Does this sound familiar? You’ve tried a tonne of hair products, and none of them seem to work on your hair? You know you’ve got good quality products, but you just can’t seem to get consistent results. You don’t know why, or what you’re doing wrong, you feel like you’ve tried everything…?
Understanding hair products and application techniques is key to getting the best results for your hair. In this post, I’ll explain how to understand your hair products and application techniques, using all my best analogies and comparisons, tips and advice.
Over the years, I’ve become well known for coming up with some pretty wild analogies to try and best explain and help my readers, followers and clients when it comes to understanding hair products and application techniques. It’s so easy to over-complicate things, especially if it’s something new that you just can’t seem to get to grips with.
So my thinking is, how can I relate a product or technique to something we’re already familiar with? And so many of you have found my often comical analogies really helpful when it comes to understanding hair products.
Lots of you have said the way I explain things makes everything click into place when it comes to your hair, washday routines, styling application and the various tips, advice and techniques I share.
Understanding Hair Products & Application Techniques
Understanding hair products and application techniques will change the way you use your products, the amount you need, the results you get, and how long those results last.
In this post, you’ll also discover why products aren’t working for you, and what you need to change in your routine to get the results you want.
What Works For Your Hair…
If I’ve got a broken leg, I need to wear a cast, because that’s what I need and is best for me right now. But if your leg isn’t broken, then wearing a cast won’t have any benefits for you. Because what’s best for me, may not be best for you. I come across it all the time in Curl Clinics.
People are using the wrong products, the wrong routine, with the wrong techniques for their hair and not getting the results they want.
For example, you can have great products made using quality ingredients, that are really moisturizing. And you could use techniques like the bowl method and plopping.
But if you have fine hair that’s easily weighed down and over-moisturized, you’re never going to get good results.
Not because the products or techniques are bad, or wrong or don’t work. They’re just not the right ones for your hair.
Recommended Reading: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do If You Have Fine Hair and 10 Things You Should Do If You Have Fine Hair
Quality vs Quantity
You don’t stuff your face in a Michelin Star restaurant the same way you do in McDonald’s. Why? Because of the quality and richness of the food. It’s the exact same thing with hair products.
If you buy high quality products, with more concentrated formulas. You need much less quantity, meaning the product lasts longer, and you save money.
If you buy cheap products, the formula is not as concentrated or made using high quality ingredients. Meaning you need more product to get the same results.
Repurchasing more often, and costing more money in the long run. Not to mention the extra plastic, packaging, postage and recycling.
Recommended Reading: My Most Repurchased Products & How Long They Last
When You Should Wash Your Hair
Washing your hair is like climbing a mountain. The longer you leave it between washdays, the further back down the mountain you go and you have to start all over again, right from the bottom.
You want your hair to be in a healthy, hydrated, frizz-free and defined state longer than it’s in a dry, frizzy, knotty and tangled, stretched-out state.
That’s the goal, not to see how long you can go without washing your hair. The longer you leave it between washdays, the more knots and tangles, build up, scalp issues, dryness and frizz you have.
Meaning when you do eventually wash your hair, it’s going to take much longer. Require more product, patience and energy because you’re starting all the way at the bottom of that mountain.
So for most people, wash your hair 2-3 times/week for quick and easy washdays that require minimum effort and energy.
Only shampoo your scalp and roots and let the rest run down your hair. If you only wash your shoulders and let the rest of the body wash run down your body.
When I explain this during Curl Clinics, it makes so much sense and becomes so obviously clear, it’s comical.
So many people experience issues with their hair simply because they’re not applying their shampoo correctly. Start by making sure your hair is soaking wet before applying your shampoo.
Then gently massage it into the roots and scalp. If you think you need more product or more lather – add more water first.
THEN once you’ve shampooed your scalp and roots, bring the shampoo down the length of your hair. So you’re cleansing all of your hair, removing not just the grease, oil and sebum at the roots. But the buildup on the mid-lengths and ends of your hair too.
