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How to Cut Your Hair at Home When You Can't Go to a Salon

Stylists break down all the tools you need and methods you should learn before taking matters into your own hands.
closeup of person cutting long brown hair with silver scissors
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Typically, we would advise against cutting your own hair. Besides the potential aesthetic outcomes, a trained professional has a certain set of tools and skills (plus a view of the back of your head) most of us do not. They know how to add layers, give you a prim and pinprick-sharp bob, or snip those bangs to perfection. But, we're also human beings. Sometimes, you just can't make it to a salon chair for one reason or another. Whatever the story is, if you're going to reach for the shears anyway, you might as well have us to guide you. Call it the Mrs. George principle: If you're gonna drink, we'd rather you do it in the house — which you may be stuck in because, you know, ongoing lockdowns.

We also called in some reinforcements: Some of our favorite and most trusted hairstyling pros are here to share their best advice on how to cut your own hair at home. This guide is best for people with straight, wavy, and loosely curled hair types. If that sounds like you, keep reading — and maybe bookmark this page for later.

First, ask yourself if a haircut is actually necessary.

Any stylist is going to encourage you to wait as long as possible before attempting to cut your own hair. Chances are, even in these pandemic streets, you'll likely be able to go to a salon safely. But not everyone can or wants to do that and we respect it.

"You don't want to end up like that one meme of the girl who cut her bangs to her hairline," says New York City-based hairstylist Erickson Arrunategui. It's taken him a decade to perfect his style and develop his skills, so mastering a great haircut on yourself with a few pro tips and tricks isn't something that can be done on the first try (or even the second or third). 

Regular trims are a necessity, especially for people with color-treated and/or heat-damaged hair. According to Arrunategui and Los Angeles-based hairstylist Justine Marjan, split ends are an indicator that you're in need of a trim.

"Split ends are usually a sign you have to cut your hair because you don't want those hairs to keep splitting up the shaft and cause irreversible damage to your strands," says Arrunategui. Split ends, he adds, usually don't start showing up until three or four months after a haircut. If you've seen a professional within that amount of time and your hair isn't feeling brittle, you can probably wait it out longer.

If you can hold off on cutting, invest in some reparative treatments.

If you can keep yourself away from the scissors until a salon visit is doable, the right products can help repair and prevent damaged ends, says Arrunategui. "I would take time to focus on the health of your hair in other ways," he advises.

For repairing split ends and managing heat damage, he recommends Bumble and Bumble's Save the Daytime protective hair serum (he works at the brand's salon in downtown Manhattan). Allure editors also love Best of Beauty Award-winning  Pro-V Intense Rescue Shots by Pantene.

Bumble and Bumble Save the Day Daytime Protective Repair Fluid

Pantene Pro-V Intense Rescue Shots

In addition to treating your hair with masks and serums, heat-styling and coloring your hair less often can significantly lengthen the time between haircuts, says Arrunategui. He adds that if a cut isn't an absolute necessity for you, it wouldn't be the worst idea in the world to simply embrace the grown-out look. "Most of the haircuts I create with the grow-out in mind," he explains.

If you're going to cut, have the right tools on hand.

You might think it's okay to reach for the kitchen scissors in your home junk drawer, but cutting your own hair with them could be a disaster, according to Marjan. "Don't use kitchen scissors!" she says. "They aren't sharp enough and can push the hair as they cut, resulting in crooked lines that are hard to fix.

Hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons agrees: "Low-quality scissors can leave your ends looking sloppy and frayed; no one wants that." He advises buying a pair of hair-cutting shears rather than using any of the regular scissors you already own. "The reason stylists use shears versus the ones sitting in your junk drawer at home is that the sharp, precise blades allow you to be much more exact and make it easier to get clean lines and edges," he explains. You can find a selection of shears online from Ulta, Target, Amazon, and more. We've also got a few pro-recommended suggestions you can consider. The sharper the scissor, the more control you'll have.

Start with clean, dry, and styled hair.

Unless you have natural curls or coils, chances are your stylist normally wets your hair before cutting it. It might seem like a good idea to copy your usual salon experience and follow suit, but Fitzsimons explains that's not exactly the case. "Wet hair allows [stylists] to be much more precise with creating clean lines, but they were also trained to do that," he says.

If you find it easier to cut wet hair, Fitzsimons suggests doing so as long as you "make sure you're comfortable versus just trying to remember what your stylist does."

Still, the best way to ensure that your at-home haircut comes out the way you want is to start with dry hair that, for the most part, looks like it would on any other day. "Make sure hair is clean and blow-dried straight or how you wear it usually so you have a clear and realistic vision of the cut," Marjan advises. This, she says, will help to "avoid any surprises, like how much the hair will shrink up when it's dry."

Whether you cut your hair while it's dry or wet, shampooing and conditioning it before doing so is an absolute necessity, according to Marjan. "If hair is oily or dirty, it will cling together and create an uneven finish," she explains.

Start with small, minor cuts.

Obviously, now is probably not the time to experiment with a drastic new style. The more drastic a cut you try to achieve at home, the more you run the risk of a major mishap. Marjan and Fitzsimons advise working in small sections and cutting hair little by little. "Don't cut to the length you want the end result to be at first — start smaller and work your way up," Fitzsimons says. "Remember, you can always trim more, [but] it is unfortunately not possible to put [hair] back once you've chopped." (If you need some easy haircut ideas, we've got you.)

Getty Images

Marjan recommends working in very small sections — just an inch or two wide when spread as thin as possible between your fingers — starting at the very front. "You can see where the hair will land, then use that piece as a guide for the rest of the hair," she says. Make sure to have a set of alligator jaw clips on hand to safely secure any stray sections while cutting. 

Pay attention to the direction of your hair and your scissors.

Now comes the part where you actually cut your hair. The way you hold your sections and scissors can greatly impact how your at-home haircut will turn out. Marjan recommends pulling the hair straight upward with your fingers because it's the easiest way to make sure hair length is even overall. Then, place your scissors parallel to the hair peeking through your fingers and snip hairs vertically rather than straight across.

"Point the scissors upwards and lightly open and close scissors on the ends of the hair," Marjan explains further. "This is a point-cutting technique that gives a more diffused finish on the ends." Basically, it's an insurance policy against uneven strands, which stand out far more when hair is cut bluntly across.

You've likely seen a stylist use this method on you numerous times, but if you're having trouble picturing it, there are plenty of YouTube tutorials demonstrating how to do it. YouTube tutorials in general, Fitzsimons points out, can be a great source of guidance when learning how to cut your own hair.

"Find someone who has a cut similar to what you're looking for and make sure they have a similar hair type," he advises. That especially goes for people with curlier hair that might benefit from a different cutting method. Just make sure you're only watching tutorials hosted by licensed professionals.

Be extra careful with bangs.

Marjan warns that trying to cut new bangs or face-framing layers is a surefire path to regret, but trimming existing ones is far easier. She advises sectioning your hair in a triangle as seen in this video of hers. When parting hair like this, Marjan likes to use the arches of her eyebrows as a guide to determine the outermost edges of the section. Then, you might want to take a deep breath and relax your hands.

"Place the hair in a comb with no tension," she explains. "Use the comb as a guide for a straight line, then cut upwards with the scissors." But whatever you do, be patient and keep your cuts minimal. Otherwise, you might wind up cutting your bangs way shorter than you anticipated.


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