You can hide the fact that you’re wearing sweatpants (or no pants) on a video chat. You can even conceal your messy house — just position yourself in front of a blank wall, or if your chat platform supports it, a fancy faux background. (Oval Office, anyone?) But one thing much harder to fudge is Lockdown Head: obvious roots, or hair so overgrown you look like a refugee from an ’80s hair band.
The only thing potentially more tragic than Lockdown Head is, of course, “Help, I Gave Myself an Awful Haircut” Head. Unless the situation from your forehead up is truly dire, experts say you should avoid snipping. “You can go without a haircut for longer than you think, like three months for most people,” says Helen Reavey, a New York City stylist who’s clipped the locks of Alicia Keys, Harry Styles, and Kendall Jenner. “I can understand you might want to keep your haircut’s shape, but this definitely isn’t the time to be giving yourself a whole new cut.”
And yet: Some of us simply won’t be able to fight the urge to clip a wayward curl or two. To help you avert a hair disaster, we asked Reavey and other hair pros for at-home cut, color, and maintenance tips you can use with confidence. Before taking matters into your own hands, read their advice. Then proceed with caution.
The problem: Severely split ends.
The solution: If you just can’t stand the sight of them, then fine — just make sure you use the right tools. Skip kitchen scissors. Ditto nail and craft scissors, and any other type of shears that aren’t sharp. Hair can pull or catch on a dull blade, which can cause more split ends in the long run. Fabric scissors are sharp enough to do a serviceable job, but actual hair-cutting scissors, which have a pointed tip for precise cuts, are best. Reavey’s cost some $3,000 (no, there’s no extra zero in there), but you can find great ones for $25 or less online through beauty supply and big-box retailers.
Next, cut hair when it’s dry. Perhaps your mother used to wet your hair before giving you a kitchen haircut when you were little. Don’t do it. When wet, hair stretches, making it look longer than it is, which can fool you into lopping too much off.
Finally, work slowly, snipping just a bit at a time. Use the tip of the scissors for precision; hair should not be anywhere near the “V,” or crux, of the blades.
Possible snag: Struggling with the back of your head? If you have longer hair, part it in the middle and pull hair into a low ponytail at the nape of your neck. Put another ponytail holder just above where you want to cut the hair, pull the ponytail up gently, and snip in small chunks. If your hair is too short to make a ponytail that you can pull forward and cut, you’re probably not going to be able to access the back of your head without help. Ask someone else in your house for assistance — or, if you’re rolling solo, just leave it alone. A few split ends never killed anyone.
The problem: You’re a guy who’s looking a little Paul Bunyan-y (and not in a good way).
The solution: Some men (we see you, Stephen Colbert and Kyle MacLachlan) have taken to social media to complain (or humblebrag?) about how wild their hair has become. Plenty of other men and some women are shaving it all off –– according to Google Trends, search interest in “buzz cut” has reached an all-time high –– which is a whole lot easier than styling with shears. To achieve this newly popular look, invest in some hair clippers, preferably ones with an adjustable lever and clip guards, says Michael Dueñas, a Los Angeles hairstylist who has worked with celebrities such as Kevin Jonas and Michael Caine. Why clippers instead of scissors? Scissors are great for shaping if you’re skilled. For the rest of us, though, clippers are easier to use and are great for shearing a lot of hair at once, and evenly, Dueñas says.
Clip guards on these work on a numbers system. The lower the number on the guard, the shorter your hair will be. If you want a uniform buzz cut, start with a lower numbered guard (a three or a four), and work your way down to your desired length. (Pro tip: Clippers don’t work well on hair that’s longer than three inches, so if that’s you, cut your hair first and then buzz.) Hold the clippers so the blade is flat against your head, advises Dueñas, and work in gentle strokes, from forehead to crown. On the sides, work from bottom to crown, and on the back, work from –– you guessed it –– neck to crown. Be sure to go over sections again to make sure you’re not leaving any long pieces.
Potential snag: May we suggest a hat? Seriously, this hairstyle is one of the easiest to achieve — but if you find you dislike the shape of your head, there’s not much to be done. Pour yourself a quarantini mocktail and know that this, too, shall pass. The hair will grow back.
The problem: Overgrown bangs, or a short haircut that’s gone shaggy.
The solution: Reavey says that people with short, high-maintenance cuts (think shags or pixies) — especially those in that camp with finer strands — shouldn’t try to keep up their looks unless they’re already highly skilled at cutting their own hair; there’s just too much room for error. Now’s the time to experiment with headbands, pins, and other accessories. If you’re just trying to get the bangs out of your eyes, though, there are a couple of rules to keep in mind. As above, use proper scissors, cut hair when dry, and work in eensy sections. At first, leave the bangs longer than you think you want – try an eighth of an inch to start, Reavey says, as it’s always possible to cut more. Avoid a blunt, straight-across chop; position scissors vertically instead, so that you’re cutting upward, not horizontally. This will create the kind of soft line you might get at a salon. (For more tips, you can also try YouTube, which is awash in tutorials.)
