April 24, 2009

OK, so you weren't born with the hair of your dreams. But that doesn't mean you have to spend each morning wrestling with an army of sprays, mousses, gels, round brushes, blow dryers, flat irons and heated rollers. New salon treatments can straighten the kinkiest strands, curl the most lifeless locks, erase disastrous color mistakes, and give dull hair gloss. Best of all, the rewards last for months.

You want: Smooth, straight hair

Ask for: A chemical relaxer like Rusk Radical Anticurl or Matrix Vavoom Straight Talk.

You need to know: New formulas are much gentler (they're free of lye, which can cause hair to break off). Still, the premise is the same: Relaxers break down chemical bonds that create curl, permanently altering texture. Wendy Bond, master colorist/president of New York City's Oscar Bond Salon and Spa, says a relaxer can effectively smooth slightly wavy to medium-curly hair. For very curly hair, a straightening treatment loosens the curl pattern and cuts down on frizz, making blowouts less laborious. But beware: If you highlight or bleach your hair, proceed with caution. A relaxer treatment can cause chemical overload.

Cost: $35-$100

It lasts: Permanent until the hair grows out.

You want: Easy-to-maintain curls

Ask for: A soft perm like Aveda So Mild Conditioning Acid Wave or Wella Perform Hairscan Texturizing Wave.

You need to know: Perms are still trying to live down a bad '80s corkscrew moment, but today's chemical curlers (often called texturizers or wavers) produce more-natural-looking results. Stylists recommend them to clients who want low-maintenance waves. "You won't have to spend hours coaxing your hair into shape," says Ralph Scibelli, senior colorist at Miano Viel Salon & Spa in New York City. But skip this process if your hair is heavily highlighted or bleached, since too many chemical processes can turn strands to straw.

Cost: $35-$100

It lasts: Three to eight months (depending on how fast your hair grows).

You want: To reverse a dye job gone awry

Ask for: A hair color-removing treatment like Clairol Uncolor or Schwarzkopf Igora Modulat.

You need to know: Color removers are a quick way for your hair color to travel back in time, but beware: According to Scibelli, this type of chemical process is very potent and should only be done by someone who specializes in it. "You can only remove color that has been added to your hair," he explains. "In the case of most lightening or blonding treatments, color has been removed." And while the Schwarzkopf treatment dissolves added color, most removers work by stripping unwanted color (often along with natural pigment, which can leave tresses looking beige and dull).

Cost: $50-$150

It lasts: The color reversal is permanent until hair grows out.

You want: Super shine

Ask for: A gloss or glaze like Sebastian Color Shines, Redken Shades EQ or Wella Color Touch.

You need to know: A gloss treatment is a relatively low-commitment process. A demi-permanent dye (which lasts five to eight weeks) is applied to the hair, filling in damaged cuticles with conditioning agents. "When the cuticle is smoother, it reflects light better and your hair appears shinier," says Ken Harris, senior manager of technical training at Wella. At the same time, coating individual strands plumps up the hair, resulting in extra volume (coated strands also protect against environmental factors like sun and wind). Gloss treatments come in clear and colored formulas, depending on if you want simple shine or slightly punched-up color. And due to their conditioning benefits, they're even recommended after more-drying chemical processes like perms and highlights.

Cost: $20-$55

It lasts: You get five to eight weeks of superconditioned, supershiny hair.

You want: Extra Body

Ask for: A volumizing treatment like Rusk anim-8.com/Version 2.0.

You need to know: Once upon a time, the only way to inject body into limp locks was to perm it at the roots. "The problem with root perms was you were left with a kink or a wave in the hair as it grew out," says Patrick Prinzo, treatment specialist at New York City's Frederic Fekkai Beaute de Provence. Amplifiers/volumizers also add temporary volume and body at the roots, but unlike perms, these treatments only last six to eight weeks, at which point your hair gradually reverts back to its natural texture. According to Prinzo, the best candidate for this treatment has hair that's shoulder-length or shorter. "Any longer and the hair is too heavy to benefit from the root-lifting action," he says.

Cost: $55-$100

It lasts: Six to eight weeks.