Hair Confession #1: Dire Straightening

One writer's true tale of woe and liberation.

by Patricia Volk
curly brown hair image

What I did for love is zip compared with what I did for straight hair. First I tried eggs, beer and a gray glop called Nestlé Wave Control: Wash hair with egg, rinse with Dad’s Heineken, comb glop through. Sweating in gym class, I smelled like a brewery.

Toni Home Perms! These stank in a chemical way, but if you reversed the directions, if you combed the Toni straight through and let your hair hang instead of clipping it around perforated pink curlers, frizz morphed into waves.

Straighter was The Louis Guy ’D wrap. Your wet hair was stretched around your head like a turban and sprayed with clear cement. When it finally, finally, finally dried, it was straight for a solid week, provided there was zero humidity.

Jaffry’s worked regardless of weather. Above a strip joint called the Metropole in Times Square, Mr. Jaffry and his no-nonsense techs applied a secret potion that made your eyes water, waited till it “took,” then conditioned your hair with a strange pearly goo dispensed from glass ampules that had to be smacked open. Post-Jaffry hair was stick straight. Or it fell out. Or your scalp got burned. Or all three. I got Jaffry-ized for my wedding and refused to get my hair wet on our honeymoon.

Decades later, the new Japanese straightening treatment seemed like the answer—until I met my friend Ellen for lunch. Her hair didn’t move. Slabs of gray steel bookended her face. Then I saw my darling, brilliant friend Susan Isaacs, who’d had the Brazilian straightening, and she looked so beautiful, I jotted down the info. When I called the salon, the hairdresser was in the hospital. The next day, a newspaper broke the story that a lot of stylists were refusing to do Brazilians because the formaldehyde was making them sick. Formaldehyde?

These days, I’m curlier but wiser. My hair is at its lowest maintenance ever, thanks to Louis Licari’s Ionic Color Preservation Volumizing, a heavy dose of conditioner and Licari’s Styling Foaming Gel. (Last year, there was a vile rumor Licari was discontinuing the latter. I bought a case.)

Once, after a rare blow-dry, my son, Peter, saw me getting out of a cab. “Mom!” he said. “I thought you were a movie star!” Am I prettier with my hair straight? Some say so. Am I happier not torturing it? Happier than I would be prettier.

Photo courtesy of Subbotina Anna/

Want MORE? Read Hair Confession #2: The Cut That Set Me Free

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First Published December 22, 2011

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