With all the different types, not to mention brands, of styling products on the market today, it's no wonder surfing through the shelves can be a dizzying experience.
To clear up the whats and whys of today's style supporters once and for all read on.
Gels can be a girl's best friend when she's in a hurry. They're best for fine-to-medium textured hair, but even if your hair's thick, you can perform some slick tricks in seconds.
For traditional styling, apply to the roots only for lift. Add heat from a blow dryer, lift hair as it dries and you've got instant lift and volume. Gels can also be used with a roller set—either along the whole strand or just to smooth ends so they don't get the bends.
You can also let hair dry on its own, after combing through gel, and leave the style crisp or brush through once for a softer surface.
In general, avoid applying gel to the hair's ends; it'll weigh them down and discourage movement. The exception is if you use gel to slick all your hair back or if you have curly hair that you want to tame a bit. Then, do comb gel all the way through to the ends—lightly.
Gels come in tubes for hand styling and in spray-on versions; the choice is up to you. The spray-on gel might save you time, but be careful not to over-concentrate on one area. Mist the hair lightly and hold the bottle at least 6 inches from your head.
More expensive isn't always better. We gave several a test drive and found that Dep Gel in an economy size gave great, no-stick hold.
TRESemme' Tres Gelle from the drug store and ARTec textureline gels, which are formulated for smoothing or voluminizing and are found in salons coast-to-coast.
Mousses can be used on wet or dry hair, which is a surprise to some. They're best for adding direction and movement to hair and work well with curly hair. The problem with mousse is if you let it sit a long time or it's hot in the bathroom, you'll get a runny liquid unless you remember to shake the can first.
Don't over-do mousse, just a quarter or silver-dollar sized amount does the trick. You can always lightly apply mousse all over prior to heat styling, but the best trick we found was to pinch or comb a little through dry hair, just where you want wave or curl. A real time-saver!
You can combine the techniques, too. Use half the total amount while hair is damp, then use the rest after hair is dry and fingerstyle it in. This works especially well when it's hot and humid outside.
Like most products, mousses come in formulations from soft to firm hold, but often the firm hold mousses get sticky—especially if you use to much or don't comb the product through evenly. Our favorite choices hold a style but leave the hair touchably soft.
Try Paul Mitchell Sculpting Foam or one of the new foam-in mousses from Aveda, ARTec or Wella, sold in salons. At the supermarket, Vidal Sassoon alcohol-free styling mousse is priced right and won't dry hair out.
Hairsprays are for holding a style in place after you've finished it. Use too much and you've got instant helmet head.
There are literally hundreds to choose from so you'd may as well go for one that does two things at once, such as add both hold and add shine. Others contain sunscreen, which matters most if your hair is colored. (The sun will fade it.)
Today, all are being reformulated with lowered VOCs (volatile organic compounds—ozone-eaters that we can do without. However, the chemical change causes them to come out wetter.
TRESemme's newest hairsprays get around this with a new, anhydrous-based formula. (It's not based on water, which most sprays are.) if you find your favorite spray is wetter, hold the can further from your head, expect to wait a little longer for drying and keep the nozzle clean or the can will clog periodically.
When choosing a hairspray, sample sizes let you give them spin; economy sizes last for months. Select one by desired degree of hold and other stuff sprays do (add shine, protect color, subdue frizz).
POMADES, GLOSSERS AND SHINERS
We put these three together because they mostly do the same thing, which is to add shine to hair. Pomades are thicker, which means they can be a little greasier, but they can also attract moisture to dry hair or repel moisture when it's damp or humid out. (Look for humectant or anti-humectant formulations.) Pomades are best for thick or curly hair and ideal for slicked back looks.
Glossers and shiners come in liquid form and in spray-in versions. Just a few drops is all it takes to add super shine to hair and smooth frizzies.
Spray-in shiners are best for straight hair or "dressed" styles that you don't want to disturb, like fingerwaves.
