Q+A with Celebrity Hairstylist Mark Townsend
Celebrity hairstylist Mark Townsend shares which products have made the cut into his kit, why architecture provides him so much inspiration, and more.
Mark Townsend is one of the most sought-after celebrity hairstylists in the industry. With a client list inclusive of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Dakota Johnson, Paris Jackson, and Natalie Portman, among others, as well as countless editorial covers under his belt, Mark truly has made a name for himself with Hollywood's most famous names. We sat down with him to learn more about his journey in the beauty industry.
Q: How did you get into hair?
I was born a hairstylist! When I was young I would steal my sister’s Barbie’s so I could cut and style their hair, and I used to sit in the kitchen and watch with total fascination as my mom, grandmother, and aunt would do each other's hair. Later, I took some time off from college and went to cosmetology school, and it was the first time I felt like I was on the right path for my life. The day I earned my cosmetology license was one of the best days of my life!
Q: How would you describe your style as a hairstylist? What’s your beauty philosophy?
I love for my clients to look “effortlessly chic” even though it takes a lot of effort to look that way. I believe there is nothing more beautiful than confidence, so I always try to help whoever is sitting in my chair to feel confident.
Q: What do you love most about your work?
As a hairstylist, I’m constantly learning new techniques and tricks about styling hair, so it’s very stimulating. As a freelance hairstylist, there is nothing predictable about my job and I love that! I could be traveling through Europe on a press tour, or working on locations for films or commercials, but what I love best is working on a team to create a look. I love collaborating with makeup artists, stylists, nail artists, photographers, and directors on a look, and I’ve built amazing relationships with these teams over the years.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
I’m so inspired by art and architecture! When I was a hair assistant in New York City, I spent any free time I had in museums looking at all kinds of art, and I’d be fascinated about how you could see movement in a still painting. I spent hours looking at works by Rothko, Keith Haring, Kandinsky, and Van Gogh, and I can see their inspiration in so many hairstyles I’ve created, especially updos. When I moved to Los Angeles I was working on tons of photoshoots, so I had the opportunity to go into some of the most incredible houses designed by architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and his son Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra, John Lautner, and Ray Kappe.
These architectural influences really showed me the importance of a strong foundation and that true beauty is timeless. These historic homes just need a little conscious updating for modern living, and I look at the hairstyles I create in the same way; a classic French twist looks totally modern when you add some texture to the hair before twisting it up, or by moving a classic ballerina bun from the crown of the head forward a few inches, you have a totally modern top knot.
Q: When you think of all of the looks you’ve created, is there a favorite that comes to mind? What is it?
Oh, that’s tough to narrow down to one look, and the answer could change almost daily. I think I’m most proud of the looks I’ve created with Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen over the last 17 years.
Q: What are some essential tools and products in your kit?
A tool or product has to really prove it works to make it into my kit. As a freelance hairstylist, I am almost always under some pretty strict time restraints, and I usually have 45-90 minutes to create a look. If an iron leaves a kink in the hair or a gel or hairspray flakes, I don’t have the luxury of washing the hair and starting over, so I have to be totally confident that my tools and products will not let me down. There is lots and lots (I mean A LOT!) of testing before a product or tool gets packed into my kit, so these are my essentials:
Dove Volume and Fullness Dry Shampoo
This is by far the most used product in my kit (and the most likely to be taken by a client)! I use this dry shampoo on almost every hairstyle I create. If I’m starting a style on dry, unclean hair, then I’ll spray the dry shampoo at the roots and massage for a few seconds, and then brush it through. For added volume, I spray this at the roots before backcombing. For that dreamy 2nd day hair texture everyone loves, I spray this all over the hair and scrunch with my hands. I spray this on a flat brush and brush through bangs and face-framing layers that can look weighed down or greasy throughout the day.
Virtue Labs Split Ends Serum
This is like a haircut in a bottle for all my long haired clients! A few drops on the bottom few inches of the hair are all it takes to hide those pesky split ends.
Oribe Royal Blowout Spray
This works on all hair types to soften and smooth the hair, and helps shorten the blowout time.
