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Best tressed: Jen Atkin talks hair health and working with your natural texture

LA-based celebrity hairstylist and Dyson ambassador Jen Atkin tells STYLE what lockdown has taught us about our locks, and how we can harness this knowledge for better hair.

Many of us only realised how much we depend on our hairstylists during lockdown, when our ends were splitting and our roots were appearing and a visit to the salon was out of the question. But celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkin, who is still holed up in her Los Angeles abode when I speak with her, knows a thing or two about the connection between a woman’s hair, and how good she feels about herself. So at the peak of the pandemic, as Google searches for DIY haircuts spiked around the globe and our hair obsessions took hold, it was no surprise to Atkin. “Hair is an emotional thing for women,” she says. “It’s part of our identity; it’s often the first thing people notice when they see you, and it’s something that can really make or break your day.”

Atkin herself is used to being in demand. When she’s not busy finessing the lustrous locks of the Kardashian and Jenner clans, you’ll probably find her on the set of a Vogue cover shoot, or helping Bella Hadid or Chrissy Teigen get ready for the red carpet. During lockdown in LA, her own friends and clients continued to seek her advice, and what she tried to instill in them all was an appreciation for their natural hair. “I saw it as an opportunity to encourage them to just enjoy their hair the way it is,” she says.

Thanks to all the time away from the salon and spent staring at ourselves on video calls, Atkin believes many of us emerged from lockdown with a renewed focus on and awareness of our hair health. And without any real need to make ourselves overly presentable and put our hair through the daily styling gauntlet – blow-drying, straightening and curling it into submission – lockdown saw many of us get better acquainted with our natural hair, whether we liked it or not. “It’s funny, everyone has actually seen for the first time in a while what their hair is really like,” says Atkin.

Accepting your natural texture and colour can be easier said than done. Atkin laughs as she recalls a few clients that cut their own fringes out of desperation. “Fifty per cent of those stories ended well,” she says. “Honestly, the best thing you can do right now with all this time is try to get your hair to a healthy place and work with your natural texture.”

An abundance of ‘How to’ videos on Instagram and YouTube has made doing so a little easier, and Atkin is optimistic that these are learnings that will stick with us. “Watching tutorials and getting inspiration from different places, I think people are going to try and maintain that,” she says, hopeful that this will mean more adventurous hair looks in the coming months. Adding that a lot of her clients have been experimenting at home with bolder make-up looks, Atkin muses that since we only live once, “Let’s have a little fun with our hair!”

Sure, we might not have the same cultural touch points – the runway and the red carpet – to turn to for inspiration. But Atkin, whose website maneaddicts.com clocked up three million views in May alone, has seen first-hand how and where we are hunting down fresh inspiration. Atkin’s own contribution comes via her social media channels, where she shares pro hair-styling tips using her favourite Dyson Airwrap and Corrale.

Styling skills aside, Atkin is emphatic that what most women will have gained from lockdown is a deeper understanding of how crucial the condition of our hair is to our overall confidence and wellbeing. “Hair health is so important, because once it’s gone, it’s gone,” she says. As for how often we need to be washing hair, Atkin says under-washing and over-washing are both detrimental. “Over-washing is bad as it strips your hair of its natural oils. But going three or four days without washing isn’t great either. It’s like your skin; it’s going to clog up your pores,” she says.

And coming into summer, she says, it’s important to pay attention to sun, chlorine and other environmental factors that can cause damage. Hair is much weaker when it’s wet, “So be wary of how vigorously you towel-dry.” A big believer in nurturing your hair from the inside, she points out that many hair problems – such as the commonly googled issue of hair fall – come down to nutrition, hormones and diet. “I tell all my clients that we should take care of our skin and hair with vitamins, the same way we do with our body,” she says. “If you’re healthy from head to toe, you’re going to feel really good. Great hair gives you confidence. To me, that’s what great hair is.”

 

Tools of the trade

Hair tools are an essential part of our beauty arsenal, but invest in the wrong ones and you can do more damage than good. When Atkin isn’t working with her famous clientele or on her cult haircare line, Ouai, she’s collaborating with Dyson’s team of engineers on their innovative hair tool offerings. “There’s so much consumer awareness now around maintaining hair health, and more people are looking to achieve their desired style with less heat,” she says. “That’s where the intelligent heat control technology within Dyson’s styling tools – the Dyson Supersonic Hair Dryer, Airwrap styler and Corrale straightener – can help, says Atkin. “This unique piece of engineering, combined with a range of heat settings on each tool, ensures temperatures can be tailored for the user’s hair type and desired style.”

How to Get Kate Middleton’s New Summer-Perfect Locks

The Duchess has had a style update and we’re taking tips. 

“Have you done something to your hair?”

When someone compliments you, but can’t quite put a finger on what you’ve updated, it’s a sure sign your stylist has nailed a subtle seasonal style update.

So when Kate Middleton spoke from her @Kensingtonroyal Instagram recently, we listened attentively to the details of her 5 Big Questions initiative, revealing insights around the early years of childhood, and how they might inform support and education going forward. 

But afterwards, the office chat also involved pondering, “Has Kate lightened her hair? And how do we get those flicks?!” 

“It’s nice to see Kate has updated her hair, she has lightened it slightly and added a beautiful golden finish,” confirms Gene ‘Ed’ Edwards, Creative Director at Auckland’s Oscar & Co salon. “Adding more layers to her hair cut has given her hair more bounce and accentuated her new colour.”

Ed has a few tips but most importantly, he advised if you want to achieve a particular colour, rather than trying to stumble around descriptions, take the particular image you like to your stylist and say “I want this”. Hair type and texture allowing, it means you’re both likely to understand the end goal much better. 

To copy Kate’s look, he suggests going for a double pronged approach with highlights toned a caramel colour and slightly deeper roots that give beautiful dimension and shape. To keep hair in healthy shape and make the most of those waves, a bonding treatment used concurrently with the lightning process is a good idea. 

“Ask for a full head of highlights, making sure to ask for a treatment like Redken pH Bonder to maintain the health of your hair. Then, ask for it to be toned using a gloss colour like Redken Shades EQ, with a chocolate brown root smudge and deep golden caramel medium blonde.”

To get the turned out waves Ed recommends starting with a good foundation by using a volumising shampoo and conditioner like Redken High Rise. 

“Add a mousse like Redken Full Effect 04 throughout towel dried hair, focusing on your roots to hold the volume. Then blow dry making sure to add lots of lift at the roots, and smooth out with a natural bristle brush.

“Using a large-barrel curling tong, curl your hair holding the tong vertically, making sure all the curls roll away from the face. Leave curls to cool before giving it a thorough brush. Finally, add some shine spray like Redken Shine Flash to finish.”

GHD Curve Plus Soft Curl Tong, $290, Redken Shine Flash, $38, Redken Full Frame Mousse, $38