The Dominican hair salon you frequented for blowouts with a relaxer might not be as welcoming when you transition to natural hair. Women have experienced everything from rejection to an increased bill when they step into a Dominican salon with a head full of kinks. Why the hostility?
I’ve seen Dominican women with hair of all textures—long, thick and as kinky as they come—leave the salon with flowing locks after a blowout from their amicable stylist. Yet black women without a relaxer have reported being turned away from Dominican salons who “don’t do natural hair” or are told that the salon is “too busy” when it’s practically empty.
When women with natural hair do make it into the chair, the hairstylist treats their hair like a burden, complaining that they can’t handle the texture or don’t know how to style chemical-free tresses. And the latter may be accurate.
One look at online reviews of Dominican salons and you’ll see women complaining that their hair was blow-dried and seared with a flat-iron while soaking wet to the point that it smelled burnt.
One woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, even recounts breakage and damage so severe she considered a second big chop after the way it was styled.
Here’s an excerpt from her harrowing experience:
“What started off as a simple visit to my local Dominican salon turned out to be a woman’s worst nightmare. One beautiful Summer afternoon I got the urge to get my natural hair straightened. Since this was a spontaneous decision and most Black salons don’t take walk-ins, I knew that the only way to satisfy this last-minute desire was with a visit to the Dominican salon less than 10 minutes away.
Immediately upon stepping into the cozy salon in the heart of Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill, I felt the energy. My hair was pulled back into what I considered to be a neat ponytail but the stylist who “welcomed” me into the shop gave me an unmistakable look of disapproval.
Once seated in the stylist’s chair, she removed my ponytail holder, ran her fingers through my hair, and asked what I wanted to do with “it.” Knowing that the traditional Dominican doobie looks like an old school press and curl on my hair, I opted for a blow out. Little did I know that this decision would result in a ‘natural disaster.
After rinsing conditioner from my hair, the stylist saturated it with leave-in conditioner and immediately began to blow the life out of my naturally curly tresses. Less than five minutes in, I felt the heat burning my scalp and began to move my head away while asking her to lower the settings.
With somewhat of an attitude, she responded with ‘I know what I’m doing mami, your hair won’t be straight if we don’t use a lot of heat.’ She continued with ‘I’ll make you look like you have a perm.’ I immediately responded by telling her that I didn’t have a relaxer and wasn’t trying to ‘look like’ I have one. I simply wanted my hair straightened.
After what felt like forever, she turned me around in the chair to look at her finished product. All that I could think about was how relieved my scalp was. The heat from the blow dryer was ridiculously hot and in all of my years of straightening my hair, I never endured that much discomfort. She kept saying how ‘long, pretty and straight’ my hair was but all that I could think of was the fact that it took way too much work to get it that way.
Once I stepped out into the now humid air, I realized that something was different. My hair hadn’t swollen up like it normally would so I thought to myself: ‘Maybe her method was good for something?’ I had plans to hang out with a few friends that evening so I rushed home, showered, changed, and headed back out.
After giving me a long hug, my girl took a whiff of my hair and said, ‘Ok, so why does your hair smell fried?’ I told her about my experience and we carried on with our evening. About a week and a half later (had to get the maximize this blowout to the fullest), I began noticing bits and pieces of my hair all over the place – on my shirt, in the sink, and all over the bathroom floor.
Although I would have loved to make the blowout last a bit longer, I decided it was time to finally wash my hair. What an experience. No matter how many times I brushed though my hair with conditioner in it, it wouldn’t stop shedding. When it was time to clean out the brush, I was left with a hair ball as large as the entire palm of my hand. I knew something was wrong. My hair has never broken this much from a single wash in my life! To give my hair a break from all of the heat, I decided to air dry it instead of pulling out my trusty diffuser.
Once completely dried, I couldn’t believe my eyes. My “s” shaped coils which usually dry big with lots of body looked more like a limp Jheri Curl from the 80’s. I attempted to fluff it out as much as possible but couldn’t deny the fact that my hair was not the same.
I went to a stylist I trusted for a consultation and he confirmed what I already knew. My hair was suffering from severe heat damage. I had no choice but to cut it in one big chop or gradually to get rid of the damage and start over. Not quite ready for a second big chop, I opted for the gradual cut and wore my hair in protective styles for the remainder of the summer.
My hair continued to break excessively after each wash (the follicles are most fragile when wet) for at least three more months. After several haircuts and the purchase of almost every “damage repair” product on the market, my hair slowly stopped shedding.
My hair had become so fragile that it took over a year for me to feel comfortable wearing it out again. Fast-forward to three years later and I’ve yet to sit in another Dominican stylist’s chair again. I doubt I ever will.”
It’s clear that going to a salon (or finding a stylist) that specializes in natural hair is ideal but what to make of women whose hair has been severely mishandled in Dominican salons? Do you think Dominican salons are discriminating against natural hair? Have you been treated poorly at a Dominican salon because of your hair texture—or suffered because of a blowout turned disastrously wrong? Do you find that salons that don’t specialize in natural haircare discriminate against chemical-free tresses in general?
-Jessica C. Andrews