Hair is a huge part of our identity, we go to tremendous lengths to get it just right. Whether going platinum, a sleek straightening, or the latest wave — we run the risk of damaging our hair to express ourselves. How do we balance achieving the look we desire with having healthy hair?
In Part Two of our Hair Revelations series, we sat down with pro colorist Christine Thompson of Spoke & Weal to answer our burning questions.
A global guest artist to the hair industry’s leading brands, Christine Thompson has honed her craft as a colorist specializing in corrective color and color change. Christine maintains two primary focuses in her work: protecting hair from damage and creating rich, natural hair color. You can find Christine at Spoke & Weal salons across the country.
What drew you to becoming a colorist?My grandmother was a hairdresser. She worked in a salon in the San Francisco Bay Area and we lived in Southern California so my first exposure at a very young age was her doing my families hair in the home environment not a salon environment. She would come to visit us and whenever you’re a hairdresser and you go to visit people there’s like, “Oh my gosh, can you bring your stuff?”. There was a lot of connecting and bonding around my mom and me having my grandmother work on our hair. I was drawn to fashion, beauty, and makeup when I was a kid, anything with a spectrum of color… yarn, thread, paint, makeup. I was a makeup artist first. I was coloring my friends’ hair at a young age and the science and chemistry aspect was really fascinating to me. I always like to express myself artistically through the way I look so I was always using myself as my own muse and hair was always a good way for me to express that.
What treatments have you done on your own hair that you have loved or hated?
I’ve done everything you can possibly do to hair, to my own hair. Years ago, I would bleach it platinum, color it black, and bleach it back again. I knew a lot before I went to school for it. I was doing a lot of bright colors… purples, blues, changing it constantly. When I would go anywhere in the car with my Mom she would make me tie a bandana over my head because she didn’t want to be seen with me. I grew up in Orange County and it was kind of a conservative place, and people would stare at us, she didn’t like the attention. Half the time I was burning my hair off, so I was putting a hat on anyways. I was into punk rock so having thrashed hair wasn’t a bad thing. Now it’s common to see a lot of colored hair. I like healthy hair, I understand what damaged hair is so I do a lot of color changes, double processes, platinums, different hues, soft corals, pink, champagne, a lot of highlighting, sunkissed balayage, a lot of dimensional color. I’m not limited technically.
What happens to hair when it is colored?
Basically, what it does is it starts to break down the hair structure, it breaks down the cuticle and weakens it, and it also makes it dry so it can make hair a little brittle and rough feeling.
Does that same thing happen with keratin treatments and straightening?
There’s several different types of ways to straighten your hair, there’s keratin treatments, I’d call them semi-permanent, that wear off over a period of time. Then there’s more the traditional types of straightening treatments like Japanese ionic straighteners which is a thio-based straightener and then you have your sodium hydroxide relaxers so sodium hydroxide relaxers are one of the most damaging to the hair of any chemical service. Your thio-based treatments are similar to a perm, it’s the same ingredient if you’re making your hair curly or trying to make your hair straight in a more permanent manner. That also breaks down the hair a little bit so it weakens the hair making it more fragile and susceptible to damage and making it feel rough and dry. Keratin treatments have become popular because they are semi-permanent and wear off over a 3-4 month period depending on how much someone washes their hair. Keratin treats more of the outer surface of the hair so it’s less susceptible to humidity, as that keratin coating sort of wears off the hair, it starts to revert back to how it was originally.
Do keratin treatments actually coat the hair?
Keratin fills in the gaps, you’ve got a cuticle that is several layers deep, and the keratin is working more on the outer surfaces of the hair. It’s not going deep within the hair, it creates more surface smoothness as well as an anti-humidity barrier. It doesn’t necessarily straighten hair but it can soften curl and make it easier to manage. Keratin treatments have become better, before, they basically had formaldehyde precursors so when you heated it the combination of the two would create damage to the hair, now because of OSHA they’re taking a lot of stuff out and you’re not finding the damage I found maybe five years ago with those type of treatments.
What should a daily haircare routine look like for treated hair?
Shampoo hair less. Preferably wash hair a couple of times a week at most. And use a smoothing product to help with mechanical damage.
Tell us about the types of damage to hair?
There’s basically 3 types of damage: Chemical, mechanical, and thermal damage. Mechanical damage can occur from not a very good brush or an ok brush, pinning your hair back, or using a hair tie. Another type of mechanical damage is sleeping, I recommend a silk pillowcase. A curling iron can create both mechanical and thermal damage because it’s clamping on to the hair. Most people have a triple threat because they have all three types happening at once.
