A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist US.
The story of my hair — my fine, dry, curly frizzy hair that’s thinning up front, where it shows the most (perverse, right?) — is also the decades-long story of the innumerable styling products I’ve tried in an obsessive quest to tame, densify, and enhance the shine of my unruly locks. But reader, I’m here to report, my hair hasn’t been this healthy since my 20s.
A crucial reason is that I found a style that works for me: “a Louise Brooks bob, mid-ear length, with extra-short bangs, for those who are not faint of heart,” is how Yves Durif, the virtuoso hairstylist at his Carlyle Hotel salon, described it. Though it was a cult look I’d never dreamed I could carry off, Durif said I could. I agreed to the cut. He did it, and I instantly fell in love with the result. (Shorter hair means less breakage, ergo, less thinning and better hair health.) But I also have a whole slew of bodifying shampoos, shaft-fortifying masks, and self-gripping rollers to thank for helping me master the upkeep. The following products, most of which are so rich only a mere dollop is needed in order to be effective (and not plaster my hair down) have let me maintain my smooth, sleek bob at home. For those of you who’ve watched your hair diminish over time and/or with misuse, I tell you: Here are the goods.
For cleansing and conditioning
My current favorite hair wash, the Kerastase Densifique Bodifying Shampoo, contains the same hyaluronic acid that hydrates and plumps the skin. It has a similar effect on my hair. It’s also got a complex called Intra-Cylane that, intriguingly, was inspired by a chemical process used in glassmaking. It appears to fill in surface gaps on and thicken individual strands of hair. My method is to always shampoo with a quick first lathering, focusing on my scalp, followed by a second lathering I leave on for two to three minutes.
As anyone contending with frizz is profoundly aware, a good conditioner is essential. I’ve found one with added styling power: the Kerastase Fondant Densité Conditioner — a partner to the abovementioned Kerastase shampoo, containing that same hyaluronic acid-Intra-Cylane formula. Now all conditioners have a smoothing effect, but this one, for me, raises the ante on sleekness. I apply it all over, leave it in for a few minutes, then rinse it out with lukewarm water.
The other conditioner in my arsenal: A gorgeously creamy hair mask so potent, I leave it on only for the minimum recommended time: five minutes. (I focus on the ends, but even when it migrates toward the roots, I find that isn’t overkill, since my hair is dry to begin with, as frizzy hair often is.) Key ingredients in the Kenra Restorative Reconstructor are shaft-fortifying amino acids, coconut oil for smoothing, and a guar derivative for fighting static, along with lactic acid and AHA-like glucanolactone — which allow the other ingredients to penetrate.
The first of several styling products that go on my post-towel-dried hair is the wondrous Moroccanoil Root Boost — a foamy spray containing nourishing argan kernel oil. Just a few spritzes seem to physically impel each strand upwards from the root. And then there’s the lingering woody-smoky amber scent; that’s a reference to Morocco, home to both argan oil and the world’s most exquisite amber fragrance sources.
Next comes mousse, for added volume and structure. To my delight, the anti-frizz, anti-bleh L’Oreal Air Dry It Ruffled Body Mousse isolates and texturizes each individual strand of hair. Again, all I use is the merest smidgeon, which I sparingly rake in with my fingers. And I’m in respectful awe of the low price. [Editor’s note: The Ruffled Body Mousse doesn’t ship to the UK, but we recommend this similar mousse.]
I let the volumizer and mousse sit on my hair undisturbed until it’s about one-third dry. Then I turn my self-gripping hair rollers (which eliminate the need for hair-denting clips). These get positioned on the crown and sides of my head. Now here’s the trick: For a subtle lift, right from the roots, I go for the narrow-diameter 20mm small hair rollers. Depending on the weather, air-drying time is anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Hair dryers never worked for me during all those years when I vainly attempted to blow-dry my then-long hair straight. Now, my rolled-up short hair air-dries quickly, but I use the high-velocity Gamma+ Italia Gold Aria Hair Dryer — with its spinning air flow — to speed drying time for those small rollers I mentioned just above. It’s also that rarity among hair dryers, with an On-Off ionics option. Off, it volumizes and adds body; switched to On mode, it smooths and adds extra shine.
During my previous long-hair years — make that decades — I never used a hairbrush. The merest touch of bristles on my head created matted frizz. But then I discovered the Extreme Vented Brush, which turned me into a convert. The bristles, farther apart than usual, make it especially useful as a gentle detangler for the thinned-out hair — whether wet or dry — around my forehead. It’s also an essential overall smoother for my now-sleek hairdo. Developed exclusively for Yves Durif, this brush is handmade in Italy of anti-static rubber resin and strong and tensile carbon fibre. So it’s tough and heat-resistant. While it’s genius for working in shampoo, conditioner, or masques, what I value most about this brush are its root-lifting powers.
The single most essential item in my hairstyling routine? It’s my GHD Platinum+ Professional Performance 1” Styler, which Yves Durif recommended (and uses himself at his salon). Not only does it heat up at record speed (20 seconds), not only does the outer casing not get hot (so no finger burns), but it’s also a smart tool. If I insert a big chunk of hair, it revs up its power output to maintain its optimal 365°F temperature. That means less overall ironing time and minimal hair pulling. Durif’s assessment: “It’s gentle but very effective.” For me, the silky shine, smoothness, and movability lasts for several days if I turn to a hair roller trick my colorist, Marie Sigismondi, at the Warren Tricomi Salon, taught me: To maximize volume and bounce, I warm up each about-to-be-rolled section of hair with the iron, and then leave the rollers in place until my hair cools down.
And now for the hair oil and serum portion of this article. The Medford, Oregon, dermatologist Laurel Naversen Geraghty (who had a past life as a beauty writer and editor) says “hair oils and serums can coat individual hair strands to add temporary shine and smoothness.” That’s their main function. Oils are notorious for weighing hair down, so I use the merest smidgeons, which I warm between my palms. Since they’re essential for my bob, I rotate among three different ones, each with its own charms, starting with the Moroccanoil Treatment Light. According to hair-care lore, the amber-scented Moroccanoil Treatment was the pacesetting argan and flax seed oil hair shiner and smoother that started the whole hair oil movement. The Light version is perfect for my fine hair, shining it up and making short shrift of flyaways without producing the dreaded flattening effect.
So many high-octane hair products today have advanced lab ingredients and obscure botanicals. And then there’s the 90-year-old Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream, containing old-fashioned lanolin and mineral, castor seed, vegetable, and corn oils. Legend has it that Arden herself (who owned a thoroughbred racing stable in Kentucky’s Bluegrass Country) invented this ointment –it’s really more of an ointment than a cream — for her horses’ legs. Humans use it for soothing and smoothing chapped and dry skin areas. The heaviest of my three smoother-shiners, it’s best used sparingly on my hair. I stroke a fingertip-ful all over my hair for extra manageability and shine. And any extra on my fingertips gets rubbed onto my lips. As for the piercing medicinal aroma, I find it alluring in a comforting way.
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