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Run into me midday and you'd never know I started the morning with gobs of anti-frizz cream and a half-hour flatiron session. By that point, my thick hair has morphed into a poufy mess. A hairstylist finally uncovered why my frizz-fighting product was failing me: water. As the first ingredient listed on the cream's label, H2O made the product a great option for fine, damaged hair—but not potent enough to manage my rebellious tresses. "Women research the ingredients in their skin-care products, but few do with their hair products," says cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski, author of The Beauty Aisle Insider.
Complicating matters further, many of us don't really know what type of hair we have. It's not just oily or dry. Hair is categorized by three characteristics: porosity (how much moisture it can hold), elasticity (how easily it breaks), and texture (how thick it is). This equation takes into account the hair you were born with, plus what you've done to it (color, blow-dry, style). "Once you figure out where your hair falls within these categories, you'll be able to choose products with ingredients that will make it look its best," explains Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips, a trichologist (hair and scalp pro) at the Philip Kingsley Institute in New York City. Step one in ending bad hair days? Follow the arrows to determine your true hair type, then discover ingredients, products, and styling tricks tailored for it.
BY KARINA GIGLIO
What your hair has in healthiness, it lacks in volume. Each strand is thin and can't hold its own against certain hair-care ingredients. Focus on tress-plumping products and avoid heavy ones, which will make hair fall flat within hours of styling.
Do it every day. "Sebum, dirt, and sweat buildup can make hair lifeless and increase shedding and thinning," explains Phillips.
Look for words like thickening, volumizing, or amplifying and ingredients like natural cellulose and polymers (both add bulk by filling in the spaces between strands). "Go for a shampoo that's translucent—opaque formulas generally have more intense moisturizing ingredients, which may interfere with volume," says Jeni Thomas, a senior scientist at Procter & Gamble. Try Bumble & Bumble Thickening Shampoo (1), $23, bumbleandbumble.com.
Don't skip it; just apply to ends.
Cetrimonium chloride, cyclomethicone, and glycerin detangle and add lightweight hydration without any drag, says Romanowski. Try Aveeno Pure Renewal Conditioner, $7, at drugstores.
Avoid dimethicone and behentrimonium methosulfate, which make fine hair greasy.
Anything creamy or waxy—especially if it contains beeswax or candelia wax—will make hair look flatter than a MacBook Air.
To plump, go for a thickening spray containing polyethylene particles, nylon, polyquaternium, or panthenol. Mist it onto damp palms and work through roots out toward ends. Try Umberto Beverly Hills Volumizer Thickening Spray, $9, target.com.
If you want texture and swing, use a mousse. Try Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl Boosting Mousse (2), $3, at drugstores.
Smooth flyaways and add shine with a lightweight serum or spray containing oils. Try Organix Nourishing Coconut Oil Weightless Healing Spray, $8, at Ulta.
While achieving fullness is a challenge for all skinny strands, the "damaged" part of your equation creates a double whammy: You need to find repairing products that don't make hair go limp. Balance volume and moisture and you'll restore your hair's luster.
Choose a sudser that's based on your scalp. It's oily if your roots get greasy within a day of washing; it's dry if it feels tight or irritated with occasional flakes.
Oily scalps benefit from a gentle shampoo—meaning one without sulfates or sodium chloride. Try Alterna Professional Haircare Bamboo Abundant Volume Shampoo, $20, sephora.com.
Dry scalp? Zinc pyrithione or carrot extract will prevent flaking and itching. Try Yes To Carrots Scalp Relief Shampoo, $8, at drugstores.
One labeled repairing, smoothing, or moisturizing will help strands look and feel like hair that hasn't been tortured. Good ingredients include glycerin (softens rough edges in a non-weighty way), pomegranate oil (a light shine booster), hydrolized elastin (for flexibility), and peptides or wheat or oat protein (to strengthen), says hairstylist Nuri Yurt, who owns Toka Salon in Washington, DC Try Phyto Phytokeratine Reparative Conditioning Treatment (1), $32, sephora.com.
