How do I hair???
July 23, 2014 6:11 PM   Subscribe

I have NEVER had my hair professionally cut or styled. It's way past time, but (like many things in life) the longer I wait, the harder it is. I also have a very long list of special requests. What should I do in order to have hair I love again?

Get comfortable: grab some coffee or whatever. This is going to take a while.

Me: Mid-30s, tall, overweight, brimming with anxiety and self-doubt.

My hair, past: Always long. Previously shinier and thicker than now, maybe due to a past health issue. I'm used to my long hair being my one point of vanity, and I used to wear it down all the time.

My hair, current: I live in a really hot part of California and I'm always too hot in certain classrooms or on a hike, so my hair spends most of its time in a basic, boring, unflattering chignon. I typically wash it at night and braid it to increase its waviness and body. I have a few white strands, but they haven't significantly affected anything yet. I have no idea what my hair looks like or does if it's shorter than mid-back. (I'd be thrilled if it were curly.) I would love to wear it down more often.

Current photos: bun from the front, photo from a couple years ago--after braiding the night before, best photo I could take by myself of how it looks just now, having washed it this morning and air-dried it (no braid). this is what's going on under the outer layers.

My hair, future: Don't know. I can tell you this, though.
- the ability to get it completely off my face and neck so that I don't die of heatstroke
- the ability to get it gathered together at night (I have to use headgear at night--I guess short enough not to matter would also work)

- to have to go back to the stylist frequently
- to use products - I'm allergic to everything and chronically sleep-deprived during the school year, so while I know there are always some people who say "wash and wear isn't a thing!" -- it MUST be wash and wear. No products for daily wear, no blow drying, no curling irons! If you're going to say "can't be done," please do not comment, because this is not helpful.
- hair in my eyes :(

Hair I like: I suspect that what I think looks attractive on women (e.g., bangs) probably doesn't look good on me. I don't think I want short hair or bangs, but I'm willing to hear arguments. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5...I dunno.

Caveat: I'm so scared of going to a salon, because it's bizarre to be my age and have never gone to one. (I have reasons,'s time to move past them.) How do I find a salon that won't induce a migraine immediately just from the smells, will take time to help me find something I won't regret, won't just try to sell stuff to me, and won't just cut all my hair off? When I think about this, my anxiety levels go off the charts and I start eyeing DIY Long Layers videos. Eek!

Addendum: I write and teach college, so I don't have to worry about whether my hair is "professional." I have a plan for crazy color as a reward to myself when I finish this writing project, in fact.

I would really appreciate
- specific cuts that you think would work well
- specific salon and stylist names and advice for going there/what to expect (I live in the east east East SF Bay and realize I'll probably have to travel to another city)
- someone to go with me to the salon

posted by wintersweet to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (47 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend the book "Curly Girl" by Chiel, Bender and Massey. I borrowed a copy from my local library. Then check out forums like There are salon & stylist recommendations there. Re: migraines. You may want to be the salon's first appointment, or find a hairdresser that comes to your house. Memail me if you have more questions.
posted by MichelleinMD at 6:29 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Is the bottom of your hair really dry and damaged, or is that just the way the light is hitting it in the photo? Your hair looks about like mine did before I got it cut -- does it get super poufy if you brush it? If so, you need long razored layers to take out the volume to prevent broom hair.

I would start by cutting off all the frizzy damaged ends, maybe six inches below your shoulders. You should also find a stylist who knows how to cut curly hair, preferably one who will cut it dry. In my experience, wet cutting curly hairs leads to...weirdness. The stylist needs to see how the curl is flowing and reacting to the cut, not guessing how it will look when it's dry.

I think a long-layered cut would look great on you, and give you the versatility you want without being too much of a big change. When you are unsure, start with small changes and work your way up to an edgier cut from there. If you are really used to a bun and are brave enough to go super short, I also think a feminine pixie cut would look really cute on you! (I am not this brave, but YMMV).

I know a stylist who made housecalls when I lived in the east Bay. Not sure if she still does them, as she works at a salon now, but you can memail me if you want her info. She is the best stylist I have ever been to, hands down.
posted by ananci at 6:33 PM on July 23, 2014

Response by poster: ananci: I have pretty bad dry, split ends. Only the ends puff out when they're dry. I'll memail you.

everyone: I can probably find a way around the smells thing, so you can ignore that if you like. (Housecalls are a new concept to me, though! Interesting.)
posted by wintersweet at 6:37 PM on July 23, 2014

Best answer: I suggest you look for an organic hair salon, then call them and tell them about your chemical sensitivities. Ask how they would deal with someone with your issues, and then wait. Just... wait and see what they say. Look at yelp reviews. Google blogs about the place. If you feel comfortable, then just make an appointment. Tell the person on the phone that you want a stylist who cuts a lot of people with wavy long hair, and take whoever they recommend. Tell the person on the phone that you will need significant consultation and ask them to book extra time.

THEN when you go to the salon, you will walk in the front door and walk up to a counter or desk. Tell them your name -- you'll want to say something like "I'm Wintersweet, I have a 2 o'clock with $STYLIST." They'll say something like "I'll let $STYLIST know you are here." At that point, you should sit down (there will be chairs somewhere) and wait. Typically, $STYLIST will come and get you -- he or she will call your name or just walk up and introduce themselves. They will be really friendly. They WANT to get your business. They will sit you down in a chair and ask what you want to do today. Then you just say something like "I'll be honest, I've never had my hair professionally cut before, and I"m really nervous. I need help figuring out what to do with my hair." If the $STYLIST makes you uncomfortable in any way, just say "I don't think this is going to work out" and get up and leave. Don't hesitate for one second, just walk. The $STYLIST will probably will be surprised that you've never been to a salon before, but you can just say "It's complicated, let's focus on my hair. I really need your professional advice." Then the $STYLIST will walk you through making a decision. $STYLIST might try to sell you on buying this hairspray or that gel or whatever -- just tell them you don't want it. This happens all the time.

