Nothing underscores life's irony like career paths. While one of my friends, a complete teetotaler, became a brand manager at Seagram's Liqueur, I, with my baby fine, impossibly slow-to-grow hair, ended up writing for cosmetology textbooks, salon and beauty magazines, and even hair care manufacturers.
Talk about initiation by fire! Suddenly, I was expected to have a hurricane mane (like half the women around me) and to be a hair expert. I was flooded with requests from hairdressers to perm or cut my hair--more pointedly, they'd say, "You have to cut that mop; fine hair looks terrible that long."
Back then, the thinking was that fine hair never looked good unless it was cut into a super-short bob and the tactics for getting clients were clearly unrefined.
Throughout my 25+ year career, I've been in hundreds of salons, from London to Moscow, New York to San Francisco, and had haircuts that ranged from $15 to $250+. I've also had every cut imaginable, a slew of bad perms and hair colors I shouldn't have tried.
Naturally, fine hair became my forte and I explored countless techniques for "enhancing" fine hair, ranging from undercutting, in which short pieces of hair "plump" up longer surface strands to create volume, to relaxing fine hair, since sodium hydroxide "will really blow up the cuticle," transforming fine, straight strands into a real bomb. (I passed on actually trying the later.)
If you're ready for the best, the worst and what really works, here's 25+ year's worth of hard-earned knowledge, straight from the best hairdressers in the world--and the real-life litmus test!
Making The Cut
There are certain hair cuts that make fine hair look lots better, but first, you should understand what fine hair really is, because it's not necessarily thin. "Fine" refers to the diameter of a single strand.
So, you can have fine hair that's abundant, because you can have many individual strands per square inch.
You can also have fine and thin or thinning hair, which means you've got strands that are small in diameter and on top if it, you don't have a lot of them. Age, diet, stress, medication and other factors can make fine but abundant hair begin to thin, and appear sparse in density.
While the degree to which hair is fine or both fine and sparse determines the best cut for you, as a general rule, it's true that when hair is shorter and almost all a single length, it'll look its fullest.
For this reason, the top five cuts for any type of fine hair are:
The Bob - in its thousands of variations. A short bob (ear-lobe length) made my hair look super-healthy and about twice as abundant as it really is. Unfortunately, I didn't care for how it worked with my heart-shaped face. A longer bob was better.
The Chop - in basic bob-length with irregular ends. It gave my fine, sparse hair both style and shape and was easy to maintain, when cut above the shoulders. It worked lots better than a totally blunt cut, which looked limp and lacked dimension.
The Cap Cut - with its all-bangs approach. Best for petite or oval facial shapes.
The Crop - which really refers to any short, tapered cut. Crops look cool on younger women; if you're over 45, watch out for what they do to your chin and neckline in profile. Also, short crops put so much focus on your eyes, they draw attention to less than flawless skin.
The Lightly Layered Mid-length - You can go just to or even below the shoulder with a smart shape and regular trims. A cut like this, from Minardi Salon in NYC, is my best cut yet.
It brushes my shoulders, is cut on a slightly diagonal-forward moving line at the sides and contains a few, light layers, which provide volume when I blow dry my hair.
If your hair is fine but abundant, your hair will look thicker and fuller:
If your hair is both fine and thin or thinning (sparse):
1. Stylists say a short cut best, but how short is too short? This depends largely on your facial shape. If it's round, go with a longer, short cut to slenderize your face. If it's elongated, create the illusion of width with fullness at bottom. If it's diamond-shaped, keep the length below widest part of your face.
Of course, there are plenty of times you'll want to break these old rules, which were created to "downplay flaws." If you've got confidence and attitude, you can even look great highlighting a feature that has been traditionally downplayed.
2. Wear your hair smooth and close to your head, with the ends flipped up or under. Try cuts that were intended to be worn behind your ears. This naturally makes it look like you've got more hair.
3. Ask your stylist about variations on the Cap, Bowl and Crop cuts. Consider what bangs bring to the table, besides concealing a sparse, irregular front hairline.
When the back is cropped super-short and the long front "bang" area is worn close to your head, you can go for a smooth style or add a few layers for texture.
Imagine a cut with all the hair from crown brushed forward and cut into heavy bangs. You can trim the sides around your ears, leave wispy sideburns or let bangs continue into a softened bowl cut. A good stylist can blend the best elements of each of these cuts.
4. An asymmetric style makes it look like you have more hair. The cut stacks up on the heavy side and lighter side is supposed to look like less. Tuck the lighter side behind your ear and all that fullness on heavier side stands out even more.
5. The cardinal rule is "kept simple." Consider a short cut that does not require much volume, or a longer look that gets its kick from a smooth, shiny surface.
