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Big, Bouncy Hair Is Cool Again

Pump up the volume with these pro tips

Remember big hair? The supermodel mane of Cindy Crawford, the swirling locks of Tina Turner, the feathered layers of Farrah Fawcett and the cloud of curls framing Julia Roberts and Donna Summer? The ’70s and ’80s were the days of perms, roller sets, teasing and hairspray way before stick-straight flat-ironing. Well, big “done” hair is back. Love it but skeptical? Here’s how to get fuller, fluffier, more fabulous hair fast at 50:

1. Decide how big to go

spinner image (Left to right) Jennifer Coolidge and Tracee Ellis Ross
(Left to right) Jennifer Coolidge and Tracee Ellis Ross
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Albie Awards

Most big hair we see on celebs is long, luscious and thick. How many of those manes are real or supplemented by pieces or extensions? Who knows. Behind the scenes, big hair is often a fake-it-till-you-make-it thing. But get realistic. A supersize ’do (say for a special evening event) is one thing and often involves the help of a pro; DIY everyday-big is another. The good news is anyone — even those with fine, thin hair and shorter bobs and lobs — can pump up the volume for a look that says bombshell 2023. Choose your level of oomph, wave and curl.

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2. Know when to layer or not

spinner image (Left to right) Jane Krakowski, Christie Brinkley and Fran Drescher
(Left to right) Jane Krakowski, Christie Brinkley and Fran Drescher
Bruce Glikas/WireImage; Jim Spellman/Getty Images; Leon Bennett/Getty Images

The right cut makes the difference between puny and plush. Layered cuts (some extreme) are trending, but note that many layers can chisel away volume. You need only a few long layers around the face to add movement and separation. They’ll help magnify the look of your hair when waved or curled, especially when the ends are flicked out. However, don’t layer at all if you have fine, thin hair. Instead, opt for a blunt cut to provide a thicker starting point for building volume.

3. Let hair color plump things up

spinner image (Left to right) Brigitte Macron and Hoda Kotb
(Left to right) Brigitte Macron and Hoda Kotb
Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images; Jim Spellman/WireImage

The combination of cut and color can also provide a head start. Here’s why: Color coats the hair shaft to physically add bulk to the cuticle. Highlights create light and dark contrast for a multitonal illusion of more hair (just like horizontally striped clothing adds the illusion of width to a body). Either one is sure to give mature hair a beefier look.

4. Switch to styling mousse

spinner image (Left to right) John Frieda Volume Lift Air Whipped Foam; John Frieda Volume Lift Air Whipped Foam; Matrix Total Results High Amplify Foam Volumizer Full Bodifying Mousse
(Left to right) John Frieda Volume Lift Air Whipped Foam; John Frieda Volume Lift Air Whipped Foam; Matrix Total Results High Amplify Foam Volumizer Full Bodifying Mousse
Walgreens; Sephora; Ulta Beauty

Skip straightening serums and texturizing sprays for now. Mousse in new lightweight formulas like John Frieda Volume Lift Air Whipped Foam ($10, walgreens.com), Amika Plus Size Perfect Body Mousse ($30, sephora.com) and Matrix Total Results High Amplify Foam Volumizer Full Bodifying Mousse ($22, ulta.com) won’t weigh hair down or leave it stiff, tacky, dry or crunchy. What it will do is create billowy hair that keeps its shape. All you need is an egg-sized dollop applied to damp hair and roots prior to blow-drying. Use a wide-tooth comb or your fingers to distribute it.

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5. Blow-dry upside down

spinner image Second to right: Biolage Thermal Active Heat Protectant Spray ($22, ulta.com); Top right: Revlon Perfect Heat Volumizing Turbo Hair Dryer ($20, target.com)
Second to right: Biolage Thermal Active Heat Protectant Spray ($22, ulta.com); Top right: Revlon Perfect Heat Volumizing Turbo Hair Dryer ($20, target.com)
Carlos R. Hernandez/EyeEm/Getty Images; Ulta Beauty; Target

So you’ve washed, blotted, detangled and applied a heat protectant followed by mousse. Now it is time for what stylists call a “rough-dry.” This isn’t a precise blowout using a round brush — all you want to do is quickly get hair to a 50 to 75 percent dry state with lots of volume. Simply bend at the waist and flip your hair over. Keep the dryer moving while using your fingers (not a brush!) to move the hair around. This encourages the roots to go in the opposite direction they usually do for extra lift and body. No worries, you’ll refine the shape, waves and curl with the next step.

6. Build shape and waves with rollers or a curling iron

spinner image (Clockwise from left) Julia Roberts; L’Oréal Paris Elnett Satin Extra Strong Hold Unscented Hair Spray ($15, target.com); Drybar High Tops Self-Grip Rollers 6 pieces ($12, target.com); Kamay’s Medium Size Self-Grip Hair Rollers Set ($10 for 12 rollers, amazon.com); Hot Tools Pro Artist Nano Ceramic Curling Iron ($51, amazon.com); T3 Volumizing Hot Rollers Luxe Set with Dual Temperature Control ($140, ulta.com)
(Clockwise from left) Julia Roberts; L’Oréal Paris Extra Strong Hold Hair Spray; Drybar Self-Grip Rollers ($12, target.com); Kamay’s Hair Rollers Set ($10, amazon.com); Hot Tools Curling Iron ($51, amazon.com); T3 Hot Rollers Luxe Set ($140, ulta.com)
Lionel Hahn/Getty Images; Target (2); Amazon (2); Ulta Beauty

With your rough-dried hair still partially damp, set it in self-grip rollers. This will help to lock in the lift and bend. Medium to large rollers will produce a generous loose curl or wave that’s not overly coiffed. Divide hair into sections and roll from the ends to the roots. Make sure hair is fully dry before you unroll. You can speed this process by hitting rollers with the blow-dryer.

For an extra glam “Old Hollywood” look, build more defined waves or curls into dry hair with hot rollers or a curling iron. Be cautious: The higher heat settings and clamp/barrel tension can increase the risk of breakage on dry, fragile or chemically processed hair. Always run fingers through your hair to slightly loosen the waves and curls, then mist with a brushable finishing spray like L’Oréal Paris Elnett Satin Extra Strong Hold Unscented Hair Spray ($15, target.com).

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7. Switch up your part

spinner image (Left to right) Debbie Allen, Claudia Schiffer and Kathy Ireland
(Left to right) Debbie Allen, Claudia Schiffer and Kathy Ireland
Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images; Samir Hussein/WireImage; Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Whether you do self-grip rollers, hot rollers or a curling iron to “set” in volume, vary your part placement often. Over time hair gets used to the same old part and tends to lie flat at that spot. Simply parting your hair on the opposite side or even an inch over can add ample lift at the roots. A small detail with a big payoff.

8. Even an updo can go big

spinner image Judith Light
Judith Light
Taylor Hill/FilmMagic

Half-up, half-down styles and updos can also get curve appeal. Prep your hair the same way with heat protectant, mousse and a rough-dry to add some “guts.” Pop some rollers in the top section for a “set” and lift. Then try a little gentle backcombing (also known as teasing) before pinning in a casual twist, chignon or bun. Be sure to leave some pieces around the face for movement and flattery.

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