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Asian Hair: The Complete Beginner's Care Guide

photo of woman with asian hair in salon

There’s one rule of hair care that transcends all textures, lengths, and colors: You’re never really a beginner. Even if you only start a styling routine at age 20, you’ve still had two decades of pinning back baby hairs and painstakingly curling pin-straight strands.

Still, everybody has to start somewhere. The term “Asian hair” encompasses a wide range of ethnicities, textures, and pain points, but there are a few overarching themes that a skilled professional can tackle. Taking care, styling, and color application seriously means rethinking what you know about your hair texture.

If you’re ready to take your hair care to another level, it’s time to meet your new best friend: Moises Villa, Shu Uemura brand ambassador and stylist. He’s talking us through the ins and outs of caring for Asian hair—no matter which hair woes you’re struggling with.

Cutting Asian Hair

According to most sources, Asia encompasses 48 countries. While there are many similar genetic characteristics shared by people of Asian ethnicities, every head of hair is a little different. Only a professional stylist can totally break down your personal concerns and the needs of your hair, but Villa can do his best to tackle some common themes.

First off: The mane itself.

“Asian hair tends to be a little heavier and more dense in weight. Often, the hair tends to be thicker and has great shine. It can be cut and styled in many different ways, from waves to straight,” he says.

In other words, you’re often dealing with hair that’s naturally beautiful by most standards. Shine and thickness are two qualities many people pay hundreds of dollars a year to obtain (hello, extensions).

However, with a unique set of characteristics comes concerns that are equally specific. In many cases, stylists who aren’t experienced in cutting Asian hair can leave you wanting a more shapely cut. Hair that’s trimmed too close to the scalp can stick out, creating the unflattering illusion of an oversized head. On the other hand, long hair that isn’t cut properly can weigh heavily on your scalp, neck, and shoulders.

“The most common concern is typically the weight of hair, which makes it more challenging to add volume—as well as that it can be harder to style,” Villa explains, recommending dry cuts whenever possible. “Appropriate haircuts are a must, along with removing the proper amount of weight!”

It’s all very well to know what kind of haircut you need, but you have to know where to get it! Start your research on any business review website, searching the keyword “Asian hair” to find salons that are rated highly for their expertise. Once you’ve narrowed it down, take to social media. The profile of your would-be stylist should contain plenty of pictures featuring hair textures similar to your own as well as cuts that are close to the ones you like.

If you need final confirmation before scheduling an appointment, post a comment about your interest on one of the stylist’s posts. A quick response indicates a willingness to form a long-lasting hairstyling relationship with you.

When it’s time for your consultation, be honest about your hair journey. Sharing your frustrations about your hair as well as the things you love about it will help your pro plan a cut that enhances your features and fits into your lifestyle. Sharing the names of any products or styling tools you use is also helpful—if there’s a more effective alternative, your stylist will pipe up.

Coloring Asian Hair

Most people of Asian descent are born with very dark brown or black hair. Coloring it will always take time, money, and skill, since most shades require a light base in order to be visible.

For that reason, Villa likes to keep his clients close to their natural colors.

“For color, I think subtle highlights and natural nutty tones play well with dark hair,” he says. “Bleaching can be tricky and should only be done by the most experienced colorist.”

Stylists use bleach to lift color from the strand, creating a canvas on which to paint a new shade. When the natural shade is dark, however, it often takes a more intense bleach application to get the hair to an optimal working spot. That can mean more damage and expense, factors both you and your stylist would like to avoid.

To find a color pro who knows exactly how to approach Asian hair, follow the same steps you might for a haircut. Think of the internet as a great big crowdsourcing tool.

Once you’ve booked an appointment to get your dream color, Villa says to pay attention to brassiness. It’s of special concern when working with Asian hair.

“When it comes to color, not lifting the color enough can cause brassiness and it should be properly toned down,” he explains.

If you’re hoping for a drastic color change, speak to your stylist about your options. Adding extensions in a fantasy shade or purchasing a wig for a special occasion might be easier than coping with the potential damage and cost of maintaining the same color on your own hair.

Maintaining Asian Hair

Many a joke has been made online about the trials and tribulations of styling Asian hair. Some types can be slippery and unmanageable, defying all but the highest hold hairspray. If you’ve followed Villa’s hair care tips up until this point, your hair should be ready for at-home care.

“Asian hair can be as diverse as any other type, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” the stylist explains. “At each salon appointment, a proper assessment of the hair’s needs should be [conducted] to find the best shampoo and conditioner routine.”

If you haven’t had time to see a professional lately, some general tips apply. Look for products that accomplish your hair goals without adding weight—you already have plenty of that. Our expert has plenty of recommendations from Shu Uemura.

“Sometimes Asian hair can be a bit dry, so it will need products that can provide more moisture,” Villa says. “I love the Urban Moisture range from Shu Uemura because it helps provides hair with smoothness.”

Long, heavy hair can take sometimes take hours to dry. If you’re in a rush and the hair dryer is doing you dirty, Villa recommends Straightforward Time-Saving Blow Dry Oil. To enhance the look of curls and waves, stick to Sheer Lacquer Finishing Hair Spray and Texture Wave Dry Texturizing Spray. He even has a favorite product for dealing with the many, many flyaways: Cotton Uzu Flexible Defining Cream.

With a quality cut, seamless color application, and a full arsenal of products ideal for Asian hair, you’re set to go forth can care for your sleek, beautiful mane.

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