow-drying, is to use straightening irons until my hair is poker straight around my face. The only problem is (with no offence to Sara, who is clearly a talented hairdresser) I don’t look like Jennifer Aniston, with glossy blow-dried hair. I look like someone who has emptied a chip pan over her head and then combed through some lard, for extra effect. I am quietly dismayed that I have to leave the salon looking so… well… greasy, but Sara is talking to me and I come out of my reverie to listen to the final instructions. “It is best to leave your hair for at least four days until you wash the treatment out.” (I mentally calculate this: I’ve a family party at the weekend… oh dear!). “Do not clip it up, or tuck it behind your ears,” she continues cheerfully (this is the hardest bit, I later discover – my hair drives me mad if it is around my face.). Finally she explains about the fact that I will need to use a sulfate-free shampoo, and recommends the Label M range they stock (which is lovely, by the way, but there is no need to spend a lot of money on specialist products: sulfate free shampoos are increasingly common now – just check the label.)

Four days later, I emerge from the shower (oh my goodness, it feels good to have removed all that greasy gunk). Even washing my hair felt different – rinsing it through has taken half the time – so I’m predictably excited to see the result. As I leave it to dry naturally, I wait for the frizz to emerge as usual. Only it doesn’t. My hair, which normally resembles a grown-out bad perm from the 80s, now falls silkily in glossy waves around my shoulders. The literature says that “the results clients experience are truly breathtaking and life-changing,” and maybe this is a little bit over the top; let’s not forget we’re only talking about hair. However, I’m not just pleased with the result, I am ecstatic. Looks like my husband’s going to have to find a new nickname for me now…

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