Set Free - The Book About Hair by Richard Stein


Finishing Touches

Whether you go for the natural method of styling or prefer the help of some sort of a set, there are ways to finish off your styling that will give it the best of "the hairdresser look." Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Stein

My way of finishing is to work the hair with my hands--pulling bits of it straight here, pushing a wave into it there, achieving height by literally lifting the hair away from the scalp. I love this sort of natural, tousled look because it has so much movement and individuality and because it is impossible to mess up. When you leave my chair and pull your sweater over your head, or step out into the street and get blown apart by the wind, or go home and sleep on it, you can't wreck this kind of look. It will always be a little different--depending on how you run your fingers through it or where the wind blows it--but the basic styling will not vanish with some particular hair-by-hair arrangement that needs to be glued in place.

You may be one of those people, however, who prefers a sleeker, smoother, more sophisticated look or who wants a special effect. There are smashing finishes for you, too.


This is the time to use that natural-bristle Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Steinbrush you used to pull at your hair with...and I hope I have weaned you from it for any purpose but styling. (See "Brushing" in Chapter 2 if you want to refresh your brush knowledge.)

Spray the styling brush with the very lightest mist of spritz, setting lotion, or hairspray--just enough to get those little frazzly things under control--and then pass it gently over the hair. Don't spray the hair directly for finishing.

This works well for styles that depend on a certain sleekness for their effect, whether they are curly, wavy, or relatively straight.


Surprise: I'm no fan of teasing. Now and then, however, the very gentlest, most judicious bit of back-combing can support a style that needs special height or width. Unless your hair has a great deal of body, and you are fortunate enough to have it growing in just the right direction to lend the necessary support to your chosen style (some people do have this), you may need to back-comb--just a little!--to get the look you want.


  • Use a comb that has fine teeth so you can get the job done with dispatch.
  • Assess exactly where you need this little bit of help and then mentally divide up the portion of hair that will need to be done into patches about an inch long and half an inch wide. (Using more hair means you lose control over the backcombing and often have to do more than necessary to get the effect you want.)
  • Keep the comb near the roots of the hair; you never want to get out toward the end--not only because what you are doing is not supposed to show, but because the ends are more delicate. You want the hair to fold back on itself halfway down its length. This will also give you a longer-lasting "tease."
  • Little by little, back-comb that portion of hair you will use as a "cushion" for styling and then, before smoothing it over, use the fingers near the scalp to loosen the back-combing slightly. Push the cushion into place. (Don't be afraid to use your hands!)
  • When you have pushed in the general shape you seek, use your finishing brush to smooth in the style. Take care that none of the superstructure shows through the covering hair.
  • The final effect should be one of natural springiness, not of some armature under your hairdo. Your hair should still be able to move.

For the most natural teased look, finger-comb your hair into its basic shape after washing until it's almost dry, then back-comb while it is slightly damp. Alternate between spritzing and gentle back-combing until you achieve the look you want.


I believe in using substances on the hair that nourish, sleek, or protect it...or all three. As far as I know, this eliminates traditional hairsprays--which only hold, and do that with an ingredient very like lacquer. Stay away from this stuff! It's death on the hair, and there are better ways to hold it...although who would want immobile hair?


These are my favorite things to use to refresh curl, dampen for a set, or "lay over" the finished style for a little shine and control. Spritzes are not hairsprays; they are very diluted mixtures of water and some other Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Steiningredient with the capacity to hold or sleek lightly when dry. A spritz should also add a little body and shine and should not contain any substance that can damage your hair: my Fleuremedy line has a spritz made of flower and herb extracts that add luster and help make hair more manageable; it is a sort of all-purpose refresher.

Many of the recipes I have already given you can be used as a spritz...if you simply apply it with a mister. (Part of what makes a spritz a spritz is the capacity of the applicator to spray a fine mist that will distribute itself evenly over your hair; bottles with mister tops into which you can put your preparations are widely available.)

The grapefruit/lemon "Hair Freshener" (Chapter 7) is just right for this. You can also use the beer/water setting lotion (Chapter 8) as a spritz. Or the herbal and floral waters (Chapter 3), or the "Herbal Treatment for Dry Hair" (Chapter 5), or even the "Gleam Rinse" (Chapter 3). Or try the blond or brunette tonics if your hair is not processed (Chapter 2).

I suggest keeping a couple of different spritzes around (in the fridge, so they stay fresh). Then you can use the one that suits your mood or your hair's needs on a given day. Try it--you'll like it! And you'll be rewarded with more manageable, healthier hair, and good feeling about what you're doing for it.

You might also consider carrying around a tiny mister in your bag (Fleuremedy Spritz, for instance, comes in a purse size) for during-the-day hair refreshing.


My concept of "goop" includes not only the mousses and gels I have already mentioned, but the old-fashioned brilliantines and pomades that are still produced (in small quantity and great quality) in Europe. Pomades were in use long before mousse and gel were thought of, and they are undoubtedly the forerunners of these popular styling aids.

Today, gel/mousse and pomade are very different products: gel/mousse can be used to sculpt a style, while a pomade should be used to control, sleek, and add shine to one. They also have fundamentally different formulations. gel/mousse is water-based, so it feels soapy going on and dries hard (although the stiffness can be brushed out, leaving the set in), while pomade is oil-based. My own Fleuremedy Pomade has been devised with conditioning oils to help lessen potential damage to the hair.


My favorite way of using these water-based products is not as a setting lotion, but as a finisher. If you want a relatively light finish, use a mousse; if you want something with a little more control and holding power, try a gel, which is really just a mousse without the air in it.

Scrunching is another hands-on technique, and you have to be one of those people who don't mind tossing the salad with your hands to use it regularly. What you will want to do is get the gel down near the roots of your hair, and then give your style structure by taking fingerfuls of hair and squeezing and twisting--scrunching--at the scalp. (To do this effectively, hair can't be too long; the look you want is fairly punky, so the scrunch--unlike regular teasing--should show and actually be part of the look.)

Clearly this is not for everyone, but it is a lot of fun for those who like the look.


Pomade can be terrific on curly or straight hair--wherever you aren't afraid of adding oil to the hair and scalp. (Don't say "no" to yourself too quickly; contrary to what you might think, this can help the look of your Set Free - The Book about Hair by Richard Steinhairstyle even if your hair is oily by making a virtue of the heavier, shiny look. It also protects the hair shaft itself.) You have to decide, however, whether this is the look you want, since there are some hairstyles that do not benefit at all from the sheen and weight added by a pomade--a blunt-cut style, for instance. But if your hair is curly and won't wilt (black hair can look especially wonderful with the glisten of pomade), or if you have straight hair that you either want to comb straight back or slick into a chignon, pomade can be a real discovery.

As I suggested, there are commercial pomades on the market--everything from old-fashioned bear grease (yes, literally!) to pricey European concoctions. You can sometimes find domestic versions in beauty supply stores that have a black clientele...but just be sure you read the label carefully to check for substances that are potentially harmful to your hair.

If you want to make a down-home version of pomade, here is the recipe I use on my own hair:

Richard's Pomade
cup coconut oil2 capsules vitamin E
1 tablespoon jojoba oil1 tablespoon favorite fragrance
1 tablespoon apricot oilor flower of herb essence
Blend for 15 seconds. If mixture is too "wet," allow to chill in refrigerator. It will harden slightly. Keep in refrigerator.

Start off with about a teaspoonful of pomade, apply evenly through your hair. (You can always add more if you need it.)

Richard Stein Hair Salon, New York City

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