If you are super freaked out by that idea, then look for an independent stylist who will come to your home. You can talk to this person on the phone and let them know all your worries ahead of time. They'll come to your house and work on your hair right in your own home -- probably your kitchen.

As for hairstyles, I am jealous of your hair!! It's fantastic!! I think it would look amazing in a cut like this or this or this. Those cuts are short enough to be cool, but also long enough that you could use hair clips to clip it back and off your neck. They are also unstructured enough that you probably wouldn't need a haircut every 4-6 weeks. But a good stylist who is talking with you and can really get a sense of you, your lifestyle, the shape of your face, your frame, your personal style and whatnot will give you the very best advice.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:38 PM on July 23, 2014 [12 favorites]

Okay, so it looks like you have naturally curly/wavy hair. Cooooooooooool. Welcome to the club.

There's a whole brand of evangelism concerning curly hair that preaches a product-necessary lifestyle, and they have a point in that curly hair is needy and more high-maintenance than straight hair. BUT --- I don't really agree, and so I've managed to develop a routine that allows me to be essentially "wash and go." It requires one product only (and it's not really a ~~~product~~~, it's a natural thing) --- argan oil. You can substitute with agave oil to the same effect. After washing my hair (every 4-5 days) I very lightly run about a nickel's worth of oil into my wet hair. Dunno why it works but it reaaaally helps to make my curls smoother and nicer-looking. Are you allergic to oils?

I having think nice wavy/curly hair boils down to a few crucial things:
1. A good haircut. Browse reviews in your area for curly/wavy-friendly hairstylists or salons. I think some users here may be able to help you in this regard. Personally, I go for a long and layered cut, nothing fancy -- no bangs, etc. When my hair gets super unruly, I have my hairstylist thin it a little, too. I go in for a cut every 3-4 months.

It's important to ask, though -- how much hair are you willing to let go of, in terms of length? For a professional look I don't think anything below the waist is good. Really, in general I think an inch below the bust is a good maximum length, especially if you're not going in often for cuts.

2. A good shampoo/conditioner. I know people preach sulfate-free shampoos and all that, but I really, really love Dove's Daily Moisture conditioner. It really prevents my hair from getting too dry, which is where I think a lot of your problems are coming from.

3. Oil. You don't need very much at all, but it makes such a difference for appearance and hair health.

Also --- I'm kind of side-eyeing all the suggestions to go short. In my experience thicker curly hair and short hair (ie. above the shoulder) don't pair well together. All the pictures of cute short "curly" hair I see are really just naturally straight hair that has been curled/waved with heat tools.
posted by krakus at 6:38 PM on July 23, 2014 [10 favorites]

Hello! I do not use products every day (just sometimes) and I don't own a blow dryer or a curling iron or a hairbrush! (Just a wide-tooth comb.) It can be done. And if you're washing it every day now, you can almost certainly get away with washing it much less often.

I think you have curls under there and you should take a look at salon reviews on Naturally Curly. If you can put those five pictures on your phone and whip them out right when you sit down in the stylist's chair, that'll help.

The ends of your hair look a little like mine used to when I wore it long and still brushed it. Maybe see what happens if you wash it, oil it, and let it air dry. (Coconut, olive, almond, jojoba, or castor oil. Start with a teaspoon or so smeared on your fingertips and run them through the ends of your hair, then probably repeat because you've got a lot of hair.) This tends to make curls happy.
posted by clavicle at 6:43 PM on July 23, 2014

I don't have specific cut/stylist recommendations, but it looks like we have somewhat similar hair textures, and I'm also someone who has to avoid product because of allergies and other various and sundry skin reactions, so I'm going to mention a few things that have worked for me.

Definitely worth checking out the curly girl book and site. The "no poo" thing doesn't work for me, personally. I have recently fallen in love with the shea moisture line of products. I would specifically look into the moisturizing shea butter shampoo/conditioner and the curl and shine shampoo/conditioner. I can personally vouch for those products. They don't irritate my scalp, and they moisturize very well. They're also cheaper than the fancy salon products. Definitely give them a try!

Another tip I picked up that I really like is the "shampoo your hair backwards" trick. This probably sounds weird, but it's actually pretty great. Here's how it works: You wet your hair, then you put conditioner on the ends, let it sit, and then shampoo the top of your head, and rinse it all out. YMMV, but this has worked really well for me.

I've stopped using regular towels on my hair. Some people use microfiber cloths, but I have had good luck using old, soft t-shirts to get excess water out of my hair post shower. The soft fibers don't leech out quite as much moisture, and I think it leads to less breakage (supposedly, at least).

You might also try conditioning with pure coconut oil. I bought it off of amazon for like $11. You put it in your hair when it's dry, and let it sit, then shampoo your hair to rinse it out. I use it on ends but not scalp.

Apple cider vinegar rinses are another thing that have worked for me. Basically, you mix like 1/3 cup (or maybe a little less) of vinegar and about 16 oz of water (very rough approximations). Shampoo and condition as usual. Then while your hair is still wet, use a spray bottle to spray it on your scalp and ends. Let it sit for 5-15 minutes or whatever, and then rinse it out. It makes your hair soft and shiny!
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:56 PM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Long layers will help keep you cooler, and so will having the hairdresser thin it out. I have a ton of hair too, and doing layers yourself will not turn out well, trust me, so seeking a good hairdresser is key. If you decide to keep it fairly long, make sure they know how long you want the longest part and the shortest part of your hair to be (I agree with mid-bust suggestions above).

