Setting record and hair straight

Can a Brazilian blowout really change your life?

This could be the summer of the Brazilian in Boston, as more local salons offer the $200-$500, 12-week hair-relaxing treatment. This could be the summer of the Brazilian in Boston, as more local salons offer the $200-$500, 12-week hair-relaxing treatment. (Istockphoto)
By Beth Teitell
Globe Correspondent / July 1, 2010

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A person can only hear the following statement so many times without becoming obsessed herself: “It changed my life.’’

Indeed, in the process of reporting a story on a pricey new hair-relaxing treatment that’s sweeping Boston, I got sucked in myself. Got so I couldn’t think straight, I wanted one of those Brazilian blowouts so bad. No, not wanted, needed. Never mind that I don’t make my living as a model or a reality-TV star, and I’m no longer a teenage girl. I needed straighter and shinier hair. Kardashian hair, if you will.

Sure, one could question whether it’s a good thing leading an existence so shallow that it can be changed by a trip to the hairdresser. But hey, what am I and my mediocre hair doing that’s so high-minded, anyway? Wouldn’t I stand a better chance of saving the world if I were more attractive? Tell me an ugly Angelina Jolie would have been named a UN Goodwill Ambassador?

You say you’ve never heard of the Brazilian blowout? You will. Like a virus, or silly bands, it’s advancing across the country, seducing women plagued by frizzy or otherwise challenging hair who long for care-free grooming. Treatments cost about $200-$500, depending on how much hair you have and the salon’s ZIP code, and last up to 12 weeks.

The Brazilian got a bump last month in a hilarious MTV Awards promo video starring Tom Cruise and Robert Pattinson, in which the Cruise character threatens to send someone to give the messy-haired Pattinson a Brazilian — the point being that Pattinson’s nothing without his messy hair.

The Brazilian is old news in glamour hotbeds like Los Angeles and New York, but 2010 could go down as the summer of the Brazilian in Boston. With a growing number of Boston-area salons offering it — the Patrice Vinci Salon, Shag, Salon Capri, Twilight, to name a few — fashionistas who aren’t lining up for this treatment could be left behind.

At least, that’s how I was feeling. Beauty is a zero-sum game: the more gorgeous others’ hair looks, the duller yours does.

Unlike high-heel shoes or low-cal diets, the Brazilian doesn’t make you suffer for your beauty. All it takes is a few hours in a salon. After a shampoo, a stylist coats your hair with a keratin product. (Several manufacturers make keratin smoothing treatments, and although they’re known generically as Brazilian blowouts, their formulations vary, as do the amount of straightening they provide. Only one company is actually called Brazilian Blowout.) After a blow dry, the stylist sears the product to a customer’s hair with an iron heated to 450 degrees.

The product is then washed out and you’re free to go do whatever people with great hair do.

Here’s one thing they do: sashay in the rain. I was out with a Brazilian’d friend, and while I grew vexed as my hair frizzed, she had no worries. “I no longer fear the weather,’’ she said. “I feel like I’m cheating.’’

Would I be happier with better hair? I called Gretchen Rubin, the author of the best-selling book “The Happiness Project.’’ An unfortunate truth about happiness, she said, is that for a lot of people, feeling good about how they look is in fact going to make them happier. “Whether a blow dry is going to change your life, of course, depends on how much your hair matters to your life,’’ Rubin said.

It was not a question I wanted to ponder. I sought my husband’s opinion. “It does last for 12 weeks,’’ I said, spinning it in a direction I knew he’d like. He seemed impressed. “Well,’’ I said, coming clean, “unless you swim in the ocean, then it washes out.’’

“You can’t go to the beach?’’ he asked.

“You can,’’ I said quickly, “you just have to spritz it with a protective product first.’’

“Your hair’s going to take more maintenance than a piece of fine furniture.’’

But do I look better? I’m not sure, but here’s what I can report: I took the T home from my Brazilian and a passenger gave me his seat. But did I look gorgeous? Or elderly?

My 8-year-old said my hair looked less messy. “Like you combed it.’’ (You can see the bar was low.)

A friend who drove over to see my hair made this observation: “I don’t want to bum you out, but I can’t tell the difference.’’

Here’s my opinion: My hair is shinier and straighter, but I’m not sure I look better overall. In fact, it made me realize that I may have been blaming other appearance problems on my hair.

The hunt for the next life-changing beauty treatment continues.

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