What do you use to care for treated hair?
I use Khairpep and anything I can to protect hair from water. Since I’m a hair colorist, all of my clients have chemically processed hair, so the AQUIS Prewash and the towel really help protect their hair from water. I have my clients wear their AQUIS towel in the shower on days they want to shower but aren’t washing their hair so they don’t get any dampness on their hair. On days they shampoo, they use the towel after shampooing to get water out as quickly as possible. The towel removes a lot of moisture and removing moisture alleviates thermal damage because they’re not having to blow dry their hair as long or at all. The towels can cut blow dry time by half.
What about really porous hair?
When you have hair that’s been processed it’s more porous, and more porous hair dries slower, it holds onto moisture. People think, “Oh, I have dry hair so it’s going to dry faster.” But that’s not true, it’s actually the opposite. Bleached hair is really hard to dry, it takes a long time.
How do you feel about blow drying vs towel drying treated hair?
Towel drying is a type of mechanical damage, and not all towels are created equal. I teach my clients to not use friction, to scrunch their hair with their towel, not rub. You don’t have thermal damage if you’re towel drying your hair, and if you’re doing it properly you’re not getting any mechanical damage. Using the AQUIS towel you can blow dry less because a lot of the water has been removed already. I use Dyson blow dryers, they don’t do the thermal damage that regular dryers do. I see a lot of burned hair. Once you’ve burned your hair it’s really difficult to do anything to fix that type of damage. You have to cut it off to be honest, the cuticle is so roughed up it’s difficult to make it look good. I have more clients burn their hair from a gym or hotel blow dryer. You want to be sure the back vented area of your hair dryer is cleaned out so air can flow through otherwise it overheats and burns hair.
What do you recommend to add moisture to hair?
Use Prewash before you shampoo, towel dry, use Khairpep, and hair oil if you’ve got really dry hair. Hair is basically made up of moisture and protein. The cuticle layer is made of 75% protein and 25% fatty acids. There’s a lipid layer in your cuticle, so when you think of wanting to seal in moisture that’s that lipid layer. When you start chemically processing hair, and also normal wear and tear, shampooing, conditioning, you want to be able to still protect the moisture that is left in the hair and add moisture and protein into the hair to strengthen it, that’s where the Khairpep comes in, creating more strength and resilience.
How does treated hair behave differently than untreated when it comes to styling?
There’s a lot of variables. Sometimes treated hair is easier to style, and this has a lot to do with hair texture. Sometimes healthy hair is harder to manipulate, it’s not as pliable. Really healthy hair, sometimes if you curl it, it will drop the curl. You may have to use styling products that have more hold to them if the hair is really healthy. Hair that is bleached doesn’t need as much hold product because it’s already kind of rough. My ideal surface to work on is clean hair, then put products in if I need to soften or smooth, hold or grip. You want to protect hair from heat styling, that’s why I like hair oils, depending on a person’s hair I’ll recommend a different weight. Aveda has a great dry remedy oil that’s super light and absorbs into the hair really well, and a new thicker one. I don’t like the silicones that build up on hair I like the more natural products.
What is a common problem you see with your clients? And how do you fix it?
Damage, trying to minimize it, I do a lot of blondes. Shampooing, the sun, and contaminants in the water effect the color and I’m always toning hair to get the color I want and then water takes away that tone so maintaining the right tone is a constant. Tonality is really important in hair, for someone’s skin, and eye color and also if it looks healthy or not. That’s why I’ve become pretty obsessed with the AQUIS Prewash and towels and Khairpep just because it supports some of the things I have to troubleshoot around.
How do styling products affect hair? Is there any difference in treated hair?
Basically, I put styling products in two categories, either it’s a hold product or an emollient product. Some products smooth and soften, others create hold and texture, I call it slip and grip. You have hairsprays, gels and mousses that have hold ingredients. You have hair oils, elixirs, and leave-in conditioners and these plus smoothing and straightening products are slip products. Some products contain both. I’m layering appropriate products on depending on the hair texture I’m working on and whatever end result I want.
What are steps to keep hair at its healthiest while still being able to express your identity?
Go to a professional who can give you a regime that is best for what you’re trying to achieve. Using Prewash, the right type of shampoos and conditioners and a hair towel are key. Your hair can only take so much processing, I want my color to look expensive and the hair to look really beautiful and healthy, if you do too much back and forth you may have a nice looking color, but the integrity of the hair may be affected. You can do big changes, but you want to go to someone who specializes in correction or color change. That’s a lot of what I do now, the bigger color changes and then referring clients to a colorist to maintain.