It is possible to use very few products on your hair, but healthy hair starts with the shampoo/conditioner you use. The Shea Moisture line is wonderful and very natural, so you can check the ingredients easily for allergens. They also have a great leave-in conditioner that is mostly shea butter and coconut oil. All you have to do is put it on the ends after you shower. You could get away with just a good, non-drying shampoo and conditioner, and some kind of leave in conditioner for moisture (such as the oils mentioned above). Good luck!
posted by Red Desk at 7:01 PM on July 23, 2014

All of your pictures, except possibly the first one, are heat-styled. I would guess they are blow-dryed, then flat-ironed for shine, then curled, except for the fourth one which probably just used a blow-dryer for height at the roots, and to style the bangs.

I'm saying this so you don't have unrealistic expectations if you do go get a professional style. I had years of bad haircuts from taking in pictures that required 1) hair I didn't have and 2) a lot of styling I wasn't willing to do.

I do much better now because I have a stylist I trust and we work with what I have on my head, and my styling skills. No pictures of heavily-coiffed celebs - just a close collaboration between the two of us.

I very much support the suggestions for exploring Curly Girl and Naturally Curly. You'll see pictures of natural hair that isn't heat styled, to give you ideas of what can be done. And find a stylist you trust to work with. I found mine by asking people with pretty curly hair where they got it cut.

I go to my stylist every six weeks for a cut and color, but my sister, who is very protective of her curls, sees my stylist once a year when she's in town for the holidays. The rest of the year she (my sister) trims her own curls.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:02 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I can't tell how wavy/curly your hair naturally is versus how much of that texture is due to regular braiding, so it may not be necessary to go deep into the curly hair lifestyle (which does indeed tend to be product-intensive and fussy/time consuming). I do, however, agree that a few drops of oil or oil-based hair serum (the stylist will help you here) could make a world of difference in the health, shine, and awesomeness of your hair while taking about 5 seconds a day.

Ultimately, you're probably going to end up with a safe but attractive long cut, with no bangs (I think they might suit you, but it's too much of a change for right now), but a some long layers for movement and to help your waves stand out. I'm a short hair nut, but I have a feeling, based on your lifestyle, habits, and feelings about your hair, that you'd hate it.

So what I'll add is a few things I think you should think on as you approach this process:
1. Book a consultation before an actual appointment so you can meet the stylist, talk, and make a plan without the stress of actually cutting anything that day. If the stylist doesn't make you feel comfortable, don't make the appointment and see someone else. You're under no obligation at all.

2. Prepare to lose a lot of length. Looking at your pics, probably 10 inches. Once hair is that dry and damaged, it can't be fixed. This will feel more radical than it looks, especially since you've been wearing it pulled back for so long. Speaking from experience, you'll likely feel some shock and you may hate it for a few days. I promise, it's not as dramatic as it feels and this shock feeling will pass.

3. Think about a side part. I have a feeling that, minus some length, and with some looong layers for movement would be super flattering for your face, compared to how it looks brushed straight back into the chignon.

4. What shampoo and conditioner are you using? The super expensive stuff isn't necessarily better, but it's important you're using ones that suit your hair type.

5. If you're committed to the health of your hair, you need to be committed to getting it cut four times a year. Even if this experience is stressful, if you don't maintain it, you'll be right back where you are now in a year, and all the stress was for nothing. Plus, no time will be as difficult (mentally or in terms of change) as this first one.

Also, edited to add, yay for you! It's really fantastic when you can say "Self, this is scary, but that's not a good enough reason not to take a step that can make me look and feel more awesome!"
posted by mostlymartha at 7:02 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

i am going to go completely counter the crowd and your inner self and say: buzz it. WAIT, DON'T LEAVE!

it will solve your heat problem, your wash n wear problem, so many problems. it can be feminine and look good on women. i buzzed my hair last summer and again this summer. and was so surprised that it actually looked GOOD on me and people thought it looked good on me. STRANGERS EVEN.

you don't need to go to a salon. just cut your hair close to your head with scissors, then set a buzzer to 5 or 4 and go for it. it is so freeing. try it.

here it is the day i did it last summer and about a month later.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:03 PM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you are in/near Sacramento or make it there periodically, Hello Curls is where you want to go. Beverly is amazing, and you can go for the first time and get a trim and get to know her and then let her help you decide what to do next.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:04 PM on July 23, 2014

Best answer: I want to chime in and say that although it's a bit difficult to tell from your pictures (taking into account the braiding you say you did), I think you may have thick wavy/curly fine/medium hair (where thick refers to the overall volume, and fine/medium refers to the strands). With this in mind, I have a couple of recommendations:

1. The cut: If I were you, I would get a basic long layered cut, with the shorter layers maybe a couple of inches below your shoulders, with a variety of longer layers that maybe go 4-6 inches beneath that at their longest. I also have thick curly/wavy fine/medium hair, and if it's shorter than shoulder-length it poofs out very unmanageably - I really would be wary of this. I think that layers will help make the volume manageable, and also help whatever curl you have shine through (layers are often helpful for articulating curl). Also, since it's longer, it doesn't require frequent trips to the stylist to maintain, and is definitely wash-and-wear.

2. The products: I know you said no products, but this isn't really a product - I would smooth it with coconut oil when wet (or some other oil). Coconut has the advantage of being one of the only oils to actually penetrate the hair shaft and prevent protein loss, versus other oils (jojoba, etc.) that just sit on the surface. I think that smoothing on maybe a dime-sized amount of oil on your hair (starting on the ends and concentrating there, but moving up to the bottom of your ears) would significantly shape your curls, so you'd have more curls and less frizz. It would have the added advantage of conditioning your hair and protecting against damage. I really doubt that you'll experience sensitivity to coconut oil, or other oils - even if you're sensitive to other products.

3. The care: I think you may want to look into a less harsh shampoo (no SLS; possibly conditioner-only), if you don't have any scalp issues that need shampoo (dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, etc.). You may also want to think about washing less frequently. This typically results in hair that is in better condition, and as a bonus, it obviously saves you time. YMMV.
posted by ClaireBear at 7:08 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

We could be hair twins from the front, but from the back, no. (I have equally long but pin-straight hair.) Therefore I won't comment on the curly aspects of the question.

