Few of us think that products and styling technique don’t play a role in how our hair looks from day to day. But you could easily blow through a few hundred dollars and countless weeks trying out mousses, gels, creams and putties, trying to find the right product consistency and amount to maximize whichever style you’re currently wearing. So how do you determine which works best for your hair? There are hundreds of combinations of specific products and amounts of each you could use, all dependant upon your hair’s texture (coarse/fine), density (thick/thin) and shape (curly/straight). With so many variables, no wonder we get frustrated . . . come on, don’t you sometimes wish you were a man?

It’s probably no surprise that thick, coarse, curly hair can take far more product with a higher level of hold than thin, fine or straight hair. It’s important that you are able to identify your hair type so you know what products you should and shouldn’t use.

There are a few rules you can use to guide you through the quest to find the perfect product… Here are the most popular kinds of styling products right now and how they can help (or hurt) your style.

THE OLD STANDBYS

GEL

Probably one of the earliest products (along with grease),  gel is designed primarily for hold. It comes in light, medium and strong hold. To test the hold, squeeze the size of a pea onto your fingers. Rub it around until it dries. You can judge how strong the hold is by how much residue is left on your fingers. A sticky residue or slick, coated feeling when it’s dry means higher hold, while a clean, natural feeling generally means a lighter hold. One disadvantage of gel is that it tends to result in hard, crunchy hair when it dries. This can be remedied by breaking up the dried hair a little with your hands. Watch out, a cheap gel can flake when you break it up. The good news? There are plenty of gels out there that don’t flake! If this happens to you, you’re probably just using a cheap brand. Just try another.

MOUSSE

Most mousses have a lighter hold because their purpose is volume. What good is a lot of weight in a product if it’s supposed to boost up the hair? The frustrating thing about mousse is that volume is most important to have in the hair right at your scalp, and mousse is difficult to apply there. Most people who were styling their hair in the ‘80s were taught  to put a ton of mousse into their hands and scrunch it into the ends. Unfortunately, this results in curly or wavy ends and no volume at the scalp. There’s a new generation of volumizers that you spray into your hair, allowing you to control where you apply it. Some are in the form of mousse and some are liquid. I’ve found that the liquids tend to be more lighter and therefore more appropriate for fine hair.

HAIRSPRAY

Hairspray has changed little in all the years we’ve been using it. Other than some companies adding UV protection, the only challenge in choosing a hairspray is choosing what kind of feel and strength you need. If you prefer a soft, touchable style and don’t particularly like the feel of hairspray, choose a light, workable spray. If you used to use AquaNet, you already know you like a stronger hold. As a matter of fact, you’ve probably already got your favorite brand…

THE NEW KIDS

STYLING LOTIONS/CREAM

Lotions and Creams take the place of gel, in the way that they’re designed mostly for hold, but have an added advantage of a much softer result because they don’t dry with a crunchy feel. However, they tend to be much heavier than gel, so someone with a finer texture of hair will do well choosing the lighter lotion and someone with coarse hair can get away with a heavier cream. These products are particularly useful when blow drying hair straight.

WAX

Wax turned into the “darling” product of the late ‘90s, thanks to brilliant marketing by TiGi and their line of products, BedHead. Wax is ideal for anything from holding a short, textured style, to defining and piecing out ends in a longer hairstyle. There are shiny waxes and dry waxes which can look like more like clay than a wax. If your hair is fine or thin, it may be more appropriate to use a dry wax and be sure to use it sparingly, or risk looking greasy. A relatively new product that has made its way into the marketplace is a spray wax. This is particularly useful, since it comes out in a mist and can allow you to use it on a lot of hair without getting too much on one area.

PUTTY/FIBER

These two products are a lot like wax and do a good job at holding a style and piecing out ends but have a creamier consistency. Fiber contains little strands of the product that holds onto itself, making texture a piece of cake. Neither of these products are highly recommended for fine, thin hair because of their weight and stickiness.

POMADE

Pomade has a little hold, but mainly adds shine to a finished style. Care has to be taken when using pomade on fine or straight hair because it can easily make the hair look greasy. It’s also best used on ends because of its propensity to weigh hair down. One exception to that rule is a very light touch with the palms of your hands, spreading a small amount of pomade over the surface of the hair, taming down frizzies.

 OIL/SERUM

These products are designed for shine, eliminating frizz and creating a lustrous surface. The “it” product of the year has been Moroccan Oil. Oils in particular are great for straightening hair. They coat the hair shaft and create the perfect condition for a brush to slide through while blow drying. It’s important to use a high quality oil or silicone serum because if there is a petroleum base, the hair weighs down more easily and attracts dust more quickly.