Remember when washing your hair was easy? Shampoo cleaned and a matching conditioner detangled and that was it. Well, that simple duo has changed and so has your hair. Hundreds of problem-solving shampoos and conditioners — boosted by technology and innovation — clog drugstore shelves and claim to add volume, hydrate, thicken, repair, brighten, smooth, control frizz or enhance curls. However, it's not just about choosing the right formula. The whole suds-and-rinse routine has been overhauled to improve results. So, are your hair habits and shampoo/conditioner really in sync with your 50-plus hair? Here are 10 tips for getting stronger, glossier, better-looking hair, like the celebs have:
1. Match shampoo and conditioner for efficiency and no-stress
Sticking to a one-brand duo — or not — is something we all wonder about. Match if you want to speed-shop and be 100 percent certain both items target and resolve the same hair issues. The ingredients are designed to support and complement one another — kind of like a twin-set — so no way can you mess up! However, do not mix leftover bottom of the bottle drops to create a two-in-one shampoo/conditioner. All you'll get is less effective cleansing, and conditioning that's scrubbed away by the shampoo ... which is why two-fers never work for us. Use the remnants to hand wash lingerie instead.
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2. Mix and match products if your hair is complicated
Sometimes pre-planned product duos won't work. Say you have very fine hair that's color-treated, highlighted and on the long side. You need a gentle shampoo safe for color-treated hair, a moisturizing rinse-out conditioner and a leave-in lightweight conditioner to compensate for heat styling. Or maybe you have flat, limp, curly hair that's breakage prone. You want a volumizing, curl-enhancing shampoo but a moisturizing and strengthening repair conditioner. Mixing and matching is easy if you stay within one brand — a snap now that every brand has many "targeted" lines. But since we run out of conditioner faster than shampoo, this is a good time to experiment if you want to try a switch.
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3. Go sulfate-free if your scalp is sensitive, itchy, prone to eczema
Listed for decades as a staple ingredient in shampoos, sulfates — aka sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or ammonium laureth sulfate — are now getting a bad rap. While they remain super-efficient cleansing agents, and make lots of rich lather, sulfates can be too harsh for some people. If your scalp feels itchy, irritated or dry, try sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner for a "gentler" clean option. Don't worry, you'll still get all the other benefits you want, from volumizing to moisturizing, and formulas for color-treated hair. This category has expanded as consumers get more savvy about their scalp, not just their hair.
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4. Use less shampoo than you think you need
Remember when shampoo instructions said "shampoo, lather, rinse, repeat"? As with laundry detergent we tend to overdose our clothes and hair. One shampoo is plenty with improved formulas. The real secret is to first stand under the shower and saturate hair with water till it's soaking wet. Then apply a little shampoo and gently massage the scalp using the pads of your fingers. Make small circular movements before moving over and repeating, inch by inch. You'll stimulate circulation at the roots and your shampoo gets evenly and thoroughly distributed. Then massage the rest of your hair between your palms as if it was the most delicate lingerie. Keep rinsing until two minutes after you think you've rinsed enough. Most women leave shampoo residue behind, which can make hair appear limp.
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5. Try dry shampoo but wet wash two or three times a week, too
We love the instant scent-freshening, root-lifting and body-building skills of dry shampoo but it's not a daily substitute for a real shampoo. That's how you create a clogged scalp and possibly inhibit the growth cycle — not great for thinning, mature hair. Women with fine hair can spot-mist bangs daily, though, to prevent their fringe from looking stringy or oily. Skip dry shampoo during periods of dandruff. This is when you switch to a specialized shampoo and conditioner with antifungal and antibacterial ingredients like zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole. When the flaky condition clears up, you can resume using dry shampoo but not as an everyday habit.
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6. Apply conditioner strategically on fine, thin hair
If you have fine, thin hair and anyone tells you to skip conditioner, ignore them. This is where a rich but light post-shampoo conditioner and/or a leave-in conditioner with heat-protecting benefits are crucial. The one thing to remember is to avoid applying conditioner too close to your scalp. Start at the ends and work your way up, stopping short of the roots. Blot wet, freshly shampooed and conditioned hair with a microfiber towel; no rubbing — it disrupts the cuticle and encourages frizz.
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7. "Co-wash" or reverse wash for thick, dry, coarse or curly hair
Co-washing (short for conditioner-only washing) uses conditioner as shampoo; reverse washing is using conditioner first and shampoo last. These techniques are best for dense, moisture-deprived hair that's natural or relaxed. The thicker the hair and the tighter and curlier the texture, the harder for healthy scalp oils to travel from shaft roots to ends, so hair becomes super-dry. If you opt for one of these routines it's still necessary to alternate with a regular routine of shampoo followed by conditioner to maintain scalp health. Clogged follicles can negatively affect hair growth and over-conditioning can make hair unresponsive to styling. Coarse hair and thick hair are not the same thing. Thick hair refers to density — having lots of hairs on your head. Coarse refers to texture, and the width of each individual strand. And FYI: You can have thin hair that's coarse or thick hair that's fine.
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8. Invest in a deep-conditioning mask
Stop ignoring those jars of extra help and get a weekly dose of super-nourishing moisture from creamy hair masks packed with botanical oils and butters. Everything sucks moisture from our hair — indoor heating, heat-styling tools, the sun, chemical color, relaxing or straightening treatments, alcohol-based styling products, graying (coarse, wiry hair is drier) and, of course, hormonal changes. How long to leave it on? Most masks claim they take three to five minutes to "work," but leave it on 10 to 30 minutes for maximum benefits. Use a wide-tooth comb to distribute the mask evenly while it does its magic. Overnight masks are best for morning shampooers with truly damaged or dense, curly hair who are willing to wear a shower cap to bed.
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9. Extend your hue with color-enhancing shampoo
Whether you've gone gray, salon blond or drugstore brunette, a color-freshening shampoo or conditioner keeps color vibrant. Opt for warm-, not hot-, water shampoos and choose a color compatible with yours. Violet-tinted shampoos brighten white, pale blond and gray hair and remove brassy or yellow tones; blue-green-tinted ones cancel out orange or red from brown hair. Used once a week, they prevent fading and extend color sessions, and even counteract chlorine color changes from dips in the pool.
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10. Let your shampoo and conditioner take care of your frizz
We're so used to depending on styling serums, but actually conditioners do the best frizz-busting work by forming an immediate seal around the cuticle (the shingle-like coating of each hair). New shampoos — even sulfate-free ones — use ingredients like keratin, botanical butters and oils to build a humidity barrier that won't attract dirt (why hair with silicone serums feels greasy fast). Frizz goes hand in hand with dry hair, so always avoid shampoos labeled clarifying or purifying. While they can be helpful in erasing buildup for women who use a lot of styling products, the latter can dry parched hair further. New gentle de-frizz shampoos have a balanced combo of milder cleansers and moisturizer ingredients.
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