Like millions of young Indians, ace batsman Sachin Tendulkar has ditched his iconic curls to fuel a 6,900-crore salon industry. Which leads us to wonder: What is it about straight hair that makes everyone from film stars and homemakers to corporates (even the US First Lady) fall in line?
As a 12-year-old, Aditi Sheoran had hair that was curly, almost-Afro, but stayed out of her face. As a 29-year-old, the Human Resources executive with a multinational consulting firm in Delhi has a hairdo that is silky, and falls elegantly on her shoulders.
Sheoran puts her love for straight hair down to two reasons. One, the desire to leave her hair open - something that her "rough curls always prevented" while she was growing up; two, the sheer convenience of it, as a busy professional.
Sheoran's affair with re-bonding, a procedure of hair straightening, began six years ago, when after earning her first salary of 20,000 through a summer job in management school, she spent 6,000 on straightening her curls. ("They had to do it twice, my hair was that curly!") She recently treated her hair for the sixth time, and 'relaxed' it once, before her wedding in 2010. "I don't need to comb my hair. I wash it, and let it dry. I don't need to use any gels or wax. It's simpler than having curly hair," she says.
Till date, Sheoran estimates she has spent almost 45,000 on keeping it simple. Much like the rest of India, from cricketers and corporate honchos to Bollywood actors, homemakers, and college students, whose love for straight hair is apparent through a fast-growing hair industry.
500 crore and growing
Organisational Mondiale Coiffure is an international hair trends forecast organisation. According to member and hair expert Blossom Kochhar, the industry is worth 500 crore.
"While the share of the hair market is smaller than skin care, it is witnessing rapidly rising profits. An average Indian h o u s e h o l d s p e n d s 4,000 a month on hair treatments and products like shampoo, conditioner, anti-frizz lotions, serums, ironrods, curlers, hair straightening and colouring. The hair extension market has also grown, where clip-on straight hair extensions worth approximately 15,000 each are most popular," she says.
"India's obsession with straight hair is giving good money to salons, which are aggressively marketing their products," says Ritu Marya, editor-inchief at Franchise India Holdings Limited, which released the first-ever detailed report on salon business and consumption in India, this March. According to the Indian Salon Report, the country's salon market is worth 6,900 crore and will grow 30 per cent in this decade. "Hair is the new business opportunity," says Marya, adding, "Hair straightening is giving rise to new business ideas like Jawed Habib's walk-in Express Bar that shun 'appointments', and Adhuna Akhtar's first exclusive blowdry bar in Mumbai."
Men like it straight too
And the craze isn't restricted to women. The report reveals that 53 per cent of Indian men surveyed visit parlours for a range of services, including hair care, once a month.
We know at least two of them. In March, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar straightened his curls.
Teammate Zaheer Khan, too, appeared with a bouncy mane for the ongoing IPL series. Says New Delhibased hair stylist Jawed Habib, "Chemical straightening takes about three hours for men and can cost anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000."
Cricket commentator Charu Sharma is quick to jump to the 'boys' defence. "The changing of (hair) styles is just a little touch of appearing contemporary. They are not trying to set a trend. In fact, the trend has already been set - there are a lot of young men with re-bonded hair today."
Price is not a problem Sharma's right. Celebrity hair stylist Hakim Aalim has styled both, Khan and Tendulkar's hair, besides Salman Khan, Sanjay Dutt, M S Dhoni, and Shoaib Akhtar's. A quick look at hair trends in Bollywood attests to the 'straight look' craze.
Rekha, Dimple, Sridevi, Madhuri and Sunny Deol's curly, and sometimes frizzy tresses from the '80s and '90s have given way to Sonakshi, Shahid and John's straight crops. Even coil-haired Kangna Ranaut recently went 'straight', again.
Popular Mumbai beauty products department store, Beauty Palace, has sold over 10,500 hair straightening creams in the past one year, and sells close to 1,000 hair irons a month, both to parlours and individual customers.
Firdaus Padamsee, who runs Firdy's Salon in Mumbai's upmarket neighbourhood of Napean Sea Road, was one of the first salon owners to bring down the hair straightening technique from Singapore. In 1998, his wife and salon co-owner, Farida undertook a course in the technique and bought products worth $5,000. They offered hair straightening - a procedure that lasted eight hours then - for 25,000. Despite the cost, the procedure became a rage among South Mumbai's affluent clientele.
