you get what you pay for

When I first got to Korea I went through a period of trying different hair colors and I wasn’t pleased with how quickly they faded.  So then I got excited when I found some L’oreal.  And I don’t know WHY but this particular batch smelled horribly like ammonia and it totally fried my entire head of hair.  It’s like somebody messed up and put relaxer in L’oreal hair color packaging…So I’ve been growing that out all this time, (not by choice, but because I didn’t trust any Koreans would be able to understand what I would want in English if I had cut it off short) the remaining part being just straw-like. Shortly thereafter I found a product I like, which I literally (I’m not exaggerating) purchase by the case, ’cause my hair grows so fast it requires a touch-up about every 10 -14 days.

My Raffael-esque haircut & perm from last year that, even on the day I got it made me feel I should be wearing sea-shells for a bra and singing Under the Sea, had – despite getting about 6″ cut off after New Year’s while in the states grown to almost Elvira-like lengths again and was none too attractive.  And the haircut & perm from the previous year had also whacked off about 8″ and this time I asked for another 10″, to finally get rid of that damaged stuff.  That’s 24″ cut off in just over 2 years’ time, and even after today’s cut my hair is almost to the middle of my back – and me afraid to get a haircut ’cause I can’t speak Korean.  I swear if you look hard enough you can watch it grow…and I read that hair growth slows as you age???

Anyway, I decided to look on the internet to see if anybody had found an English speaking hair salon that they liked.  And the two in Itaewon (one of which I had gone to before) only got mediocre reviews.  I knew the one that kimchi-icecream had reviewed, (click on that link for full directions & contact info) Hair & Joy in Hongdae would be expensive because it’s a Toni & Guy trained salon, (I think one of the stylists also trained at Vidal Sassoon) but I was desperate. Like most places that advertise that they speak English, it’s more that they comprehend English and the English they speak is minimal, so after explaining thoroughly, along with the presentation of photos and sketches I’d brought with me, I was still nervous.

Now, having watched a lot of Toni & Guy training videos, I’m not a big fan of their huge partitionings and speed cutting methods (though they ARE really edgy), but Sophia expertly went ’round my head about four times, turning it into a really precise cut and paying extra attention to details and very meticulous in her checking.  While I only sat for the cut about ten minutes, it’s still three times longer than the other Korean stylists I sat for.  They were all very experienced, but you could tell Sophia was an expert.  Her assistant was intently studying everything the entire time, and also incredibly attentive to my comfort.  A stray hair falling across my face?  She gently moved it aside.  My robe crooked?  She straightened it for me.  (I kid you not)  A clipping falling across my nose?  She was instantly there to brush it off.  I mean, she was INTO her education and ALL ABOUT service.  There was always at least two people in attendance, and sometimes three during the perm.

Image from the history of hair website (click on the photo to access)

I’d asked for a spiral perm, but that got ignored or maybe they didn’t understand.  Young Korean girls prefer huge waves that look like the bumps in a water slide…and they twist the hair on either side of their face into a limp semblance of a giant banana curl.  I think spiral perms just don’t exist in Korea, ’cause none of the places seem to offer them nor does anybody know how to roll them on regular rods.  In fact, unless you’re getting an ajumma perm, the places don’t do perms as Americans know them.  What they do instead is a digital perm.  They roll over this contraption with two alien paddles on arms, each paddle holding a dozen electrical cords.  It’s like the modern day equivalent of Nestle’s permanent wave machine from the 20’s…

It's kind of cute - like a robot bug

Like all perms they douse your hair in perm solution, double paper the ends, and start rolling your hair on rods.  Only these rods are not open and are a solid cylinder of what looks like rubber.  As they roll up the rods, they finish off by covering the rolled up hair rod with something like the soft side of some velcro cloth, which they rubber-band into place.  And then, rather ingeniously, they take one of those grippy rollers that is like the hook side of the velcro and place it under the rolled-up rod velcro cloth, which keeps the roller away from your scalp.  Each rod has an outlet on the end and they plug you in.  And, as you’d expect, the rods get very very warm.   And the stylist and assistant are constantly checking to make sure each rod is heating up properly.  When it’s all clear, they monkey with some settings, the rods get very hot, and in about ten minutes it beeps to let you know it’s finished.  Afterward, they adjust all your rods to perfection and then put on a giant shower cap and let you bake in stored heat for quite awhile, bring you a drink and let you read trash.

Then it’s neutralizer time, and in preparation they take drinking straws and use them as stand-offs to keep the rubber-bands from bearing down any pressure on the hair itself, because that could lead to breakage.   The neutralizer solution they used fizzed like hydrogen peroxide, which was kind of fun.  The lovely thing about whatever products they used is they all smell great.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had a perm that is almost odorless.  Afterward had a lovely shampoo with head massage.

The results are fantastic, and except for the spiral it’s exactly what I asked for, or as close as anyone’s going to get me there in Korea.  Yes it cost a fortune, but since I only do this about once a year I guess it works out.  Much better than the assembly line place with the bitchy assistant and 2 minute haircut I got last time, and much better than the (also digital) perm I got the first time where I don’t think the guy knew how to work his own machine right and my hair was still straight afterward.  The gentle but effective, odorless perm solution alone was worth the extra money.  Highly recommended place for all you English speakers.  And I bet if you go on a weekday (closed on Mondays) you’ll get lots of extra attention like I did.

5 thoughts on “you get what you pay for

  1. Thanks for the post! I’m thinking of getting a digiperm here in Korea too, and I’ll probably go to this salon. How many machines are there? I think I might do it with a friend.

  2. Oh, I don’t know – they wheel it out from somewhere else and I wasn’t paying attention. You could call and ask them…even though they speak English and can ask you for details/choices, it’s still a good idea to bring some photos of what you want if you can!
    ADDED: Oh yeah, word of warning: It IS summer in a hot and humid place, so you’ll want to purchase some anti-frizz serum…

  3. I’m due to be in seoul on holiday in a few weeks time and have been seriously considering getting a digital perm done whilst i’m there – this is exactly the kind of info I’ve been looking for! thanks so much for making this post.

    may I ask – how much did you end up paying? i’ve also been considering Juno Hair Salon, but the price seems prohibitive (although it’s a fraction of what we’d pay in Australia)

  4. I can’t remember – maybe about 60-70 bucks? a haircut is about 25-30…

    You should know too that the goal of these types of perms is big soft waves, so if you’re wanting something tight, you should go for and ask for a stronger perm. My expectations were for more curls and tighter, so I was disappointed the first time. But that’s not what is in vogue here…You do see regular perms on separate rods where ajummas get their hair permed, but most places have these digital perm machines.

  5. Also, Sophia is the best at cutting there. The guys did not check their own work and I had uneven haircuts…

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