Barbara Hannah Grufferman on why to step away from the blow-dryer
That’s what my hair looked like on my 51st birthday. And why not? I had spent the last 30 years blow-drying my naturally wavy hair into submission. On most days, I would stare into the mirror, separate my hair into neat sections and blow-dry each one – tugging and pulling with the brush in one hand, and drying with the other, until my hair was sleek and shiny and completely under my control. Humidity was my mortal enemy.
This love affair with making my hair something it wasn’t meant to be started in July 1969 – a summer filled with all kinds of rebellions. I wanted straight hair parted down the middle, just like Michelle Phillips from the Mamas & the Papas. I should have followed the lead of Janis Joplin, who had hair more like mine, but my mind was made up. Even if I had to sleep with my hair slathered with Dippity-Do, rolled up in concentrated orange juice cans (which I did), one thing was certain: My hair would be straight.
In the ’90s, things got easier (and more expensive). Straight, highlighted hair was in, and doing it yourself was out. I got a professional “blowout” twice a week, and tackled it myself on the other days. To add insult to injury, a hair iron was used to make sure everything stayed in place. New technology allowed blow-dryers to reach the hottest possible temperatures for maximum impact (and destruction?).
Damaged locks, anyone?
By the time I hit my early 50s, the healthy head of hair from my youth was a distant memory. Years of blow-drying, ironing, yanking, pulling, highlighting and washing the hell out of it every day caused my hair to look like … something that didn’t belong on a head. I had won the battle with my hair, but lost the war.
Even more profound, I realized that I had been fighting with my identity. It saddened me to think that since 1969, I had been trying to make my hair into something it wasn’t. I was tired and grumpy. I didn’t want to stand in front of a mirror for 45 minutes every day, blow-drying. It was boring, tedious and wasted a huge amount of energy – mostly my own. I was trying to figure out a newer, simpler paradigm for the other areas of my life since turning 50, and wanted to figure out this one, too. But what to do?
Having coffee with a friend one day, I commented on how great her hair looked – natural, not blow-dried and healthy. She looked … free and sexy. She directed me to Lorraine Massey, the co-founder of Devachan, the uber-stylish hair salon in Manhattan’s Soho district. Lorraine has a mop of corkscrew ringlets, and a very clear idea of how hair should be treated – no (or very little) shampoo, no blow-frying (as she calls it), no brush and no comb. Her simple theory is this: the least amount you “do” to your hair, the better – and healthier – it will look. Lorraine claims to not have used shampoo on her hair in over 25 years. “Hair is like buried treasure,” she told me. “We need to stop the abuse and set it free.” I loved what she said — but what did it really mean to a blow-dry-aholic like me?
I let Lorraine give me a much-needed cut (while my hair was still dry), keeping the length around my shoulders, with longer layers, letting my natural waves sneak out. She chatted the entire time about the tools of mass destruction that women continue to use on their hair, shaking her head of curls in disbelief. She also mentioned that shampoo (especially those with sulfates) strip the natural oils from hair, making it dry and unmanageable — especially for women over 50 because our hair gets drier as we age. She instructed me to cleanse my hair every day (or every other day) with water and conditioner only. And (she frowned while saying this) use a little shampoo on the scalp just once a week.
My “six-month hair experiment” lasted two years, and I still haven’t used a blow-dryer, comb or brush. My hair has grown out past my shoulders, and I think I’ll keep it this length for a while. Since embracing my hair, I’m told that it looks sexy, healthy, stylish and, most importantly, like me. Finally.
Editor’s Note: Barbara Hannah Grufferman is the author of The Best of Everything After 50: The Experts’ Guide to Style, Sex, Health, Money and More.