US west coast editor Elyse Glickman and correspondent Leyla Messian learn that not all home hair colours—or professional colours brought home—are created equal. Even with their differing hair textures, lifestyles and beauty outlook, Culver City-based eSalon delivers both of them the option of customized professional results without salon attitude or fuss
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire. Leyla Messian is Lucire’s Los Angeles correspondent.
There’s nothing more enjoyable than a salon experience, putting yourself into the hands of capable colourists, cutters and assistants. In theory, you should emerge from the shop feeling refreshed, glamorous and cared for. However, the reality is a different story. Sometimes the deluxe aspect of a fine salon comes with an attitude that either compromises the experience, the final result or both. Sometimes, you discover that the cutter or colourist you counted on for months or years found greener pastures elsewhere. Sometimes that cutter or colourist you’ve counted on for so many years lets you down, in a very scary and unflattering way, often before a big life event like a wedding or job interview.
While nothing’s been created yet to replace the professional hair cutter, there have been at-home colouring products lining supermarkets and drugstore shelves for years that have offered women hope—and way too many choices. Therein lies the problem. How many botched home hair jobs would we actually be willing to admit to, whether it is the wrong, brassy shade of blonde or red, or a perfect colour choice marred by swaths of grey hair not properly covered? What if the chemical composition is wrong, and you end up paying serious money to a stylist to fix the problem and listen to a couple of hours of “I told you sos”?
Esalon—officially, eSalon—a Culver City-based enterprise founded by Francisco Gimenez (right), offers to take a lot of the guesswork and potential mistakes out of the mix of the home hair colour process for many women. The process for most people starts by going online to their website, uploading a photo and answering a series of questions about what you’ve got (hair wise), what you want, your age, hair texture and other useful bits about your beauty routine. Do you want to be natural or make a statement? They claim that they are far more capable of helping women find their perfect match, than Match.com.
Along with other Los Angeles journalists and bloggers, we had the opportunity to meet with Gimenez, lead stylist Estelle Baumhauer (a veteran salon pro formerly of Dessange in Paris, New York and Washington and Warren-Tricomi in New York) and their team at their headquarters. We not only got a thorough run-through about how each and every custom colour and maintenance kit was made, but got to take a few maintenance products home for trial as well as book an appointment with Baumhauer to get a hands-on version of the website survey process.
My hair and I are essentially two separate living organisms and Estelle picks upon that right away. My dilemma is that I want long thick, shiny hair, but my hair stops at shoulder length and rebels by breaking off and frizzing. I feel my “librarian” length ages me, and she sympathizes as a fellow owner of thin, temperamental hair.
From there, she gives me the bad news first: hair colour does not make hair thicker—this can only be done with extensions. Hair vitamins can make hair healthier but won’t necessarily speed growth. Judicious use of hot rollers at home will create the illusion of body and volume in my fine, temperamental hair.
I may have to give up my dreams of flowing tresses and Katniss-style braids, as well as reattaining the vibrant red I wore in my 20s (as it is higher maintenance and skin tone changes as you age). However, she informs me that with the right, even colour and maintenance steps, I may be able to achieve a youthful look with the right colour and cut. The colour is something I can have control over by following her steps, as well as steps provided on the eSalon website.
My hair is a two-step process with different formulas for roots and ends. Estelle leaves the roots formula for 20 minutes and the remaining roots for another ten. Yes, it is longer to achieve than the old methods I relied on (20 minutes with traditional box colour and done; pricey, time-consuming salon sessions with better results than the box—but not always consistent). However, the allure of being in control of my destiny, hair-wise, is appealing, along with the lower prices of salon colour without the overhead.
My roots need to be done darker as my hair is uneven colour-wise. Also, a second colour for the ends will be less harsh on my hair, mitigating some of the damage and split ends. Estelle advises me to touch up my roots once every four weeks. If I do the job correctly, I would only have to do the rest of my mane every couple of months. That’s a lot to remember. However, if I forget, everything is online along with my customized dye formulas and recommended maintenance steps.
Estelle then divulged that the secret to colour longevity is a step she calls ‘emulsion’ right before one rinses the colour out completely. Add just a touch of water and massage your scalp, allowing the dyed mix on your hair to gain a creamy consistency for two to three minutes. After that, rinse, and if you can handle it, add a splash of colour water on your head for that extra blast of shine.
I am sent home with a long box (starter kit) with shampoo and conditioner bowls and brush, root colour and two styling products: Shining Armor Argon Oil and Perfect Ending hair gel, which she makes me promise I use after every shampoo. I also get a bottle of a between step, Tinted Love, that I am instructed to use every other shampoo between the cleanse-and-condition step, applied like the emulsion step to keep the colour vibrant.
A month after my eSalon visit, though greys are slowly returning, the overall colour is still rich and vibrant, and the frizziness has diminished considerably. My hair is beginning to feel thicker and healthier, as well.
Estelle welcomed me warmly, and she could tell right away I wasn’t in a good mood. I was tired of the frizz and red tones at the ends of my midnight brown hair. I was feeling old. She told me, ‘What I am going to do is put a smile on your face, and make you see that you are beautiful.’ She assured me that it is not only OK for older women to have long, dark hair, but to wear it with pride. She paused, and added emphatically that was perfectly fine to be edgy and fashion-forward at 50. She scoffed at the outdated idea that women had to cut their hair short and lighten it after age 40.
She completely put me at ease, and I allowed her to work her magic as soft music provided an extra, welcome dimension of relaxation. Though I was in a factory where the customized colour and companion products are produced, this had the feel of an industrial-chic spa with comfortable furnishings, stylish red and white furnishings, yet devoid of the familiar candles and strategically placed buddhas. Everybody was quiet and calm.
As we discussed travel, and her experiences in the beauty business that took her around the world, she used a pointed comb with great care to precision-apply a custom-blended darkest brown and neutralizer to get rid of my red oxidation caused by years of wrong tint and sun exposure. She also interjected between stories that when applying my colour at home, the hair should be in fine, one- to two-inch sections that you can see light through. It is a slower process but ensures total coverage and even colour.
While I walked out of the salon very content, outfitted with all my maintenance supplies, Estelle informed me that if my friends and family were interested in eSalon products, to guarantee best results it was best to submit photos taken in good natural light with an actual camera rather than an Iphone. If they had further questions, they could speak with a licensed stylist in a phone consultation via their toll free number. When I asked about the celebrity clientèle, Estelle informed me the VIPs includes a few national politicians who want to keep their roots a state secret!
The colour did not fade, so it was superior even to the professional-grade German product I had been using for years. The Tinted Love neutralizer, meanwhile, has prevented the return of my red oxidation. Much of my natural curl has returned, minus the frizziness since using the mix of Perfect Ending and Shining Armor Oil.
Even after our many rendezvous at fine LA salons and sampling many excellent products through the years, we think this “Match.com for hair” is better than the one for dating! We predict this will also be a huge success in its eventual European launch. •
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