Sun 22 Nov 2009 09:15
By Alene Dawson
NAOKO TAMADA: At her Taka Hair Salon on Sawtelle Boulevard, she works with adapting Asian hair care to American styles in the L.A. climate.

You've seen the great hair divide in the movies: "Steel Magnolias" was centered in Truvy's beauty salon, which catered to white women; Queen Latifah's "Beauty Shop," on the other hand, had a clientele that was almost exclusively black.

For years, with few exceptions when it came to hair care, never the twain should meet.

But today, with mixed marriages surging, hair is no longer black or white.

"You are beginning to see a surge of mixed hair in hair salons," says celebrity stylist Ted Gibson of television's "What Not to Wear." His observations jibe with the statistics: says 48% of Americans have engaged in interracial relationships and that 98% of people ages 18 to 29 approve of them. Michael Rosenfeld, a Stanford University sociologist, reports that in 2005, 7.5% of the 59 million married couples in this country were interracial, up from just 2% in 1970. If the trend continues, "mixed" is the future of hair in a post-racial America.

Rosenberg says there are more interracial marriages in the West than in any other part of the country, putting California in the vanguard.

Wendi Levy and Kim Etheredge are self-described "Mixed Chicks" -- which is also the name of their hair-care line, based in Canoga Park. "I run into problems getting my hair done if I go to a 'black' salon or a 'white' salon," says Levy, whose halo of thick, blondish brown curls bespeaks the legacy of her African American mother and Jewish Irish father.

"Some stylists in a traditionally white salon think that thinning hair with scissors or sheers will make it more manageable," Levy says. "Instead it makes hair frizzier and future cuts are complicated. And then some stylists in a traditionally black salon attempt to combat dryness with products that are too greasy for mixed hair. Or they want to use chemicals to tame hard-to-manage curls, which only causes more damage."

It's understood that there's a legacy of mixed heritage in America, but the beauty industry has only recently begun meeting the growing demand. "We created Mixed Chicks hair products because we needed it," Levy says. "We needed products that weren't overly drying due to alcohol but also not oily -- products that were in between." Their business, selling to salons or online at, has never been busier, Levy says.

Mixed hair isn't just a black and white issue. The Mixed Chicks leave-in conditioner bottle's label proclaims it is "designed for 'us' whether you're black, white, Asian, Latin, Mediterranean or any glorious combination of the above."

"Glorious" can be an apt word. Just ask Gibson, who has done singer Amerie's hair for some time. "Her dad is black and her mom is Korean and her hair texture is on the thicker side, but she doesn't have quite a lot of it, which is quite an interesting combination," Gibson says. "It has this really beautiful texture to it." Indeed, mixed hair comes in a variety of types, including frizzy, curly or straight.

Rita Hazan, a well-known New York colorist, considers herself an example of "ethnic hair."

"I have curly/frizzy, dark hair and I like to wear my hair blond, so this whole story is perfect for me," says Hazan, whose family is from Egypt. "It's not about going to a white salon or a black salon; it's about doing your research about a person that specializes in this hair."

With mixed hair, consultation is key. When you're looking for a stylist, "research and see what their clientele is like and ask people who have the same kind of texture hair as you who does their hair," Hazan says. "Don't be afraid to go into the salon and ask questions. And if you don't like them, go to somebody else. It's your hair and your life.

"Be vocal. Don't be afraid to say what you want and do not ever, ever say, 'I trust you to do what you want' -- that's like the biggest recipe for disaster," she adds. What kinds of disasters? Hazan cautions that one of the challenges of lightening dark, frizzy hair is keeping it from turning orange.

Naoko Tamada, the owner of Taka Hair Salon in Los Angeles, uses an Aveda product when lightening Asian hair so that it will turn an ashy color instead of reddish-orange. Tamada says Asian hair has other challenges too.

"In America, many Asians want to wear American trends, so at our salon our stylists are trained to use special techniques to make Asian hair more movable, with a fuller, supermodel look rather than the more traditional flat and straight look," she says.

"Also, many of our Japanese clients want to use Japanese products, but in Japan the weather is much more humid than Los Angeles, where the weather is dry. So we use products for the Los Angeles dry climate and hard water."

Salons such as Christo Fifth Avenue in New York and Batia and Aleeza in Beverly Hills specialize in frizzy to curly hair and use specially designed products.

"If you go to a salon to get a cut where they don't know how to do curly hair, you're going to end up just blowing it out straight or you're going to end up looking too puffy and out of control when you leave it natural. When you get a bad haircut on curly hair it can take you over a year to grow it out," says stylist Christo, who developed a signature line of Curlisto products.

But Gibson believes many stylists are already capable of working with all textures of hair. "If stylists took away the color of the person and just concentrated on the hair, they would realize that they already know how to work with any kind of hair," he says. "We just kind of have a mental block about it. We can't be blinded by the color of someone's skin."