Today, his salon offers re-bonding and hair relaxation, where an average session costs 3,000. He does not offer Keratin treatment owing to the controversy surrounding the presence of formaldehyde - a known carcinogenic substance - in these products.
A look that depicts conformity
People read statements into how we wear our hair. In the corporate world, the straight look defines sophistication and chic - take a look at any of India Inc's power women, from Naina Lal Kidwai to Chanda Kochhar. Grooming expert Sabira Merchant says, "Hair defines status, power and wealth. In the corporate world, straight hair is perceived as classier."
Nayanika Chatterjee, a former model best known for her curls says, "The grass is greener on the other side. Even as a model with curly hair, I lusted after straight hair and got it straightened thrice. Straight hair gives you a lot more variation. If I cut a fringe with curly hair, I look like a poodle!"
Model Diandra Soares, who has straightened her curls and even gone bald, says, "My curls made me stand apart in the modelling world. Straight hair is associated with the gharelu ladki stereotype. Curly hair means you're a wild child. There's a national obsession with the poker straight look, but I've always been happy being super curly."
Soares has a point. Natural-looking straight hair and pokerstraight-hair continue to remain popular among young India. Hindi film casting director Shanoo Sharma, who views portfolio photographs of aspirants, says, "Most photographs I receive are of straight haired aspirants. Very few wear it curly." And while Sharma says, she isn't a fan of poker-straight hair, often asking aspirants to return after they've grown back their 'normal' hair, at the end of the day, how they wear their hair doesn't matter. "What matters is their talent. After all, I have my team of hair and makeup artists who will do up their hair to make it look glamorous - whether straight or curly."
How to keep curls in check, and stylish
- Ditch the curling irons. They only make hair more frizzy. Always trim the split-ends.
- Don't wash it daily. Stick to 2-3 times a week. You can condition it in between, though.
- Apply the conditioner about an inch or two down from the root to the tips of your hair. Wait a couple of minutes and run your fingers through your hair to remove the knots. Rinse, and use a wide-toothed comb to detangle it.
- Don't scrub at your roots with a towel. This causes friction, increasing the frizz in your hair when it's dry.
- Never blow dry your curls. You can however use a diffuser (a blow-dryer attachment). Direct it towards the curl, holding it in your hand, and squeezing the water out gently.
- If you're using more than one hair product in your hair, wait for 3 to 5 minutes before applying the next. Apply only when the hair is damp.
- Deep condition your hair at least once a week to lock the moisture in. What's on offer?
Blow dry: A good old hair dryer and round brush are used to straighten out the hair. Usually lasts a few days or until your next wash. Chemical treatments: These involve an application of a hair product like an alkaline chemical solution, which breaks the bonds in your hair that cause it to curl. Once this relaxing effect has been achieved, a neutralising solution is applied to reform new bonds, set a new structure and make the straightening permanent. Lasts till new hair grows from the roots. These include:
- Re-bonding (also called thermal reconditioning) and Japanese straightening:
Uses a combination of straightening and conditioning agents along with irons.
Hair relaxing: Doesn't last as long, because it only relaxes the curls in the hair, but doesn't remove them totally. The iron rod is used for a lesser duration during hair relaxation.
Keratin treatment: The controversy over Keratin hair products arises from the fact that it contains formaldehyde, a known human carcinogenic. When introduced in the US two years ago, salon owners who worked with the chemical, reported difficulty breathing, nose bleeds and eye irritation. The permissible limit for exposure to the chemical is .2 per cent. Within the hair straightening scene, new techniques constantly emerge, and the temptation to veer away from the 'poker straight' look is increasing. Mumbai-based maverick stylist Sapna Bhavnani says she has never done a straightening in her career. She offers Keratin treatment, and the Brazilian Blowout, which cut out the frizz.
Hair iron straightening: Lasts till your next wash or until you tie your hair up. A contraption fitted with ceramic blades that heat up is run over small sections of the hair, to straighten it. The result is rulerstraight hair.