The science of beauty

Monica Mendoza, Story and photos
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***Step into Ruth Higgins’ beauty shop at Kaiserslautern American High School and you’ll find a bevy of students ordering products, keeping budgets and reading Materials Safety Data Sheets, which detail the toxic levels of chemicals. And oh yes, they will be styling hair.

In Ms. Higgins’ beginning and advanced cosmetology courses, students are getting an introduction to business management, learning professional image and career ethics, understanding bacteriology, and working on basic hair coloring and chemical permanent wave and relaxing. It’s part of a career pathways program that gives students first-hand knowledge about careers while incorporating writing, math and science.

“There is a lot of science involved when you tint hair,” said senior LaChez McKenzie, who is investigating a variety of career options.

Four years ago, the KAHS cosmetology lab was a housing dormitory on Vogelweh. Officials from the Department of Defense Dependant Schools wanted KAHS to launch a cosmetology program as part of a career pathways program. They called Ms. Higgins out of her job as Kaiserslautern District science coordinator to do it. Ms. Higgins had opened the cosmetology program at Baumholder High School and later at Stuttgart High School. She knew how to get a program up and running, she said.

“I poured cement,” she said about building the KAHS program from scratch. She hunted for real barber-shop chairs and with the help of the school’s supply manager, Magda Engle, she found mannequin heads with real hair and other beauty supplies.

***image5***The program opened at KAHS three years ago.
“I don’t think this will be a career for me,” said junior Paris Cervantes, who had just finished rolling a perm and putting chemical solutions on a mannequin’s head. “I think it’s good to know what people are doing to your hair.”

For her students, Ms. Higgins wants them to walk away with the start of a trade that can help them pay their way through college, or become a life-long career for them. She was a hairdresser who cut and styled hair to put herself through school. She became a licensed cosmetology instructor but found herself drawn to the science of beauty and earned a degree in science.  

“There is so much chemistry involved, it’s unbelievable,” Ms. Higgins said. “I started as a hairdresser and got hooked on science.”

At the end of the advanced course, students will have about 180 hours towards earning a state board license, which requires about 1,200 to 1,500 hours. The hours earned at KAHS can transfer to a beauty academy or toward cosmetology programs at colleges, Ms. Higgins said.

“My big push is to teach students this to support their way through college,” Ms. Higgins said.

Junior Tamekia Short dreams of opening her own beauty shop one day, she said.

“I’ve been wanting this as a career,” she said. “I do all my friends’ hair. I like doing it.”