The main thing to prepare for if you plan to get your hair cut by fire is the peculiar smell.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Richard Ward, the luxury salon in London’s upmarket Chelsea neighborhood, is famous for tending to the tresses of Kate Middleton and many other celebrities — but it’s also one of the only salons in the U.K to offer the controversial hair treatment known as velaterapia, or candle cutting.
And yes, it sounds like exactly what it is: Candles, rather than scissors, are used to do the snipping. The concept has been popular in South America since the 1960s. Small segments of long hair are tightly twisted, causing any split ends to stick out. A naked flame is then run up and down the section of hair, cauterizing the split ends.
Feeling understandably nervous, I began to focus my thoughts on the glossy manes of Victoria Secret models Alessandra Ambrosio and Isabeli Fontana, both of whom swear by the technique, and put any reservations I had firmly to the back of my mind with a nice soothing cup of tea as I waited for my treatment to begin.
Greeted by Nando Lopes, education director and one of the most senior stylists at the salon, he reassures me that the bizarre-sounding treatment really does work. “It’s the most effective way of keeping your long hair looking amazing and free from split ends, whilst keeping the length,” he says, while standing over me with a long pink candle that wouldn’t look out of place at the center of my dining room table.
As he starts twisting, I can feel my shoulders getting tense, but after the initial shock of seeing someone hold a naked flame to my hair, it actually becomes weirdly fun. After every “burn,” Lopes sprays my hair with a conditioning spray to “rehydrate” — although I think it’s more to hide the smell, which is rather unpleasant. (If you’ve never smelled burnt hair, it smells like a combination of burnt toast and burnt plastic.) After about 30 minutes (it takes longer the more split ends you have), my newly cauterized hair cuticles are sent to be washed and conditioned with a Kerastase Fusio Dose treatment before a soothing head massage.
As I’m given a trim (literally to remove the sizzled ends), Lopes explains how he discovered the treatment. “I was on holiday in Miami, and I saw it being done as I walked past a salon,” he recalls, adding, “I was intrigued, so I walked in to have a look and I thought, ‘That’s impossible!’ They explained to me how it worked and I came back to London and asked Richard if I could do it. Eventually he said yes!”
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It was Ward and his team who were responsible for styling Kate’s demi-chignon for the royal wedding back in 2011, and they were also involved in the beauty side of her sister Pippa Middleton’s wedding earlier this year. But there have been no royal endorsements (yet!) of this particular treatment. “It sounds scary, but the results are amazing,” says Lopes.
It’s not for the faint-hearted, but I was impressed with my silky hair after the blow-dry. Recommended no more than twice a year, Lopes says the treatment might look easy but offers this caution: “I wouldn’t recommend anyone do it at home – speak to a professional!”