10 Smart Products for All Kinds of Hair
All you need to know about shampoo, conditioner, mousse and more
by Lois Joy Johnson, AARP, April 30, 2020
En español | By age 50, the average woman has spent thousands of dollars on at-home hair care — enough to buy a snazzy BMW. Do we regret all those shampoos, conditioners, mousses, sprays and gels? Not one bit. They have gotten us through plenty of terrible haircuts and bad hair days. But here's where things get tricky. Drugstores and beauty sites are now crammed with appealing hair care (who can resist shampoo that smells like strawberries or a pina colada?), but trendy wording and multitasking formulas make things hard to navigate. Here's how to avoid mistakes and product overload with the 10 smartest choices to count on now.
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PHOTO BY: Garnier; L’Oréal Paris; OGX
Any shampoo will clean your hair, but that's like saying any dress that covers your body is fine. Not good enough. We all need a baseline nourishing shampoo to get our dry, damaged, limp or thin (take your pick!) hair in healthier shape. Look for clue words on the label like “repair” or “moisture,” and formulas that emphasize botanical oils (argan, avocado and coconut oil really do work) in shampoos — like Garnier Whole Blends Honey Treasures Repairing Shampoo ($5, cvs.com), L'Oreal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Repairing Shampoo ($5, cvs.com) and OGX Extra Strength Damage Remedy + Coconut Miracle Oil Shampoo ($7, walgreens.com). Alternate that basic shampoo with a problem-solving formula to target any extra issues, from dandruff to color maintenance to styling-product buildup. A quarter-size drop of shampoo is all you need (we all use way too much). Lather up at the scalp, where you need cleansing most, before rinsing and running the suds through the rest of your hair.
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PHOTO BY: OGX; Dove; Aussie; Pantene; John Frieda
Designed to reinforce moisture and smooth the cuticle for a satinlike finish, conditioner is your shampoo's trusty partner. Many women with flat, thin or fine hair skip it, fearing a loss of volume — but that's a myth. The real mistakes are using too much (you only need a quarter-size amount) and applying conditioner at the roots (apply mid-shaft to tips only). Choose a brand companion to your shampoo or simply look for similar clue words to be sure you're getting the same hydrating, moisturizing and repair benefits — as in OGX Hydrate + Repair Argan Oil of Morocco Extra Strength Conditioner ($10, cvs.com), Dove Nutritive Solutions Intensive Repair Conditioner ($4, walgreens.com) or Aussie Miracle Moist Conditioner Avocado & Australian Jojoba Oil ($5, walgreens.com).
Those with extra brittle, dry, damaged, frizz-prone or curly hair can benefit from a leave-in — like Pantene Pro-V Hydrating Butter-Creme with Argan Oil ($8, walgreens.com) or John Frieda Frizz-Ease Daily Nourishment Leave-In Conditioner ($7, walgreens.com) — that also works to detangle postshampoo, protect and prime hair for styling.
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PHOTO BY: SheaMoisture; Pantene; Garnier
3. Hair mask
This is simply what we used to call a deep conditioner. Now available in tubs and single-use packs, they make a weekly moisture zap a spalike treat. Every woman who colors or heat-styles her hair needs one. Look for the same clue words as shampoo and conditioner, as well as for botanical ingredients like honey, argan oil or avocado extract — as in SheaMoisture Manuka Honey Masque ($10, walgreens.com), Pantene Gold Series Repairing Mask Treatment ($2, walgreens.com) and Garnier Fructis Nourishing Treat 1 Minute Hair Mask with Coconut Extract ($4, walgreens.com). Apply the mask generously to clean, wet hair and use a wide-tooth comb to distribute roots to tips. Let it “cook” five or 10 minutes and then rinse. For extra conditioning, wrap your hair turban-style in plastic wrap and leave on even longer ... an hour or overnight!
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PHOTO BY: Batiste; TRESemmé; Garnier
4. Dry shampoo
If you add only one more thing to your routine, this is it. Created to extend time between hair washes, dry shampoo now multitasks as a volumizer and hair thickener in addition to its grease-absorbing, scalp-freshening role. Look for brands that are invisible and low residue — like TRESemme Pro Pure Dry Shampoo ($6, target.com), Batiste Clean & Light Bare Dry Shampoo ($6, target.com) and Garnier Fructis Invisible Coco Colada Dry Shampoo ($5, target.com). Be sure to shake well and apply six to eight inches from hair (no closer!). Bend at the waist and mist only your roots for a quick cleansing, and lift or mist your hair roots to tips before using fingers to tousle for allover fullness and extra texture.
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PHOTO BY: Redken; Herbal Essences; OGX
If you haven't used mousse since the ‘80s and wonder if it's still “in,” the answer is yes. However, mousses such as Redken Guts 10 Volumizing Spray Mousse ($20, ulta.com), Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curl-Boosting Mousse with Berry Essences ($3, target.com) and OGX Locking + Coconut Curls Decadent Creamy Mousse ($7, target.com) are very different from the crunch-making watery foams of back then. They're are still essentially big body-builders but absorb more quickly and leave your hair feeling full yet soft thanks to moisturizing ingredients. Work a golf ball-size dollop through damp hair at the roots and blow dry for lift at the scalp, or apply to roots and use fingers to rake product through the hair before scrunching (yes, you can still do that) or twisting and air or diffuser drying.
