We all have those hair products we bought with good intentions that, in practice, just don’t seem to work for us. They are the yield of blog reading, label scanning, or recommendations from like-coiffed friends. Maybe, like me, you can’t figure out how to get these creams and serums to work for your hair, but having spent hard-earned money on them, you also can’t quite bear to pitch them.
We asked two professional hair stylists to fan that flicker of hope for style success into flame. What we learned is that how you use hair products can be as important as what you use.
Celebrity hair stylist Michael Sparks, co-owner of Tabb & Sparks Salon in Santa Monica, California, and Abra McField, professional stylist, hair psychologist, and CEO of Abra Kadabra Hair & Healing in St. Louis, Missouri, offer their tricks and tips to troubleshoot these products.
How healthy are your locks?
All the marketing that comes with hair products can make it difficult to identify what will work best for your hair, right now. Light products sound great, but so do moisturizing ones. So which to use when?
“When your hair is healthy,” Sparks says, “you want to maintain hydration and moisture. You should reach for products that are light.” Save moisturizing products for when “your hair is in need of some TLC.” That’s when, he says, “you’ll want to retain, add, and build nourishing products to help plump the cuticle.”
McField explains, “Cleansing and conditioning is the most important component of hydration, because it moisturizes within the hair strand, while everything else sits on the outside of your hair strand.” She also points out that hair needs more hydration in the colder winter months.
The condition of your hair today is not necessarily what it will be next week. “As your hair gets healthier, your hair product needs will change. It’s all about maintaining a balance with your products and paying attention to your hair’s needs,” Sparks explains. “It’s easy to waste product when it’s not necessary or not the correct product for your current hair type.”
Are you distributing the product evenly?
Product labels give recommendations as to how much product to apply to hair, but your needs may differ depending on the length and thickness of your hair.
“When applying product to wet hair, work the product in your hands really well before applying to the hair in order to give an even distribution,” Spark says. “This will most likely result in using less product because it is evenly distributed.”
McField suggests you try “sectioning your hair . . . so the product is applied everywhere instead of skipping some areas.”
A similar technique should be used on products that are applied to dry hair—but in this case, Sparks says, “instead of putting all the product in at once, start with a smaller amount of product and build up until you get your desired look.”
Are you leaving it in long enough?
With products like conditioner, time is of the essence.
“Sometimes we don’t realize that conditioner can take 10 minutes before it effectively penetrates,” says McField. If you’re applying, then rinsing too quickly, you may not see the product’s full effect. Try setting a timer to make sure you give it the time it needs to do the work, or switch up your shower routine so you cleanse and condition at the beginning.
Are you being patient?
We shouldn’t expect our hair to change texture or flow like that on commercials after a single application. No hair product is magic!
“You can’t just use a product one time and expect wonders,” says McField. “You have to give the product enough time to work.” This is going to differ depending on what product you use and how often you use it.
Can someone help?
The only person who knows your hair better than you—and who is as invested in your style and hair health—is your stylist. An article like this one can only go so far in making recommendations and pointing you in the right direction. Sparks recommends “consulting your hair stylist to get a professional’s input on the best regimen for your hair at its current state.”
Don’t be afraid to mention your budget when discussing products. There may exist a less expensive alternative to a fancy salon product (or it might not be as expensive as you think). You also may find that choosing the right product over a batch of mediocre ones is worth a higher price tag.
Our bodies and our hair change as we grow and mature. What worked five years ago may not be what you need today. Embracing those changes with the right techniques means you can have healthy hair that echoes the beauty of the woman you are inside.