Interviews

Celebrity Hairstylist Laura Polko on the Importance of Not Fixating on Instagram

Looking at Laura Polko’s September schedule is a bit overwhelming. First, she was in LA, giving Hailee Steinfeld some tousled waves for her “Graduation” music video and pulling Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s silky locks into an effortless chignon. After that, Polko jetted back home to New York, where she found herself in the throes of Fashion Week™. She was booked solid for the next seven days, running between the homes and hotel rooms of Martha Hunt, Charlotte Lawrence, and Gigi and Bella Hadid, as she got them all ready for the red carpet, front row, and runway.

Next, it was back to LA for Emmys® weekend, where Polko pulled Lea Michele’s hair into a tight pony. Days later, she was off to Paris to work her magic on Karlie Kloss’ new bob and swoop Gigi Hadid’s luscious waves into a sleek bun. She even attended friend and artist-on-the-rise Austyn Weiner’s collaborative show with Each x Other™. Throughout the month and during her travels, Polko also somehow found the time to hang out with her three-year-old daughter, Breeze, meet up with friends for girls’ (and moms’) nights out, and, of course, style her own long, blonde waves in her signature beachy look. Whew.

It seems truly unfathomable that Polko could swing all of this, but then again, so does her very existence. She’s become one of the biggest players in the industry, regularly working with the likes of Chrissy Teigen and Poppy Delevingne, and creating looks for The Met Gala™ and Oscars® along the way. She’s built a successful life for herself and her family, all by the time she was 32. Yet, none of this seems the least bit surprising when you hear how passionate Polko is about her job and how hard she’s worked to get there. 

“I feel like I really just got lucky,” the Ohio native says. The truth is, she worked tirelessly to make it big as a hairstylist. Polko knew from a young age that she wanted to do hair, and she fought her parents tooth-and-nail to let her attend the Aveda Institute® in lieu of traditional college. She worked in her home state for about a year and a half before moving to New York at just 20 years old. It was there that Polko discovered her niche. “I knew I wanted to do hair, but I didn’t want to work in a salon, so I had to figure out what exactly that meant,” she explains.

She became the personal assistant to a model-turned-DJ for a year, traveling around the world and meeting members of the fashion set. “I worked with her and travelled around, and I learned a lot about that whole world,” the hairstylist remembers. Then, a friend asked her to help do the hair for a Fanta® commercial. It paid $500, but it felt like a million bucks to 22-year-old Polko. From there, it led to more and more work, and she soon found herself working with celebrities on various shoots, even if she was only assisting. The clients liked her and started sharing her name with their friends, and eventually, their followers. 

Polko developed an Instagram® presence herself, posting photos of a beachy bob she did on Kristin Cavallari and a braided up-do on Vanessa Hudgens. She started doing hair for magazine covers, and stars sought out her magic for big red carpet events and everyday styles alike. Just over a decade after first coming to New York, her ambitious plans of making it big in hand, Polko has done just that. She’s become one of the most in-demand hairstylists in the world today, and she owes it all to her grit, determination, and genuine kindness. Read on to learn more about Polko’s career, and the products and practices that have helped her get to where she is today.

Spotlyte: How did growing up in the Midwest impact your career, if at all? 

Laura Polko: I remember when I first came to New York, everyone would say, “You’re so normal,” which is the weirdest thing to ever hear. But it really helped with just being free and open and being personable — like with manners and things that you learn in the Midwest that maybe aren’t pushed on you in other parts of the world. It made me more open, and it made people want me around more. Ultimately, my job comes down to you having to want me around at the end of the day — if you don’t like me as a person, I’m not going to work. With anything that requires being one-on-one with someone, if people don’t like you or care what you have to say, you’re not going to be there. There are a million people who can take your spot.

Spotlyte: Was there one thing that you think really set you apart from the rest?

LP: I feel like I started with celebrity a little bit later than most people do. Most people get into working younger, especially with hair and makeup, and next thing you know, you’re like, “Oh my god, you’re only 24? Ugh, I’m such a loser.” But it was really important and critical that I spent so much time having fun and living life — when I really felt like it was time to settle down and start working, it flowed a lot better. With that said, I really appreciate all those moments that led me there. It all shaped who I was. If I’d just jumped in and was brand new from Ohio and started working, I still would have been a little bit too green. Figuring it out and navigating it all was really what helped me.

Spotlyte: When did you know you really made it?

LP: I got really lucky, because my friend Nico did this thing when Instagram was brand new — when if a celebrity posted something that you did, you’d gain like 5,000 followers, not lose 5. She started this thing called Find Your California®, and it was in New York and had kind of a cool, retro vibe. She was using it more like a blog. We shot Poppy Delevingne and Ashley Benson, and I did a couple of those, and it just kind of catapulted into all celebrity. 