What’s the difference between hair color and hair correction?
There’s things you can do to remove hair color without damaging the hair but not all colorists are created equal in that knowledge, it’s an expertise. It’s a matter of practice, and there is a gap in colorists’ knowledge. A lot of colorists would rather do balayage where you can get 6-8 clients in a day, but doing a correction you get maybe 1-2 clients in a day. It can take up to 8 hours to do a color correction. You want to remove the color in an appropriate manner so it doesn’t damage the hair, it’s time consuming. Most people don’t have the experience because they don’t have the amount of hours in. It’s kind of like being a pilot, you have people who fly small aircraft, jet pilots, and fighter pilots. It’s hours, it’s flying time. I have a lot of flying time. When someone’s looks are part of how they make a living, their hair is really important.
What is the one simple haircare tip you tell your clients that makes the biggest difference in the health of their hair?
Not to restrict their hair when wet, it’s one of the number one causes of breakage. I see people who work out or do hot yoga or put their hair up when it’s wet and go to sleep or leave the gym with wet hair in a hair tie. If they put hair up in a topknot they can have breakage all around the perimeter of their hair and then on the top of their head as well. I see people in spin class and they’ll get sweaty and pull their hair back and let it dry like that and then it will break. So don’t restrict hair or let it dry in a claw or any kind of hair tie. The best thing is to loosely restrict hair and then use a bandana or a soft band and remove before hair dries. Even going to bed with wet hair, it can break off against the pillowcase. Hair is weak when it’s wet. This is why I was drawn to AQUIS. I understand where hair breaks because I’m a crisis colorist. I understand what makes it worse and how it gets damaged and what makes it better and when I saw that AQUIS understood what water does to hair I was like, “This is amazing, finally a company that understands and gets this, this is scientific.” All these product companies are telling us all about their shampoo and their conditioner and sulfate free, this that and the other thing and it’s a lot of hype. It’s not based on something as basic as understanding what water does to our hair.
What’s the most common myth about haircare?
Some products get a bad rap around certain ingredients. Like if silicone is in a product it’s bad. I think the beauty industry gets hyped out on certain words and certain things to avoid, and it’s not that simple. Like alcohol being in something, it’s in most hair products. They pick on different ingredients, and there’s a lot of understanding and knowledge that goes into understanding and choosing those ingredients.
How does AQUIS Prewash help your clients with color-processed hair?
There’s different types of dye molecules, there’s oxidative hair color and then there’s direct dye. Direct dyes are what you have when you see pink hair or blue hair, direct dye is really prone to fading so the Prewash has been amazing for those clients and also blondes with toners where I’m trying to keep their blonde on point with the tonality of their hair. The PreWash has been life-saving.
What is your dream hair?
There’s the terminology “virgin”, hair that hasn’t been processed or colored or straightened or have contaminants from well water or city water. Hair that’s untouched by environmental, thermal, chemical and mechanical damage. Does that exist? No, it doesn’t actually. I’m having to navigate around a lot of stuff, which is part of why I am where I am because I understand these things. Virgin hair is very rare, I think that’s why it’s appealing to me, because it’s so rare.
Who or what inspires you?
My grandmother was doing hair during the 50s and 60s and I became very fascinated with that time period, people put a lot of time and energy into the way they looked, it was a different era. Where now, nobody has that time. I was always fascinated with fashion, and session people like Oribe, I was always inspired by him. In the 90s he was a big session hairdresser, he did a lot of covers of Vogue and fashion shows, the Cindy Crawford/Christy Turlington time period. I always thought his style was cool. I was always interested in the history of hairdressing and the old hairdressing equipment that was used. Marcel Grateau was a French hairdresser and inventor, he invented and patented one of the first curling irons, and is known for the Marcel Wave. There was also Kenneth who did Marilyn Monroe’s hair, I really studied his work a lot. A lot of well-known hairdressers just go by one name. Oribe. Kenneth. Garrin. Vidal.
Kenneth with Marilyn Monroe
Oribe with Naomi Campbell
What does beauty mean to you?
Beauty is being able to make someone feel better about themselves. Back when I first started in LA, the industry was looked at as a very superficial one. I’ve always loved what I do. I love people and love being able to help them feel good from the inside out. Sometimes it’s just styling their hair, it really affects the way people feel. How they look affects how they feel. It gives people confidence. When I think of beauty that’s what I think of, the beauty of making someone feel good.
To find out more about Christine Thompson and Spoke & Weal visit their web site. Follow Christine Thompson on Instagram @christinethompsonhair and Spoke & Weal @spokeandweal.