This will allow the rest of the products you use to penetrate the hair better. Resulting in less dull, dry and frizzy hair. With better hydration, shine and definition.
Recommended Reading: Washday Workbook
Rinsing Out Conditioner
Rinsing your conditioner out fully and then applying a leave in conditioner is like burning a 100 dollar bill to spend a 20 dollar bill instead. People usually pay attention when it comes to money.
There’s a very valid argument to be made that leave in conditioners aren’t needed in a hair routine at all. Simply leave some of your conditioner in your hair by not fully rinsing it out.
There’s absolutely no point and it’s a complete waste of product and money to rinse an expensive, high quality, concentrated conditioner out of your hair. To then apply a cheap leave in conditioner. You may as well flush your money down the drain!
Recommended Reading: Washday Workbook
Refreshing Between Washdays
Don’t try to substitute a spanner with a spoon. AKA, stop refreshing with conditioner, instead refresh with styling products!
I’m going to do a whole blog post on refreshing, because it’s where so many people make the biggest mistakes and get frustrated with their hair. Not seeing the long-lasting results they want.
Understanding hair products, especially when it comes to refreshing can make a huge difference to the results you get. A common (curly girl method) mistake is to refresh (too often) using water and conditioner, which leads to scalp issues, build up and over-moisturized hair.
Instead, you need to look at your hair and determine what it’s lacking, what it needs. If it’s dry – then sure, add some warm water and conditioner because your hair needs moisture.
But if it’s a little frizzy, undefined and lacking volume or hold. You need to refresh with a styling product, such as a foam, mousse or a gel. As those are the products that give definition and hold. More on this soon, subscribe to my Curl Maven Collective Newsletter so you don’t miss it.
Recommended Reading: 7 Hair Styles to Make Your Wash Days Last Longer
Applying Deep Conditioners & Hair Masks
Only apply your hair masks to dry, dirty hair, if you apply face masks with a full face of makeup on. I will never be able to understand why people apply deep conditioners, treatments and hair masks onto dry, dirty hair. There’s just no way to make that make sense, or get any benefits from it!
You need the cleansing ingredients of a shampoo – or better yet a clarifying or chelating shampoo – to remove all grease, oil, sebum, product build up, hard water, limescale, metals and minerals from the hair. As well as the heat from warm water before applying any kind of deep conditioner, treatment or hair mask.
Even better if you can use heat, such as a Curl Maven Thermal Heat Cap to open up the cuticles on the hair shaft. This allows the treatment to penetrate the hair for maximum benefit and results. But you’re wasting your time, product and money if you apply hair masks to dirty hair.
Recommended Reading: The Best Curly Hair Products of 2021
Saying low porosity hair doesn’t need protein, is like saying short girls don’t need to drink water. We all need to drink water, we are all made of water! When it comes to understanding hair products, this one probably bugs me the most.
And it’s from misinformed people passing on incorrect information, presuming it to be true. We all need protein, our hair is made of protein. There are just some hair types that need more moisture, or more protein than others.
For example, high porosity hair takes a long time to dry, as it holds onto water much longer. Resulting in hair that tends to get easily over-moisturized. Same for fine hair, type 2 wavy and type 3 curly hair.
This means, this hair type needs more protein, or protein-rich products. Whereas low porosity hair, coarse hair or tighter curl patterns such as type 4 coily hair, can often be quite dry and brittle. These hair types need more moisture.
Recommended Reading: Hair Porosity and Protein Moisture Balance
Understanding Hair Products
Washday products are like your skincare, styling products are like your makeup.
Here’s the quickest guide to understanding hair products: washday products are about the health of your hair – if it’s dry, frizzy, needing protein or moisture. Styling products are about how you want your hair to look. Such as volume, body and texture, or definition, clumps and hold etc.