I did want to say that of the example pictures you show of potential hairstyles, #'s 2 and 3 are likely to include a lot of styling products, especially waxes, which are popular in Asia. (They work great, by the way, styling waxes, and I never had one set off my crazy sensitivities.)

Cuts #4 and 5 I think would flatter you and be easy to maintain and to grow out if you should decide to do so.

As far as going to the salon, I hear you. I don't like them either and visit one every 5-7 years. To start, I'd ask co-workers or even students (especially those who have similar hair textures and who rock hairstyles you like) for recommendations and go with that. If you're not comfortable doing that, I'd suggest trying out a well-established salon and asking for their most experienced stylist. It will be more expensive (you get what you pay for ime), but someone with a lot of experience will have seen and heard it all so you won't stand out for not ever having visited a salon. (A little flattery may go a long way, too, saying that you've heard such good things about the salon/stylist that you overcame your fear of salons to come to that place/person specifically.)

Finally, I envy your wavy locks! But the grass is always greener, isn't it?
posted by GoLikeHellMachine at 7:12 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Okay, I came back because there are a couple of questions to answer:

I couldn't find a good photo with my hair down, but when it's totally down, I usually wear a side part.

People are welcome to suggest oil. (I used to use VO5 hot oil treatments when I was much younger, but they're sort of horrible and I quit years ago.)

I'm currently using Yes to Blueberries shampoo and conditioner. I don't wash my hair every day; that makes it dry and cranky.

I'm OK with going 4 times a year or whatever; I just don't want to have to go in allll the time. Whatever that is. I mean, who knows? I'm new to this.

I'm open to big changes, but a buzzcut or anything super close to my skull is probably not an option right now. At my size, if I did that, I would look Violet Beauregarde, post-blueberrying. :O Who knows, maybe later!
posted by wintersweet at 7:14 PM on July 23, 2014

Just my two cents.... I'm a heavier girl with a full face and I got a longish on top pixie last winter and the change it has made in my appearance has been AMAZING! I suddenly have cheekbones and a jaw!! I get more complements than ever!! I do have to get it maintained so that may not be for you right now but don't rule out very short hair just because you have a fuller face. Once you get more used to the salon experience and click with a stylist, think about it. It's so cool, temperature wise, so easy, no fuss at all and everyone loves it on me. And I have CHEEKBONES FINALY!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:32 PM on July 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have very similar hair and I, too, used to wear it about your length. I truly think that even just taking off about 10 to 12 inches will immediately show improvement and get you feeling cooler. Really long hair can overwhelm your face and body. I have tried twice to go much shorter and I have concluded my face just does not suit that length, but it is always something you can try if you want to try a different style. Hair does grow! At this point your hair is so long that is dry and split, therefor it is difficult for it to look good, no matter the products you try or the styling you might be willing to do. I basically air dry every day, with the fairly frequent use of oil.

If you do not want to go in to a stylist often I would keep it fairly simple - no bangs, they need care more than quarterly. Even layers probably take a two more visits a year to maintain, but it's not a huge deal to let them go a bit. I truly hate going to get my hair done, for years I avoided going or only went once a year. If you are willing to go 4 times a year you can look much tidier and I think you will be happier with your hair's appearance.

I will say that after years of being unhappy and thinking I would never feel comfortable with a hair stylist I have found someone I like. It's still a weird thing and I hate how long I have to be there and the small talk can be painful, but she seems to get me and so I would say if you are really unhappy with the first hair stylist, please, please try someone else.

And I know I mentioned a length to take off, but that is just a guess, if you feel comfortable with the stylist, please ask them their opinion, I have had good luck with that aspect of the stylists I have used over the years. They tend to want to remove more than you think. I generally talk about how I want my hair to look healthy and not to take off more than is needed to achieve that goal. My current stylist cuts my hair damp, but does evaluate my hair dry before we get started and also finishes up by adjusting the cut at the end and gets my input. This has made a big difference, so that may be one way to evaluate your fit with a stylist.
posted by dawg-proud at 7:52 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree to THINNING!

To a stylist I would use the term "Take out the weight."

They go in with these types of scissors and get the bulk out of your hair. And it doesn't leave a line or straight cut area like layers do.

My hair was thick, wavy, heavy, difficult to manage, got dry, etc. Thinning was really helpful. (We had a pile of of hair on the floor and I STILL had a super full head of hair.)

Thinning also allows your waves to do what they need to do and kind of have room to breathe. Too much air kinda chokes the curls off from fully forming.

I also agree that you should try some techniques to get the curls to stick. One method is no brushing. Just run your fingers through it after you shampoo and don't rub it with a towel. Rubbing causes frizz. You can try one of the lightweight microfiber towels to get it dry without rubbing but by squeezing.

Full disclosure, I got fed up with it and got a pixie cut. I now LOVE my pixie cut and don't know why I didn't do it before. It does require upkeep though. (Although when mine gets too long I can brush the top over on an extreme side part and it's pretty cute with a bow...)
posted by Crystalinne at 7:53 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I am so excited that you live in the east bay because SO DO I, and I have the most amazing hair stylist (in SF though, boo!). I religiously go to Sargent Studio, to either Damien or Dominique and they have both given me amazing cuts on a regular basis. They also are very low key on the pushiness and as far as I remember, the salon did not smell like lots of crazy products. Plus big bonus, it is next door to a little plant store!

I was like you and refused to go to a real hair salon for about 6-7 years, but then my best friend forced me to get a real haircut, because I was chopping my hair short and I looked extremely strange and unprofessional. Like you, I also have curly/wavy hair and had been wearing it pretty long for the last few years. Like you, I prefer not to do anything to my hair other than wash and dry it, and I tell every single hair stylist I have ever gone to. This has never seemed to be much of a problem to anyone, and the stylists seem to be relieved that I will admit that I prefer to sleep than get up and do my hair for hours (or even just a half hour). I think that makes their job easier if they know what you will be doing to it every day. That way they can give you a cut you will be able to "style" on your own.

