Hairy matters

2:29 PM

Hair and how it is treated is an ethnic and strongly cultural affair. You never really get to realise it until you are taking yourself out of your own culture, and this is something that in the early days had me postpone getting just trimmed.

In Switzerland, women cutting their hair short, keeping them in style and colouring them is a very common thing, very few grown up lady keep them super long, and senior ladies are commonly keeping them short and set in curls, some die them even in their very old days, and other prefer to grey gracefully.
In India there is still a fair percentage of women that just trim them from time to time, and generally keep them long and simply braided in one single back braid doing very little in matter of styling with them. Oiling the hair is also something still widely practiced, even among the hipper crowd who will not shy away from a shorter sharper hair cut.
The difference in how hair is treated in both places has to do with the hair quality first. Oiling while great on Indian hair, is a total disaster on the thinner mane ladies in most of Europe have. I myself tried oil massages, to do as the roman do, thinking it was a great natural way to keep them soft and silky and encourage a thicker regrowth. The problem is my hair is the typical baby soft and thin European hair, it absorb everything and release nothing for days, so when they scalp met with coconut oil it absorbed everything, and the shampoo coming afterward didn’t even wash any of the oil of, the result was 5 days of icky oily strands, that refused to look glossy or silky, worse the oil that refused to wash away attracted more dust and pollution which triggered a case of insanely itchy scalp and argh! Hair fall! I figured out that it was maybe the amount of oil that caused it and tried using less, with more or less the same results, and after a couple of tries gave up, my hair quality does far better with conditioner and a hair mask than with oil, no wonder that the oil head massage doesn’t really exist in the West.
When you live in India you come to understand why ethnic minorities back home stick to specialized salons with people that understand their customer’s hair requirement better.
Over the year i have gone through trial and errors when it comes to salon and how they understand treatment and cuts.
The first year and a half in India I simply chickened out of even going to a salon, I let my hair grow long, and get damaged until one day I decided it was enough and armed with a copy of the magazine “Femina” where I saw a haircut I liked went to a Lakme beauty salon to get them cut simply because back then they were probably the only franchise of parlour that had high hygiene standard and a fairly westernized take on hair care. The problem was that the lady who took care of my hair had no idea how to replicate the cut, and no idea about layers and how to add body to thin Caucasian hair, and she simply cut it all straight in a bob the way she would treat a rather extreme trim on Indian hair. I changed salon sticking to Lakme a few months later and got a slightly better cut, but still a general lack of understanding about hairstyles and blow drying, back then I resigned myself to just have plain out of shape hair and on more than one occasion actually let them grow long simply because I didn’t want to explain yet another hairstylist how to handle them.
Then I found an international style salon, the people there were trained abroad, or foreigners themselves…the problem…the price was quite international too, the first time it was still somewhat reasonable at 500 rupees, and time after time the priced went up, and their pushy attitude to get me to buy their shampoos and and masks and styling products got on my nerves. The last time I went there was in 2010 right before we shifted to Navi Mumbai, I had it chopped short, paid 1000 bucks and then left it grow out, I never visited a parlour in Navi Mumbai, the one near our complex didn’t look great and going to the mall with a toddler or even having DH wait patiently entertaining Ishi to get my beauty fix was out of question, we then moved back to Bangalore, and with our salary woes, a haircut was a luxury, so I kept them growing some more last year in August we shifted back to Mumbai and it had been over a year of not cutting them, but I let them grow some more, to finally get fed up of split ends and hay stack looking strands in February or March this year!
Armed with a picture I went to a salon I knew as I went for pedicure there, the guy was not speaking much English, so I showed him a picture of a hair cut I had 10 years ago and liked, he didn’t quite get it, but the cut was good enough, 2 months later I went back to the same place to be handled by a different stylist who understood nothing of English…not a word, and just didn’t get that I wanted the same hair style just one inch shorter, I had to instruct him to cut the front in a bang, and he didn’t even got it right. SO I let it grow out again for 3 months, and this time I decided to try the salon next door to the one I went, my area is not short of salons, and that happened just today.
First pleasant thing: the staff speak English and understood what I wanted, I even brought my picture with me, telling I wanted the same hairstyle just slightly shorter…and that is EXACTLY what I got, the hair cut is the exact copy of what was on the picture with one inch less  give or take. They even understood the concept of blow drying it, a thing the other salon just didn’t get.
The final pleasant surprise was that it was CHEAPER than the other salon. Today I was charged 350 rupees for a  “New Style cut” at the other place I was charged 500 with no hair dryer coming in contact with me and a staff that just didn’t even speak a word of English.

