You know how certain skincare products deliver better results depending not only on how often you use them but also the order in which you apply them? The same is true of haircare and styling products. While it’s fairly obvious to start with shampoo and conditioner, when you start to bring hair masks, leave-in conditioners, styling creams, hair oils, shine spray, and more into your routine, the sequence can get jumbled—and as a result, your hair may look less than as stellar.
No worries though: We chatted with two celebrity hairstylists—Christopher Naselli and Ben Talbott—to uncover the proper product sequence once and for all. Keep reading to embrace good hair days, every day.
Meet the Expert
Does the Order You Apply Hair Products Matter?
Before diving into the step-by-step sequence, let’s first go over why applying your haircare products in a specific order is so beneficial. Picture this: You apply a leave-in conditioner on dry hair, only to wonder why your mids and ends look super greasy. Or maybe you apply shine spray while your hair is still damp, only to find that it hardly makes a difference once your hair is dry. In both cases, it’s because the product was applied at the wrong step of the sequence. When you misapply haircare products, you forego the results they can deliver.
But before you think that there’s only one right haircare routine for everyone, think again. According to Naselli, the proper hair product sequence varies from person to person. “It truly depends on hair type—everyone has different textures and people have different routines that they are accustomed to,” he explains.
Still, there are a few basics you can follow before tailoring your haircare routine to your texture.
The Best Order to Apply In-Shower Haircare Products
- Start with shampoo: Shampoo is designed to cleanse hair of any built-up sweat, dirt, and oils. Due to its deep-cleansing nature, shampoo is sometimes thought to be stripping (even though most modern formulas are designed without the most common stripping ingredients, parabens and sodium lauryl sulfate). For this reason, it’s best applied first, so that conditioner can replenish any moisture loss.
- Follow with conditioner: Conditioner is designed to hydrate, smooth, and detangle hair.
Generally speaking, Talbott says that most people benefit from a cleanse-and-condition ritual two to three times per week. “I don’t recommend shampooing hair every day as this can strip the hair and scalp of precious natural oils [even if it’s a high-quality shampoo],” he explains, noting that stripping can lead to dryness and flyaways.
Basic shampoo and conditioner guidelines aside, Talbott notes that certain hair types—namely, fine, coarse, and curly hair types—require a more customized approach.
The Best Order to Apply Hair Products for Fine Hair
Fine hair lacks volume, so a fine haircare routine should incorporate products that provide lift. Of course, employing volumizing products alone won’t get the job done—they have to be applied in a specific order.
- Start with a volumizing shampoo and conditioner: Trust us, you want to look for that magical keyword when shopping for your hair cleansing products. “These products are carefully developed not to weigh your hair down,” Talbott explains, noting that he really likes the Kérastase Resistance Bain Volumifique Shampoo ($30). “It thickens the hair fiber and adds a boost to flat roots.” While Talbott recommends volumizing conditioner, Naselli says to skip it if possible, as even the most well-intended volumizing products can potentially weigh down fine strands if over-applied. The one exception, in his eyes, is if you have color-treated hair. “If you’re a highlight girl, or if you color or have any sort of chemical process, just apply a small amount of a good hydrating conditioner to your mid-shaft to ends,” he says.
- Towel-dry hair: Don’t reach for a classic terry towel though. Instead, use a microfiber towel, like the Aquis Rapid Dry Lisse Hair Wrap ($30), as they’re more gentle on strands and are less likely to cause breakage for folks with already fine hair.
- Apply leave-in conditioner: If your fine hair is particularly tangle-prone—and especially if you avoided conditioner in the shower—lightly spritz your strands with a weightless leave-in conditioner, like Amika’s Hydro Rush Intense Moisture Leave-In Conditioner with Hyaluronic Acid ($28).
- Follow with a thickening treatment: Fine hair not only benefits from lift, but also from thickening agents. When looking for a thickening treatment, Talbott suggests opting for something that will leave your hair soft, conditioned, and virtually weightless. Oribe’s Serene Scalp Thickening Hair Treatment Spray ($76) is a popular option.