Currently my hair is ear length and what I did when I wanted to chop it all off a couple months ago was go into the salon with a pintrest board with a bunch of photos of short hair that I wanted. He took one look at them and said "lets do this" and now I have the best cut (with bangs, omg!). My mantinence is to put coconut oil (from trader joes! 100% pure oil) on my hair in small quantities and let it do it's magic. I also scrunch it to make it more curly. I would guess that the woman with the amazing long curls in your first link of suggestions has a lot of styling products in her hair because of the lack of frizzies.

Other people have some really great suggestions for specific cuts to look for and I would add to just spend some time on pintrest looking at haircut boards. I got a little obsessed and now look at them all the time, but they are a useful tool to bring with you when you go to the hair salon. Feel free to memail me for more details about the salon that I go to!
posted by ruhroh at 7:55 PM on July 23, 2014 [6 favorites]

Oh, and if I lived anywhere near you, even hours away, I would totally go with you a salon. Since I can not, please know I am there with you in spirit. I get this discomfort and I hope it goes well.
posted by dawg-proud at 7:56 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't wash my hair every day; that makes it dry and cranky.

So before you get to the salon part, spend some time with the curly girl / naturally curly / no poo websites. There is a ton of dogma in those parts, which you can safely ignore in favor of finding hair care routines that work for you.

The first thing I learned from the curl people is that curly/wavy hair is very typically extremely dry. You've already observed this with your own hair. So you need to find a good cleaning process that keeps your hair shiny, healthy, and keeps enough of your own oils to cut down on frizz. For me this is to wash with conditioner for a week or so, and then shampoo, repeat. I tried a bunch of combinations of techniques before I decided this was what worked for me. You might be a cider vinegar person or something else. (My curly-haired sister I mentioned shampoos every day but uses a mousse she swears by.)

The next big curly thing is to baby and preserve your curls - for me this means no hair brushing, and I "plop" when I get out of the shower. My sister uses a diffuser on a blow dryer and her mousse.

Once you've learned more about how you can encourage and highlight your curls, I would suggest a professional haircut to get the dead stuff off the ends, and shape things up. No need to go more drastic than that at first, or ever.
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:00 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Since you are very nervous, here's what I would do for you cut-wise if you were to sit my chair when I was a stylist:
1. It looks like your length is well below where your bra strap would be. I would recommend bringing it up to at least your strap, maybe one inch above that.
2. Then, I would highly recommend putting in long layers enough to still put back into a pony and to not get in your headgear, etc.
3. Indulge and just have the stylist dry it gently (with a diffuser) to enhance the curl/wave that will NO DOUBT be springing up after the shape-up. The stylist should be able to do this with MINIMAL product since you have emphasized that you do NOT want a bunch of crap in your hair because of the reasons you've listed, etc.

Simply by doing these two steps, it will, NO DOUBT, make you feel as if you just had a complete makeover AND a long layered hairstyle is THEE simplest of all haircuts out there (well, save for the buzz cut...) AND you should be able to go 2-3 months between haircuts (really, I think the every 4 weeks rule for long hair is way too excessive, unnecessary - for short, precision cuts, a different story...)

Oh AND it can be a first step to trying something more daring the next time around, once you get comfy with your stylist. But I would NOT go with daring this first time, to be honest, wayyy too much stress. Enjoy your beautiful long hair with waves/curls after a decent cut and then go from there if you want to hack it off.

That's my .02. Good luck and enjoy your new style!
posted by foxhat10 at 8:05 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

And just so you know, layering is a method of "thinning," so no need to ask for both. It looks like you just have a LOT of out-of-shape thin head of hair versus long, thick, unmanageable - according to the pictures. (I could be wrong).
posted by foxhat10 at 8:09 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

How do I find a salon that won't induce a migraine immediately just from the smells

There are hairstylists who do home visits. Sometimes this is a specialty for clients that need that service, sometimes it's just a sideline for a stylist who wants extra work but does not have their own salon space and doesn't want to work from their house.
posted by yohko at 8:14 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

We are *almost* hair twins. I used to live in the South Bay and I had really good luck at Friends Salon in San Jose. It's nothing fancy, but the women who work there are perfectionists and excellent at cutting hair. It's cheap, which is a bonus. I'm so anti-salon that I refuse to pay much more than $20-30 for a haircut. I get my hair cut twice a year, typically, use very little product (an aragon oil blend by Garnier Fructis as a leave-in moisturizer, and scrunch it).

Your hair has a wavy/curly underlayer with the top layer more straight and very dry. Honestly I think you need to cut it shorter and in layers, with the shortest layer to below your shoulders (so you can still pull it back comfortably). I've had my hair cut in layers for years, and the best cuts I've had were ones where they did more than a few layers to avoid the "broom hair" effect. My hair is - like yours - verrrrry thick, and if it's cut short without layers it mushrooms like nobody's business. Personally I think you'd look great in bangs, but I understand it's hard to make the leap to something so different. No matter what you do, don't let anyone talk you into what you don't want. I second the suggestion of a consultation - nothing worse than not being comfortable with your stylist.

My best haircut to this day is short pixie-like cut, with the top layer being 6-7" and the rest short, pixie-like, with bangs. It's perfect for my lifestyle (almost zero maintenance) and brings out my curls, which I'd always wanted as a kid and finally got when my hair changed as an adult. If I'm really lazy, I pull it all back in a headband when it's wet and it still looks cute. No product necessary.

Best of luck to you!
posted by onecircleaday at 8:17 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh! I forgot - seconding the suggestion to wash your hair less, and "plop" (preferably with a microfiber towel or tee shirt) instead of towel dry. I wash mine twice a week at most, and it's much happier that way. Moisture is everything with curly hair.
posted by onecircleaday at 8:19 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can recommend a CreaClip if you decide that regular salon visits are too expensive. Totally DIY and pretty foolproof, if you have a nice pair of shears (Amazon, $20) and a few Youtube videos for instruction. Ultimately, it's just hair. Cut it off! Have fun trimming the ends. It's cathartic. The salon is a luxury that you should definitely use if that's what you like -- I do, periodically -- but it's not mandatory and never was.

