With a star-studded client list entailing names like Shakira, Alicia Keys, Dascha Polanco, Adrienne Bailon, Becky G, Anika Noni Rose, and so many more, it would understandably be anyone's assumption that Latina hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez had always intended to pursue the business of extremely good hair. On the contrary, however, it was a total accident. While Alvarez's handiwork can be spotted in sold-out stadiums across the globe (pre-pandemic, at least) and stamped onto the glossy pages of prestigious publications like Harper's Bazaar, her original plan was joining the military, not the celebrity hairstyling industry.
Born and raised in the Bronx, Alvarez did hair throughout her childhood and well into her teens. Then, after graduating high school and on the cusp of joining the military, she had a chance meeting with an industry stylist who admired how adeptly Alvarez styled her own hair, and, as cliché as it may sound, the rest was history. After accompanying her newfound mentor on set and making connections with the industry's best makeup and hair artists, Alvarez put her plans to join the Air Force on the back burner and decided to pursue professional hairstyling instead. She attended beauty school while assisting hairstylists for shoots and music videos, and after two years, she received a call from one of her mentors, Tippi Shorter. There was an opportunity, and it was Alicia Keys.
"I was asked to style Alicia Keys’s hair for her 2008 world tour," says Alvarez. "That’s when the universe lined up, and my wildest dreams came true. I was 21."
"I absolutely did not know I wanted a career doing hair until it happened," she tells us. "I simply always did hair for friends and family, and at one point, I even became the neighborhood braider. The thing is, it was always just a hobby. I didn’t know dreaming big and working hard could ever get me through the door—I thought it was unattainable."
Even though catapulting into hairstyling stardom has been, technically, a plot twist for Alvarez, she's quickly ascended as one of the top artists in her industry and has become especially well-known for her celebration of natural texture and curls (something we desperately need more of). Ahead, we're inviting you to get to know Alvarez on both a personal and professional level. From being hugged by Lenny Kravitz in Paris to the beauty advice she swaps during glam sessions with clients, keep scrolling for our exclusive interview with celebrity Latina hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez.
Who were your biggest hair icons growing up? Who are you inspired by now?
The supermodels of the '90s have always been a huge inspiration for me—I loved how strong and sexy they were. You'll notice the hair of that era was always so effortlessly tousled. Selena, Diana Ross, Farrah Fawcett, and Thalía were also major influences back then. I still find inspiration from the fashion runways and pop culture, and following other creators and artists on Instagram has been huge as well. I love how many creatives are able to showcase their art. I find inspiration in that.
You have an amazing roster of clients. Are there any relationships that stand out or are especially near to your heart?
I’ve been really blessed to have a client list made up of friends. My clients have usually come from referrals or from my agent. In this digital age, social media keeps me connected and is a great way to meet potential clients.
You work with so many strong, beautiful Latina women—what kinds of secrets do you exchange during glam sessions?
Glam sessions are full of beauty talk, and it’s usually on how to make our hair, skin, and body look the best! I love that we're always learning new things from each other. I’m usually sharing tips on how to maintain the health of their hair with the use of terry cloth towels, hair masks, detangling from the ends to the roots, how to apply clip-in extensions at home, and how to maintain them. This isn't hair related, but one of the best beauty tips I've learned from a client is the importance of lymphatic drainage massages. Now, I try my best to massage my face and neck every morning to reduce puffiness, always going in upward motions to prevent overstretching my skin.
Do you have any standout memories or styling moments?
I have so many amazing memories doing this job. I’ve toured the world four times with iconic artists, and my breath gets taken away every single time I visit a new country. I still can’t believe a Latina from the Bronx has traveled to Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, as well as so many other countries, to do hair. I would go to the artist's hotel room and do their hair with the most beautiful backdrop of whatever city we were in.
I remember one night in Paris while I was on tour with Alicia Keys. We all went to go see Lenny Kravitz perform at a festival. A few other people and I went to the side of the stage to watch him perform. Next thing I knew, Lenny walked toward us in between one of his songs and embraced me! He then walked back onto the stage and killed his set. I looked around in shock to make sure I wasn’t dreaming and then we all laughed because we realized he thought I was Alicia! To his credit, it was very dark, and I was standing with her crew. Needless to say, I didn’t wash the jacket I wore for a very long time!
