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Hair Relaxers: Breaking Nature's Bonds

Thanks to hair relaxers, you can walk into a salon curly and leave straight. Zoom in on the chemistry of your curls with Groupon?s introduction.

Human hair is flexible enough to run wild as a mountain stream one day and fall as straight as water over the Hoover Dam the next. But to make lasting changes to its texture, you need to go beyond the reach of styling tools down to the chemical level. All hair is made of keratin, a hard protein that?s also central to our skin, nails, and exoskeletons. To form a single hair, keratin molecules link together in different patterns with the help of three types of chemical bonds: hydrogen bonds and salt bonds, both of which break easily in water and reform when dry, and disulphide bonds, which can only be broken by certain chemicals. In straight hair, the disulphide bonds are evenly aligned. In curly hair, however, the bonds occur irregularly and at odd angles, causing the hair to twist and kink on its way down.

When you style your hair with heat or water alone, you break the weaker hydrogen and salt bonds to allow your do to take a new shape. Once water touches your hair, however, the bonds reform in their customary way, and you?re back where you started. Chemical relaxers, therefore, work by dissolving the hair's tough, waterproof disulphide bonds and preventing them from reforming in their normal pattern.

The most powerful hair relaxers contain sodium hydroxide, otherwise known as lye. Given lye?s presence in drain openers and oven cleaners, you might guess that it can be quite harsh on human skin, which is why no-lye relaxers made from guanidine hydroxide are also common. There is a trade-off, however: some find that lye relaxers are harder on the scalp but gentler on hair, and work more quickly so that you can get back to staring at your hair in the mirror sooner. An experienced stylist can recommend the best method for your hair.

1521 Superior Ave
Pittsburgh,
PA
US

For Perfectly Polished?s owner Kathy Paff Barnhart, a holiday is more than just a celebration; it?s a chance for her to try new nail designs. She relishes the job?s endless opportunities for creative expression, which includes hand painting original nail designs and matching her clients? nail colors to their prom dresses. Since 1997, Kathy?s been a self-proprietor, running her cozy, lace-curtained shop with a passion for beauty and backed by a degree from Butler Beauty School. Her specialties include gel manicures, pedicures, and acrylic nails, which she files by hand instead of relying on drills or other mechanical means. Spray tanning is also available.

601 Ravenswood Ave
Pittsburgh,
PA
US

Owners and principal members of the stylist team Emilio and Gino corral their decades of experience to create two distinct spaces where clients revel in personalized services. They staff more than 60 aesthetes, each of whom receives focused training on adjusting hair, skin, nail, and massage services to clients’ stated preferences and lifestyle. During and after haircuts, the team uses a house brand of products to style strands and address specific hair problems such as color fading, excessive oil, or naturally occurring pipe cleaners. During facials, the aestheticians home in on what lies below bangs by cleansing, toning, exfoliating, and moisturizing skin, and tension dissipates during therapists' restful massage sessions. The downtown Pittsburgh location also plays host to an elegant serata—a private, chandelier-lit escape where bridal parties can enjoy ultimate relaxation before addressing the fact that their friend is marrying a panda bear.

301 5th Ave
Pittsburgh,
PA
US

While some spas claim to be relaxing, Spa Jema goes above and beyond, aiming to become a tranquil urban oasis for its clients. Sleek hardwood floors fill the 5,000-square-foot space, through the lounge and treatment rooms equipped with brick fireplaces, candles, and couches, which give off a homey vibe not unlike that of grandma’s Ouija board. Their services augment the calming atmosphere and include fruit-filled facials, deep-tissue massages, and pampering spa packages.

117 1st Ave
Pittsburgh,
PA
US

Premier Salon and Spa's stylists have studied hair and beauty in New York City, London, and Paris, but clients don't just come for the team's worldly talents?they also come for the view. Perched 11 stories high inside Macy's Department Store, the space features private styling rooms that offer exclusive peeks at the cityscape and the bald spots of passing pedestrians.

Wielding products from Aveda, Pureology, and Goldwell, the stylists fashion bold cuts and brilliant highlights?services that earned the salon multiple awards from Citysearch. Meanwhile, soothing ambient music fills private suites during massages, waxing services, and customized Dermalogica facials.

400 5th Ave
Pittsburgh,
PA
US

A former model with 35 years of experience as a stylist and salon manager, Judy Petrigac knows a thing or two about makeovers. Over the years working with renowned stylists such as Arnold and Robert Zegarelli has helped Judy hone her craft and today she draws upon that experience to lead the team at Hair Images.

Though Judy's specialty is corrective color, the salon's hair services run the gamut from complimentary bang trims to permanent waves and foil highlights. She and her staff use products from brands such as Phyto and Wella to remodel tresses, and construct custom updos for weddings and other special events. Their skincare services, which employ Dermalogica products, are just as customized. Before treatments, aestheticians conduct face-mapping skin analyses to identify problem areas. Their facials then combat breakouts, dull skin, and signs of aging, depending on the client's needs and whether they prefer wearing a paper bag over their head. Clients can receive a full-on makeover by opting for waxing treatments, airbrush tanning sessions, and mani-pedis.

5439 Babcock Blvd
Pittsburgh,
PA
US