But keeping it trimmed and clean is the most important thing. Blowdriers and flat irons and all that nonsense are a time-consuming pain. Don't get bangs; that adds another layer of complexity onto a hair style. A regular-looking "long bob" will do ya just fine. It truly is wash and wear, if that's how your hair does best. You can throw it in a bun, a pony or a braid; you can leave it down and let it air dry. It won't look funny after you sleep on it like short hairstyles are wont to do and you can dress it up nice if it's a special event.

Keep it up with sulfate- and silicone-free products. Not using typical products you'll find in a drugstore not only keeps your cabinet tidy and wallet full, but it's also healthier for your hair. IMO, you're doing a lot right already!
posted by theraflu at 8:36 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

You may not want to go this drastic, but I just want to back up the point that short hair can look on heavy folks - really! I'm 5'3" and 220 on a good week, and this is me with it at its current length sans product, and this is me with it high and tight, and one a little more even than high and tight. I can't find a pic of it completely buzzed off - which is weird - but trust me that it's amazingly comfortable, super cool, doesn't get in your face, doesn't need product, is wash and wear, etc. and so on. And at this length, if you don't like it, it grows in fast. :)

So you may not want to go super short now, but just food for thought for later. Heavy chicks can totally rock super short hair.
posted by joycehealy at 8:40 PM on July 23, 2014 [5 favorites]

A couple things, first you need to prepare yourself to take off a lot of length 12" maybe as it seems that your hair is pretty dry and has some damage. This is likely a big part of why it doesn't look as shiny as it use to.

Second, I am hair lazy but due to similar issues with my long hair breaking and having to lop off a lot of length I now use a leave in conditioner after I wash my hair. It's just a couple pumps onto damp hair after the shower that I work through with my fingers. Takes less than 10 seconds and really keeps my hair soft. I almost never bother with a dryer and wear my hair in a bun, pony or side part. The moisture has really helped.

Third, I live in the South Bay and would be happy to go with you to the salon for the first time. If you are willing to drive down to San Jose you can see my woman or I could meet you as far up as Fremont(ish).

posted by saradarlin at 8:42 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Cut about shoulder length, layers. Watch some YouTube videos about styling curly hair. Get a microfiber towel. Use oil. I know you said no products or blow drying but you might give some curl cream and a diffuser a try after watching the videos. I've gone from blow drying with a round brush and straightening every day for years (45 min ordeal) to oil, curl cream, flip hair over and use diffuser for about 5 minutes, let hair air dry the rest of the way. Super curly and fun and so much easier! I'm sensitive to products too but the curl cream doesn't seem to bother me. My trick is to put a tiny bit on my arm in the store and walk around for a bit. If it doesn't itch, go back and get it.
posted by tamitang at 8:44 PM on July 23, 2014

Best answer: Looking at your first picture, I think that you could cut a good 12-16" of length to get rid of the dry damaged bits and hopefully gain a bit more curl once all that weight is gone. Others may disagree, but I think that once your hair is below your shoulders, even by just an inch, it doesn't really change how it looks/works with your face whether it's that length or down to your waist. Of course layers and/or a change in texture, such as more curls, might make more of a difference. But basically, anything longer than shoulder length and you're still going to have hair framing your face in a similar manner, be able to put it up in a chignon, back into a pony tail and even braid it at night after washing. Frankly my hair is currently about an inch above my shoulders with shorter layer in the front and top and I can put it up with a large barrette and a couple of bobby pins, so if you're just going to put it up everyday, you really don't need all that length.

I think you have a very pretty face and could go shorter, but I think that you'd be more comfortable if you do this gradually and after finding a stylist with whom you feel comfortable. I'd agree that if your hair is very thick (as mine is, to the point that everyone who cuts my hair seems shocked by just how much hair is sprouting out of my noggin), that you want to get it thinned. Of your links, I personally like hairstyle 5, but even something a bit longer with long layers could work.

I'm somewhat like you, in that my hait is pretty much wash and wear (except my hair is a lot shorter and I do use a bit of product, organic oils such as argan or a spray leave in conditioner). I've had great success being brutally honest about what I will and will not do. Having to dry my hair with a hair dryer is a complete non-starter. I've probably used one a handful of times in the last 25 years. I am adamant about this and also admit that I am more likely than not going to longer than 8 weeks between haircuts. Even when my hair is super short, I generally manage 8-12 weeks between appointments, and maybe I've been exceptionally lucky, but my last two stylists have given me haircuts that look just as good while growing out (until the point where I reach critical mass and it starts to look mullety). Past shoulder length and you probably could eke out 2x per year haircuts to keep the ends healthy. Anyway, noone has ever argued with me about my relatively low maintenance hair routine. So bring photos (I too collect potential hairstyles in a Pinterest board) and be honest about what, if anything, you're willing to do to achieve that style.

I know that you're adamant about the no products thing, but some sort of oil or wax goes a long way towards taming the frizzies in curly, almost curly hair. Something like an organic argan oil isn't even on the same planet as VO5 hot oil. But to each there own. I've also had good luck not having products pushed on me at all by stylists, so I wouldn't go in worrying about it.

Good luck and try not to be too nervous. The great thing about hair is that it always grows back.
posted by kaybdc at 8:50 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with the people who say it is probably time to take off the dry, brittle ends. :( I've had to do that once or twice and it does stink, but I think you will be happy with the results!