What are a few styling or hair tips you'd like all Latina women to know?
1. Latinas have hair that comes in all types of textures, so my first and foremost tip is to accept your unique texture.
2. Most people don’t realize how daily stress can slow your hair growth or even make it fall out. Yoga, meditation, and regular exercise are a few simple things you can do to boost your overall health.
3. Learning to wash their hair less was something a lot of my clients had to learn. If you wash less often, you'll slowly start to see your color and natural shine come back to life. I always recommend using a color-safe or color-enhancing shampoo once a week, which will allow your natural oils to do their job and protect your hair and scalp. It depends on the person, but usually, washing your hair more than twice a week can actually strip your scalp and lead to flakes or dandruff.
4. Look for products with natural oils as opposed to processed, synthetic ingredients. Shea butter, vitamin E, argan oil, jojoba oil, and olive oil are a few of my absolute favorites for hair and scalp health.
5. Skip the heat if you want to achieve waves! Loosely braid your hair while it’s damp. Then once it’s dry, (I like to sleep in the braids overnight) unbraid your hair and rake a little bit of texture cream through your strands. It's the perfect "undone" wave style that will last the entire day or night.
You're known as a curl whisperer, and you celebrate all hair textures with your work. What are your biggest dos and don'ts when it comes to enhancing and embracing natural texture and curls?
DO: touch and fluff your curls once they’re dry. This helps add volume and body to your curls.
DON'T: overload on products. Too many products will weigh your hair down and cause buildup on your strands and scalp. Take your time to find the best products for your hair type. Finding out their hair porosity has been a major help for a lot of my clients.
DO: refresh your curls on day three or four using a cocktail mixture of leave-in conditioner and water on the ends of your hair.
DON'T: detangle dry curls. Wait for when you’ve loaded up conditioner and then use a wide-tooth comb or detangling brush to work the product through your curls. Oh, and always comb from ends to roots.
DO: sleep on a silk or satin pillowcase with your curls piled high on top of your head in a loose pineapple. This prevents waking up to frizzy, tangled curls.
If you could only use five hair products or tools for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
Mousse is so underrated, but it's really the best foundation for a long-lasting blowout.
I always give hair a light mist of hair spray, like this one from Alterna, before curling or waving. It's like insurance for making sure the style will last.
I like to use a strong-hold pomade on the hairline of my clients with curly hair. It allows me to control the hair without lots of damaging heat.
A one-inch curling iron allows me to create the perfect base for almost every hairstyle. I can create curls or loose waves depending on how I choose to use it.
This is my go-to type of flat iron. It distributes heat evenly and prevents damage to any hair type.
What are your favorite go-to hairstyles of all time, and what are your expert steps for re-creating them at home?
The curtain bang is probably my favorite style of all time. It's flattering for all hair types, and it's surprisingly easy to achieve.
First, blow-dry your fringe going toward your face using a round brush. Then, flip it so you dry your fringe in the direction away from your face. Allow your strands to cool and then spray a bit of dry shampoo on the underside of your curtain bangs to keep them fluffy.
A snatched ponytail is such an iconic and classic style that will always be in. It’s flattering on most face shapes, and I love how the height of this style accentuates the bone structure, creating the illusion of a brow lift.
Gather your hair into a high ponytail using a Denman Classic Styling Brush ($20). I like to spray the brush lightly with hair spray to get a super-sleek, bump-free finish. Use an elastic to secure your hair in place, and take a small section of hair from the ponytail and wrap it around the base of your style. Finish with a spray of hard-hold hair spray to lock in the style, and secure it with a hairpin.
Dutch braids—I always get compliments when I wear them out, and they're a great option if you're looking for something super casual. It's an easy and simple look to re-create, and the longer you wear them, the more lived-in they look, which I love.
Start with a clean center part. (I also like to zigzag my part if I’m going for a '90s vibe.) Then, prep your strands with a gel or pomade, especially if you have curly hair or frizzies. Grab three small pieces at your hairline. The piece on the right goes under the middle, and the left piece goes under that. Repeat this pattern and keep picking up hair from the root every time you weave a new section. Once you reach the nape of your neck, switch to a regular three-strand braid. Tie off with an elastic.