You can play around with different styling products to achieve different looks. Just like you achieve different looks using makeup. Some days you want a bold red lip and cat eye liner. Other days you want a natural, “no makeup make up” look.
Same thing with your hair. Some days you might want lots of volume, body and texture. Other days you want definition and hold.
Different looks are achieved by changing your styling products. But the health of the hair is maintained by your washday products. So invest in good quality washday products, and spend less on styling products.
Recommended Reading: The High Low Routine
Washday vs Styling Products
Stop trying to fix underlying, long-term issues with a temporary fix using your styling products, instead of washday products.
Say you’ve got acne, there’s no point in using an expensive concealer, if you’re not washing your face.
Washing your face will benefit your skin more than the concealer will. One will fix the problem in the long term. The other will mask it in the short term – but it won’t change or fix the problem.
Good skin starts with your skincare routine, not your makeup. Good hair starts with your washday products, not your styling products.
Recommended Reading: Protein Moisture Balance
Layering Your Styling Products
Think of your styling products like painting your nails. You apply a base coat (aka leave in some conditioner), then 2-3 coats of colour (aka curl enhancing and defining products), and one clear top coat (aka gel).
Sure, you can use a one-and-done styling product! But I’ve found that the best, long-lasting results are achieved using two styling products.
Something to enhance and define the curl – such as foams, mousses, serums and lotions. And something to hold the curl – such as custards, gels and hairsprays.
Recommended Reading: How to Build a Curly Girl Hair Routine
Water vs Oil
If your throat was dry and I offered you a glass of oil or a glass of water, which one would you drink? Do you water your plants, or oil them? Stop using oil to smooth and tame frizz, or prevent dryness!
Oil rejects and repels water. So if your hair is dry and frizzy, not only are you not giving your hair what it needs. You’re actually preventing it from getting any hydration/water at all! Because now you’ve added a non-water soluble barrier to your hair.
Another common mistake is applying oil to dry hair, to “seal in” hydration and moisture. If your hair is already dry when you apply an oil, you’re not sealing IN anything. You’re sealing hydration and moisture OUT – that’s a big difference! So if your hair is dry, brittle, frizzy and you keep applying oils to your hair – this is why.
Top Tip: if you want to use an oil to seal in hydration and moisture, you need to apply oil to wet hair (hydration), after applying your (moisturizing) products. If you want to tame fly-aways and frizz, use a gel instead of an oil.
Recommended Reading: The LMG Method
Using a T-Shirt or Towel
You don’t apply a body oil or self tan and then get dressed right away – your clothes will soak it up quicker than your skin will. Likewise, don’t use any kind of t-shirt or towel right after applying your styling products.
Because that dry towel or t-shirt will soak up your styling products way quicker than your wet hair will. Resulting in frizzy, undefined waves and curls with no hold.
Once you’ve rinsed out your conditioner, simply use your hands to squeeze out any excess, dripping wet water out of the hair. Then apply your styling products.
You want your hair to be wet, but not soaking, dripping wet. Then diffuse your hair as soon as possible, for as long as possible.
If you don’t have time to dry your hair fully, diffuse your hair for however long you can. THEN use a t-shirt or towel to soak up any excess water/wetness. Don’t use a towel first and then blast it with the diffuser when it’s almost dry.
If you’re air drying, then apply your styling products and wait at least 10-15 mins before using a t-shirt or towel. Give your hair a chance to soak up the styling products!
Recommended Watching: My Styling Routine
Up the speed not the heat, you’re trying to dry your hair faster not hotter. Diffusing will always give you the best shape, definition and volume.
It’s especially important if you live in a cold climate, have any kind of health issues or a compromised immune system. Or if you have fine hair or loose waves and curls that get easily weighed down or over-moisturized.
I recommend diffusing on a medium heat, and medium speed. If you’re in a hurry up the speed, not the heat.
Some hair dryers run hotter than others, and some hair dryers are more powerful than others. Not all diffusers are the same.