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PHOTO BY: Garnier; Sun Bum; DevaCurl
6. Wax, putty and pomade
If you have a pixie or short-layered shag, or you're a cool 50-plus guy and want a modern look, these products deliver. They're all essentially the same thing, but the key is choosing workable, flexible products — like Garnier Fructis Deconstructed Pixie Play Crafting Cream ($5, cvs.com), DevaCurl Beautiful Mess Curl Sculpting Pomade ($20, ulta.com) and Sun Bum Sonny's Original Surf Paste ($15, ulta.com). They have just enough guts and hold to separate ends, layers or curls for a broken-up effect that's not tacky, stiff or coated. The product may look dense in the package, but the warmth of your hands (which is how you apply it) melts it to a pliable consistency. Rub a tiny pea-size amount between your fingertips till it melts and then run your fingers through your hair mid-shaft to ends for a tousled, textured effect, or just concentrate on the ends. Look for clue words like deconstructed, pixie play, texturizing.
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PHOTO BY: Sebastian Professional; Not Your Mother’s; Living Proof
7. Styling cream
Creams are the new styling gels, so opt for this category if you want to give curls, waves or coils a defined shape or make medium-to-thick dry, parched hair look lustrous (for thin, fine hair see Nos. 5 and 9). Creams such as Sebastian Whipped Cream ($20, ulta. com), Not Your Mother's Kinky Moves Curl Defining Hair Cream ($7, cvs.com) and Living Proof No-Frizz Nourishing Styling Cream ($38, dermstore.com) are a combination of high-tech formula and botanicals like shea butter and jojoba oil (almost like face creams), so they restore moisture and provide extra conditioning while styling. You can apply a pea- to gumball-size dollop (depending on hair texture, length and thickness) to your hands, rub the palms together and distribute evenly to damp hair before air or diffuser drying for a tousled look, or blow-dry your hair with a round brush for a smoother, bouncier look.
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PHOTO BY: Redken; OGX; OUAI
8. Shine serums and oils
There are lots of reasons for mature hair to lack a healthy glow — too much heat styling or chemical color, poor diet and naturally dry, coarse texture among them. One way to nourish hair, minimize frizz, seal split ends and protect from heat damage is with a topical application of oils like borage, coconut, argan or avocado via a serum or spray such as OGX Moroccan Penetrating Oil Regular ($7, target.com), Ouai Hair Oil ($28, ulta.com) or Redken Frizz Dismiss Instant Deflate Oil in Serum ($29, ulta.com). It's great for any texture from straight to coarse, kinky or curly (just don't use this on thin, fine hair); restores shine to very processed hair (straightened and/or color-treated); and speeds blow-drying to a smooth finish. Apply to damp hair prior to blow-drying or on dry second- or third-day hair as a refresher. Spray your palm, rub hands together and apply evenly and lightly to the surface of your hair. Simply look for the clue word: oil.
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PHOTO BY: Pacifica; Rahua; Not Your Mother's
9. Texturizing spray
Even lighter than creams and mousses, a styling mist adds volume, texture and invisible hold to fine, thin hair. They're known as “salt sprays,” and thanks to ingredients like sea salt, kelp and algae they deliver a natural-looking, wavy beachlike texture on lobs, bobs and long hair. Mists like Pacifica Salty Waves Texture Spray ($14, target.com), Not Your Mother's Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray ($5, target.com) and Rahua Enchanted Island Salt Spray ($32, sephora.com) are a contemporary alternative to a smooth blow-dry. It's not as “coiffed” as a curling iron hairdo, and the look works easily for those who prefer an air or diffuser dry. All you take is a quick spray on damp or dry hair.
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PHOTO BY: Dove; L'Oreal Paris; Nexxus
10. Hair spray
Many of us have always relied on this staple for a finishing touch to freshly done hair, and no reason to stop now. The best choices are super-fine micro sprays — like Dove Hairspray Flexible Hold ($5, walgreens.com), L'Oréal Paris Elnett Satin Hairspray Unscented ($12, walgreens.com) and Nexxus Comb Thru Finishing Mist Hair Spray for Volume ($12, walgreens.com) — since they leave hair in a very brushable state and softly groomed with no sticky residue. The pro secret is to spray from about 10 inches away and let the mist fall on your hair rather than coating your hair as if you're spray-painting a table. If you like a straight-from-the-salon look that lasts, hair spray still does that and provides a humidity barrier, too.
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PHOTO BY: Drybar; CHI Haircare; Redken
And my final word:
11. Heat protectant
If you're honestly addicted to hot tools and use a heated styling brush, blow-dryer, flat iron or curling iron frequently, you're a candidate for a heat protector such as CHI Keratin Silk Infusion Reconstructing Complex ($9, target.com), Drybar Hot Toddy Heat Protectant Mist ($27, ulta.com) or Redken Pillow Proof Blow Dry Express Primer Spray ($24, ulta.com). These protein- and botanical-enriched sprays help rebuild frayed fried hair, prevent further heat damage and shield your hair from UV rays that can fade processed hair color. But do yourself and your hair a real favor: Try to reduce heat styling to once a week, or at least use one hot tool a day as briefly as possible and on a lower-heat setting.