Angel Giuffria, a self-described “bionic actor”, was born with a congenital difference in her left arm. Her left arm is below the elbow. Giuffria says that learning how to do her hair with one hand was the hardest part. She didn’t see others doing it, which led to a lack confidence in herself that she could do it. Giuffria says that only learning from people who could do it with both hands made it seem like a daunting task that I might never be able to complete, let alone master. It doesn’t help, however, that most hair products and tools can be used with just one hand, as Giuffria pointed out.
According to Michael Rockafellow, a hairstylist and stylist, it is possible to learn skills in one-armed hairstyling. Born with one arm, the St. Louis-based stylist pursued his dream of becoming a hairstylist. “I was unsure at first if I could do my hair with one hand.” Rockafellow shares that this thought “kick my confidence down.” Rockafellow has been able to overcome many obstacles despite being told that it was impossible. He also made adaptations and practice. One example of a major struggle for amputees with disabilities and single upper extremity amputees is to create enough tension between their hair, their hands and the tool or hand that shapes it into a style. Rockafellow uses a tool called EazyHold to hold on to a variety of items. This allows him to attach tools to his arm or, as he calls them, his “fin”.
Two of the most difficult challenges I have encountered are finding accessible tools and creating the necessary hair tension Rockafellow mentioned. This is a common problem for one-handed people, who often have to find creative solutions by themselves. Chelsea Porter, a brand specialist at Likeness Consulting, and an advocate for disability awareness, was born with monodactyly. This is a condition where one finger or one toe can be found on one hand. Porter uses a wall to hold her hair in place while braiding her hair. Although it might sound strange, this technique is very effective when you are open to learning new techniques. I have had some frustrating wash-and-style days and badly-shaped ponytails. This helped me to develop many helpful techniques and tips. Here’s my guide with notes and additional information from the sources. It covers all aspects of one-armed hairstyling.
Look for showering products that make it easy
Water can make everything slippery and when combined with only one hand it can cause a difficult start to your day. Finding shampoos and conditioners that are easy to open and easy to use in the shower has been my biggest challenge. Finding products that have a pump works best if you don’t own a second hand.
Accessibility should not be at the expense of quality. Luseta Biotin & Collagen Shampoo & Conditioner, Drunk Elephant Cocomino Glossing Shampoo & Cocomino Marula Cream conditioner are my top choices for their one-hand accessibility. Luseta bottles are heavy at the bottom, which prevents them from tipping over when you dispense the product. The rectangular shape of Drunk Elephant products makes it easier to grip the bottle than if it had rounded sides. You can use your knees or feet to aid. These combos save my hair from frizzy, unruly hairs that can make hair styling post-shower a bit more difficult.
Buy bigger bottles
The bulk or larger sizes are more popular because they often include a pump. The Drunk Elephant products are the ones I prefer. I choose the 25 oz containers with a pump top.
You can also get smaller towels
If your hands aren’t large enough to grasp and twist the entire towel, it can be difficult to wrap a standard-sized bath towel around your hair. You should instead choose smaller towels designed for drying hair. Kitsch’s Quick Dry Hair Towel has an elastic that keeps the towel around your head while you twist and turn it. The loop is large enough for it to fit around the button hook, so it doesn’t need to be extended with another hand. You can use your ears if you have large ears, like mine, to “hook” the towel around your head and then move on to the other side to cover your hair. It’s a bit like using face masks but with your hair instead of covering it.
Multi-use heat styling tools are a good option
My residual limb has just enough length to allow me to hold the Dyson Airwrap attachment under my armpit, while I lift the base with my right.
Giuffria explains that heat styling with one hand is difficult because it’s not possible to hold multiple tools simultaneously (i.e. A hair dryer and a brush. And the trick of wrapping your hair around a heated wand and not burning yourself.)
Multi-use tools are so useful. Rockafellow recommends using the Amika Blow Dryer Brush. This dryer-brush combination allows you to get salon-like results without having to use a dryer and a brush simultaneously. Porter also recommends Chi Volumizer 4-in-1 Blowout Brush. She says that the tool “sped up my blow drying and styling process and I will never use a separate brush or blow dryer again.” The diffuser attachment is a bonus, and can speed up the process of styling curls.
Rockafellow recommends curling your hair with a spring-form iron. This allows you to clamp your hair and twist the iron, rather than wrapping it around a wand. Hot Tools is the best choice if you are on a tight budget but still want high quality.
My favorite combination of form and function is the Dyson Airwrap. Dyson Airwrap has attachments for all things (drying, curling, straightening and drying), These attachments are interchangeable, so they can be swapped out easily. The attachments aren’t too hot because the Dyson doesn’t use high heat. This reduces the risk of burns when you use them or swap them out. My residual limb is long enough to hold the attachment under my armpit and release it with my right hand. If the residual limb is not long enough to hold the attachment, your feet or knees can be used to grasp the attachment. Then you can release the base or reattach it using one hand.
Rockafellow suggests that you buy a spring-form iron for curling hair. This allows you to clamp your hair and twist the iron, rather than wrapping it around a wand. Hot Tools is the best choice if you are on a tight budget but still want high quality. Another option is the Beachwaver. It uses spring technology to hold hair in place and then rotates at the touch of a button. Beachwaver curling irons have this feature and are available in a variety of sizes, voltages and colors to suit your needs.
Explore accessories that combine form and function
After the accident, I had to make my hair “special”. It was no longer possible to do the fun braids and elaborate hairstyles I used to love, so I had to come up with new ways to make my hair look unique.
My first and greatest saviors were hair clips. Hair styling can be done one-handed. I realized that if you don’t have the right tools, it isn’t possible to make perfect hair. So instead of hiding my mistakes with bobby pins or gel, any bumps or un-gathered hair was not a reason to start again. Instead, I chose to use the many clips in this collection. I don’t care how many clips I have at any one time. It’s a look and a way to embrace my imperfections while taking my basic pony up a notch. This multi-pack is always with me wherever I go. It’s like Bobby pins but with more fun.
Hair claws are an invaluable help if you don’t know how to use a hair tie with just one hand. Baublebar’s collaboration with Ulta is the best, and it comes in a variety of fruity, sparkly styles. After I have twisted my hair, I place it on a table or wall. I like to be able to sit or crouch and the edge holds my hair in place. Then, I open the claw to secure it.
When I tie my hair, scrunchies are more successful than regular hair bands. When you have your head against a wall or couch, scrunchies are much easier to grasp. This is how I keep my hair in place. The silk and satin scrunchies are gentler for hair and more comfortable to use when twisting my hair (explained further below). The Slip Silk Scrunchies are my favorite because they have a lot of flexibility and come in different thicknesses. The Kitsch Brunch or Dinner Scrunchies, which are large-sized scrunchies, are also great options.
Find the right method for you
When I was developing my own method of tying my hair, the two most important steps were to gather all my hair with one arm and maintain enough tension so that my hair is tightened while I wrap my hair around. A couch can be used as leverage. This is what I came up with. It can be used as an arm to replace my arm while I gather my hair. You can see the complete video tutorial in this post and learn how I use my favorite products. You’ll find the best solution for you, so rest assured. Try a wall or an edge to your bed if the couch doesn’t work.
Any adaptation that works for your situation is a successful adaptation. These are just a few tips and tricks that I have found useful. However, if you’re open-minded and patient, this guide can be used as a starting point for your one-handed hairstyle. This is possible! You don’t have to be embarrassed asking for help, even if it makes your hair styling experience a little easier.