Post-shower, tame and soften with a spray-on conditioner that has cyclopentasiloxane. Try Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Nutrient Spray for Damaged Hair, A $6, at drugstores. Mist it over the damaged area.
Deep-condition once a week with a mask laced with kernel oil or wheat-germ oil. Try Moroccanoil Weightless Hydrating Mask, $39, moroccanoil.com for salons. Before shampooing, apply to the bottom half of dry hair for 15 minutes.
Stay away from conditioners with dimethicone or behentrimonium methosulfate—they're too heavy for your hair.
A spray with nylon, polyethylene particles, or polyquaternium beefs up fine hair like a protein shake bolsters weak muscles. Try Pureology Pure Volume Thickening Spray (2), $21, pureology.com for stores. Mist it onto your fingers and rake them through the top inch of hair, then blow-dry upside down.
A plastic-bristle brush will smooth without stretching hair, says Tippi Shorter, a hairstylist in New York City.
Steer clear of alcohol in stylers; it dries out hair.
Just call you Goldilocks—not too much hair, not too little, but just right (and in fab condition). That means no ingredients are off limits, and any haircut or style you want is attainable. The goal is to keep your locks as pristine as they are now.
Wash every other day with a formula geared for your scalp. If your roots get greasy fast, you're oily; fruit acids will nix grease and product buildup. If your scalp feels tight or irritated and you have occasional flaking, you're dry; hydrating babassu, olive, or sesame-seed oil will help. In either case, you also want wheat or oat protein to retain hair's resiliency. For an oily scalp, try Redken Hair Cleansing Cream (1), $14.50, redken.com for salons. For a dry scalp, try Fekkai Brilliant Glossing Shampoo,$25, ulta.com.
For straight hair, stearalkonium chloride, a not-too-heavy plant-based fatty acid, offers antistatic benefits. Try Paul Mitchell The Cream, $17.50, at professional salons.
If you have waves or curls, look for a blend of smoothing keratin protein and behentrimonium chloride, a waxier conditioner that helps tame tangles. Try Suave Professional Keratin Infusion Smoothing Conditioner, $3.49, at drugstores.
Add va-va-voom with a thickening lotion or mousse. Living Proof Thickening Cream, $26, sephora.com, contains a volumizing molecule called poly beta amino ester 1, ideal for hair that's not fine. Apply from roots to ends of damp hair.
For a sleek look, run a smoothing gel or cream with phenyl trimethicone through damp hair. Try Tresemme Liquid Gold Shine Therapy (2), $4.29, at drugstores.
Your strands are thick enough that any hairstyle works, but not so thick that they're tough to manage. The problem? Overstyling (or coloring) has caused split ends, frizz, and dullness. Strengthen with protein and you'll prevent breakage.
Shampoo & Conditioner
If hair damage is a result of too much heat styling, hydrolyzed elastin increases flexibility, and ceramides or hyaluronic acid moisturize. Try Nexxus Pro-Mend Daily Shampoo and Conditioner (1), $10 and $15, nexxus.com for stores.
For bleach-a-holics or the chemical-straightening obsessed, look for fortifying protein or keratin-packed duos. Try Ojon Damage Reverse Restorative Shampoo and Conditioner $24 and $25, ojon.com.
If you have both types of damage, alternate the above combos each time you wash.
Once a week, coat mid-shaft to ends with an elastin-and fatty acid-rich mask; they provide stress relief and flexibility. Try Wen Sweet Almond Mint Re Moist Hair Treatment, $42, wenhaircare.com.
Post-shower, rub in a lightweight leave-in conditioner with dimethicone. "It will flatten rough cuticles and reduce frizz," says Thomas. Try Oribe Hair Care Supershine Light Moisturizing Cream (2), $49, oribe.com.
With all products, remember this: "The damaged regions of hair tend to be negatively charged," says Thomas. "Positively charged ingredients like polyguaterniums, amodimethicone, and bisaminopropyl dimethicone reinforce weakened hair and prevent heat damage."
To play up waves, work an alcohol-free gel into damp hair, one small section at a time, gently twisting each as you go. Try L'Oreal Paris Ever Style Curl Defining Gel, $7, at drugstores. Air-dry or use a diffuser.