And here are the things you should know about beauty parlour in India if you are an expat:

- Contrary to what is custom in Switzerland and probably in many other countries, you do not need an appointment to get a hair cut in India, you walk in and there will be someone taking care of you immediately, that if you ask me is a refreshing change, because back home I had to book my appointment sometimes weeks in advance, stylists are often busier than doctors (yes you need appointments to see a doctor too back home)

- In India the hair wash is not part of the standard service, they spray your hair wet and cut, the salons that do the hair wash are those of higher standards and the basic cut will cost you more. I personally prefer the Indian approach there.

- Choose a salon where they are used to STYLING hair, many very local run in the back of a house salons are just catering to the traditional Indian woman who come mostly for facial, eye brow threading and waxing of arms and leg and do basic trims on the side, these ladies are NOT trained hair stylist, they just deal with the split ends on long hairs of Indian women, and the only thing they will really have expertise in when it comes to hair is giving an oil massage.

- A good indicator of what salon is having trained hair stylists is the presence of “L’Oreal Professional” posters and product, the salon itself might not look grand and glossy, but the fact they are going for such products mean they have at least a basic understanding of hair care international style. In some of these salons they will understand just the basic of layers and cuts, in other you will get something better.

- If you have the money and are super particular about your hairstyle, opt for bigger salons, or international chains (not many but yeah the exist), they often carry the brand of hair care “Kerastase” which is extremely select about which salon they associate themselves with worldwide. Back in Geneva my stylist was a Kerastase consultant, and she told me how they are very particular about who can be a distributor for them. Of course you pay the price for these salons. And in India at least, be aware that such international looking salons are going to be more pushy about selling extra services and products to you, or sneak in extra stuff in your final bill

- While it is less of an issue for hair cuts, check the hygiene standard of the salon carefully if you are going for any other services, such as pedicures and facial, if something looks shabby and off, it probably is and it’s better to give a pass. I made the mistake once of thinking my local traditional salon could handle a simple pedicure and arm waxing…never again, I got an infection from them cutting a slightly ingrown nail wrong and using a questionably clean-ish plastic bucket and got rashes on my arms from a lotion they put afterward, that or was not appropriate for my  skin, or past it’s expiration date.
Look for salons that keep their premises clean, and staff that understand the importance of washing their hands between procedures and customers and keep their tools neat and clean. The salon I went to today was the first one that kept all their hair cutting scissors in specially designed holding case when not in use, wrapped in plastic and rubbed in alcohol once the job finished.

- If you don’t like something, SAY IT, like anywhere they can’t read your mind, and this is why a salon in which the staff understands English is essential. And take great care of explaining what you want, remember that they aren’t all familiar with dealing with a Caucasian hair type and that they are used to deal with still rather conservative hair cuts style and women. They might even be scared to chop too much of your hair off, so if you want something short reassure them that YES they can chop away and show them how much they can cut.

- If you have thin hair, don’t go for the hair oil massage, as I said, Caucasian hair don’t necessarily take well to it. My Sister managed to get something good out of an almond oil hair massage in India once, but she has insanely thick and dry hair that are considered exceptional in Switzerland. if you hair feels dry and frazzled in the humid Indian climate, you are better off investing in a good conditioner and hair mask, or use a leave in silicon based hair serum like “Livon” or “Silk n Shine”, coconut oil pure of with added extracts is far too greasy for our hair type.

- If you plan to colour your hair with a store bought kit, be aware that all variants that are to make hair golden brown or auburn contain a bleaching agent that the Western equivalent of the brand does not necessary carry, these hair dies are made with the black Indian hair colour in mind. I once bought a golden brown colour that is close to my natural one just to even my hue and get rid of whites…the problem is that I ended up with a thing closed to carrot red! it’s only afterward that I read that this hair colour was designed with the bleaching agent integrated to the solution so that black hair get the hue better…OOPS! If you can’t get your hair colours from back home, stick to darker shades in India.
As for myself I decided to forget worrying about my greys, and keep it natural for now, I’ll worry about colouring later.

If you live in  metro or bigger city, finding a hairstylist  understanding your requirement better, if you are living in a smaller city or town, I would advise to stick to simply basic hairstyles, short or long not to loose your mind over a badly executed more complex cut, remember that as a foreigner in India you likely to belong to an extreme minority ethnic group most professional has almost no understanding of.


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