Always use a diffuser that has a large, deep bowl. Some diffusers are better for creating volume, others are better for creating definition.
Recommended Reading: Best Hair Dryers & Diffusers for Curly Hair
Having a drink is not the same as getting drunk – well, not for everyone anyway! The heat damage from diffusing is minimal. And in my opinion doesn’t require using a dedicated thermal heat protectant. A hair dryer, with diffused heat from a diffuser, isn’t nearly as hot as a heat styling tool.
Diffusing just doesn’t cause the same kind or level of heat damage. You can hold a diffuser in the same place for 20-30 seconds, even a minute, without your hair or scalp feeling too hot. Hairdressers will often put their hand under the diffuser to monitor the heat.
You can’t even touch a heat styling tool, such as straighteners, flat irons, wands, tongs and curlers, for a second without burning yourself! It’s not the same heat, it’s not the same damage.
Recommended Reading: The Best Curly Hair Products of 2021
Cake is not the same as cocaine. I don’t mean to offend anyone with that analogy, or trigger anyone with an eating disorder or drug addiction. That’s not my intention, but I think that analogy helps to clarify the point I’m trying to make.
Adding a pigment or dark colour to your natural or grey hair, isn’t nearly as damaging as getting bleach or highlights! Grey hair can often come in more dry, coarse, frizzy and wiry.
By applying a pigment or darker (than grey) colour to the hair, it can actually soften the hair, add hydration and shine. But if you bleach or highlight darker (than the bleach/highlighted colour) hair, you’re doing much more (irreversible) damage.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t have healthy hair, beautiful waves and defined curls if you bleach or highlight your hair – because you can, and I did. But the damage isn’t the same.
And once you understand that, and use the right products, routine and techniques, you can minimise the damage. But you can’t eliminate it.
Recommended Reading: How to Maintain Healthy Hair When Colouring and Managing my Colour at Home using Alfaparf Pigments
Toners, Blue & Purple Shampoos
It’s like stinking of B.O. and spraying perfume on yourself to get rid of the smell, instead of getting in the shower and washing yourself. Stop using toners, blue and purple shampoos – you need to clarify!
The whole reason people apply toners, or use blue and purple shampoos between colour appointments is because of metal and mineral deposits on the hair.
This is what causes those brassy, green, coppery, orange and yellow hues on the hair. By using a toner, blue or purple shampoo, you’re simply trying to change the colours of the metal deposits. Purple shampoo for brassy, green deposits. Blue shampoo for coppery, orange or yellow deposits.
Top Tip: always clarify before your colour appointment so the colour adheres to the hair better, applies evenly, is more vibrant and lasts longer.
But what you need to do is remove the deposits from the hair thats causing those colours and hues in the first place. And you do that by using a chelating, clarifying shampoo that’s strong enough to remove these metal and mineral deposits from the hair.
Recommended Reading: Why & When You Should Clarify Your Hair
Did you find this post on understanding hair products and application techniques helpful? Have my analogies made the tips and advice, application techniques make sense and finally click?
Comment below and let me know which ones became your “ah-ha!” moments, which ones you could never figure out until now. I’d love to know! And…if you’ve got any analogies of your own, please share in the comments!
If you’re still feeling overwhelmed, or you just want me to put everything together for you in one routine, to suit your hair type, lifestyle, budget or healthy hair goals. Where I tell you what to use, where to buy it and when and how to use it.
Then I highly recommend you book in for a Curl Clinic, which is a 1:1 consultation where I do just that! You can find out more info here, or read lots of reviews and book here.
Also available as a Gift Voucher if you’d like to give the gift of curls to someone else, or drop a hint to a friend, family member or loved one.
Subscribe to my Curl Maven Collective Newsletter where I’m now doing exclusive giveaways for subscribers only and is the best way to find out about new content, as I’m taking a step back from social media this year.
Check me out on Pinterest and subscribe to my YouTube channel – as I’m going to be doing lots more on there in 2023, which I’m so excited about!