Dove Micro Mist Extra Hold Hairspray
This is my all-time favorite hairspray! It gives the hair great hold and shine without ever getting sticky or flaking when brushed through.
Ted Gibson Shooting Star Texture Meringue
I’m obsessed with this foam! It’s great to put in wet hair before a blowout, but I really like taking a golfball-sized amount in my hands, rubbing them together, and then raking the product through dry hair to create an amazing “2nd day” texture to the hair.
R Session Pro Tools Tidal Waver
This is like having 6 tools in 1! This double barrel iron with different sized rods is what I use the most to create uneven beds in the hair. It’s also a super easy shortcut to creating “flat iron waves” on yourself.
Spornette Porcupine Round Brushes
Every blowout I’ve done over the past 20 years was with a Spornette mixed bristle round brush. I've never found anything at any price range that gives you a blowout like these brushes do. The longer plastic bristles pick up the hair from the root, giving you great volume, and the shorter natural bristles close the cuticle and smooth the hair.
Harry Josh Ceramic Flat Styling Iron
I love the adjustable heat settings, and the ceramic plates help get the hair super smooth and super shiny.
Q: What are some of your personal favorite products you can’t live without?
I’m a recovering (and oftentimes relapsing) nail biter, so I’m constantly running The Cure cuticle repair cream by Deborah Lippman on my nails to keep them from drying out. It also makes me look like I’ve had a manicure if I haven’t in months.
I’m obsessed with Jillian Dempsey Gold Vibrating Sculpting Bar! It’s like a massage for your face and helps lock in your moisturizer. It’s also the most relaxing time of my day so I never miss using it!
I have oily and sensitive skin, so I use the Tatcha Rice Polish Deep Foaming Enzyme Powder twice a week for a nice deep cleansing.
Counterman Conditioning Beard Oil smells great and softens my beard hairs., which is great since my beard has gone about 80% grey.
Retrouvé Revitalizing Eye Concentrate hides years of jet-lagged under-eye bags!
My hair is fine and I’m losing more hair every day, so I spray Dove Brunette Dry Shampoo on my scalp to make my hair look fuller.
Oribe Flash Form Finishing Spray Wax gives my hair piecey-ness without weighing it down.
I run the Kuschelbar Heated Hair and Beard Straightener through my beard to soften those coarse hairs, and then run it over my wavy hair to take out the frizz and give my waves a more uniformed look. I also use this iron on my clients with bangs because it's perfect to flatten down any cowlicks on the hairline.
Rapid Fire Round
Q: Makeup artist partner in crime:
I have so many great makeup artist friends that I get to spend my work days with! I’ve had some pretty fun and wild adventures traveling the world with Sabrina Bedrani, Kate Lee, Molly Stern, Rachel Goodwin, Georgie Eisdell, Fiona Stiles and many others. They are all my partners in beauty crime!
Q: Product you can’t leave home without:
Tatcha Silken Pore Perfecting SPF 35 Sunscreen and La Mer The Lip Balm.
Q: Drugstore favorite:
Dove Intensive Repair Conditioner. So many of my clients swear by this conditioner and will leave it in their hair for 10-15 minutes each week for a deep condition.
Q: Worth the splurge:
Iles Formula Haute Performance Finishing Serum is amazing to run through the hair just after a blowout, and is light to use for touch-ups throughout the day.
Q: Recent discovery:
Collective Laboratories Activating Serum is a game changer! I’ve been applying this serum to my scalp, especially on my receding hairline, every day for 5 months and I can’t believe how much fuller my hair has gotten. I actually have new hairs coming in on my hairline!
Q: Brand you wish more people knew about:
Hush & Hush. I discovered these supplements about 6 months ago and I’ve never felt better. The Deeply Rooted has helped me get my hair longer and thicker than it’s been in decades!
Q: Favorite scent:
I love the smell of real gardenias, Pope John Paul II roses, and the way Chanel Coco Eau de Parfum smells on my mom.
Q: Your last beauty empty:
I’m literally scraping the very bottom of my Jillian Dempsey Roadie Hair Pomade. It’s perfect for my wavy hair!
For more of Mark's favorite products, check out his shop below.