6. If like a longer look, get trims religiously. Fine hair looks its worst when it starts to lose the shape of the cut and the first sign is straggly, ragged ends.
Fattening It Up
Rather than talk about roller sets and styling techniques that create the illusion of thicker hair, let's go right to the new, more exciting stuff--technology.
About 10 years ago, there were a slew of products that claimed to help you grow more hair--they're gone because they didn't work. The ones that do work are still available. (Incidentally, Rogaine is still the only product that's proven to grow hair, to the satisfaction of the FDA.)
Taking a new tact, manufacturers have focused on ways to fatten up individual strands, so that fine hair looks and feels more substantial per strand--and more abundant overall. The first of these products relied on wheat proteins, which were infused into the cortex, to plump it up.
Some got super-sticky if you used too much, but all had some degree of effectiveness, when you used them with the heat from your blow dryer. Still, with 60% of all American women defining their hair as "fine," manufacturers knew they could do better.
Today, there's a new generation of hair thickeners, and they come in complete product lines that include a shampoo, conditioner, and styling products especially for fine, thin or thinning hair. Some work much better than others, and you can bet, I've tried them all.
Technology's Triumph: Hair Volumizing Products That Work:
Since I don't expect that you'll run right out and invest in an entire line, I've listed products which fatten up fine hair, all on their own. If you like the product and the company also offers an entire line, obviously it's worth trying.
Other products to try might include:
Volume Enhancing Shampoos
PhytoVolume Shampoo - Phytovolume is a volumizer shampoo for fine, limp, lifeless hair. Crustacean shell extract increase the moisture level in the hair shaft to make it swell for a fuller appearance. 6.7 oz.
PhytoMousse Volume Shampoo - Lift hair to new heights. Volume shampoo contains Mango & Shea butter extracts which hydrate & coate the hair shaft adding volume to each strand. 5.7 oz.
Rene Furterer Fioravanti Volumizing Shampoo - The Fioravanti Volumizing shampoo gives body and bounce to fine hair with no hold. It restores hair's volume and lightness.
Rene Furterer - Tonucia Shampoo for Fine & Limp Hair - TONUCIA Toning Shampoo tones the scalp and strengthens the hair, thanks to the active bio-spheres it contains.
During massaging, the bio-spheres release essential oils in order to encourage the provision of energy-containing elements to hair the roots.
The Tonucia product contains the following ingredients:
Leonor Greyl Shampooing au Miel - Gentle Volumizing - Shampoo - Honey Shampoo. Contains an intimate blend of natural extracts of honey and proteins. Specifically created to add body, shine, volume and luster to all hair types. Delicately scented it adds volume without stripping hair of its vital moisture.
Volume Enhancing Mousses/Gels
got2b 2 sexy Voluptuous Volume Mousse - For hair that needs a kick! This magical gel transforms into rich mousse right before your eyes giving lasting styling control with maximum volume and long-lasting hold. With hair this pumped up, it's okay to be full of yourself.
JF Lazartique - Root Volumizer For Hair - 2.54 oz - This root volumizer is a styling gel which thickens and coats the root of the hair. This gel is suitable for all hair types (Particularly short hair). It coats the hair, giving body and lift to the roots. It's ulta-light, non-oily texture strengthens the texture of the hair.
This is due to its active ingredients:
-glucose powders to coat the fiber at its roo (0.6%) -marine elastin *0.8%) to give healthy resilience and lift, -keratin extract (0.5%) which smoothes out the scales on each hair, leaving the hair shiny and soft to the touch -hydrolyzed marine collagen (0.5%) which moisturizes the hair shaft, strengthening it and --enabling it to absorb nutrients.
L'Oreal (formerly ARTec) Textureline Volume Gel. While this product is more of a traditional voluminizer than an individual-strand fattener, I love it because: it works; it leaves your hair manageable, full and shiny; and the way it leaves my hair feeling is more like the way I'm used to it feeling--soft, not rough. If you blow dry regularly or want a dab of gel to mix with water and mist onto a self adhesive hair roller set, this is the product to use.
Note: The Textureline Volume Line has recently been discontinued by L'Oreal.
Volume Enhancing Sprays
John Frieda - Sheer Blonde - Full Blown Blonde - Volumizing Spray - 6.7 oz - Full-Blown Blonde volumizing spray. Thickens & Lifts while brightening blonde. Instantly thickens & lifts fine, thin, delicate blonde for full, lush results. Body-enhancing formula.
KMS - Add Volume - Root and Body Lift - A light weight spray foam infused with eucalyptus and cinnamon lifts roots while building lots of body and texture without crunchiness. Adds overall body and support for full looks. Designed for fine hair.l
Thicken Creme From Anasazi. I was surprised at the technological sophistication of this product from Anasazi, a line that's been around for a while, but never made it big. Just a dab, used with a blow dryer, made my hair look thicker, fuller and hold a Velcro set better. It was my second favorite styling product.
