It’s tough enough deciding to straighten your curly locks, never mind choosing a treatment that’s easy on your hair and your wallet. And if you’re thinking about a Thermal (as Thermal Reconditioning-Japanese Straightening is often called), the decision gets tougher. Thermal straightening experts have long been at split ends over its use on African-American hair. Confusing the decision further, online info about thermal straightening for black hair types is scanty at best — wrong at worst.
Such was Dr. Kim Fletcher’s experience five years ago. “What I read online about Thermal Reconditioning and Japanese Straightening for African-American hair was not a huge amount of information. I was concerned that not enough African-Americans were doing it,” says Kim. “I didn’t know if I was going to hate how my hair looked … that was the biggest leap of faith for me.”
Frustrated but undeterred, Kim went offline and interviewed Thermal experts. She soon found an expert stylist in Manhattan who had experience doing Thermals on African-American hair. So off she went for her first Thermal Reconditioning-Japanese Straightening. Here Kim talks about her experience with Thermals to help other women who are wary or confused about the treatment.
NO TIME TO TAME CURLS
A busy obstetrician, Kim is always on call — a baby’s arrival is as predictable as unruly hair. And when the hospital calls in the still of the night, she’s up and out the door within minutes of waking. “If I had to get up at 2 a.m. to go to the hospital, that was a ponytail day or I’d pull my hair back into a bun,” she recalls.
Kim loved the way her curls looked — when she had a few hours to spare — but she didn’t care to waste the little time she had fussing with even the simplest styles. “I had gone through phases of wearing my hair curly, but it’s not easy to get up at two in the morning with curly hair. Curly hair just takes much more work than straight hair. So for me, straight hair is a function of what I need to do as an obstetrician.”
Relaxers helped but were far from perfect. “I had relaxed my hair on and off since I was ten years old,” Kim relates. “One of the problems with relaxers was the inconsistency in how my hair looked, depending on how much time I had to work with it.”
STYLING LESS TO LOOK HER BEST
It’s been five years since Kim’s first Thermal, and she’s enjoying the many bennies of a low-maintenance, great looking style. She tells friends, “The Thermal’s a great treatment. It makes your hair smooth and soft. The treatment is good for the hair and safe for the hair. My hair doesn’t break. It looks healthy and feels healthy. I’ve had this done for five years and I still get compliments.”
Kim likes to style her now-versatile hair to suit her mood and the occasion. “There are certain styles I’d never try before the Thermal. I never wore bangs when my hair was curly because you can’t wear bangs with curly hair. Now I can and I do.” And today while vacationing with family in Florida, Kim got up and hit the beach. “I couldn’t ever have done that with my old relaxed hair,” she says. “The wind was blowing, it was cold. But my hair looked the same when I left as it did when I got there.”
Lovely locks aside, Kim believes the time she saves is an excellent return on her investment. The midnight rush to the hospital is unavoidable for every obstetrician, but now Kim’s out the door in no time, looking great. “There’s nothing more convenient than getting out of bed and looking presentable — without doing anything. I can quickly style my hair in five or six minutes and get to the hospital. And that’s nice.”
CARE-FREE HAIR INSPIRES WORKOUTS
Kim likes a good work-out. But before her Thermal, working out demanded a follow-up styling session that took more time than she had to spare. According to AARP, she’s not alone. In November 2009, AARP reported that African-American women often report that hair-styling issues often interfere with regular exercise.
“Working out often means I need to wash my hair afterward. Before, if I didn’t have an hour’s worth of time to style my hair — at least — I would not even think about exercising. Now I can wash my hair and walk out the door in 45 minutes flat. So I can choose to exercise on a day when I don’t have a huge amount of time.”
KIM’S ADVICE FOR THE UNINITIATED
Kim now hits the salon only three times a year to maintain her straight style. She tells friends who are considering a Thermal, “Be sure you’re prepared to style your roots between treatments as your hair grows out.
She also advises women to consider the cost, which can be $600 to upwards of $1000 per treatment. “Expense may be a consideration; everyone has to do their own math,” says Kim. “But some people spend a lot on weaves or go to the salon often to keep up with their hair. I think the Thermal might be something they’d want to consider instead.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
If your curly hair takes too much time and money to manage, contact salons in your area and interview stylists who have experience doing Thermals on Black and biracial hair. Ask for a one-on-one consultation so the stylist can evaluate your hair type and determine if the treatment will work for you. You’ll need to give the stylist a history of your hair treatments. And get a firm price quote during this initial consult.
Next, be prepared to spend six hours or more at the salon for the time-consuming process. After that, you’ll need to follow your stylist’s strict instructions on caring for your newly straightened hair, including protein treatments in between thermals.
Finally, daydream a bit about all you can accomplish with the styling time you save each day. And enjoy your healthy care-free hair.
ABOUT DR. KIM FLETCHER: Dr. Kim Fletcher is an obstetrician-gynecologist with the Obstetrics-Gynecology & Infertility Group, which serves patients in New Haven County with five offices along the Connecticut shoreline. A graduate of Harvard University and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Dr. Fletcher is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Yale University School of Medicine and a Diplomate of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
© Copyright Susan Proulx 2010. All Rights Reserved.