The Odd Reason Women Are Purposely Setting Their Hair On Fire

Photo: VP Photo Studio / Shutterstock
woman getting candle cutting done

We've learned so many things from the 24 seasons of "America’s Next Top Model," including how to "smize" (smile with your eyes) and booty-touch (over-exaggerate the arch of your lower back to accentuate your butt).

But mostly, we've learned that modeling is hard. Many times, you have to do things you really don't want to, like modeling a bikini in the snow or walking a runway 25 stories up in the air, all while a photo stylist or photographer is yelling at you and treating you poorly.

To be a model, you have to do things that aren't fun. And, apparently, having someone light your hair on fire is one of them.

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What is candle cutting?

Candle cutting, also known as velaterapia is a Brazilian hair treatment that involves a hair professional running the flame of a candle up and down the hair; many models do it to get rid of split ends.

The concept has several other names, like Brazilian hair burning, candle burning, and, my personal favorite, fire hair.

Many people decide to go through with this method to get rid of split ends thanks to its incredible benefits, which include removing those split ends without removing length and boosting hair growth.

The treatment itself is intended to combat the stress caused by chemical treatments and help people with dry, damaged hair. Even model Alessandra Ambrosio posted a photo of herself on Instagram getting this Brazilian hair treatment.

How does candle cutting work?

First, the hair is separated into small sections, twisted and, like a moth to the flame, contact is made. In a kind of magical way, the burning causes the damaged parts of the hair to stick out, almost as if they were summoned by an unnatural force.

The stray hairs are singed, and the rest of the hair is given a deep conditioning treatment. The burning supposedly opens up the hair follicle (the official term is called hair shock), making it more receptive to nutrients and making the conditioning treatment even more effective.

The process takes three-and-a-half hours to complete, and velaterapia fans get it done about every four months. Burning hair is one of the worst smells on earth, so it takes a real commitment to have perfect model hair to willingly breathe it in.

While this treatment has been popular in South America for a long time, it's also available in some salons in the United States, such as the Maria Bonita Salon in New York.



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Is candle-cutting safe?

Elizabeth Cunnane-Phillips, a trichologist (someone who helps people who have hair or scalp problems) at the Philip Kingsley Clinic in NYC, says, "While burning split ends might remove the split in the hair, you're also creating a potential vulnerability to the fiber itself, which results in weaker strands. There are a lot more effective ways to remove split ends than to burn them off. I would say don't take the risk."

There are no studies that prove that burning off split ends is actually more effective than cutting them. Unfortunately, you may even cause more split ends from heat damage! You might damage your hair follicles, causing your hair to become dry, frizzy and brittle.

There are also other hefty risks:

  • searing off more of your hair than you wanted by mistake
  • catching the rest of your hair on fire
  • scalp burns
  • skin burns
  • creating more split ends

Are the risks of serious burns and your hair catching on fire worth this beauty treatment, especially when there are plenty of other ways to remove your split ends?

Other ways to remove split ends include:

  • only shampooing your roots
  • washing your hair every other day to avoid drying out your hair
  • using dry shampoo on your roots in between washes
  • using leave-in conditioners and hair oils
  • limiting the use of heated tools
  • avoiding using tight hair ties

If this sounds appealing to you, the treatment itself costs between $150-$200 to have a professional perform the candle-cutting. Don't try to cut costs by doing it yourself at home — you could actually light your hair on fire and hurt yourself or others.

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Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She's had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, Bustle, Medium, and Woman's Day. Visit her website or her Instagram.