Frizzy hair is impossible to totally fix

I started to lose hope in the future of my hair looking Friends in 2003. During a series of episodes in which the whole gang took a trip to Barbados, Monica Geller’s growing hair frizz in the Caribbean humidity sparked its own story arc. The character, known for his demanding and control freak tendencies, was helpless in the face of his follicular defects.

What that meant to my then teenage self was clear. If even Monica couldn’t control her hair — and if her frizz was relatable enough for an extended joke on an inevitably popular sitcom — my own fate couldn’t be much better. Until then, I had held onto a certain optimism: the women’s magazines I slipped into my mom’s grocery cart contained so many tips and tricks for straight hair that I had assumed the art of flat iron was something I could eventually master. But as Monica’s hair flew out from scene to scene, I also doubted that my own hairball tendencies could be blamed on teenage inexperience.

Many of you can guess how this story ends, a decade and a half later: I bought many hair serums, tried many techniques, watched many YouTube tutorials, and left the oppressive heat and humidity of my Atlanta native, and yet my hair lingers. Looking down the barrel of another scorching summer, I set out to find the answer, once and for all: can frizz really be beat?

To solve a problem, you must first determine the cause. In the case of frizz, the ultimate culprit is a raised hair cuticle instead of a flat one. The cuticle is the outer layer of your hair, and when it lies flat, the hair looks smooth. The higher the cuticle, the easier it is for moisture to penetrate the hair shaft. “Naturally, hair wants moisture,” says Vanessa Thomas, CEO and senior chemist at Freelance Formulations, a Florida-based company that develops cosmetics, including hair products. “Part of the cause of frizz is dehydration.” When the air around you is humid, your hair’s natural reaction is to draw in some of the moisture from the environment to create balance. This is why frizzy hair looks thicker: raised cuticles create a rougher texture and each strand is, for lack of a better term, puffy.

But frizz doesn’t affect everyone equally. Curly hair has a higher cuticle, just like hair that has been colored or chemically treated. Damage from heat styling can affect the integrity of the cuticle, and fine hair tends to be weaker than its thicker counterpart, Thomas explains. Natural scalp oils can help improve these issues by coating and moisturizing the hair, but that doesn’t work for everyone. “Curly hair tends to be more prone to frizz due to the intricacy of the curl patterns,” says Candace Witherspoon, stylist and hair care educator at Devachan Salon in Manhattan. “Oil from the scalp sometimes has trouble moving along the hair shaft.”

There are two different schools of thought on how to alleviate the indomitable look of a misbehaving hair cuticle: use synthetic chemicals to create a barrier layer that your hair cannot create on its own, or moisturize hair generously with natural oils so strands are less likely to absorb moisture from the air. Thomas says the best synthetic barrier chemical on the market right now is silicone, and it’s the one his customers request most frequently. “In about 85% of cases, it’s an anti-frizz treatment serum that contains silicone” that they want to develop, she says.

Silicone is a controversial ingredient, however, and Witherspoon tells her customers to avoid it. “Sulfates, parabens, and silicones are all products that strip hair of its natural oils,” she says. Silicone can cause product buildup on hair, which means it can be harder for strands to absorb much-needed moisture from oils or conditioners.

Even so, silicone is still “the most powerful anti-frizz ingredient you can have,” says Holly Maguire, creative director of Freelance Formulations. (The company develops both silicone and silicone-free anti-frizz products for its customers.) Maguire says the downsides of the chemical can be managed: Periodic use of clarifying shampoos and rinses removes residue, though some anti-buildup products also strip moisture from the hair, which can reset anti-frizz efforts. The most important thing, Maguire points out, is to be aware of the chemicals you use and how they can affect your hair.

For her clients, Witherspoon recommends an approach that uses products made with plant oils that moisturize the hair and help create a protective outer barrier. Beyond the product, however, she says how people treat their hair on a daily basis can have a big impact on creating or preventing frizz. “It can also be the result of the amount of manipulation that curly people sometimes tend to do to their hair by brushing it, combing it, fluffing it or touching it a little too much,” she says. Oftentimes, she says, the best thing to do is to use moisture-rich products, sleep on a silk pillowcase to avoid chafing, and not struggle too much with your hair’s natural tendencies.

Hair frizz may seem like a frivolous concern, but hair — and especially the way black women, who make up a large part of Witherspoon’s clientele, wear their hair — can have an outsized impact on the course of life. professional and social life of a woman. Curly hair is used to being considered unprofessional or unkempt, an assumption with often racist undertones. The episodes of Friends Which Started My Spiral of Teenage Hair Anxiety features an expansive, derisive comparison between Monica and Diana Ross, as if viewers would surely understand that Diana Ross is embarrassing because of her hair. For many women, successfully controlling their hair goes far beyond aesthetics.

Still, Thomas and Witherspoon agree with that sinking feeling I had in the mid-2000s, a time when American culture was particularly enamored with flattened hair: frizz isn’t a problem that can be completely solved. , at least with the current hair. – care technology. Even the protective powers of a silicone serum break down throughout the day or in the face of too much humidity. In the two decades I’ve spent unscientifically testing products through serums, sprays, shampoos, chemical relaxers, and keratin treatments, nothing quite does the trick for my fine hair. , curly, stained and heat damaged.

Part of that is because my head is a frizzy worst-case scenario partly of my own making. But the bigger problem might be that topical cosmetic treatments of all kinds are imperfect solutions to the way human bodies naturally deviate from arbitrary beauty standards. There’s no fancy goo you can put in your hair on a humid day that will be as effective as simply refusing to care. That’s Witherspoon’s approach: “I like to tell my clients not to be afraid of frizz.”

Melissa R. Brumfield