John Halal & The Science Behind Beauty

By: Rachel Carpenter

Hi John! It’s so great to get to speak with you today. We wanted to start off our profile today by asking about you! Tell us about what you do and how you got into the beauty industry?


Hi everybody! My name is John Halal. I graduated from Beauty School in 1969. That may very well be before most of you were even born! I worked as a hairstylist, eventually moved into owning salons and from there opened a school. For me, that was the natural progression of things. From being a hairstylist and owning my own salon I always wanted to be an educator. Education is vitally important, so from there we ended up opening Honors Beauty College in Indianapolis. We ran that for twenty years. 


My career in the beauty industry has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. I’ve accomplished more and had more success than I ever thought I would. I’ve loved every minute of it. If you choose to be a hairstylist, then you made the right choice! Your career cannot be farmed out to other countries. People are always going to come in and need haircuts and other services and we’re always going to have a service sector. The growth in the service sector is very strong and especially so in the professional service sector. Your success means that you provide a real benefit to your clients and guests. The people that you service have to look at you with respect, and you have to earn that respect. It’s a mutual thing. You have to respect the guest or client and their wishes. I’ve heard so many people say that they don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care! So, it’s vitally important that we meet the needs of our clients. When you do that they will give you money and send their friends. 


That’s really awesome! I know that our friend Jim had mentioned your interest in the science of the beauty industry? How did you come to realize how important that was in your career?


I’ve always questioned everything! I did that as a hairstylist, a young hairstylist at that! I would go to classes that were normally put on by the manufacturer and they would tell me things. From there, I would go back to the salon and do it just as they said. But so much of it just didn’t work. I knew that some of the information I was getting wasn’t really objective or accurate. It was all marketing. In the beauty industry, they call that puffery. That’s a term used to mean exaggerated marketing claims. I was a high school graduate at the time but I swore that when my kids were raised I would go to college to learn more about the things I questioned. Well, one day I discovered that my kids were old enough and it was time for me to either go to college or to stop talking about it. I started taking part-time courses at night. Science fascinated me. Very quickly, I learned how to identify what really goes on with the chemistry we use in the salon. And make no mistake- we use chemistry in the salon every single day! Shampoo, conditioner, hair coloring, permanent waving, chemical hair relaxers- that’s all chemistry! It’s not necessary that you be a chemist. I am not a chemist, and although I have studied a great deal of chemistry, I don’t want to be! I am a technician. A hair stylist is a technician and technicians apply technology. It’s vitally important that we understand how the technology works- the dynamics of it. You don’t have to memorize a bunch of big words. That isn’t the point. The point is understanding how a particular service really works. If we cut someone’s hair too short, it’s obvious. You can see where you held the scissors and held the hair. If you make a mistake, you can see that and learn from it. But when you are doing hair color and it turns out green, and it’s not Saint Patrick’s Day, something went wrong! If you don’t know what went wrong you’re not going to know how to fix it. Understanding the dynamics of the chemical reactions, like oxidations of chemical relaxers and permanent waving, and how those beauty practices really function, or those chemicals really work, gives you the ability to control them. I think I’ve made that my niche in this industry. I wanted to understand the chemistry. It wasn't intentional, it just came out that way. I think that’s why I have been so successful. I understand that the majority of our business is hair color. Before hair color was popular we would have never done the kind of volume of chemical services we do today. That’s where the big ticket is. Haircuts are great, but we’ve got to add on services. No client is more loyal and dependent on you than a hair color client, but you have to earn their trust and consistently deliver superior results. If you don’t understand the chemistry of the tools you are using, you really can’t do that.

Is this realization from your education that led you to form How Beauty Works?


