Having fine, flat hair is a blessing and a curse. Sure, it’s usually more manageable and your blow-drying commitment is miniscule, but it’s also a daily struggle to add natural-looking volume. And no one wants droopy, limp hair halfway through the day. To learn how to finally add gorgeous volume that stays put until happy hour, SELF talked to a few top celebrity stylists. Here are their best hacks for breathing life into fine, flat hair—no extensions involved.
1. Use a volumizing shampoo and conditioner to create a foundation.
“The most important step in getting volume for fine hair starts in the shower,” explains Brianna Colette, stylist at NINE ZERO ONE in Los Angeles. Make sure you’re using a volumizing shampoo and conditioner that also have some moisturizing ingredient. These types of shampoos tend to be more drying and can cause your scalp to overproduce oils to make up for it, explains celebrity hairstylist Mark Townsend.
2. Never apply conditioner to your scalp.
“Any time you wet your hair you should use conditioner,” Townsend says. “But only from mid-length to the ends.” Since you’re opening up your cuticle, your hair needs the nourishment. But glopping it on the roots will just make you look greasy and limp within a few hours.
3. Use a clarifying shampoo to get rid of buildup.
“Using a once a week clarifying shampoo will rid your hair of impurities and product buildup without stripping your color,” Colette says. Product buildup leads to weight in your hair, which makes everything more droopy. Colette suggests dpHUE Clarifying shampoo.
4. Get over your fear of mousse.
Unlike the mousse our mothers used that dried out hair and froze it in all its permed glory, mousse formulas today are more elegant and hydrating. “Apply a volumizing whip or mousse when hair is wet,” Colette recommends. “Comb a small, palm-sized dollop of product through hair from root to ends. Be careful not to apply too much as this will only weigh your hair down.” She likes Redken Body Full Instant Bodifier Volumizing Foam.
5. Blow-dry to activate volumizing products.
You may be tempted to skip the dryer, especially if your fine hair dries straight and smooth. But your volumizing work will all be for naught. “Almost all volumizers you need to use a blow dryer with heat to activate them,” Townsend says. He uses Dove Oxygen Moisture Root Lift Spray before both blow-drying and air-drying clients like Mary-Kate Olsen, who doesn’t like a perfectly polished, blown-out look.
6. Skip the round brush until the very end.
“Flip your head upside-down and start by rough drying,” Colette explains. Meaning, use nothing but your hands. “This will lift the roots and rough up the cuticle, maximizing volume. When hair is 60-70 percent dry, flip back over and start blow-drying using a ceramic brush to smooth ends and add softness to the style.” But be careful not to pull too hard—that’ll just flatten everything out.
7. Set hair with velcro rollers to add extra lift.
Colette explains: after blow-drying, section off pieces of hair at the crown, roll up into velcro curlers, and use the cool setting on your dryer to set the style. Finish with a texturizing spray like Oribe Texturizing Spray, spraying at the root in sections. “That way when the style starts to fall throughout the day all you need to do is flip your head over, massage your scalp and fluff your hair up,” Colette adds.
8. Trade your hairspray for texturizing dry shampoo.
“Dry shampoo is any woman with fine hair’s best friend,” Townsend says. “I find I get a better hold and long-lasting volume using dry shampoo over hairspray.” Instead of spraying and then brushing out like you would to absorb oil, leave it be. “If you leave it in there, the powder and starch will literally build on each other.” He recommends Dove STYLE+care Volume Dry Shampoo. Jasmine Anna Galazka, Kérastase Artistic Director and stylist at Warren Tricomi Plaza Salon, agrees. She turns to Kérastase Volume in Powder spray instead of hairspray.
9. Get highlights if you want to add lasting volume.
Highlights are a great way to add texture and volume to fine hair. “It roughs up the cuticle, making hair that is naturally limp and flat hold a voluminous style longer,” Colette explains. This is the same reason they weaken hair and require extra TLC. As long as you’re not overdoing it (a.k.a going in every few weeks), it’ll plump up your strands a bit sans product. If you’re concerned about damage, Colette suggests asking your stylist to use henna, “a plant-based hair color that is often used to make hair feel fuller, healthier, and shiner without the added damage of highlights.”
10. Splurge on an in-salon volumizing treatment.
Kérastase offers a Fusio Dose Densifique treatment at its salons, specifically designed for women who struggle with fine hair but still want to keep hair healthy. “Densifique treatment will leave your hair full of revitalized texture, which lasts for four weeks depending on how frequently you shampoo,” explains Galazka. Find a Kérastase salon near you to book a treatment.
11. Spray products into your hands first to add extra texture.
“If want some pieceiness and your hair is very fine, put product in your hand first,” says Townsend. Try a waxy, grittier texturizing spray like Sally Hershberger 24K Supreme Stylist Voluminous Dry Shampoo. Spray it into the palm of your hand, dab fingers in it, and work it into your strands to add distinct texture.
12. Keep dry shampoo in your bag for on-the-go touchups.
Even if you volumize your heart out in the morning, you might still need a midday refresher. Keep a travel-sized dry shampoo (or volumizing powder like Unite Expanda Dust) in your bag. Oribe’s and Kérastase’s both come in miniature portions, as does Drybar Detox Dry Shampoo and Psst!.
13. Backcomb hair at the crown to get more height.
Townsend does this on almost every photo shoot and red carpet. Lift hair in small sections, backcomb each two or three times using a fine-tooth plastic comb, spray with dry shampoo, and then comb the hair down on top lightly to smooth it out and hide the teasing.
14. Shampoo less often—yes, really.
“I know it freaks out women with fine hair,” Townsend says, since fine-haired gals tend to get oily fast. “When you shampoo every day, volumizing products are usually not the most moisturizing, so your scalp will produce more oils to moisturize itself.” Get on a cycle of shampooing only three or four times a week, and he promises it will really help in the volume department.
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