Potential snag: Your bangs now look more ragged than your most-worn lockdown sweatpants. Whoops. If your hair is straight, try curling them, or, if you’ve got ringlets, do the reverse, and straighten. Adding a bit of texture and variation can fool the eye, Reavey says, and minimize a choppy or slightly uneven cut. Or throw in the towel and try a DIY pompadour: Twist your bangs back and clip into place on top of your head with a couple of bobby pins. Leave the rest of your hair down, or sweep into a bun.
The problem: Your natural black hair is growing out, so your braids look messy. Or you bought a wig for exactly these sort of can’t-get-to-the-salon emergencies, but now you’ve realized you still need to braid your hair flat for the wig to sit right.
The solution: Take a braiding class. Detroit hairstylist Niani Barracks, better known as Niani B, has begun offering classes “for black girls who never learned to braid” — $5 for a two-week subscription –– on Facebook Live. (She thought only family and friends would sign up, but her numbers have swelled to hundreds of women around the world.) If you can’t make the live classes –– 9 pm EST Thursdays and 1 pm EST Saturdays and Sundays –– they’re archived, and you can post questions, to which Barracks will often reply with a video. (“Sometimes it’s easier to show than to type,” she says.) She’s planning to add advanced classes, too, since braids are the foundation of so many hairstyles.
Potential snag: Don’t have the patience for braiding? Barracks’s top tip for keeping hair in shape until you can get to the salon again is moisture, moisture, moisture –– you want to avoid its getting so dry that it starts breaking off. If your hair is especially kinky and coarse, like Barracks’, she recommends daily application of a water-based product, either a cream or a liquid. “Oil actually blocks moisture,” she says.
The problem: Grays for days.
The solution: If you’re new to coloring your hair at home, it’s good to know the difference between permanent, demi-permanent, and semi-permanent dyes. True to their name, permanents have the most staying power, and will last several weeks without fading. Demis fade gradually and vanish in around 24 washes, while semi-permanents disappear in roughly eight. If you have a lot of gray, permanent color is best, because it penetrates deepest. If you’re dealing with just a few grays, on the other hand, a demi-permanent can work just fine. As for the color, you may be able to get advice or a formula from your own stylist, or guidance from websites for hair dye brands. However you end up choosing your color, err on the lighter side, Reavey says. “Everyone thinks their hair is darker than it is,” she notes. “And going lighter is much easier to fix than going darker.”
Before you go whole-head, pick a couple of hairs toward the back and patch test. This is crucial because processing time can vary, depending on your hair type. Curly hair, for example, tends to be drier than straight, which means it will likely pick up color faster, says Deb Rosenberg, assistant vice president of education for L'Oréal’s new Color & Co service. Follow the product’s instructions, leaving it on for the shortest recommended duration. Add a couple of minutes until you get the saturation you want.
Wear gloves (many at-home dyes come with these) and apply a stain block to your hairline, ears, and if you like, the back of your neck (if your kit doesn’t come with one, you can use a petroleum-based product). Take your time applying, focusing only on the roots, and only where you need it. If your hair is shoulder-length or longer, divide it into three sections — right, left, and back — with clips or hair bands. If you’re right handed, work left to right to avoid staining your arm; if you’re a lefty, do the reverse.
Possible snag: As with anything involving giving your whole head a once-over, tackling the back will be the hard part here. If you have someone in your house you can enlist, now’s the time. If not, two mirrors will help. If you don’t have those, Rosenberg recommends using the camera feature on your phone and propping it opposite a bathroom mirror to get a visual. Voilà! Behold: what your head looks like from behind.
The problem: Your highlights are no longer a highlight.
The Solution: This is a graduate-level hair coloring challenge, so it’s best to wait it out until you can get to a salon, both Rosenberg and Reavey say.
If that just won’t do it for you, Rosenberg suggests using a permanent dye at the roots to lift and brighten your color. Another option is to use a demi-permanent dye to “kind of blur the roots a bit so the highlights don’t grow out in a hard line,” she says. Pick a shade that’s one lighter than your hair and apply it to slim, random pieces in a flicking motion. Keep in mind that it’s natural to have darker color in the back of your head and lighter strands framing your face — so focus more on the sides of your head and the front, painting some strands halfway down to the end, and others all the way. “The idea is to blur that hard line of demarcation,” says Rosenberg.
Possible snag: If you’re unhappy with your color, don’t wait to do something. The fresher the dye, the easier it is to remove. Wash your hair immediately with a clarifying shampoo, or if all else fails, try dishwashing liquid, Rosenberg advises. “It’s not going to be pretty, but it’s going to get stuff out.”