Avoid feeling stumped with these expert tips for picking the right products, no matter your hair care goals
If You Want Volume
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If your goal is va-va-voom volume, polymers are your strands' best friends. "They attach to and plump the hair fibers, so that strands look and feel a little thicker," explains cosmetic chemist Perry Romanowski. When it comes to volumizing shampoos, scan the ingredient list for a polymer called polyquaternium 7; for mousses, PVP or PVA polymers are good choices. "These trap air between the hairs and help hold volume," he says. Try: Evo Whip It Good Styling Mousse ($25; evohair.com). As far as conditioners go, steer clear of those with silicions, which sit on the surface and can weigh down fine hair, making it hard to achieve lift and fullness. (Here's How to Blow Dry Your Hair for Max Volume.)
If You Want Moisture
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While silicons aren't the best choice if you crave volume, they're the top ingredient in moisturizing formulas, says Romanowski. You'll typically see dimethicone and amodimethicone in shampoos and conditioners, and another version, dimethiconal, in leave-ins. You can also look for a conditioner with that oh-so popular ingredient, coconut oil: "Unlike many hair ingredients that just stay on the surface, coconut oil can actually penetrate into the hair shaft, hydrating it and making it more flexible and manageable." Is there anything coconut oil can't do? We like the new Garnier Whole Blends Coconut Oil & Cocoa Butter Smoothing Conditioner ($7; walmart.com in March).
If You're Protecting Color-Treated Hair
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If you've been trying to safeguard a fresh new shade solely by relying on a color-protecting shampoo, Romanowski says you may want to reconsider your M.O. "It's really not about the shampoo you're using, but how often you are washing your hair," he points out. "Water is what is stripping the hair, not the shampoo. When the hair gets wet, the cuticle swells and the color molecules start to leech out." The best way to keep your hue vibrant is to minimize how often you wash your hair and reach for a dry shampoo instead (most contain the same base ingredients of cornstarch powder and talc, so choosing one is more a matter of personal preference than seeking out specific ingredients). After water, the sun is another major fading culprit, so it's also smart to buy a UV protector, advises Jet Rhys, a San Diego-based stylist and owner of the eponymous salon. "Think of it as sunscreen for your hair," she says. Look for one that specifies UV protection, like Paul Mitchell Color Protect Locking Spray ($13; paulmitchell.com for salons). Spritz on clean, damp hair before styling as usual.
If You're Fighting Frizz
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Dryness is at the root of all frizz issues (when the hair isn't moisturized, excess moisture in the air seeps in and causes the hair shift to expand and frizz), so Rhys suggests starting with a moisturizing conditioner. She likes one with glycerin, an ingredient you may see in skincare, but that's also a good hydrator for hair, she says. To further tame unwanted errant hairs, Romanowski advises focusing on frizz-fighting leave-in products: "The ingredients need to stay on the hair to deliver the desired effects." He suggests looking for an anti-frizz serum or styling cream that contains cyclometichone. Another type of silicone, this one is especially effective at smoothing hair fibers, without weighing down your style. Find it in Arrojo De-Frizz Serum ($18; store.arrojoproduct.com).
If You Have Curly Hair
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When it comes to keeping your curls in check, it's not so much about what to look for, as it is what to avoid. Pass on volumizing shampoos, conditioners, and stylers. These remove the natural oils that keep the shape of the curl intact and lead to splayed out hairs and frizz, says Romanowski. Instead, seek out gentle cleansers and hydrating ingredients; you can find both in one of the many cleansing conditioners on the market. "They have low levels of surfactants and instead use ingredients like cetrimonium chloride to cleanse the hair without stripping it, plus silicons to keep the curls smooth," he adds. Try: Carol's Daughter Hair Milk Cleansing Conditioner ($12; carolsdaughter.com).
If You Need to Protect Your Hair from Heat
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To safeguard your strands from the damaging daily onslaught of your blow dryer, straightener, and flat iron, seek out silicons, recommends Rhys. By coating the hair shaft, they absorb some of the heat, creating a protective barrier between the hair and tool. "Look for a leave-in product that contains phenyl trimethicone," advises Romanowksi. Of all the silicons, this one leaves a thicker film on the hair for slightly more protection, he explains. And even if you're going to be air-drying before using a styling tool, apply the product on wet hair regardless, since silicons will coat wet hair more evenly than dry. Our pick: Joico Iron Clad Thermal Protectant Spray ($17; loxabeauty.com).