Note: This product has been discontinued.
Basic Texture's Be Thick Thickening Hair Creme from Graham Webb. Webb's Basic Texture product line includes a "Be Thick" shampoo, conditioner, thickening & texturizing spray gel, and the hair creme. The creme had more body/fullness benefits than actual fattening-up-each-strand action, like my Number One choice, but it still is an excellent product--especially if you have fine but somewhat abundant hair. Webb Rules!
Note: This product has been discontinued.
KMS' AMP, Volume Leave-in Thickening Cream. AMP is another high-tech product that actually makes a difference, but I'd add a caution--be careful you don't use too much. Just a pea-sized amount might be enough for your hair, and always emulsify the product between your palms before applying, like the directions say.
Note: This product has been discontinued.
Musts to Avoid
Just as some products are great for making fine hair fuller, others are as incompatible with fine locks as oil is with water--and they create just about the same effect.
* Avoid waxes, molding muds and polishers. As often as stylists have tried to tell me they're great for my hair, a single one has yet to prove it. Even a minute amount of certain products makes fine hair look limp and greasy; stylists who tried to use waxes, polishes and hair sticks on me ended up telling me the "dirty" hair look was in, by way of explaining the results.
* Stick to lightweight gels or light hair pastes; heavy gels can weigh your hair down.
* Avoid shiner mists and silicone sprays--unless you spray each side of your head just one time with the product held at least 8 inches away. Don't even think about adding more "shine" later. All you'll get is grease. And flat hair.
* Texture cremes and stylers intended to create "bed head." Face it, if you have fine hair, achieving the bed head look is easy. Getting a nice style is hard. And on fine hair, "bed head" just looks like a bunch of separated, skinny pieces. Cool, hey?
Pumping Up The Volume
When Neutrogena commissioned the research firm Yankelovich Partners to explore "bad hair days," the firm found that 90% of female respondents had them.
But what were they? Days when hair is "out of place," according to 76% of respondents; "flat" hair (63%) ; or limp" locks (58%). What do you do when "flat and limp" describes your hair type on any give day? Probably, have a whole lot of bad hair days.
While everyone has styling tricks that make fine hair look better, here are a few of my favorites, which are easy for anyone, and work especially well with a great, fine-hair cut and the new thickening products.
1. One of the simplest ways to get full-looking locks, root lift and volume is to let your hair dry on top of your head. Because roots dry upward, the lift lasts! The only drawback: this home trick requires you have enough time to let hair air dry. After shampooing, use a super wide-toothed comb to remove tangles, working from the ends, up. Then comb through a voluminizer like Phytovolume Actif or your favorite hair thickener. Comb hair straight up, and secure it on top or curve the ends smoothly and clip them in place. You can also make a top ponytail and twist all your hair until it buckles back. This gives you volume and texture, but even fine, thin hair takes a while to dry this way. You can cheat by blow drying when hair is still damp, or occasionally re-wrapping hair to expose different sections to the surface air.
2. Dry and style in two steps. Use high heat on your blow dryer to get most the water out of your hair, then apply styling products and begin styling when hair is 80% dry. According to J. F. Lazartigue the more water you remove from your hair before you begin styling, the more likely it will hold the style and look full. It's absolutely true.
3. If you've heard you should dry your hair while bent at the waist, guess again. If you want extra volume, start by lifting the roots straight up or out with a round brush while your head is held upright. This gives you lots more lift that you get from hanging your head upside down, because you're using more tension and creating the amount of firm, root lift you want.
4. Want easy volume? If you wear an asymmetrical style. For years stylists have recommended you dry your hair in the opposite direction of which you'll wear it. It works, because you're lifting roots one way, drying them, then brushing them the other way. Naturally, they lift up. Even techniques makes a wave out of a front cowlick.
5. Use mousse or hair spray as both stylers and finishers. Fine hair's worst enemy is humidity and a stylist at Jacques Dessange taught me this trick: Remove most the moisture from your hair, then use half your mousse as you blow dry to style.
Use a round brush to lift the roots first, then dry the ends. Turn the ends up or under as you pull the strand taut, so you can dry the remainder of the strand and the ends at once. Finish drying. Now, take mousse between your fingers, rub them together and detail the ends, root lift or any other areas you want to have extra hold. This fights off humidity and works even better with today's light foam stylers, because they liquefy rapidly. You can also use hairspray as a styler and a finisher.
After drying your hair, lift sections you want to have extra lift, shoot hairspray on the underside of the section and then add a quick blast from your blow dryer. Mist all over or just underneath strands with hairspray to finish.
