Why Thousands of Women Are Literally Setting Their Hair on Fire

Beauty trends come and go — but this one is literally on fire these days.

According to a July 15 Time article, women across the country are now lining up at salons to have their split ends literally burned away with an open flame.

Candle cutting, or more commonly referred to by its Brazilian name, velaterapia, is a technique that involves twisting the hair into dozens of strands and briefly running a candle along each strand, singing away stray and unhealthy ends.

The hair treatment, which costs $150 to $200 per session, is said to get rid of split and damaged ends without sacrificing hair length. Much like cauterizing an open wound puts an end to the bleeding, velaterapia is supposed to make damaged hair smooth and glossy by burning away the damage and sealing off the ends. Additionally, velaterapia’s proponents say that exposing the hair to open flame makes the hair shaft more receptive to conditioning.

It’s not a new technique; legend has it that Cleopatra used to have her dead ends burned away to get that glossy waterfall hairstyle for which she was known. Velaterapia has also been popular throughout South America since the 1960s.

When the average woman will have about 104 different hairstyles over the course of her life, the concept of having one’s split ends burned off doesn’t seem so bad. All hair grows back, right?

Perhaps not, as a growing number of hair experts claim velaterapia may actually do more harm than help to our tresses.

Hairstylist Matt Fugate, who works at New York City’s Sally Hershberger Salon, told Harper’s Bazaar that exposing one’s hair to open flame will actually cause permanent, irreversible damage to the hair shaft.

“This is the worst idea ever,” Fugate said. “Anyone who is educated in the layers of the hair shaft knows that this kind of process will ruin your cuticle — your clear coat of protection — weaken your hair and expose your cortex layer to the environment.”

That doesn’t stop people like Victoria’s Secret model Alessandra Ambrosio from devoting themselves to velaterapia. And with little scientific research available on the process’s impact on hair, it’s hard to know exactly what velaterapia does to hair.

Still, many hair care specialists maintain that the only way to keep split ends at bay is the tried-and-true method of getting regular hair trims.

“Even small trims, called dusting, every six to eight weeks can make hair grow longer, stay healthier and fuller,” Dr. Melissa Piliang from the Cleveland Clinic told Time. “It’s a much better option than putting fire near your hair, which is flammable, and seems dangerous.”


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