I don't like my hair. It's thin and wavy and won't grow much farther than my collarbone. If I were to design a virtual reality avatar to represent me, Nicola, in all my true glory, she would have full, voluminous locks tumbling to her rib cage. She would leave the house with wet hair and it would just dry like that. She would complain about having "too much hair." Her topknot would be fat as a loaf of rustic sourdough.
But that is not my lot in life.
From early teendom up until very recently, I smoothed my unruly hair by religiously flat-ironing. Of course, that led to breakage, which led to experimentation with smoothing lotions, anti-frizz balms, split-end repair serums, and deep conditioning masques. I considered buzzing the whole thing off this summer, until I saw a trend piece in i-D about models with buzzed heads. After the Summer of Septum Rings (2015), I couldn't bear to fall into another "every third girl in Brooklyn" trend trap, so I opted to just chop off my hair's dead ends instead of the whole mop.
Suddenly, I had something of a lob—long bob—and something interesting happened: a buoyancy I've never seen from my thin, fragile, maddening hair began to emerge. My natural curls floated gracefully around my face, and for the first time since I was a pudgy, prepubescent tomboy, I began to leave the house without straightening my hair. I even started experimenting with sea salt mists and texturizing hair sprays to amplify the volume—the polar opposite of smoothing balms and oils.
I knew that to truly realize my hair's full potential I would need professional help. I expressed my vision to Sweet's beauty editor, Chanel Parks, and she sent me straight to Hairstory, brainchild of Bumble & Bumble founder Michael Gordon. The company makes just four products, with the mission of helping customers rewrite their hair story—exactly what I was looking to do. (Great rec, Chanel! Someone get this woman a bonus!)
Here are the four most important, totally universal hair-care tips I learned after heading to Hairstory to get the lowdown on optimizing my hair's natural texture.
No. 1: It Starts With Shampoo
Hairstory's star product is New Wash, a one-and-done shampoo replacement for all hair types that also nixes the need for conditioner, hair masques, frizz-taming oils, and so on. New Wash's "thing" is that it's formulated with essential oils instead of detergents, which you'll find some version of in any shampoo, cheap or expensive. "Traditional shampoo strips the hair," Hairstory creative director and lead hair cutter Wes Sharpton explains. "That's the cause of all the leading problems: frizz, inconsistent curl patterns, not being soft, not having curl defintion."
There aren't a lot of beauty products that really blow me away after the first use, but from my first rinse with New Wash, the change in my hair was immediately noticeable. My hair felt soft in a way I had never found with conditioner or oils: it was lightweight, it had definition, and it looked healthy. It reminded me of how my hair looked as a kid, before the blow-dryers, the Manic Panic phase, and the Keratin treatments.
No. 2: Approach Scalp Care Like Skin Care
Hair care and skin care aren't so different. After all, your scalp is skin, and it's going to respond to what you attack (or nourish) it with, the same way your face responds to toner, moisturizer, or exfoliants. Every product you coat your locks with is going to change the state of your scalp, and the scalp is going to retaliate (e.g., by producing more oil when it's dry). Your scalp is very smart.
"It's different when you say, 'I'm going to style my hair today because that's fun to me.'" –Wes Sharpton, creative director of Hairstory
You want a scalp that's healthy all on its own, the same way you want your face to be clear, and foundation to be an option. "It's different when you say, 'I'm going to style my hair today because that's fun to me,'" Sharpton says, "than 'Oh, if I don't do this, my hair isn't going to look good.' That's like picking out a fun eye shadow: You don't feel like you have to put on the eye shadow, but because you can, you sometimes do."
No. 3: Your Face Shape Doesn't Really Matter
A lot of what we read about hair tells us how to cut and style based on a finite set of face shapes: round, square, heart. You know the drill. "I'm anti-face shape," Sharpton states plainly. "It's like saying, 'What don't we like about me, and how can we hide that?'" Instead, he suggests focusing on and enhancing features. "Lead with what you know is great, and what might be hidden."
No. 4: There Is a "Right" Way to Air Dry
That air drying is "healthier" for your hair than blow-drying is a certified "duh." Anyone who's read a women's mag at any point in human history knows this. OK, so then why does my air-dried hair suck? It's all puffy but doesn't have the healthy, structured volume i want.
Sharpton gave me a three-point plan to get way more out of air drying.
• Set your hair up for success by brushing it into position. Use a fine comb in areas where you want structure, like the baby hairs at your hairline, or in creating a slicked-back look. A wide-tooth comb should be used in areas where you want volume, like at your part.
• Use hair clips to hold curls your want defined, or to add weight (and thus, length) to certain sections.
• Lastly, don't touch it (this one is very hard for me). Playing with your hair while it air dries is setting yourself up for frizz and flyaways. Once your hair is dry, go wild styling—within respectful limitation of your natural texture, of course.