While Santoro doesn't claim his method restores hair, he insists it can preserve what remains. The heat melts the hair's natural oils (or so the theory goes) which then cool to form a protective sheath around each strand. Not everyone concurs. "All it will do is make it smell like hell," says New York stylist Edward Tricomi. Bernard Portelli, owner of Washington's Okyo Salon, disagrees: "I'm truly happy he's recognized for doing something that, when done right, is good for the hair."
Maybe, though there's no scientific proof. The technique has been popular for more than a century and is still widely used around the Mediterranean, where the Sicilian-born Santoro learned his art. Married for 28 years and living in Annapolis, Md., he moved to Washington in 1967 and set up his present shop four years later. "My grandfather told me that one day I'd make it to the top," says Santoro proudly. Still, he admits there is one potential client who would be a cut above all the others. "It would be fun if the President would call," he muses, then adds democratically, "but to me, everyone who walks in my door is like the President."
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