The internet is ablaze with recent videos of a pair of barbers in both Pakistan and Palestine who are bringing a unique flair — or in this case, flare —to the business of cutting hair. These barbers are using fire to help people look their sharpest.
From the early days of humanity when a couple of chaps would rub two sticks together to try to spark a flame, fire has been considered an essential, versatile tool in man's ongoing quest to stay alive and do it comfortably. So what's with the leap to the salon?
Pakistani barber Shafqat Rajput peppers his clients' hair with flammable products and then uses a small lighter to set the 'do aglow. He then combs the flames through the hair with one hand and trims the hair with shears in the other. That technique – which Rajput calls "fire cutting" – is a little bit different than the one practiced by Ramadan Edwan, a barber in Palestine, who uses what appears to be an aerosol canister as some sort of flamethrower to chargrill his clients' heads as he cuts their hair.
These two mavericks may be getting lots of attention on the social media circuit, but they aren't the only ones who use the hot stuff to cut hair. Stylists in Brazil, Spain and the U.S. have been using candles to burn the end of hair as they cut it for decades. Some say it helps smooth out the hair and get rid of split ends. Here's an example of an Illinois barber practicing the technique:
Others, like old-school Spanish barber Franco Bompieri, say the heat strengthens the hair and helps keep it from falling out. Brazilian models have turned to what stylists call velaterapia as a way to make their manes shine. Stylists twist strands of hair and then run the candle up and down them, a process the pros say shouldn't be tried at home.
Not everyone is ready to hop in the chair and fire up a new hairdo. For one thing, our friends in the fire safety crowd aren't so sure it's a good idea for these guys to be throwing flames around a crowded barbershop.
"That's an open flame and we don't recommend that anyone do that in a closed environment or elsewhere," says Judy Comoletti, a division director for the National Fire Protection Association. "Those flames are hard to control and can spread fast."
It's not clear that the risk is worth the reward. Some velaterapia skeptics say exposing your hair to fire will damage the cuticles, which protect the hair from wear and tear related to everyday life. That damage, some say, can't be reversed no matter how much Bed Head Dumb Blonde Reconstructor you use.
Several hairstylists we contacted declined to weigh in on the merits of the fire-cutting technique. Perhaps that's because barbers recognize some sort of omerta in which they promise not only not to snitch on one another, but also to refrain from talking any mess about how others practice the craft. That doesn't mean there's going to be a run on kerosene and lighters at the hair supply store anytime soon.
"Our distributor in the Middle East was shocked when he saw the video," a Paul Mitchell spokeswoman said.