I remember when she was like, “OK, we’re gonna shoot Ashley Benson tomorrow,” and I said, “Oh, but I have to do a day with Saks® ecommerce,” and she was like, “Girl, I’m not telling you what to do, but I would definitely quit that job.” And so, I called in and said I wasn’t going to do it, and they were pissed, but I knew this was the better opportunity. At the end of the day, I’m still 1099, still freelance, so I have to do what’s best for my goals, which is hard at any job. It’s hard to let people down, but it was what I needed to do, and I’ve never had to go back to Saks. That was the big break that I feel really helped.

Spotlyte: What does your creative freedom look like? Do your celeb clients typically trust you to get creative with their hair? Or are you more limited?

LP: Every job is so different, and every client is different. Sometimes you show up, and people are like, “I don’t know,” or they have a really strong opinion on makeup and don’t know where to go with hair, or sometimes, it’s the other way around. I will say, you don’t get as much creative freedom as you would think, especially working with the people that I do. I know that if I ever have my makeup done, I want them to do it exactly how I say. And at the end of the day, you have to make the client feel comfortable, because they’re the ones going out with it. It’s not about your hairstyle or your makeup; it’s about what will work for them.

Spotlyte: Are there any celeb clients who have turned into friends?

LP: I’m pretty friendly with a lot of people that I work with. Chrissy Teigen and I have kids who are around the same age, so I’ll go to birthday parties and stuff like that, which is always fun, and I went on vacation with them last summer. A lot of them turn into friendships, because they have to like you and like hanging out with you. It’s easier to actually have friendships with people when I’ve spent time living my life, and know how to have fun and be in social settings, which sometimes people lose sight of how to do.

Spotlyte: How do you stay level-headed when working with huge names like Chrissy Teigen and Gigi Hadid, and styling for the Met Gala and the Oscars? 

LP: Some people get starstruck and all these things, but I don’t. It doesn’t really phase me. I feel like people who are big names and very successful are the ones who tend to be the nicest, and they’ve definitely vetted you, so you’re there for a reason. They found you, or they requested you, or you came recommended, so it’s not just a random thing. They’re all nice.

Spotlyte: You obviously work with legendary makeup artist Patrick Ta quite a lot. What is it like working with him?

LP: I love Patrick! He’s helped me so much in my career, and it’s nice to have a safe place where you can openly talk about work and how you’re feeling. But we also both like to have a good time. With hair and makeup, it’s a bit of a dance — I know how to make sure the hair doesn’t get all over the makeup, and if I need help tying off a ponytail, he knows how to do it, so that always goes appreciated. He’s just a great friend to me, and I think he’s f*cking incredible, so what else could you want?

Spotlyte: It's safe to say you're known for your Instagram presence. Do you have any secrets to your amazing content?

LP: Oh my god, really?! I really feel like I don’t fixate on it that much, which is good because a lot of people do. It ultimately doesn’t matter: if a post doesn’t do well, you can always blame the algorithm! Being able to put photos of my daughter in there helps break it all up. People like to see that you have a real life, too. It’s nice to be able to tell what kind of vibe you’re going to get from somebody when you look at their page. And it’s the go-to these days. No one is clicking the link to your website anymore — that’s for sure!

This is a hard profession, especially with social media and stuff. Your highs feel so high, and your lows feel so low. It’s hard to look on Instagram and see a job that you missed out on, or all the things you haven’t done. But I try to focus on the really big stuff, and all the things that have led me here. It’s a really interesting job, because it always looks like it’s nothing but fun, but the inner turmoil you feel is another story.

Spotlyte: What's your go-to hairstyle for yourself?

LP: It’s always down with a middle part, and I air-dry it because if I blow dry it, it doesn’t do this little thing around my face — I kind of tuck it as it’s damp, so it gets a little bend around the face and opens it up. I always use a deep conditioner because my hair is dry, and otherwise, it’ll be like straw, and then I use a leave-in conditioner. The shampoo and conditioner I’m actually really into right now is from hers™. Sometimes, I’ll throw in Aveda® Damage Remedy®. For leave-in, I like Unite® 7SECONDS® Detangler, and I also like Sun Bum® leave-in

Spotlyte: How often do you wash your hair, and how often do you use heat tools?

LP: I wash my hair probably every other day, and I love some Bare Batiste™ from Batiste® Dry Shampoo in between. If I do use tools, I’ll use the T3® 1.25-inch iron, like just around my face. But I feel like my hair is too fragile to use tools every day, and I want it to grow longer. 

Spotlyte: Whom do you trust for a haircut or color?

LP: I always go to Tauni at Nine Zero One℠ because she’s the best. I rarely cut my hair, but sometimes, if she says that it’s really got to go, maybe I will. But she listens to me, and she does an amazing blonde. She’s been telling me to go back to blonde for ages, and I don’t know what I was doing, but suddenly, I was like, “OK, let’s do it. I’m ready,” and I’ve been getting so many compliments since. My hair never breaks with her, which is great.

Spotlyte:What's your best advice for handling a “bad hair day?”

