The bleach only stung a little. The dryer made him break into a sweat. And he wasn't quite sure what he would see once the job was done.
After getting a very small taste of the punishments many women undergo regularly in the name of good hair, newly blond Alex Beitel, 14, catches a glimpse of himself in the mirror, jumps slightly and proclaims: "Whoa!"
The former brunet breaks into a huge smile and runs his hands through his spiky rock star-esque 'do. "I think it looks cool," he says.
With his silver chain necklace, hip-hop shirt and shorts ensemble, and matching sneakers, he looks like he came straight to Neal's The Hair Studio in Baltimore from the set of MTV's "Total Request Live."
Beitel is one of many guys in his early teens to mid-20s hopping on the blond boy bandwagon.
"It's really just taken off across the country," says Angela Burt-Murray, beauty and health director for Teen People magazine. "It's not just blond girls who want to have fun anymore. Blond boys want to get in on the action."
It's a summer thing. It's a rock-star thing. It's the new big thing in boys' hair.
Towheaded teen music superstars are supposedly the key to the craze.
Just look. There's bleach all over the charts. From the blond frosted tips of 'N Sync's Justin Timberlake to the drugstore dye job-look of
Eminem to the sleek, silvery white skullcap of Sisqo, the hottest acts are hitting the bottle.
"If you look at the boy bands and the singers that are popular, you can see a lot of ... blond," Burt-Murray says. "The more you can look like Justin Timberlake, the better."
Timberlake had blond tips and streaks. So does bandmate Lance Bass. Blond for boys takes many forms, from streaks and highlights to all-over color. And it also comes in many shades; white, platinum, yellowish, gold. Whatever the hue, boy blond is most often set off with a short, close-cropped or spiky 'do.
Beitel's hair most resembles Eminem's style. But it wasn't intentional.
"I like his music, but I don't want to look like him," Beitel says.
Other Baltimore blond boys either aren't, or won't admit to, being influenced by music stars.
Richard Jackson, 20, added gold streaks not because he fancies himself a pop idol but because the Catonsville resident simply "needed a change." Says the Sabatino's employee, "I don't care what anybody thinks."
Good thing. Because not all women are in the market for a fair-haired beau, despite the edgy mystique.
"I like dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin," says Jackson's friend Lelia Isel, 20, who lives in Ellicott City. "I just don't like blonds."
Despite Isel's opinion, many gentlemen still prefer to be blonds.
Burt-Murray says Dennis Rodman gets partial credit for the freedom that men have to experiment with their hair color. He helped make the world a safe place for boys to play with hair dye without being considered effeminate or just plain weird.
But that doesn't mean they don't want to stand out.
"A lot of men are getting their hair bleached because they want something over the top," says Clay Wilson, a colorist at Bumble & Bumble, a trendy New York salon.
Wilson does about 10 bleach jobs on young men a week, and he encourages them to seek professional help when it comes to a color as extreme as bleach blond.
"With men, you want to be careful that it's a stronger color," he says, adding that brassy or warm tones just won't work.
Whether you get it done at a trendy salon or in your sink, going blond is always a statement ... one that for women at least, has spawned stereotypes and demeaning jokes.
"When a young girl goes blond, it's more about sex appeal," says Jill Turnbull, owner of Etches Salon on Falls Road. "With guys, it's more about expressing their individuality."
Is there a hair color double standard at work?
Blond on a boy signifies an arty sensibility and an edge, Wilson says. But there is a stereotype that lives on.
"I get more the surfer, 'whoa, dude' type," of hair prejudice, says Shane Mackenzie, 22, who lives in Ellicott City. He has the top layer of his hair bleached. He says his co-workers at a downtown Baltimore law firm have no issues with his hair.
Beitel says he isn't worried about stereotypes. He just goes with his impulses as far as his hair is concerned. He dyed it red earlier this summer. And his friends are into it too. One of them has polka-dotted hair.
Beitel's aunt, Patty Wolf, 38, isn't worried about his faddish hair getting him into trouble or branding him a punk .
"I'd rather have him do that than get a tattoo," says Wolf, who brought Beitel to his appointment at Neal's. In the Beitel family, an 'N Sync lookalike is OK. But at Calvert Hall College, which Beitel will be attending this fall, it's not, Wolf says.
He can enjoy his teen icon locks for the rest of the summer, Wolf says, "as long as it grows out before school."
What to do with a flaxen hairdo:
Now, boys, we know you're not used to obsessing over your hair. But unlike your last relationship, going blond is a real commitment. Here are some tips from Neal Foore, co-owner of Neal's The Hair Studio in Baltimore, on how to take care of and make the most out of your new flaxen 'do:
-- Fight the fade: Most blond hair color dulls relatively quickly. Use a violet or blue color shampoo, like ARTec's White Violet, to keep your tone true.
-- Dirty secret: To perfect that textured, unwashed look, without sacrificing hygiene, try a pomade or mousse or a mix of the two, such as Moonshine by Wella.
-- Beware of chlorine: It can give your pure blonde a nasty tint. Either wear a cap, or try a product like Sebastian's Twisted Taffy, a sticky gel that will seal your hair against the chemicals.
-- Be a chameleon: For even more fun, experiment with temporary colored mousses.