I don’t know about anybody else, but I raised an eyebrow after reading about so-called hot scissor haircuts for stopping split ends. These “hot scissors” heat up to 310°F (as if scissors weren’t already dangerous enough, right?), which, according to stylist Arson Gurgov, seals the cuticle (New York Daily News).
After years of avidly avoiding heat styling for the health of my hair, it seemed absurd to apply tons of heat to protect it … well, that and the fact that my hair isn’t plastic, so the idea of sealing, i.e. melting the ends, seems bizarre.
But, stranger things have been true, dear readers, so I decided to investigate.
“Sealing the Cuticle”?
So, when we talk about sealing the cuticle, we really mean laying down the cuticular scales of the hair shaft. Think of the cuticle like shingles on a roof, overlapping on another and protecting the inside of the shaft from damage. These protect the hair from the kind of damage that happens in the environment (e.g. UV rays), chemicals (e.g. perms), and physical or mechanical causes (e.g. combing and heat styling). In healthy hair, these lay flat; but in damaged hair, they can stick up or be broken or torn off, exposing the hair to the elements (Hair Care: An Illustrated Dermatologic Handbook).
Many of your hair products are designed to work with these scales, from acidic products that cause them to lay flat to silicones to proteins that help fill in the gaps temporarily where they’re gone (Dow Corning; Fibers and Polymers).
The Idea Behind HOT Scissors
Scissors are a pretty serious business in keeping hair healthy. Blunt blades on scissors can damage the hair by making jagged edges that could cause the cuticular scales to break or peel back (P&G Beauty & Grooming). That’s why safety scissors aren’t recommended for hair cuts and why stylists use sharp scissors and sometimes razors, which taper the end of the hair, because quality tools can reduce damage (Journal of the Japan Society for Technology of Plasticity).
According to a 1994 patent for heated scissors, the heated blades have been found to reduce the damage to trimmed hair by “cauterizing” the ends or closing the cuticular scales, allowing the hair to hold moisture better. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any actual studies to back this assertion, and I’m hesitant to believe it without data.
Skeptic’s Corner: Could These Really Work?
I haven’t been able to find any reputable scientific journals talking about these hot scissors, despite Gurgov’s saying he’s been on the latest scientific up and up about these hot haircuts. I’m not the only one who’s a little unsure of the hot scissors trend; our friends at the Beauty Brains have struggled with the same issue.
Heat from styling tools is known for causing cracks in the hair cuticle, which will inevitable cause hair to become more dry and damaged (Journal of the Society of Cosmetic Chemists). And using too high a heat on damp hair can actually cause “bubble hair” (which is less cute than it sounds), where the water in hair boils and bursts, breaking cuticles (British Journal of Dermatology).
If I had to take a stab in the dark, I’d say that if these scissors do work, it could have less to do with “sealing the cuticle” and more to do with the slight weakening of hair in the presence of heat. By weakening the ends slightly and using sharp scissors, stylists can probably make even smoother cuts than with ordinary scissors. But this, of course, is just speculation.
So far, there’s not enough research in favor of heated scissors. There isn’t research against it, per se, but there’s plenty to show the damages of heat styling. It’s possible that these scissors work, but I can’t in good conscience recommend them without any data to back them. Also, I know people who’ve gotten nicked with styling scissors and I can only imagine how much more painful it would be with these — though I suppose it would cauterize the wound.