You have many options when it comes to hair care products. With so many on the shelf, how do you know which ones to choose?
There’s no magic formula. Dermatologists say the changes you might see from even the best hair care products are subtle. But there is a roadmap for healthier hair:
- First, analyze your hair’s texture and condition.
- Then pick a product formulated for your specific type of hair.
- Finally, every few months, consider changing your product.
Zoe Draelos, MD, editor of The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, says changing products every few months keeps your hair at its shiniest.
If you've noticed a problem, such as thinning hair or hair breakage, you should analyze your styling practices and the products you use, says Lynne Goldberg, MD, an associate professor of dermatology and pathology at Boston University. Blow drying hair, using a curling iron, and coloring hair can all damage your tresses.
Shampoos contain ingredients that cleanse the hair of natural oils (sebum), dirt, and pollutants such as smoke.
Just about any shampoo will do the job. But some inexpensive brands may be harsh, stripping the hair’s lipid layer. To protect your hair, apply shampoo only on the scalp. You don’t need to wash your hair every day unless you have oily hair. For Black hair, it’s best to wash it once a week or every other week, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Volumizing shampoos or thickening shampoos build up fine hair temporarily. “They work,” Robert Bernstein, MD, clinical professor of dermatology at Columbia University, says. The tradeoff? Volumizing formulas often skimp on conditioning ingredients, so hair may end up looking dull.
Glossing shampoos temporarily boost shine by coating hair with silicones and polymers. Some contain ingredients such as hydrolyzed silk to make hair feel silky. But dermatologists say the best thing you can do to keep your hair looking glossy is to treat it with care.
Blow dry hair on the cool or warm setting, never hot. Invest in a hairbrush made of natural fibers, and brush hair from the underside out, not from the top down.
- For maximum shine, Bernstein suggests alternating a volumizing shampoo with a moisturizing shampoo.
A good conditioner can prevent your hair from breaking. Anyone can benefit, but conditioning is especially important for Black hair, which tends to break at the root, Goldberg says. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that people with Black hair use conditioner every time they wash their hair. When you do that, make sure you use conditioner on the ends of your hair, which are the most prone to breaking.
There are two basic types of conditioners from which to choose:
- Rinse-out conditioners coat the hair to keep it from becoming tangled and breaking.
- Leave-in conditioners or deep conditioners work by smoothing out the cuticle or topmost layer of hair, which can become damaged from blow drying, incorrect brushing, or processing.
Draelos recommends choosing a protein conditioner that can strengthen hair up to 10% by temporarily filling in the hair’s cuticle.
Look for everyday conditioners containing ceramides and wheat or rice proteins to strengthen hair and shea butter or dimethicone to moisturize hair, Draelos says.
If you color your hair, Draelos suggests using a deep conditioner once a week. Some can be left in all night.
For Black hair, it also helps to use a hot oil treatment twice a month, for moisture and to help your hair avoid breakage.
Hair Styling Products
Mousses, gels, and hair pomades or waxes can add volume and shine to your hair as well as keep it in place.
Remember that too much product can achieve undesirable results (helmet hair, anyone?) Alexandre Chouery, creative director at the Fekkai Greenwich Salon in Connecticut, says, "A little product goes a long way."
Chouery offers some additional product tips:
- Mousse is best for fine or thin hair. Apply it to damp hair at the roots only.
- A gel is best for medium to thick hair. Apply a gel from the back to the front and comb it through.
- Apply pomade to the ends of hair -- never to the roots -- because it will weigh hair down.
If you’re going to use heat to style your hair – think of the hot air from a blow dryer – use a heat-styling product on your wet hair first. This is a good idea for everyone, and is especially important to protect Black hair.