31 October 2011

Illegally Blond

A bad hair day along the Straits can easily extend into a bad hair week. The humidity and rain turn hair into a frizzy mess or a weighty mass. Add a hair color treatment to the mix and the bad hair day can turn into a bad hair month. Stylists try their best to match roots dyed in salons on western shores, but it never looks quite right. It leaves many expats going months without a cut and color – growing it until a visit to the home country. The woman who attended to my hair at my latest salon appointment explained why. Only in Singapore can a hair color be illegal.

Most stylists around the world will agree that Asian hair is different from Caucasian hair. Asian follicles are rounder and thicker. Cut the same hair style on each head and it will lie differently. I used to think the same was true for color. The same dye applied to different follicles produces different results. When I was living in Tokyo and had my hair colored I could actually see a horizontal line around my head where the old hue met the new. For the past two years I waited for trips back to the US for cuts and colors. By my third year it was time to ask: will I continue to make do or dye?

Armed with the hair color formula from my trusted stylist back home, Todd, I was determined to find a trusted colorist here. I emailed Schwarzkopf, the professional hair-care products manufacturer, for a list of salons carrying their products. They promptly replied…in German. My friend translated it as saying, in essence, “Thanks for the inquiry. Do not respond to this automated message.” My friend also got a big laugh – here I was looking for blonde dyes from a company whose name means “dark hair.”

After that dead end, I decided to canvas the island nation. I kept a copy of my hair dye numbers in my wallet at all times. Whenever I walked past a hair salon, I’d pop inside and ask about their hair dye products. After about a month I spotted a Chinese salon with the Schwarzkopf logo in the window. The receptionist didn’t speak a word of English, so she flashed me the universal hand signal to “please wait” – the extended index finger. A colorist with her sample books approached the desk. I handed her my formula and she flipped through her books. In broken English, she told me that my dye number is too high for Singaporean salons. The color volume in most salons goes up to 10, but my color goes to 11. She explained that it is illegal to import and use hues that go higher than 10. Because the dye manufacturer was the same, she was confident she could match the color. I booked an appointment. Who wouldn’t trust a Chinese colorist with pink hair?

From start to finish, the salon visit was incredible. When I returned the next day for my appointment, I was greeted by the same receptionist. Silently, she led me to an empty chair. Then she handed me a narrow mug with a lid on it. Hot tea to sip with a cover to keep hair clippings from falling in. Another young lady draped me in a black plastic cover, then pinned a towel around my neck and shoulders and handed me a stack of Hello and OK! gossip magazines. The colorist and an assistant wheeled over a cart of dyes and foils and got to work. The two of them worked silently as they painted my hair and folded it in foil. Sitting there with people attending to my comfort while two stylists efficiently processed my hair made me feel like one of the famous women from the glossy pages getting ready for a red carpet event.

The star treatment continued. I sat under a humming rotating dryer. The colorists returned from time to time to check under the foils. When it was done to her liking the young woman who draped me returned and removed the foils. She then took a plastic bottle from her apron. The opaque bottle was the same one used to hold ketchup and mustard at stadiums and BBQ joints in America. Sitting in my chair, she squeezed a dollop of liquid on the top of my head. She began to massage my head. It felt good. Then she took another bottle and squeezed water directly on my head. The massage continued, working my head into lather. She was washing my hair as I sat in my chair sipping my hot green tea and reading magazines! When she was finished she motioned for me to stand. I followed her to the backroom where a row of sinks stood. Rather than the usual big chairs attached to the sinks, this salon had full-length reclining chairs. They even had a blanket to cover me. She massaged while rinsing. At that point I didn’t care if my hair turned purple. I was the reclining Buddha who had reached Nirvana.

My hair looked good! I never did independently confirm if certain hair colors were against the law. After such a lovely experience, I wasn’t dying to get to the root of the issue.