Gratitude & Support
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I’m so incredibly thankful and grateful to everyone who supports me, my content and my platform. Thank you so much! Gabriella x
Licensed images from Adobe Stock and Curl Maven.
Thank you so much!
Loads of information and misconceptions.
I’ve been loving seeing you back on the blog.
hanks so much Sofia! I have to say, coming back to writing and publishing weekly posts makes me feel so much better than slogging it out on social media. I feel like my website (which I’ve worked so hard on, poured so much of myself into and I truly own) feels like my safe, sacred space. I just hope that comes across to everyone else who comes here too x
Lindsey Cohen says
You say not to use purple shampoo- I have naturally silver hair (thank you pandemic when I grew out my died hair) and it does get yellowy. I clarify every three weeks and use Noughty purple reign (UK) every three weeks. Please advise. Thanks for your helpful posts. Greetings from London
Hey! what are you using to clarify every 3 weeks, because if it doesn’t have the necessary ingredients to remove those mineral and metal deposits, then it’s not a proper chelating, clarifying shampoo – which is why you’re having to use a purple shampoo. It sounds like you need to use a proper chelating, clarifying shampoo every 3 weeks. Read this post for more information and product recommendations and that key ingredient: https://curlmaven.ie/why-when-you-should-clarify-your-hair/
Always enjoy your content and continue to look forward to the next post!
Curl Maven says
Thank you for your continuous support!
For sure helpful at the beginning of my new hair-care journey.
Thank you for all the information!
Curl Maven says
You’re welcome! I’m glad I could help you at the beginning of your hair-care journey.
Thanks Gabriella for this informative post! Loving the increase in blog posts this year (for as long as is right for you of course). Can’t wait for the blog post on refreshing, working out a better styling/drying/refeshing routine is one of my goals for 2023.
Curl Maven says
You’re welcome! I’m glad you found the post informative. I’m also excited about the increase in blog posts this year and will continue to share helpful content.
Cannot believe i have only just discovered you! Luckily, I’m not too far into my curly journey. This is by far the best blog and information I have found on curly hair. I’m so grateful that you are writing and giving clear guidance rather than making 1000 over the top Instagram videos that don’t teach us much but get the views and algorithms going. I have booked in with you for my daughter and very excited to work Mt way through your blog for my own hair x
Curl Maven says
Thank you for your kind words! I’m thrilled to hear that you have found my blog to be a valuable resource for your curly hair journey. It’s always gratifying to know that the information I provide is helpful and clear, and that it stands out from the noise of social media.
Your blog is an amazing resource – it has helped me so much – thank you!
Although heat protection is not necessary for diffusing, I would like to incorporate one in my LMG routine because I have just started out and my hair is still very damaged on top from years of highlighting and heat styling. I diffuse but sometimes smooth my fringe area (which is damaged and fine/frizzy hair) on gentle, low/medium heat with the Dyson Airwrap. I have fine, porous/damaged, 2c-3a hair, still with some highlights. I have just ordered Bounce Curl Clarifying shampoo, Innersense Colour Radiance Conditioner (which I won’t completely wash out), I usually use the Aveda Nutriplenish leave in here (as it has heat protectant) but not a huge fan – looking to try something else. I follow with a Clever Curl foam and gel (I think neither have protein, and I may tweak these later once I’ve locked in the cleansing and conditioning aspects!).
Would you suggest the Innersense Serenity Smoothing Cream or something else?
Hey, yes I really love the Innersense Serenity Smoothing Cream, and you don’t need much – although it’s still pretty lightweight so it shouldn’t weigh down your hair. You might not need to eliminate the stylers that contain protein – everyone’s hair needs a little protein. Use code CURLMAVEN for 15% off your first order at Innersense in the USA, or 10% off at Curl Warehouse in Canada, Kiyo Beauty in the UK or The Clean Beauty Edit in the EU – the last two also ship worldwide.