Chances are, you've read plenty about Velcro Sets, hot rollers, perms and more. All you really have to do is experiment, and keep these basic tips in mind.
Having It All
Sorry, you usually can't have it all in life, but you can have access to almost all the other great things I've learned that make fine hair look better. These should also put some beauty myths to rest:
1. Fine hair looks thicker with a darker hair color; if it's light blonde, it looks thinner. If your hair is actually thinning and light blonde, you risk scalp show-through. You can add brightness, lightness and dimension by getting surface highlights. When highlights contrast against a dark base, hair looks thicker and more dimensional.
2. Have you heard that hair color makes hair seem thicker because it coats the shaft? As much as I love color, this may be stretching it.
A brunette, dark blonde or red semi-permanent color with semi-permanent highlights might make hair appear thicker, but it won't feel much different. If you use bleach to create the highlights, it'll feel rougher because you're beginning to damage to fine, fragile hair. That's why more and more hairdressers are using color products, not bleach, to create safe, healthy highlights.
3. Perming and coloring degrades the hair fiber by breaking too many bonds that never reform. Don't listen to pitches about new perm products that were intended to be used on color-treated hair or vice versa.
4. There's no hair type that they leave in totally healthy condition, and if your hair is thin or fine…Forgetaboutit! The many hairdressers who have confided in me about perms and color have all complained that manufacturers push the concept, simply to boost sales, and 100% of those hairdressers insist there is no way using the two together creates healthy hair. You can have both, once in a great while, if your hair is already super healthy and your stylist is a chemical pro. Even then, don't expect your hair to be as healthy as it was before the treatments.
5. If you do want a perm and your hair is thinning, ask your hairdresser about using a bricklay or a zig-zag parting pattern, so the perm rods create no obvious splits in your hair. The same applies to setting your hair. Rather than set your hair in straight lines and ending up with separation between rollers where scalp shows through, set your hair using a bricklay pattern (position rollers the way bricks are staggered on a wall), or take zig-zag partings.
6. If you already have a perm, mist your hair with spray gel and "push" hair into the style in which it was permed. Don’t re-set hair following the identical pattern in which perm rods were placed. (People with thick, abundant hair can do this to reinforce a perm, not those with fine, thin hair.)
7. Less is more? It depends on what you get less of. You've probably heard that you should use lower blow-dryer heat settings (less heat) for fine hair, so you don't "scorch" or heat-damage hair. The truth is, it matters more your hair is exposed to heat for less time. So, use high heat and dry your hair faster. Don't use a lower setting and expose your hair to heat for a much longer period of time. (The same basic concept applies to perms and relaxers when the choice is between a stronger product or a longer processing time.) As for scorching, unless you hold your blow dryer a few inches from your head and refuse to move it back and forth, you shouldn't be too worried. If you use curling irons or crimpers, use only as much heat as you need, for only as long as you need. Frankly, there are better, safer styling tools for fine hair.
8. When it comes to shampooing and conditioning, there are a couple of fine hair myths to dispel. One says choose a deep cleansing shampoo over a body-building one, because you should remove any dirt or product residue that flattens hair. You'd need an awful lot of gunk on your hair for this to make sense, and if you have fine hair, you should never be over-using products so much you need to deep-cleanse all the time.
9. There are some great body-building or voluminizing shampoos out there that make a genuine difference and you should generally favor them. When it comes to conditioning, say yes, but concentrate on conditioning your ends. Occasionally bring conditioner up to the top and scalp, and then rinse immediately. Of course, with new conditioners specifically for fine hair, the only way to discover how they'll act on your hair is to experiment.
If you have a great cut, use products especially formulated to plump up fine hair and use a repertoire of styling tricks, what else can you do? Thanks to clip on extensions you can look like the stars.
Ken Paves worked in conjunction with Jessica Simpson to create a fabulous line of affordable clip-in synthetic and human hair extensions which come in a wide range of colors.
These clip-in extensions can instantly add lots of lush volume to many different types of hairstyles. They offer a great option to transform your strands into a thicker, fuller version.
A line of clip-in human hair extensions were specifically developed for the famous Victoria's Secret runway show a few years ago and half of the Grammy attendees.
All that hair no longer takes hours to get or costs a fortune, because many hair extension companies have started offering Clip On Extension Sets that add fullness, or are long enough to add super length. And the hair is the same quality as all the human hair the stars get from the company. They may only solve your problem for a day, but they're great to have on hand for those occasions when you want longer, thicker hair instantly.
I strongly suggest you have a hairdresser show you how to put them on the first time you use them. Also, order a lighter color than your own if you want to color them to match your hair color. If your hair is super-fine or seriously thinning, they aren't for you, because you have to have enough hair to lay over the weft's attachment site and conceal it.
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- Revised Publication Date: 05/03/10