Great hair doesn't always come from a bottle of designer shampoo or the skillful hands of a celebrity stylist. Sometimes it's a combination of seemingly inconsequential factors, like when you apply conditioner and a selection of styling aids, that work together in perfect synergy. Once you get it right, it will seem like second nature.
So we asked some of the nation's top stylists and colorists for their best and brightest techniques for getting locks to shine, bounce and otherwise obey your commands. Try the eight-step program they came up with, and you're guaranteed to have plenty of great hair days ahead.
1. Measure your hair's health. Healthy hair is shiny, supple and silky. If none of these adjectives applies to your locks, take a strand test to identify what could be doing the damage: Pull a wet strand from your scalp and stretch it out. "It should stretch one-fifth of its length without breaking, then bounce back," says Luke O'Connor, owner of the LuKaRo Salon in Beverly Hills, Calif. If it breaks, it's lacking moisture.
If the hair keeps stretching, it's lacking protein, probably due to chemical treatments that have weakened the bonds in each strand -- like color processes, straightening or perms. The right conditioning treatments can help in both cases (see step 5 for some product suggestions).
2. Opt for a cut that has substance as well as style. If your hair takes more than 15 minutes to style and even then seems misshapen, you've got the wrong cut. Next time you go to the salon, meet with your stylist before you shampoo to talk about alternatives that will work with your natural texture.
Also: Consider a cut that flatters your face shape. A square jaw will be softened by a loose, layered cut. Bangs (swept to the side if you don't want to get regular trims) complement a longer face, and a center part balances a round face.
3. Find a hue that's you. The golden rule of low-maintenance, low-risk, great-looking color is to go one shade brighter or darker than your normal hue. Then you can keep kicking it up a notch, but you won't be in for any big surprises along the way.
Just be sure that whatever shade you choose contrasts with your skin tone: "If everything matches too well, you'll look washed out and need more makeup," says colorist Stuart Gavert of the Gavert Atelier in Beverly Hills and Peter Coppola Salon in New York City.
Finally, if your dye job goes horribly wrong, ask your colorist to fix it. Most salons will grant you a grace period of a week or two to request a free redo.
4. Discover your shampoo type. You can't miss with a shampoo formulated for your hair type. And labels on reputable brands don't lie. So if you have fine or oily hair, choose a volume-building formula like Physique Amplifying Shampoo or Redken Solve Purifying Shampoo that will get rid of excess oils on the hair without drying it out.
If your hair is dry or chemically treated, look for a moisturizing shampoo (try Aveda Sap Moss Shampoo). Color-protecting shampoos like Matrix Biolage Color Care Shampoo include UV filters that prevent bright, bold hues from fading or dulling too fast. And someone with normal hair that feels neither oily nor dry by the day's end should opt for a balancing shampoo like Bath & Body Works Bio Balancing Shampoo that gives a light, all-over clean feeling.
Whatever you choose, make sure to switch brands every bottle or two to avoid build-up. And, FYI, you only need to shampoo twice if you've piled on a lot of styling products (despite what the bottle may say).
5. Condition wisely and sparingly. The secret to conditioning your hair depends on two variables: application technique and hair type. Unless your hair is chemically treated or particularly porous, you can focus conditioner on your ends, especially if your hair tends to get oily by the end of the day (try a mild conditioner, like J.F. Lazartigue Detangling and Nourishing Conditioner). That's because by the time you're done washing, the natural oils from your scalp will already have made it halfway down the hair shaft, according to Jamie Mazzei, creative director of the Nubest & Co. Salon in Manhasset, N.Y.
To choose between different types of problem-solving conditioners, go back and do the strand test above (see step 1). If your hair is limp and frayed, use a protein conditioner that fills in the hair cuticle like Pantene Pro-V Sheer Volume Conditioner. If it's dry and snaps off easily, use a moisturizing conditioner like Origins Happy Endings.
6. Once a week, treat your locks to intensive hair-apy. Deep conditioning treatments can calm stressed strands, but they won't solve problems like split ends or weak, frazzled locks unless you're on a regular regimen. Stylists advise deep conditioning once a week right after you cut your hair. That's because a trim is the only way to repair hair once the damage is done.
To find the right ingredients for your intensive conditioner, follow the conditioner guidelines in step 5. Some suggestions: L'Oréal ColorVIVE Dry Defense 3-Minute Conditioning Treatment for hair that feels rough and breaks easily, and Joico K-Pak for hair that lacks strength and bounce.
Or, to turn any conditioner into a deep treatment, wash hair with a clarifying shampoo (like Thermasilk Clarifying Shampoo) to get rid of excess residue, then put on the conditioner and a shower cap, and stand under a hot spray for 10 minutes or more. The heat will help the conditioner penetrate deep into the hair shaft.
7. Update your styling arsenal. Heavy, sticky mousses and gels are great at creating volume and slick styles, respectively, but the new styling aids out there are lighter and at least as effective. Look for products that promise the style you're hoping to create (key words are curling, straightening, shine, hold) such as Clinique Defined Curls, Redken Straight, Terax TeraGloss and Physique Styling Spray.
A sure-fire way to find the right ones is to ask your stylist for her picks. Though her "prescription" may cost a bit more, you could end up spending less money if you hit on something that really works.
Finally, don't be sold on the notion that you need one product for the roots, one for the shaft and another for the ends. The latest innovations, like straightening balms, volumizing sprays and smoothing serums, are designed to be used -- sparingly -- all over.
8. End a bum stylist/colorist "relationship." Industry experts will tell you that a long relationship with a hair specialist will yield the best results (he or she has the chance to get to know you and your hair intimately).
But even if your stylist has more women trying to get his attention than Warren Beatty in "Shampoo," you should feel listened to and cared for. If not, dump him. Find someone whose hair you love and ask her who she's going to. Then schedule a consultation (most stylists and colorists offer them for free) and come armed with photos of what you think would look great on you. Visual aids can really save the day when everyone seems to have a different definition of words like "short," "blond" and "just a trim."