- Apply a lightweight hair serum: If you have frizz-prone hair, applying a small drop of a lightweight hair serum (like Moroccanoil’s Mending Infusion Styling Hair Serum, $30) throughout your hair can lead to smooth strands post-styling. Naselli points out that hair serum, while often thought to be too heavy for fine hair, can also boost overall hair health and even lead to a healthier scalp. So it’s not something to be avoided—just be very light-handed with your application.
- Apply mousse: Remember: Volume is key for fine hair. To give your roots a boost, Talbott says to massage mousse into your roots and mids to prevent hair from falling flat throughout the day. Need a rec? He suggests Living Proof’s Full Thickening Mousse ($29) for “maximum anti-gravity.”
- Blow out your hair: After applying mousse, Talbott says to use a round brush to add body to your tresses. “[Doing so will] create beautiful bounce and volume,” he assures us.
Overall, Talbott says that with fine hair, less is more. “You don’t want too many products layered because that can drag hair down and make it feel greasy,” he warns. With that in mind, experiment with this fine hair product sequence and add or subtract products as your strands deem fit.
The Best Order to Apply Hair Products for Coarse Hair
- Start with a hydrating shampoo and conditioner: When you have thick, coarse hair, Naselli says that the first thing you’ll want to do is wash and condition it with hydrating products. “This will enhance shine and provide moisture,” he says. Need a rec? Try Bumble and bumble’s Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Shampoo ($34) and Conditioner ($35).
- Towel-dry hair: Again, a microfiber towel is best so as to not disturb or aggravate the texture of the hair.
- Apply a leave-in conditioner: Naselli says to always apply a leave-in conditioner after towel-drying hair and before moving into the rest of your haircare routine. We love Briogeo’s Superfoods Avocado + Kiwi Moisture Leave-In Conditioner ($25).
- Apply a no-rinse hair cream: Not only will a hair cream, like Dae’s Cactus Fruit 3-in-1 Styling Cream ($26), further hydrate the hair, but Naselli says it will help protect it from heat damage and nourish the hair for a better blowout, too. “It will also leave the hair feeling soft and silky,” he says.
- Finish with lightweight hair oil: The coarser your hair, the duller it can look. “I always finish with a hair oil to enhance shine and add nutrition to the hair,” Naselli says, which remedies the issue. We suggest trying OUAI’s Hair Oil ($28).
“In addition to these steps, I always recommend doing a hair and scalp mask and a scalp scrub once a week,” Naselli adds. “A scalp scrub is a must.” The reason? It deeply cleanses the scalp by removing buildup and everyday pollution. Plus, he points out that scalp scrubs and masks can actually help promote hair growth. Try it for yourself with Fable & Mane’s SahaScalp Wild Ginger Purifying Scrub ($32).
The Best Order to Apply Hair Products for Curly Hair
- Opt for a co-wash: Since curly hair has a knack for getting dry, Talbott recommends foregoing shampoo in favor of a co-wash. “It's also known as conditioner-only washing and no shampoo, and it keeps hair hydrated,” he explains. “If your hair is coily, mixed-textured, curly, or extremely dry, your hair care routine could benefit from using a co-wash product.” (That said, he warns that fine hair won’t benefit from it.) He recommends Carol’s Daughter’s Hair Milk Cleansing Conditioner ($11).
- Apply a curl-specific leave-in conditioner: It never hurts to keep the hydration coming for curls. That’s why Talbott says to follow up co-washing with a leave-in conditioner. His go-to? Kérastase Curl Manifesto Refresh Absolu ($40).
- Add a little traditional conditioner: If you have particularly dry curls, Talbott says that you can apply classic conditioner to your hair outside of the shower. “I find taking a small amount of your conditioner and leaving it in the mid-lengths and ends really helps hydrate and tone those curls into a perfect shape,” he says.
- Diffuse your curls: After hydrating your curls, Talbott says to follow up with a diffuser attachment on your blow dryer. “I’m really into the GHD Helios Professional Hair Dryer ($279) with their diffuser attached,” he shares.
One Last Thing
No matter your hair type, Naselli says that one of the most important haircare steps doesn’t involve formulas at all. Instead, it’s all about tools. “Always keep your brushes clean,” he urges us. Doing so will keep hair looking its best, as your brushes won’t then constantly disperse build-up onto your clean strands.