A Handy Guide to the Confusing World of Hair Products

Shannon Farrell
Photo: ImaxTree

Photo: ImaxTree

Whether a product has been used for generations or has recently become a staple in your daily routine, nine times out of ten you’re not only using it incorrectly, but for the wrong reasons. Regardless of the style you’re going for—long and straight, curly and sideswept, thrown up with tousled waves—product should provide a helping hand to get you there, not add unnecessary complication. Use this simple guide by Amanda Colihan, a stylist at New York-based Butterfly Studio Salon, as a glossary of sorts, and product overload will quickly become a thing of the past.

Purpose: Yeah, yeah. You say you know what a shampoo does and how to use it, but the many variations can make finding the right formula tricky. “In general, [it’s] used to cleanse the hair,” says Colihan. “However, the right cleanser plays a huge part in the outcome of your style. Whether you need volume, moisture or something very clarifying, make sure it’s right for your hair texture. Too much moisture can lead to build up on the hair.” On the contrary, she says too much clarification will dry the scalp or produce excess oil.
Application: It’s simple: Rotate shampoos. “Try switching back and forth between two shampoos with different benefits to keep your hair balanced, and be mindful of the look you’re going for, as the shampoo will influence results,” Colihan says.

Purpose: “Conditioners can be used to help tame frizz and smooth hair,” says Colihan. Be aware that super hydrating formulas have the tendency to be heavier on the hair, so fine-haired ladies should opt for a conditioner than maintains volume.
Application: “Stay away from your roots and stick to conditioning just the ends that would come out of your ponytail,” as well as the midshaft, Colihan advises.

Dry Shampoo
Purpose: “Usually in a powder or spray form, these versatile products have many uses and looks,” says Colihan. Apply on second day hair (or third, we’re not judging!) to absorb excess oil at the root. “They’re also great to use for adding volume or for prep before teasing.”
Application: Don’t spray directly on the hair or scalp, or it’ll clog your pores. “[Also,] try putting a little through the lengths of your hair to add texture and fullness,” Colihan recommends A common mishap: using the product too often. Extend the life of a blowout for one day, but then it’s time to wash.

Serums/Hair Oils
Purpose: By moisturizing the hair, they add shine and tame frizz. “[They’re] great for hydrating your ends or even just giving your lengths a glossy, polished appearance,” Colihan says.
Application: Colihan prefers applying them on dry or mostly dry hair. She says, “If you tend to have dry ends, [dab] an oil rich in moisture to your ‘ponytail’ right before you wash your hair. This way you can cleanse your roots and maintain moisture on your ends.”

Purpose: The foam product is raked through the hair before a blow-dry to build volume and hold a style.
Application: “ It’s one of the very few products that has the best results when applied on towel dried, or sometimes even dry, hair,” Colihan says. “Apply directly at the root and rake through the lengths before blow drying.”

Curl Enhancing Creams
Purpose: Used on straight hair, the cream builds texture, and when when used on curly hair, it defines the shape and reduces frizz.
Application: “A great way to apply these products is on towel-dried hair by either scrunching or twisting it into your hair in as little as four big sections or more smaller sections,” Colihan says.

Heat Protectant Spray
Purpose: “These products can help hold your ironed, sleek style and add a really nice polished finish for perfect smoothness. Most importantly, they protect your hair from the damage that direct heat from an iron can cause when the hair is unprotected,” says Colihan.
Application: Either spray or dab (they’re available in creams as well) the product from the midshaft down to create a shield against the heating tool. Once the hair is heated, the product leaves no residue behind.

Sea Salt Spray
Purpose: This is every woman’s go-to when she wants a matte texture and grit, and contrary to what you’d think, fine, soft hair still won’t dry out. “For medium or coarse hair, a more oil-based beach spray will benefit ends by boosting shine and give you a beachy texture without making your ends looks fried,” Colihan says.
Application: Apply from underneath the hair, starting from the bottom and working towards the top on either wet or dry hair.

Purpose: Although it’s most popular with men, even women with long hair can benefit from the wax. It’s especially helpful for fly-aways and blending in shorter hairstyles.
Application: Colihan says that you can use solo or even create a ‘cocktail’ by applying a drop of hair oil. “Work through the lengths of your hair after it’s been styled to help smooth the ends and add some definition and hold,” she says.

Purpose: No surprise here: Hairspray sets the hair, but it’s also much more versatile than you think. “You can use it to achieve volume, add texture, slick back, define, create an updo on wet hair or on dry hair; the options are endless,” says Calihan.
Application: “You should have a choice of hairspray type for your own particular styling needs. For those who don’t because they feel it makes their hair sticky or tangled, you may be applying too much.” She recommend spraying the product above your head and letting it fall onto your hair instead of applying directly: “To tame fly aways, spray onto your hands and then smooth them down with the product on your hands. Remember, the closer the bottle is to your head, the more wetness, slickness, and hold you’re going to get.”

Read more: 8 Tricks for Eating Your Way to Longer, Healthier Hair

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