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STRAIGHT TALK

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I had finally come to a crossroads. Keep the long, blonde hairstyle I’d worn since high school or cut it.

Long hair requires a lot of money and maintenance. Over time, I’ve had to highlight my darkening locks and the amount of time it takes to blow my curly hair straight are valuable hours lost from each week.

And I will confess that I don’t look like a movie star when I’m done styling my hair. Its natural waves snap back into place on a humid day, and even on a dry day, no matter what the latest styling product has promised me, my hair still tends to frizz and lack shine.

But just as I was about to take the plunge and join the ranks of mature women in sensible, short haircuts that take less time to style, Brooklyn hair salons began to offer the Holy Grail of hair services: Japanese Hair Straightening.

Could it be that one process could provide permanently shiny, silky and super-straight hair - even on women with highlights? Is it truly a process that radically minimizes the amount of time spent blow-drying? Can it truly create hair as straight as the Oscar ’dos on Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Connelly and Nicole Kidman?

While I would never be confused with a movie star, I am a working woman with too little time and too much frizzy hair.

Times have changed, straightening technologies have evolved, and this relatively new straightening treatment was my last hope to join the ranks of the shiny, straight-tressed elite.

Of course, there is always a catch and these two catches pinch: this time-saving Japanese technology takes at least four hours (and as many as six) to complete and the cost is a minimum of $600 at top-notch salons like Pilo Arts Day Spa and Salon in Bay Ridge.

Before you say "sayonara" to the idea, remember: it promises straight, shiny hair until it grows out. And straight hair never goes out of style.

But I wasn’t about to trust my highlighted, frizzy hair to any novice for six hours of chemical manipulation.


Where to go

I made an appointment for a consultation (because this is not for everyone or every hair type) with Artistic Stylist Tony Chez, director of education at Pilo Arts. In addition to instructing the hair stylists-in-training at Pilo’s hair academy, Chez is a much sought after hair stylist at the salon, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Chez assured me that out of all the hair joints in the world I was lucky to have walked into his, because he estimated that he has performed 35 to 40 Japanese Hair Straightening treatments over the past two years. He gave my stressed tresses the green light.

Chez maintains that springtime is the best time to have the treatment in order to enjoy the spring and summer without frizz.

As I waited under a heat lamp, wrapped in layers of towels and plastic with drips of relaxer sneaking down my face, Chez sat down next to me and cooed: "Imagine, coming out of the water on an island vacation and your hair dries straight and shiny."

I laughed and yet, now I could envision the happy, sun- and water-drenched days ahead! I clutched the copy of W closer to my bosom and nestled closer to the heat lamp.

Chez has lots of experience using the Liscio product line. He pointed out that colored hair also necessitates pre-treatment with additional "high protection creams," so it takes longer to process (and the salon charges more for that).

As he labored over the next six hours, I really got to know not only the effervescent Chez but the local eatery, Soup As Art (which delivered an amazing cobb salad with blue cheese dressing). Chez is a Bay Ridge resident who has a black belt in karate and was an aviation mechanic in the Navy before coming to Pilo, where he has been manipulating hair for 19 years.

"This job offers me instant gratificat­ion," said Chez. "I make someone very happy 99 percent of the time. I get to see the results right away and it’s fun. A painter or sculptor - it takes a long time for them to finish their art. For me, I can do it in a half hour or for this, five hours."

He’s a fan of Japanese hair straightening treatment as well as of Japanese culture in general.

"The Japanese are great modifiers," said Chez. "Not inventors, but modifiers. They modified martial arts from the Chinese, cars from Germany, Buddhism from India and the computer business we started. They’ve done the same by modifying this market, the permanents. It’s the same structure, but they made it better."

Chez tweaked some aspects of this Japanese Hair Straightening process, eschewing clear plastic wrap and instead topping my hair with a cone-shaped black plastic bag, which made me look like an ewok from "Return of the Jedi" - the closest I came to movie glamour during the decidedly unglamorous application and setting of the relaxer. Afterwards, I was put under heat lamps to speed the process.


Can’t be undone

My hair was then washed and conditioned (with the help of Chez’s trusty assistant Besa), blow dried, sprayed with oil and flat-ironed in swaths just an eighth of an inch thick to break down the bonds of the hair and form a straight structure.

Chez’s flat iron had a knob on it like an electric griddle, which he cranked up to 180 degrees Celsius (that’s a scorching 356 degrees Fahrenheit for the metrically challenged). And just as you can’t uncook a strip of bacon, you cannot unstraighten your hair after this process.

The neutralizer is squirted on and combed through. At this critical point the hair is setting, and I was advised to stay as still as possible so that the hair didn’t form any unwanted bumps, curls or dents. The hair was pushed back manually at the temples (it remains pushed back, 10 days later) allowing me to part my hair on either side. The hair stylist can also offer the option of creating a permanent part on either side, or down the middle, depending on what will look best on you.

The final look is limp, shiny, permanently straight hair that won’t curl, frizz or pouf until it grows out. This is an all-or-nothing procedure, Chez warned.

"People want to put their foot in and test the water," he said. "This is not for them. They can try other straightening treatments."

Chez gave me a quick trim to even out my new straight ’do, warning not to shampoo for two days or to even get my hair wet. Also, pushing my hair behind my ears, wearing clips or barrettes, Walkmans or sunglasses on the head was strictly off-limits for those two days unless I wanted to live with those hair crimps or dents for a very long time.

One final blow dry and a quick pat on the head with invigorating, fruit-scented Bed Head Shine Junkie ($16, which controls "static fly-aways" and has the added bonus of a rousing aroma after hours in the beauty salon) and I was ready to go.


The mornings after

The maintenance of my new wash-and-go look consists of sugar-based Crede Shampoo FT ($26) and Crede Treatment ER cream conditioner ($28) and Alterna Hemp Straightening Balm ($15, which when applied to towel-dried hair offers some UV protection along with closing hair cuticles like a Venetian blind, thus adding shine, said Chez). And an ionic blow dryer (which can be special ordered through Pilo or via Web sites such as Sharper Image’s Salon Pro Ionic Conditioning Hair Dryer, $79.95) couldn’t hurt, but I’m still wielding my ol’ Vidal Sassoon warhorse.

Since the hair straightening, if I choose to blow-dry my hair, it’s just to get the ends to flip under or up or to get the slightest bit of height at the crown. There’s no more need to laboriously pull the hair straight while drying, and it is absolutely straight and shiny.

For the first week, there was a bit of tightness on my scalp, like too-tight pigtails, but as Chez said, that can be the effect on scalps sensitive to the chemicals. Combing conditioner through (after the initial two-day water ban) eased the tightness.

Now if the Japanese could just invent a way around brushing my teeth every morning

 

Pilo Arts Day Spa & Salon, 8412 Third Ave. in Bay Ridge, offers Japanese Thermal Reconditioning Straightening at $600 and up. For a consultation, call (718) 748-7411. For more information, visit www.piloarts.com on the Web.

Little Angels Salon, 463 Court St. at Fourth Place in Carroll Gardens, offers Japanese Hair Straightening beginning at $300 and up. For a consultation, call (718) 624-7587.

Magic Touch 4 U, 2102 E. 15th St. at Avenue U in Sheepshead Bay, offers Japanese Hair Straightening at $350 and up. For a consultation, call (718) 382-4040.

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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