LP: Dry shampoo and a basic pony are always options. I also love a headband if you’re having a bad hair day, to be honest. You can leave it down, or do a low pony and get a little volume at the crown of the head, and it’s like a whole other style. But if your hair is just not agreeing you, you can also do just a low, messy bun — something that can take it from a bad workout hairstyle to actually something that’s cute.

Spotlyte: What, in your opinion, is the worst hair trend of the last decade?

LP: That’s hard! I don’t feel like any of them were that bad. But I can’t with rainbow hair, or when people would shave one half of their head. I really hated those — I’m always like, why? But as far as styles, there really aren’t any that I absolutely hate.

Spotlyte: What's your favorite hair trend of today?

LP: Easy: undone hair is always going to be a thing, as will sleek, straight hair. The bob and the turned-under will last a while. People are really into that. In general, the simple, steady, classic ones are always going to be around. 

Spotlyte: Do you have any philosophy when it comes to hair?

LP: Sometimes, easier is better, because people feel the sexiest that way. It’s all about how you feel, and when you feel like your hair looks good or it’s voluminous or whatever — not necessarily round-brush, blown-out, but just easy and undone and sexy — you’ll always feel your best. That’s what’s most important.

Spotlyte: What are your biggest skin concerns, and how do you address them?

LP: I actually don’t have that many skin concerns. While I was pregnant and right after I had my daughter, I had pretty bad melasma. As my hormones balanced out, it pretty much went away. If I get a facial, especially in LA, people make comments about it, but I always kind of liked it. I still only use a super light coverage foundation, so I’m not really worried about much. 

Spotlyte: Do you get treatments to care for your skin?

LP: I do like microneedling to target any fine lines. I like Dr. Diamond for microneedling and Clear + Brilliant® laser, and stuff like that, and then there’s a place called Daphne Spa℠ in New York that I like. They’ll like really go in on you, which is the dream. The other person I like is Cynthia Franco for facials and microneedling. I really am such a big fan of micro-needling! It’s regenerative, and it helps keep you looking young, which is what everyone is essentially trying to do.

 

[Editor’s note: As always, talk to your doctor before starting any new treatment.]

Spotlyte: What are your go-to skincare brands?

LP: I like OSEA®, and I like La Mer®. I feel like I’ll use almost anything. I also like Natura Bisse®. I honestly use so much stuff, but those are probably my favorites.

Spotlyte: What is your nighttime haircare routine?

LP: I always sleep on a silk pillowcase to prevent breakage, but nothing really beyond that.

Spotlyte: What are your thoughts on injectables, and have you tried any?

LP: I’ve only tried injectable wrinkle reducer. I’ve never done filler. I get injectable wrinkle reducers once a year at the most, just here and there, with Dr. Diamond. I started doing it before I was pregnant, in my late twenties, and then stopped for about a year while I was pregnant, and started again a couple of years ago. I don’t want to do anything else yet. I’m really putting that off as long as possible.

[Editor’s note: Injectable wrinkle reducers temporarily smooth the look of moderate to severe wrinkles in certain areas of the face, including the forehead, frown lines, and crow’s feet; they should not be used more frequently than every three months. Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, both injectable wrinkle reducers and injectable fillers have potential risks and side effects. Talk to a licensed provider to see if they’re right for you. And learn more now by chatting with a trained aesthetic specialist.]

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Spotlyte: Do you have any self-care methods that help you stay sane when you're flying from coast to coast and working crazy schedules?

LP: It’s important to stay really grateful for all that I have, and all that I’ve accomplished. It’s easy to just think about work, but I truly am grateful for all the fun that I’ve had and all these people who are my friends. I also think having my daughter reminds me how lucky I am every single day, because she’s the most grounding thing. I can go have fun, but then I get to come home to her. Even when I was in my postpartum and thought I might never crawl out of that hole, I did, and she was there to remind me just how lucky I am. You know, I’ve really got it good. I also love working out, and that really helps. I’m super into Y7 [Studio®], but I’ll do all sorts of different stuff. I really like this place called Lagree [Fitness®] in LA, too, because it’s only half an hour. 

Spotlyte: What's your biggest beauty indulgence?

LP: I love getting massages. I could do that every day. If I finish work early, and it’s during my daughter’s naptime or she’s still at school, I’ll just sneak one in for an hour. It’s the first thing I’d do.

Spotlyte: How do you achieve a work-life balance?

LP: It’s so easy to be like, “Oh, I have a busy week, and I can’t grab a drink after work because I have to wake up at 7 a.m. tomorrow,” but I wake up at 6 a.m. every damn day, no matter what I do. It doesn’t matter if I go to bed at 8 p.m. or midnight; I’m equally as tired. It’s better to just go and enjoy yourself, even if just for an hour. It helps me stay sane.

Spotlyte: If you could offer one piece of hair advice to anyone and everyone, what would it be?

LP: Be aware of what you’re putting in your body, because it all comes out in your hair, skin, and nails. If you’re eating like garbage, your hair is going to reflect that; but if you’re having a green juice a day, your hair will reflect that, [too].

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