Pastes, oils, pomades, gels, masks, mousse, leave-in conditioner — are we seriously supposed to have all of these damn hair products in our bathroom? We're so down to have the best hair ever, but we're not here for having our counters overflow with products that aren't really doing anything for us.
We hit up some salon industry pros to find out how to simplify our hair routines by streamlining our beauty arsenal — because we want to know what we really need and what we can live without.
Not every woman needs a drawer filled with 20 different hair products — that's what the professionals are for. But modern advertising has kind of taught us to believe that we need loads of products, says NYC hairstylist Natasha Leibel.
"With all the mass marketing and product saturation that is thrown at us each day, we are consistently bombarded with merchandise overload which leads to confusion, over-consumption and usually breaking the bank," she says.
So how can we filter out all the fluff to determine what our hair really needs?
"When we think about what hair products we should be using when trying to minimize our daily regime, we really need to get back to basics. Think cleansing, hydrating, protecting, styling and finishing," Leibel says.
The only products you'll ever need
We all need certain products for special events, but what are the ones you should turn to in your daily life if you're looking to simplify your beauty routine? Keep it simple, silly.
"Good hair care starts with healthy hair. By hydrating the hair, you're building a stronger foundation for styling. Utilizing four to five products is truly all you need because excess of products can weigh the hair down. Less is more for day-to-day styling," says NYC hairstylist Adam Maclay.
Maclay cites shampoo, conditioner, a leave-in and styling product and a hairspray as the only products you really need, and Leibel agrees.
And if you're looking to save some money on the essentials, don't be afraid to go DIY, Leibel says.
"We forget that many of our products have multifunctional uses and can be cross referenced within our daily routine," she says. "For example, your daily conditioner can be cocktailed with spring water to create a spray leave-in conditioner. Or when a small amount is used on dry hair, it doubles as a styling balm."
So why are these product types so important for our hair's health? That's the easy part. Conditioning tops Leibel's list because it's a way to recover after all the harsh treatment we subject our locks to.
"Most women are fairly tough on their hair — coloring, curling, straightening, etc. I believe that conditioning your hair should be of top priority," she points out. "Products that hydrate, protect and nourish maximize longevity in color."
Shampoo's importance is undeniable because it helps cleanse our strained locks, but leave-in products are something many women don't — but should — use. Why? As Maclay explains, a leave-in product can protect your hair against heat styling and color fading.
Here are some of our current top picks for must-have products.
SheaMoisture Moisture Retention Shampoo
This sulfate-free formula cleanses while still retaining moisture. (Target, $9)
Ouidad Superfruit Renewal Clarifying Cream Shampoo
This clarifying shampoo removes gunk, but still leaves hair soft. (Sephora, $26)
OGX Brazilian Keratin Therapy Conditioner
This stuff is super hydrating at a great price point. Plus, it smells amazing. (Ulta, $8)
Kérastase Nutritive Masque Magistral
This is mask is the bomb.com. Enough said. (Kérastase, $63)
Big Sexy Hair Powder Play
Powder Play is a texturizing powder that lends natural-looking grit and volume to your hair. One beauty editor is so obsessed with this product, she says she would run into a burning building filled with sharks just to save it. (Ulta, $17)
L’Oréal Paris Extraordinary Clay Dry Shampoo
While most dry shampoos use alcohol, corn starch, and rice starch to soak up grease, this one is formulated with gentler minerals and clays that really absorb excess scalp oils without feeling heavy, sticky, or too textured — and it costs less than 10 bucks. (L’Oréal, $7)
Originally published August 2013. Updated May 2017.