My hair is fine/thin like yours is, but thick as in there's a lot of it. I had a trendy-ass haircut for a few years, then grew it out starting in 2012. I haven't had any split ends in that time, and I attribute it ENTIRELY to this argan-linseed-Cyprus hair oil I use (which I originally started using just because it smells soooo good). I just got out of the shower and put some through my hair and thought about how nice it smelled, and how I would recommend it to anyone, and about how even if it seems expensive for Hair Potion the bottle lasts- lemme check when I ordered it- more than two years for me but maybe more like a year if you wash your hair more often. I think of myself as wash-and-wear, because I'm not styling it, just applying it and letting it dry.

Method: With wet post-shower hair, I squeeze out the extra water, pat dry with a towel, and then put a nickel's worth through, then comb and air dry. To apply it, I basically just rub some over my palms, flip my head over, and make fists around my hair until it seems like most of it is in my hair and not on my hands. Sometimes I put it up in a turban/hair towel if I'm feeling fancy.

Hair oils have become a bigger thing in recent years, I think largely as a result of a lot of black ladies going natural and wanting to keep their hair moisturized, and now there is a HUGE selection and many of them are soooo nice for your hair. It is definitely not like the V05 of our youth. If you don't want to get the one I use, Organix, Suave and Garnier all have versions of a Moroccan or argan oil now.

I will let other people recommend good curly/wavy haircuts and just throw in another good word for hair oil! Ohhh and post a picture when you're done.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 9:42 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi wintersweet, I go to Keter Salon in Berkeley. It's an airy, nice salon in the 4th Street shopping district. My stylist, Rebecca, is really good at what she does and just a kind and warm person. Ask what her rate is if you make an appointment; she's not super cheap but well worth the money IMO. Also I can meet you there or get coffee before or after, if you don't mind a rambunctious toddler tagging along.
posted by JenMarie at 10:13 PM on July 23, 2014

(the toddler would be my little son, if it wasn't clear -- I'm pretty well-behaved myself!)
posted by JenMarie at 10:14 PM on July 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I used to have very long, thick, curly hair. It's still thick and curly - well, it would be, if I let it grow more than 5cm long. I used to go in to get the split ends etc cut off maybe once or twice a year. You can actually do this yourself; with curly hair it doesn't matter if it's not all exactly the same length because it usually isn't anyway.

Echoing all the people above who say that brushing is bad for curly hair (hello fluffy helmet) and that you need to moisturise your hair. This can be leave-in conditioner that you put in in the shower or putting a bit of oil in your hands, rub them together and run them through your hair. It helps the curls stick together, keeps your hair healthier and less likely to break. So those are things you can try without even going to a stylist.

To get it off my neck in the heat, I used to twist it up on top of my head. It was so curly I didn't even need to anchor it with anything, but you can use hair ties/barrettes or whatever. If that doesn't make sense to you, have a look at what this lady does. Pretty much like that, only I skipped the bobby pins (lazy) and hairspray (hairspray is made of evil). Oh yes, and definitely thin your hair! Other people have linked to the thinning scissors etc. Makes so much difference! I actually cut mine myself these days, and mostly what I do is thin it.

Don't think that short hair makes you look fatter. I am a larger lady and you know, I think I look less large since I cut my hair. Though still large, can't get away from the truth! But you don't need to, and besides you look very nice with long hair. My final comment is beware of admiring hairstyles that are straight hair made to look curly. They might not look like that if your hair is curly from the start.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:44 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Chiming in to agree with all possible vehemence that larger ladies can look fantastic with short hair. I'm 5'3" and at least 200lbs; my boyish pixie is cute as hell (if I do say so myself). I grew up with hair so long I could sit on it, but when I started cutting it off in my teens, I couldn't stop. It doesn't sound like you're at a Short Hair Life Stage at the moment, but once you're more comfortable with your hair as a thing you can have fun with (instead of a source of anxiety), who knows! ;)
posted by mostlymartha at 1:19 AM on July 24, 2014 [8 favorites]

Chiming in with encouragement. I was in a similar situation a few years ago. I'd never experimented with anything more than highlights, and 'framing' around my face - my hair was otherwise all one length. The shape was not unlike a Christmas tree. I was terrified of getting layers and having my hair end up poofier somehow. In a bit of a fit, I decided I wanted to lop it all off, but what a shame since it was so long and healthy. I got on yelp and searched for 'long hair'. I searched reviews at popular salons for particular stylists who were reported to be great with long hair. I picked the stylist most consistently raved about and made an appointment and brought along a picture of somebody I thought had nice hair. Then I told her I don't spend time styling my hair, I want it to look good after air drying. My texture is similar to yours. It was truly a life changing experience, money very well spent. I was really thinking I was going to end up just getting a short haircut after watching the volume of hair she was taking off. From the looks of the pile of hair you'd have thought she sheared a lion. I so wish I had done it sooner, it takes a fraction of the time it used to, to dry, wash and maintain, but best of all it looks soooo much better. Unfortunately this magical stylist moved away, and I had to start over looking for somebody new. I got a trim at the same salon, I wasn't quite as happy as I was with the first lady though. I don't know what it is called but she cut out a huge amount of hair and only now, a few years later, has my ponytail thickened some. That part of the haircut lasts for a very long time. Good luck to you - post a follow up pic for us!
posted by txtwinkletoes at 3:50 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would do this in two stages. Call the salon and tell them you want a consultation. You go in and talk to a stylist about your hair, your concerns and your allergies. The stylist will show you pictures, talk about your face shape and give you some insight into your hair type and your lifestyle. This may take about 30 minutes and you should walk away with some good ideas and feeling good about the experience. Then you make a second appointment for the actual cut.

Were I you, I'd go for about shoulder blade length to start with. It's still long, but it will get a lot of weight off the bottom of your hair. Once you feel good with that, you can experiment with length.

Also, think about donating to Locks-of-lLove. I think it will go down a LOT easier with you to loose about 12" of hair, if it's being donated to a good cause.

Another thought. I get my hair cut at the Aveda Institute. Now I don't know how your anxiety manifests, and this is no calm environment, but I get great cuts for $18.

