Quarantine life and personal grooming make poor bedfellows. If you’re used to maintaining your look via regular hair appointments, chances are good that things have already gotten bleak. Maybe you can’t see out from behind your curtain of bangs, or your beard has finally turned the corner from “charmingly scruffy” to “old-timey sea captain.” But what can you even do when you can’t sit within six feet of a stylist for who knows how long?
Your first option is to go completely feral: The coronavirus shutdown is an excellent time to buy some cute hats, hunker down and ride out the worst phases of growing out bangs or a pixie cut in total privacy. If that’s your strategy—and you’re financially able to do so—consider paying the person who typically cares for your hair through the shutdown anyway; god knows they aren’t seeing any clients.
According to two Portland-based hair professionals I spoke to, there are a few ways to go about this. Geino Äotsch, a hairstylist and colorist, told me in an email that some of his clients are paying him directly for three or four cuts in advance to help him ride out the shutdown—even though nobody knows when it’ll end.
Barber Adam Morehouse recommends gift cards: “[When businesses start reopening], it’s going to be a big game of catch up—for the industry, for people’s hair and for everyone financially,” he says. “Gift cards are a great way to support the business at the moment.” Morehouse also suggests asking if your stylist will sell you any styling products you need: “More than likely, they have [products] sitting there waiting to be purchased—and that money goes directly back to the business or the hair person themselves.”
But gift cards and hair products can’t trim your split ends or fill in your roots; eventually, everyone hits a breaking point. For hair situations that simply must be addressed one way or another, here’s everything you need to know to avoid a self-made disaster.
First things first: Ask your stylist for help
You can and should continue seeing your regular stylist during the shutdown—just not in person. Hair pros are getting creative with their income streams right now, and many are more than willing to work with clients in non-traditional settings.
“I’m here to support remotely if anyone wants to have their partner or a friend they are quarantined with cut their hair, or [even] if they are adventurous enough to try to cut their own,” Äotsch writes. “Some of my clients have actually done this, [and] some are offering to pay for me to coach them on it on Skype or FaceTime.”
Make a detailed plan
Before you commit to doing anything yourself, text, call, or FaceTime your barber or stylist. Share your tonsorial hopes and dreams, and ask their rate for helping you do sketch out a blueprint. And keep in mind that everyone has different boundaries for what they will or won’t do over video chat:“I wouldn’t feel comfortable walking an individual through cutting their own hair, but as a barber I would feel comfortable walking [their] quaran-teammate through a cut or facial hair maintenance,” Morehouse explains. “With everything [flipped] in the opposite direction, [doing it yourself] leaves a lot of room for error.”
Äotsch is a little more adventurous:“[It] depends on the person, honestly. Some of it may be courage building, or drawing back a bit and coaching them to cut little by little. The most complicated process would be addressing the back of their heads—either cutting or colouring blindly or teaching them how to do it with a mirror.”
Once you’ve agreed on a plan, work out the logistics: Is this something you can realistically do alone, or will you need to deputize a roommate or partner to handle those ard-to-reach areas? Do you have the supplies you need on hand? If not, where should you get them?
Acquire the right tools
When it comes to any sort of DIY hair experiment, tools are everything. I cannot emphasise this enough. Dull household scissors won’t cut hair cleanly, and you’ll never get even coverage by smushing dye into your hair with gloved fingers. (I speak from experience on both counts.)
Thankfully, the essentials are cheap.
For cuts and trims, at minimum you’ll want either a set of electric clippers with plastic guards (for short cuts and facial hair) or actual haircutting shears (for longer cuts) and a fine-toothed comb. Sectioning clips like these are great for longer hair. If you have one, a hand mirror is clutch for dealing with the back of your head.
For colouring hair, you’ll need a few more items:
If you can’t find what you need online, ask your stylist—especially if you want to colour your hair. They’ll know exactly which shade and which brand of dye you’ll need; they may even have some back stock that needs using up. They might even be able to place an order from an industry supplier on your behalf.
Watch a lot of YouTube
As anyone’s who has ever had to answer that favourite stylist question—”So what are we doing today?—knows, describing how to cut and colour hair in words is a fool’s errand. Thankfully, you can learn how to do almost anything on YouTube. While there are a ton of great videos out there, you need to know exactly what you’re looking for: Techniques for everything from bang trims to root touchups depend not only on the style you’re going for but also your hair type, texture and how processed it is.
Although it’s difficult to make blanket recommendations, both pros I interviewed agreed that YouTube and Instagram are great sources for inspiration and research. Äotsch recommends sticking to professional channels whenever possible, especially for colour: “I would focus on professional sites like Redken, Wella, Schwarzkopf, and Toni & Guy,” he says. “I’d also look into vintage cuts by artists such as Vidal Sassoon—now is the time for a shag or a mullet! Both are the easiest to coach someone to cut on themselves.” Mr. Morehouse notes that “masculine” self-cut videos are usually harder to come by—but not during a pandemic: “There are plenty of barbers putting out videos on how to keep a shorter cut in shape [now],” he says.
Whatever you want to do, there’s probably a tutorial for it. Watch a lot of similar videos from different sources and keep track on what they have in common.
I started cutting my own hair a few years ago because I’ve asked stylists for the exact same boring cut once or twice a year since 2002: “Clean up the dead ends and keep the layers long enough that everything fits into a ponytail.” To the extent that universal hacks even exist for something as individualized as cutting your own hair, I’ve learned two: Start with dry cuts, and when in doubt, section it out.
Cut your hair dry—at least to start
If you’re taking scissors to your own hair for the first time, cutting it dry can be super helpful. Wet hair may seem easier to manage, but it shrinks as it dries—so until you get your bearings, you’ll probably end up cutting way more than you wanted. This is especially true for curly hair, where a slightly overenthusiastic trim can undo years of growth. I don’t style my curls anymore—they’re incompatible with my all-ponytails-all-the-time lifestyle—but since I have them, I need to be mindful of how much I hack off.
A stylist can give you more specific instructions, but here’s my usual procedure: While my hair is dry and desperately in need of a wash, I section it off and use shears to nail down the general shape and length. After a shower and shampoo, I go back and snip off any uneven ends. This way, I get (most of) the precision of a wet cut without accidentally overdoing it.
Always work in sections
Finally, if there is a single at-home hair project commandment, this is it: Section, section, section. Whether you’re cutting, colouring or doing a little of both, sectioning your hair off into smaller, more manageable areas is the only way to get even results. (How you get there matters less: I love crocodile clips, but a series of scrunchies will do in a pinch.) Other than that, the best thing you can do is take your time: You can always cut more, but you can’t glue hair back on.
In a perfect world, we’d know exactly when we can expect businesses to reopen, and therefore how many DIY haircuts we’ll have to endure until we can embrace sweet, post-quarantine freedom (and our stylists, probably). But that’s not where we are right now. For Äotsch and his clients, a little levity is helping them cope with all the uncertainty: “We keep it positive, making jokes about looking like Neanderthals when we see one another next—and finding them underneath all the hair they’ll grow out,” he says.
Hopefully, you now feel confident enough to tackle your own hair maintenance until you can get back in your stylist’s chair—whenever that may be.