To straighten, work a cream through damp hair. Try John Frieda Frizz-Ease Straight Fixation Smoothing Creme, $6, at drugstores. If you blow-dry, Shorter says to use a boar-bristle brush.
There's an irony to fat strands: Their wide diameter makes them voluminous and sexy but also potentially coarser, frizzier, and less shiny than their thinner counterparts. Your mission: Condition! Hydrated thick hair is easier to style and less poufy.
Try to wash only once every three days—retaining your hair's natural oils makes it lie better.
A cocoa butter-derived cleanser will lock in moisture, making hair softer and gleamier. Or pick one that contains shea butter or meadowfoam oil, both of which are rich in fuzz-taming fatty acids. Try Fresh Meadowfoam Cream Treatment, $32, fresh.com.
Curly or straight, your hair just loves to tangle. An opaque, buttercream-thick conditioner with behentrimonium chloride or stearalkonium chloride adds slip, meaning you'll be able to remove knots without ripping. Try Pantene Pro-V Expert AgeDefy Conditioner (1), $8, at drugstores.
Avoid products with water as the first ingredient (see intro, page 150), but don't necessarily skip those that contain alcohol—as long as it's cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, or stearyl alcohol. These are all fatty acids, which are excellent emollients.
Serums offer hold and shine and eliminate frizz. If your hair isn't coarse, use an oil-based one (with argan or kernel oil). Try Matrix Biolage Exquisite Oil (2), $22, matrix.com for salons. If coarse, go the silicone route. Try Aussie Smoothing Serum, $5, at drugstores.
Make sure the serum is distributed evenly so there aren't spots of blahness or greasiness. Shorter recommends separating wet hair into four sections (two on top, two on bottom). Start with a quarter-size amount for the whole head, and divide that into four. Rake through each section from roots to tips.
If straightening hair with a dryer, use a boar-bristle brush to tame strands delicately.
Your hair is hard to control as is. Throw in lots of blow-drying, flat-ironing, dyeing, or straightening, and no wonder it's disobeying like a petulant child. Coddle it with mega moisturizers and mega frizz fighters. And try to use heat tools sparingly.
Cleansers with lots of lather—a sign that the detergent level is high—will dehydrate your hair. Safe and non-stripping formulas contain alkylpolyglucosides. Also look for cuticle-penetrating oils like wheat germ, avocado, and mombasa oils. Try Clear Scalp & Hair Beauty Therapy Ultra Shea Cleanse and Nourish Shampoo (1), $6, at drugstores.
Give your hair a drink with hydrating powerhouses dimethicone, behentrimonium chloride, and stearalkonium chloride. Try Dove Intensive Repair Daily Treatment Conditioner (2), $4.49, at drugstores.
Twice a week, cover dry hair in a deep conditioner with dimethicone or behentrimonium methosulfate. Try Jessicurl Deep Conditioning Treatment, $17, jessicurl.com. Rinse after 20 minutes.
If you insist on heat-styling, first coat towel-dried hair with a serum that has hydrolyzed silk protein or macadamia oil. Try Carol's Daughter Macadamia Heat Protection Serum, $18, carolsdaughter.com.
For a straight look, try creams or thick oils with silicone and dimethicone. Try Suave Professionals Moroccan Infusion Styling Oil, $6, available at drugstores in January.
To enhance waves, mix a nickel-size blob each of alcohol-free curl gel, silicone-based serum, and leave-in conditioner in your hand; apply to damp hair, one small section at a time, gently twisting as you go. Try Tresemme Mega Firm Control Gel, $4.49, at drugstores, Mixed Chicks Leave-in Conditioner, $17, at Target, and Tigi Catwalk Curl Defining Serum, $20, at Ulta. Air-dry or diffuse curls.
Seal ragged ends with a pomade that has petrolatum or beeswax. Try John Masters Organics Hair Pomade, $20, johnmasters.com.
You don't want keratin. "Layering on too many strengtheners can eliminate damaged hair's ability to be elastic and flexible," says Phillips.
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