Again, go in and ask for a consultation only. You will probably get a student and an educator together, or you might even get to be a class project! The educator will discuss your face shape, YOUR desired result, and the students can discuss their ideas. Then come back at a later time for the actual cut.

If you tell them when you make the appointment that you have anxiety issues, they may be able to work with that in a private room, so you don't get overwhelmed.

Go any day except Saturday. Saturdays are a MADHOUSE.

When you go, can you take a friend with you? If I lived in SF, I'd go with you.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:31 AM on July 24, 2014 [4 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny and I think alike sometimes. Was coming back in to say don't forget about Locks of Love. Great organization and they would make such good use of your beautiful hair!!
posted by pearlybob at 7:00 AM on July 24, 2014 [2 favorites]

You've gotten a lot of good suggestions! I'd like to add: if you can, do your best to determine what you might be looking for AND what you definitely want to avoid before going in. There are free virtual makeover websites to help with this. I've used for both and it was really helpful with the discussion with the stylist.

I definitely hear you on the no maintenance! My suggestion: get the damaged hair cut off, then go for long layers, and stress no maintenance to the stylist. I have thick hair with a slight bit of wave. After talking with the stylist, we agreed on a routine: shampoo, condition, put a little Aveda curl enhancer in and scrunch, air dry. I can skip the curl enhancer, but do find it usually looks nicer with it.

Oh, and after you get your hair cut, be aware that it's going to feel weird (especially adjusting the smaller amount of shampoo and conditioner) for a while! Hopefully it'll also feel awesome!
posted by wiskunde at 8:39 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tons of great advice here. Seconding using oil as a "product" in your hair. You've gotten some good recommendations above for stylists. Do you have any friends or colleagues who have hair your admire? Ask them if they have a stylist they love or what salon they go to.

I used to struggle to find good, realistic pictures of haircuts. Everything I found was very salon-oriented. But now there is Pinterest! So spend some time (or a LOT of time, this is Pinterest-the-time-sink after all) looking for hair inspiration on Pinterest.

For my last haircut, I even installed the app on my phone and made a board of haircuts I liked so I could show my stylist. She loves it when people do that!
posted by purple_bird at 9:25 AM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

Everyone's already given such great advice so I will ditto on some of them:

- Length - Shoulder length or a bit above. This will remove any split/fuzzy ends and some of the weight.

- Layers - This will also help with the weight and let your hair curl/wave on the top as well as underneath. Those of us with this type of hair absolutely need layers lest we end up with the dreaded triangle

- Thinning - While the layers will help with this somewhat the stylist can also use thinning shears to thin more. I LOVE this and always feel like the biggest weight has been removed.

- Washing - Good on your for not shampooing every day! Curly/wavy hair needs the natural oils our scalps produce. Definitely check out the Naturally Curly links in this post. I also highly recommend an Apple Cider Vinegar rinse. It makes my hair very soft and cuts down on the frizz. The smell washes right out.

- Styling - There are plenty of natural products that you can use while your hair is damp just to smooth the curls/waves and help with frizz. I have a very wash and wear style that just requires a little bit of gel smoothed through wet hair. I smoosh out the excess water/gel with an old T-shirt and then leave my hair alone to dry.

Good luck!
posted by Constant Reader at 12:30 PM on July 24, 2014

Best answer: I get my hair cut in SF at Madusalon. They are wonderful, curl focused and super kind. They also know how to make curly hair look awesome, so you don't have to worry about knowing what you what. I don't think it smells a ton in there, but I am less sensitive.

As for length: I am on the side of go short. For what you want — wash & wear, out of your eyes, headgear — it is just easier. And don't let anyone tell you tons of fine curly hair can't be short. This is me in my last cut from them.
posted by dame at 4:13 PM on July 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

OP, did you look at my pics? I weigh over 300 pounds and have a buzzcut. Frankly, when I went from long hair to short hair (not this short) I looked thinner. Sometimes hair just adds weight visually. I'm not saying it's doing that to you, or that you will look like a goddess with short hair, but fat women can definitely do short hair. If I can do it, any woman can.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:56 PM on July 25, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks so much, everyone. And yeah, all of you with the short and super-short haircuts look great. :)

I'll report back with photos once I've actually done something about it!
posted by wintersweet at 9:18 PM on July 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Quick chime in about products: I never, ever heat style my hair or brush it. Wavy + brushing = frizz. I comb it gently when it's wet but that's all. Once my hair is mostly dry after I wash it, I use Argan oil curl cream, just a dime sized drop on each side -- worked into the ends, not near the scalp. I twist my hair into a couple of buns and sleep on them, then take them out in the morning for perfect, shiny curls and waves until I wash my hair again. It takes literally 2 minutes to do. It's not wash-and-wear, but it's close.

It sounds like your hair is less prone to frizz than mine, but I always encourage other wavy/curly haired folks to lay down the hairbrush and walk away slowly. It leads to breakage and frizz and for the most part on curly hair is not necessary if you use a wide-tooth comb when it's wet.
posted by ananci at 11:39 AM on July 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to chime in again to enthusiastically second ananci's comments in particular. My hair has gotten so much more manageable now that I categorically avoid heat styling and brushes (I don't even own a brush). I gently wide-tooth comb my hair when it's wet, I smooth a dime-sized amount of a protein-and-oil leave-in from my ears down, and then I let it air-dry. And that's it. It doesn't produce perfect results, but it's reasonably frizz-free and pretty for everyday wear (and I use a non-crispy mousse on rare occasion for a special event, for more wave/curl definition and oomph). I think if you get longer layers (starting just past shoulder), you wide-tooth comb and air-dry, and especially if you're willing to use an oil (or maybe protein) leave-in (although you could skip this, you just might get a bit more frizz), you'll be happy with the results. I'd love to see a picture of what you decide!
posted by ClaireBear at 5:41 PM on July 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

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