Road Test: In-Salon vs. At-Home Treatments

Road Test: In-Salon vs. At-Home Treatments
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Road Test: In-Salon vs. At-Home Treatments


There's been a lot of focus on the scalp lately, from entire hair care lines dedicated to scalp health to new scalp-focused treatments popping up at salons across the country. "Scalp stimulation is incredibly important for the health of your hair," says Kattia Solano, owner of Butterfly Studio Salon in New York City. "Every salon treatment should incorporate scalp massage." But does that mean you should splurge on a scalp treatment when there are so many at-home versions to try? Probably not.

Even though Solano is a salon owner, she recommends using Shu Uemura Essential Drops Purifying Blend, $48, at home. "In the salon, we combine two treatments in one -- you get the drops on the scalp and a mask on the ends," she explains. "But there's no reason you can't do the same thing in your bathroom." The main difference is the scalp massage. While you can -- and should -- thoroughly massage the drops into your scalp, you do miss out on the relaxing experience of having someone else do it for you.

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If your skin needs major resurfacing, then Elizabeth Tanzi, MD, suggests seeing a dermatologist. However, for instant brightening and softening, many of the at-home versions work just as well as a peel you'd get at a spa. My personal favorite is Bliss That's Incredi-Peel, $49, which contains a blend of glycolic and alpha-hydroxy acids in a pad. Unlike most peels, you don't have to wash off the formula after 10 minutes -- you can actually sleep with it on and the ingredients release over time.

Our verdict: See a doctor if you're looking for drastic results; an at-home version works well if you're just looking for a little extra glow.

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Boxed hair color has come a long way in recent years -- so much so that you've probably considered breaking up with your colorist to save some cash. And depending on what color change you're after, DIY is not necessarily a bad idea. "If you're only changing your natural color one or two shades, or if you're covering a few grays, you can definitely do that at home," says celebrity colorist Marie Robinson. She recommends Clairol Nice N' Easy Perfect 10, $13.50, for do-it-yourself applications.

However, if you love your multi-tonal highlights or platinum blonde look, you definitely want to see a professional. And surprisingly, brunette colors are the hardest to get right. "They turn orange really easily," explains Solano. "And once you change your salon color, it's going to be hard to get it back."

Verdict: Go to the salon for anything significant. Choose at-home color for subtle changes.

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If you're a Shellac addict, you've probably done this math: two $50 manicures each month equal $1,200 a year. That's a lot of money to spend on your nails. While the at-home kits aren't cheap either, you'll get many more applications for the cost. I tested the Sephora by OPI Gelshine At-Home Gel Colour System, $159 (comparable to three in-salon gel manicures), and loved the results. There are 16 great colors to choose from, and the application process isn't any harder than a regular mani. The catch, of course, is how well you do your own nails to begin with.

Verdict: As long as you have a steady hand, choose DIY.

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There are at least a half a dozen at-home keratin treatments that have launched in the last year, and many of them are available at the drugstore. With all the controversy about dangerous ingredients like formaldehyde in some of the salon versions, I decided to try a do-it-yourself kit instead. Even though I opted for the higher-end Keratin Perfect 30 Day Brazilian Hair Smoothing System, $90, I was underwhelmed by the results. My hair was noticeably smoother, but the effects only lasted for a few days -- not 30. Plus, some of the shorter strands around my face became brittle and started to break off at the ends.

"It's kind of scary -- anyone can buy a professional iron that goes up to 450 degrees," says Solano. "But not everyone's hair can take an iron that hot." Unfortunately, both at-home and in-salon keratin treatments generally require that you flat iron your hair at 450 degrees. "In this case, doing it at home is going to be more damaging to your hair," she explains.

Verdict: Go to the salon.

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At-home waxing can be scary -- especially if you're considering a DIY bikini wax. However, with the right tools and some practice, you should be able to get great results at home. The Sally Hansen Simple Wax Warmer Kit, $19.99, is a miniature version of the gadgets they have in most waxing spas -- and it works just as well. "Always start with clean, dry skin -- you don't want the wax to stick to anything but the hair," says New York City esthetician Natalia Higginbotham. "In the beginning, you'll only want to wax very small sections until you get comfortable." She also stresses the importance of breathing. You should inhale deeply; then exhale as you remove the strip. Another good rule of thumb is to only wax areas you can see easily.

Verdict: Go to a professional for a Brazilian; try DIY for everything else.

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Summer is peak season for beauty treatments. From spray tans to bikini waxes, it seems like the higher the temperature gets, the more high maintenance we become. And it makes perfect sense -- if we're showing more skin, we want that skin to look as pretty as possible.

I'd rather be at a spa than just about anywhere else, but even I experience beauty treatment fatigue this time of year. Not to mention the cost of salon treatments and the significant time commitment -- I could spend my entire summer getting ready for the beach without ever actually stepping a well-pedicured foot onto the sand.

This is where at-home beauty treatments come in. Fortunately, there are at-home versions of just about every service imaginable. Maybe it's a result of the recession, but more and more companies are dedicating time and energy to making DIY products that are as good -- or even better -- than the ones you'd find at a spa or salon.

I set out to test some of the newest at-home versions of these treatments, and I asked experts to weigh in with their recommendations as well. Much of what they said was surprising (it's pretty awesome when a salon owner tells you when to not come into the salon). Read on for the at-home beauty treatments that'll get you feeling primped and primed for the season -- with enough time and cash to really enjoy everything summer has to offer.

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