Saturday, July 13, 2024

Why the Hair and Mental Health Connection Is Stronger Than Ever

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With Jo Malone candles burning, a sprinkling of petite breakfast bites and the backdrop of New York’s 1 Hotel playing host, celebrity stylist Adam Reed steps out of the shadows after arriving from London, nonchalantly wondering if the mirror that the hotel provided for him is high enough for guests to really see what’s going on under the warmth of the blow-dry.

He’s a burly man who flew in from another continent for 48 hours and he’s ready to make a difference in the ‘do world, even if it means having to talk about this own, very personal, mental health journey.

This past fall, he launched ARKIVE, an entry into what he calls the “head-care space,” but before that, he had, as he describes, “a complete and total mental breakdown.”

“There was a time during the pandemic, when the salon was shut down, that I couldn’t speak,” he tells me softly, sharing his earlier bouts with depression. “It was something that I felt was needed prior to the pandemic, but as we all know…the pandemic accelerated the process.”

As Reed succinctly states: In the post-COVID world, everyone is “so much more aware” of needing someone to talk to and to share their thoughts or burdens with, after having lacked human interaction in their everyday life. “Hairdressers were always that go-to person to unload on or get an unbiased opinion from. Because of the pandemic, people were missing that catharsis for two years, and I’m very aware that in the world we live in now, careful human interaction is even more needed than it was before.”

While he is quick to say he’s not a licensed therapist and is not trying to be one, he does think his profession comes in a close second, and that goes beyond just talking. “I hope my line shows you that the simple things can make a big difference to you in the salon, or out of it. For me though, I’ve always thought that it goes beyond just the therapy of talking. Hairdressers have always provided additional—if not even more important—comfort through human touch. Things like having really clean, healthy, shiny hair, or looking in the mirror and being able to feel great about yourself. People missed having their head touched during the pandemic, and people saw the difference in their hair and their scalp—they felt the difference of their hair not looking great. So, it was about taking all of these elements that had been so missed about hairdressers into consideration and bundling them up with my history with mental health—it’s all much more than a hair product.”

Escape Room

Beverly Hills, CA hairstylist Joseph Michael tells me the same thing: “During the pandemic, I really wanted to focus on making my clients comfortable,” he shares. In early 2020, he was working at a well-known salon in Beverly Hills with about 22 stylists. In late 2020, he had decided to go to a quaint, boutique-style salon in Sherman Oaks. “Now I have—at most—three stylists working at all times. This was super important to me, and my clients told me it was important to them, too. I wanted to create that spa-day kind of feel again.”

Something else Michael noticed: The return of the house call.

“I noticed that clients really value sitting down to get their hair done—it’s an escape that means more than just a cut and color. Whether we realize it or not, clients have always seen their hairstylists as therapists, or as I like to call it, a #hairapist.”

Now, everyone is much more aware of needing someone to share their thoughts or burdens with.

Touch Points

Longtime celebrity hairstylist Fréderic Fekkai also doesn’t disregard the power of touch and the role a “good hair day” plays in the post-pandemic world.

“Anxiety has heightened, and selfcare is in demand. After lockdown, getting much-needed pampering and some beauty therapy is at the top of the list for what people want to do. A haircut or different style feels like renewal, and when I meet with clients, my number-one thing is to listen and hear from them about what they want for their look. My philosophy has always been to only enhance their natural beauty by understanding their style. I spend hours with clients and have built strong relationships over the years, which has led to learning personal details that inspire me to create looks that are truly unique to them.”

Fekkai also stresses that part of his job is to create trust and put clients at ease. “As stylists, we’re natural caregivers! Our salon has become more than just that—it’s a relaxing atmosphere to learn about oneself, a delightful place. I think hair and mental health have always intersected. People tend to be critical of their appearance and sometimes lack self-confidence. Our job as stylists is to remind everyone of their beauty and to reveal it in its splendor while keeping in mind to create a style that’s easy to replicate at home.”

To that end, he says, before any cut, he spends a lot of time consulting with clients. “I observe their hair from every angle and ask many questions to fully understand their lifestyle to enhance their look unique to who they are. We look at images for inspiration and craft a cut that works well for their hair type and texture. It’s the total package.”

Nick Dolding/Getty Images

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