To use the products, smooth just dime-sized amount of pomade or three drops of a glosser between your hand, rub palms together to create heat and smooth the surface of your hair lightly. Spritz on the shiner for instant shine anytime. Liquid glossers and shiners also have a second, nifty use: add a drop or two to a liquid gel, mix the two together and blow dry or roller set your hair.
All will build up on the hair with over-use, particularly if they contain silicone. Use them three times in one day and your hair could end up looking limp and greasy. Go easy, unless you have super thick, curly tresses. Then, you can also choose a shiner that banishes frizz.
Good choices are Hask Pure Shine Spray-in Luminator, Citre Shine Shine-Miracle Laminator in a tube and Aussie Gloss Shine Enhancer. In salons, choices are endless and you can ask your stylist to show you exactly how to use the products.
Voluminizers add body and volume to hair when you're heat styling it. In general, they have a lighter hold than gels and add more body. They're less likely to weight ends down than gels and if you want to blow dry in curl, they're ideal.
Spray on lightly to damp hair, concentrating on the roots and style as desired. Like gels and mousses, voluminizers are styling products, as opposed to finishing products which hold a style in place after styling.
It goes without saying, if you have thick, full locks, there isn't much reason to use a voluminizer. Opt for a gel or mousse instead.
Hair thickeners are heat-activated and will not work their magic unless you blow dry your hair after applying them. They're terrific for fine hair or hair that lacks body.
Start with a quarter-sized amount and apply it underneath the hair, from the nape forward. The easiest way to do this is by bending over with your head upside down. Comb the product through evenly, then blow dry as you lift hair away from the scalp with your hands. When hair is almost dried, flip your head up and complete styling. At this point, you can add a small amount of mousse or gel, if desired.
The ones we like in salons are by Graham Webb and ARTec; in the drug store, try Thick Fixx Hair Thickener and Sculpting Gel—another two-in-one styler.
Goops, greases, sprays and gels stick to your scalp and build up on your hair, making for a real mess if you don't periodically remove them. If you've ever discovered that your hair feels sticky, has white flakes from drying gels or that it just doesn't feel clean even after shampooing, a clarifier is right for you. They're also great for "prepping" the hair if you're going to color it. Haircolor will penetrate faster and you'll get better color results.
Most clarifiers should be used about once a week. Ones that contain alpha hydroxy acids also cleanse the scalp.
In addition to the basics, shelves are strewn with greases, waxes, hair cremes and oils. The primary purpose of all is create special styles that play up texture. If used correctly, they won't make hair greasy, unless that's the look you're going for.
Cremes are the easiest on hair and can be used in place of gels or mousses for soft hold and defined texture. You can either work them evenly through damp hair and heat style or use a small amount on your fingertips on areas where texture and definition are desired. For example, use them to create wispy sideburns or a pointed little bangs. They work for all hair types.
Waxes are also used for "spot styling" but have a harder, stiffer finish. Greases keep hair from drying out and are best applied in small amounts. Rub your hands together, then rub them through your hair for a wetter look.
Oils protect hair from the sun and can be lightly applied all over prior to sunning. The most famous one, PhytoPlage Sun Protection Oil became a styling favorite of top hairdressers because it also leaves hair touchable and soft.
(Work a few drops through your hair and style as desired.) If your hair is fine or straight, use all these products sparingly. Thick, curly tresses can handle more.
For short, layered cuts and guy's styles, these products give you maximum versatility and with a little practice, all the latest high-texture styles.
About Victoria Wurdinger
Victoria Wurdinger is an award-winning writer and researcher who specializes in business and beauty.
She has written for dozens of magazines, including Longevity, Drug Store News, Beauty Digest, Drug & Cosmetic Industry, Modern Salon, Art Business News, British Hairdressers Journal, Celebrity Hairstyles, Color & Style, Beauty Store Business, Studio and Day Spa.
Victoria has also authored several books, including "Competition Hairdesign," "Home Haircutting Made Easy," "The Photo Session Handbook" and "Multicultural Clients."
She has won several American Society of Business Press Editors awards, not only for her writing but for her design and layout concepts.