When I heard about the candle cut at Maria Bonita Salon, – a stylist burns your split ends off without shortening your hair – I was intrigued. I’ve always thought fire… bad, but I wouldn’t know who I was without my long hair. It was just a little open flame. Besides, it was worth risking burning my face off if I could get rid of my split ends that spazz out in every direction as long as I could still get to keep my length.
So I ignored friends and other beauticians whose eyes got wide with fear when I told them about it, and booked the appointment. If my head erupted into flames, at least I could sue the salon for enough money to buy an entire wardrobe of swaggy hats to cover my scorched patches.
All was bright and cheery in the Brazilian fluorescent-lit salon where everyone says, “ciao!,” except there was smoke lingering in the air from a Brazilian blowout. The smoke made everything look blurry. It had top notes of hair spritz and flowers. Even if the treatments might seem lung-taxing and air-polluting, everyone in the place was gorgeous and content with life.
I checked in with Patricia at the desk, and shuffled into my chair where I was greeted by the slim, Gucci model-looking stylist, Ricky. He brushed my hair out, but foreplay only lasted two minutes. Before I could ask him where he was from, he wordlessly thumbed on his lighter and lit a long white candlestick. It looked less like a tool for a salon and more like the drippy candlestick Scrooge uses to illuminate his way around drafty bedroom chambers.
Even though he looked perfect, a clear bandage covered a new burn on the nape of Ricky’s neck, the consequence of a wet suit burn just the other day. (In between setting dead hair aflame, he competes in four Triathlons a year.) He told me my neck wouldn’t burn because my hair couldn’t catch fire because he was twisting it.
“So long have you been doing this?”
“Three years. It’s new here, but not in South America.”
I commented that his first candle cut must have been nerveracking. “The outcome the first time was not so good,” he said. “I was lighting fire everywhere.” But at this point in his career, Ricky really did know what he was doing. “I don’t touch the length of your hair,” he explained. “I stay away from the ends and the roots. I burn out, always out.” He said it would help with frizz.
It was like getting your hair braided the usual way, except that someone lights it on fire. Pulling softly, he spun my hair into 30 thin twists, fastening each bundle painlessly to my head. He twisted my hair, fluffing and rubbing it with his fingertips so that the split ends popped out. Feeling detached from my hair, I surveyed his technique in the mirror. As he ran the flame back and forth, the fuzzy bits vanished in little poofs, but sometimes two little flames continued to burn in a horror movie way.
People walking by on the street glared as he burned, probably because the $200 treatment looked like some kind of Victorian-era punishment for women with opinions, but no one else at the salon cared.
I smelled like an old barbecue, but it wasn’t nauseating. I barely felt anything until he got closer to my face. Then the fire cut actually became fiery. It was just warm, not too hot. My right eye stung a little bit and got red and watery. (No worries, I had a pulse the whole time.)
From out of my good eye, I could see that my twists made me look like Julia Stiles in Save the Last Dance. I obediently stayed still in my seat for the 40 minutes, which felt like 20. He blew the candle out, and patted my mop down to shake the wax out. My scorched hair and curls of wax littered the mat at my feet.
Ricky painted on some of their house-concocted deep conditioner, and had me marinate under the dryer with it for fifteen minutes while he leaned against the wall eating a Luna bar near a pile of burnt hair, looking like a commercial for Kahlua. The cold water rinse was heaven on my neck. Running my hands through it after it was blown out, it felt smoother and lighter.
I knew I couldn’t judge the results properly right after a fancy pants blowout. Days later, I still had split ends, but I had fewer of them than before. My hair measured at the exact same length as promised. A week later it still felt lighter, and people said it looked shinier. I now understood why people submit themselves to beautifying via fire.
Just don’t try this at home because there’s a good chance you’ll torch yourself, and then you’ll have to pay for your own hats.