Yes, I have authored two books for Milady, “Hair Structure and chemistry Simplified” and the “Haircare and Product Ingredient Dictionary”. In addition, I’ve written several chapters in the Milady standard textbook. When I sold my school and retired a few years ago I started a website called “Chemistry Simplified” and in the last few years it has morphed into “How Beauty Works”. I’ve produced several videos and in them we discuss how beauty works, meaning how do chemical services work, how does shampoo work, how does a conditioner work, etc. So we morphed that into a new title. I plan on making more videos for both consumers and professionals because there is too much misinformation out there. I see it all the time, people jump to conclusions. What they think is going on and what it seems is going on in that chemical reaction may not be what is happening at all. In order to clear up those misconceptions I feel like I have an obligation to do that.


I think there is a focus on safety now more than ever, especially in the beauty industry. I think people are beginning to question things a bit more!


Yes! Let me talk about something that’s very timely. It’s the time of year for sunscreen. One of my videos is all about sunscreens. There's a popular misconception about sunscreens that doubling the SPF doubles the protection and that’s simply not true! An SPF of 15 affords 95% protection while an SPF of 30 only increases the protection by 2% but it takes twice as much active sunscreen ingredients to achieve that 2%. Further, an SPF of 100 takes four times the ingredients of an SPF 15. You’ll see this in my video. You can never achieve 100% protection. There is no such thing as a total sunblock, just sun filters. If you have allergic reactions to sunscreens you should stay with the SPF of 15 and avoid the extra ingredients. The higher concentration of those ingredients can put you in jeopardy of an allergic reaction. There’s no reason to use more. SPF only refers to protection from UVB - the sunburn rays. SPF is just about sunburn. We must also be aware of the danger from UVA rays - the aging rays. These rays penetrate deeper. They don’t have as much energy, so they don’t cause sunburn, but they do damage the tissue and are a major cause of skin cancer and premature aging. You always need a sunscreen labeled Broad Spectrum which protects from both UVB and UVA rays. It is also better to use inorganic sunscreens. They are inert and physically reflect the rays, while organic ones absorb the energy and react to it. Mineral, inorganic sunscreens that are Broad Spectrum are exactly what you want. It’s all in the video !


Wow! I had no idea!


You see, there are a hundred more things just like that and the beauty industry is so full of misconceptions. I hope if anyone reading this has any questions they can contact me at


Great! I have another big question for you... How do you feel about the beauty industry right now?


So, right now COVID-19 is going on and it has definitely affected the beauty industry but, other than that, I believe the beauty industry has never been stronger. The service sector in this country has the strongest growth and they can’t export our jobs to other countries. Our services have to be done here and by licensed professionals. I believe as a student or young professional your future is secure, but you have to invest yourself in it. It takes energy. Most successful people do what people who aren’t successful will not do. You must be willing to take advantage of all opportunities, constantly desiring to learn more and improving yourself. I know hairdressers who have been in it for 20 years and talk about being burned out.  I think in most cases it’s their own fault. They’re not approaching it properly. My clients would cancel a doctor’s appointment to come and see me. They want to come to see you if you take care of them and establish a relationship based on mutual respect and trust. You will develop a loyal client base and they will send their friends who will become loyal clients.

That’s so motivating and good for students and young professionals to hear heading into their careers!


You can be as successful as you want to be and you can make as much money as you want to make. You just have to apply yourself and do the work that others are unwilling to do. But that’s the joy in it! Every day you’re getting better. I was a much better hairdresser at the end of my career than at the beginning. I never got tired of my job because every client was a new challenge and a pleasure. You have to be competitive with yourself, rather than cutting others down. You never get better on your own by cutting down others in the industry. The two questions we always asked was, what do you like most about your hair and what do you like least. That was always part of our interview.


What’s the biggest piece of advice that you would give students about to graduate or just graduated and getting started in their beauty career?


Constant, continuous improvement is one thing! It should always be a pleasure to serve the needs of your client. When you’re looking for your first job the salon owner doesn’t care how great of a stylist you think you are. They want soft skills. They want someone who knows how to respect the client and talk to the client: someone who is constantly learning. Hairdressing isn’t super difficult compared to other things but your new employer also wants you to be business-oriented. You should know your average ticket price, how much you’re upselling, the percentage of retail to service sales. Beauty is a business; it’s artistic and creative, yet it is still a business and you are there to make money. 





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