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Drop into a salon or walk down the aisles of your favorite drugstore and you're likely to be bombarded with a dizzying array of hair-care products with all sorts of wow-factor claims. You'll see shampoos, conditioners, and styling products for dry hair, oily hair, curly hair, blonde, brunette, and red hair, damaged hair… you get the idea. The question is whether any of these really make a difference, and whether where you buy hair-care products matters. Let's get to the root of the matter to find the best products for your hair type!
A lot of people wonder if using shampoos and conditioners designed for their hair type is necessary. If you have dry hair and use a shampoo for oily hair, will it result in a complete disaster? If your hair is oily and you use a moisturizing shampoo, will you be cursed with a bad hair day? Someone with coarse, dry hair has very different needs from someone with thin, healthy hair. Fortunately, more often than not, the hair type indicated on the label is right—or at least a somewhat helpful guide.
Everyone needs to know that there are no shampoos or conditioners that protect color from fading, completely stop frizzies, protect against heat damage or humidity, or help hair grow longer or stronger. It is physiologically impossible to do that with a shampoo or conditioner. Ignore those claims and you're much less likely to be disappointed with what you buy!
Oily hair can be tricky, because it's important to get the scalp (which is where the oil comes from) clean – but without drying or stripping hair. Happily, most products for oily hair are designed to take away the greasy, limp-locks look with gentle cleansers that will leave hair looking healthy instead of parched.
When it comes to styling, think lightweight textures and finishes, regardless of how much hold you want. Avoid heavy creams, pomades, oils, and waxes, as they serve to weigh hair down or make it look too slick. Consider a lightweight styling spray that can tame wild hairs without the added heaviness of a thicker formula.
Dry shampoos can add volume and absorb excess oiliness. The good news is you may not even need a conditioner, as adding extra moisture isn't on your hairdo to-do list! Consider the following shampoos & styling products:
Fine hair is all about not overdoing it: The more you add to this hair type, the worse it can look—a little too much conditioner or styling cream and you look as if you dipped your head in Crisco. Those with fine hair also need to pay close attention to how much product (particularly styling product) they use, as overdoing it can cause even the best products to be epic fails for fine hair.
For daily care, use a gentle shampoo and stick to sparing use of conditioners (applied just to the ends, or consider a leave-in spray conditioner). A lightweight styling spray or lotion can provide all the control you need without weighting hair down. Just as we recommended for oily hair types, dry shampoo can add a nice volumizing boost to fine hairstyles (the options recommended above by Oscar Blandi and Batiste are suitable for you as well).
Dry hair, not surprisingly, needs moisture and usually lacks shine! Look out for moisturizing shampoos, and formulas that say they're for damaged hair as well – since dry hair is more vulnerable to damage in general. And don't forget the conditioner—it's essential! Again, seek out dry or damaged hair formulas, and condition every time you shampoo (as the act of shampooing, even with a product formulated for dry hair, can strip moisture). Dry hair can also handle heavier styling products like waxes, creams, serums, oils, and lotions that could weigh other hair types down.
If your hair is thick (regardless of whether it's curly, straight, or somewhere in between) it tends to be drier, so look for products that nourish all those strands with creamy formulas that add moisture.
If hair is thick and coarse, considering using a rich rinse-out conditioner as your leave-in conditioner during the day.
If there's a “diva” of hair types, it's probably curly hair. It has a well-earned reputation for being one of the most difficult hair types to manage and style. It's drier, more susceptible to humidity, and more prone to split ends and breakage. So is the solution picking up a shampoo or conditioner designed for curly hair? No. There aren't any special cleansing or conditioning ingredients unique for curly hair. No one has ever washed their hair with any shampoo or conditioner labeled for curly hair and had it look any better or different than using similar hair-care products sold without the "for curly hair" designation.
Instead, try checking out products designed for dry or damaged hair, since as we mentioned, curly hair tends to be both. In fact, more often than not, “for damaged hair” and “for curly hair” products have incredibly similar formulas!
If you suffer from thinning hair, you might have been drawn in by a hair-care product that promised to make hair fuller and thicker – or even grow hair. No shampoo, conditioner, or styling product can help you grow more hair (you have to try a product like Rogaine for such results), though some research indicates the active ingredient in Nizoral Shampoo (ketoconazole) can help reduce thinning hair due to male- or female-pattern baldness (Sources: Skin Therapy Letter, June 2012, pages 1–4; and International Journal of Cosmetic Science, October 2002, pages 49–56). For best results, use Nizoral 2–3 times per week.
You absolutely can make your hair appear fuller, thanks to a little cosmetic help. Choose a shampoo that has a gentle film-forming agent (these are ingredients that include terms like “acrylates” and “copolymers”) that deposits a small amount of buildup on the hair shaft each time you shampoo. The eventual result is that this buildup will make it appear as though hair has more volume (highlighting or dyeing hair all over has a similar effect). Consider products designed for fine hair, as these tend to emphasize volume and are often less prone to weighing hair down.
When seeking out all of these hair products, you should know one very important fact: most expensive shampoos, conditioners, and styling agents are waste of money! The similarity of the formulas from all price ranges is shocking, and we're including salon and department store brands, too. We have never seen an expensive shampoo or conditioner whose formula warranted the extra cost. There are more unique, pricier styling products that don't have a drugstore equivalent, but even then we encourage you to try less expensive options first.
There are good and bad (mostly good) hair-care products in all price ranges—spending more does not guarantee you'll be any happier with your hair, be it curly or straight, dyed or not.
The Best Skin (and Hair) of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare and Hair Care products. You’ll find products for a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, sun damage, and even dry, damaged hair. See Paula's Choice Hair Care.
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Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:
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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.
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