Top Tips for Washing and Styling Your Hair

In this article:

You know how to shampoo your hair – and really, what's so hard about applying conditioner or using hairspray, right? As it turns out, using hair-care products requires some know-how if you want enviable tresses. Check out our favorite tips and put an end to those bad hair days!
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In-Shower Products and How to Use Them

  • Shampoos are primarily intended to cleanse the scalp. The ends of the hair (the length) don't get all that dirty, but the scalp and the hair roots can get oily and accumulate dead skin cells that need to come off. In addition, the scalp can almost always benefit from a massage, which will increase healthy circulation and help the hair that's developing in the follicles. Always focus shampoo on your scalp, gently massage in, and rinse well. No need to repeat unless you've used a LOT of styling products.
  • Conditioners that claim to penetrate deeply work only if there's enough time and heat for them to be absorbed into the hair shaft. Most women who apply a conditioner in the shower never leave it on for longer than 1 or 2 minutes. If you have damaged hair, it is very important to leave the conditioner on for as long as possible. Tip: For great results, slick a conditioner through dry hair before going to bed, and then rinse it out in the morning.
  • Too much conditioner or conditioner that isn't thoroughly rinsed out can make hair go limp. Using a shampoo that contains conditioning agents plus a conditioner can result in buildup on the hair, making it heavy and lifeless. Generally, a shampoo with minimal or no conditioning agents at all is best, and then use your conditioner only where you need it, not necessarily all over or near the roots and scalp. Tip: Unless your scalp is dry, you don't need to apply conditioner there.
  • Be careful to thoroughly rinse shampoo out of your hair. Leaving traces of detergent cleansing agents behind can make hair sticky and flat, not to mention serve as a source of scalp itching and irritation. For best results, go for a gentle, fragrance-free shampoo that won't cause buildup.
  • When in doubt, use products designed for your hair type. Undesignated products are not for everyone, and unless you have truly normal hair, they're not for you. 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.
  • Every now and then, remove the excess hair from your brush and comb and take them into the shower with you for a good cleaning. Styling products, conditioners, and your own oil can cling to brushes and combs, so you're transferring some of the grime back onto your clean hair. For a more thorough cleansing, or if you have dandruff, soak them in a solution of diluted bleach; about three tablespoons to a quart of water should be enough to kill whatever may be lurking around or between the bristles.

Styling Solutions

  • When using a blow dryer, hair is easier to style and control when it is damp (but not wet). When it comes to blow drying, hair can be fickle. It takes some experimentation to find out how damp your hair needs to be to get the best smoothness. It is also less damaging to hair to blow it dry while using a styling brush when it is damp; wet hair is more vulnerable to damage than dry hair.
  • Always dry the root area first. Drying the roots first provides for the most fullness and controls the basic shape of the style you're trying to achieve.
  • Never use a curling iron or flatiron on wet or damp hair. The heat from these implements can easily exceed the boiling point of water, and that much heat can cause the water inside the hair shaft to actually boil, which in turn causes serious breakage and damage in that spot.
  • Wet or damp hair is more vulnerable to losing its shape. It is best to blow dry your hair all the way dry and not leave any wetness, not even a little. Unless partial natural movement is what you are after, blow dry the hair over your entire head completely to keep the style in for as long as possible.
  • If you have the time, alternate between hot air and cool air while blow drying. The hot air forms the curl or smoothness, and the cool air keeps it there. Most modern blow dryers have a cool air feature that's easy to use.
  • To prevent hairspray from flaking off in white specks, apply it from at least six inches away from the hair. A concentrated blast of hairspray can make the polymers and resins go on too thickly, causing a stiff, matte bond that leads to flaking.
  • When using pomades, finishing creams, or styling waxes, remember: Less is more! Stylists tend to overuse these products, which makes your hair more difficult to manage (not to mention greasy). Begin small (rub a pea-sized amount between both palms) and apply only where needed for smoothness and for taming frizz. Do not apply heavy styling products like this to the roots unless you want flat, limp hair.
  • Never backcomb or tease hair. There is no way around this: It is damaging, plain and simple. It also robs hair of its natural luster, especially if your hair is dyed.
  • Do not use rubber bands to hold your hair. Use only soft fabric tie-backs for your hair. Rubber bands or anything that pinches the hair chips away at the cuticle, and when you remove a rubber band, it takes a lot of hair with it.
  • Apply a leave-in conditioner prior to your regular styling product. The right formula can make your hair more manageable while providing an extra measure of protection during heat-styling. If you have fine or thin hair, look for spray-on formulas; normal to slightly thick or coarse hair should go for thin lotions; and those with very thick or curly hair should try creamy formulas.

The tips above will guarantee you better hair, and, depending on your needs, they're easy to incorporate into your routine. Even if you use only a couple of these tips, you should see healthier, smoother hair. Your hair will look so great, your friends might ask you what you're doing differently!

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About the Experts

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 helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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