Have you ever had your hair split down the middle when trying to comb it straight back? Or woken up in the morning with a huge section of your hair sticking flat to your head? You can thank cowlicks for that. They stick to their own agenda, and they never seem to want to cooperate.
What Is a Cowlick?
Cowlicks are natural growth patterns in the hair that cause strands to go in opposing directions, which can leave them laying flat to our head, sticking straight up, or controlling the flow of our hair in an unwanted orientation.
These pesky strands may be the bane of your existence, but we're here to relieve you with some simple steps for correcting and preventing them. We turned to two stylists to tell us which cuts will work with your cowlick, the tools and products to keep in your arsenal, and what to expect when it comes to your specific hair type. Cowlicks may be annoying, but they might also be more predictable and manageable than we give them credit for. Read on to see what our experts have to say about managing cowlicks.
Meet the Expert
- Ashley Rourk is a hairstylist and colorist whose specialty of low maintenance haircuts and beach blonde color have her splitting time between clients in Santa Barbara and the Bay Area.
- Anike Rabiu is an editorial hairstylist behind campaigns for beauty brands such as Origins and Aveda. Her work has been featured in major publications including Vogue and Elle. She is based in NYC.
Get the Right Cut
Haircuts and styling go hand-in-hand. Having a cut to support your hair's characteristics will ultimately cut back on your styling time. For example, if you're struggling with a cowlick at the hairline that wants to veer to one side, side-swept bangs might be more suitable than blunt bangs which are intended to fall straight along your forehead. But no matter the location of your cowlick, Rourk warns us not to go too short. "Cutting the hair short right at the cowlick will expose the cowlick even more," she explains.
That's not to say you can't have short hair, of course. Make a point to discuss your styling goals with your hairdresser. Ultimately, you want a haircut to support your lifestyle, and the amount of time you want to spend on styling your hair every day is a large part of that. If short hair is your jam, advise your stylist to leave enough length around your cowlick to keep things manageable. If you're short on styling time and don't want to deal with taming your cowlicks day-in and day-out, you might want to consider longer length options.
"If you can’t stand your cowlicks and don’t have time to tame them, longer lengths are best because the weight of long hair pulls them down, making them less obvious," says Rourk. Editorial stylist Anike Rabiu agrees that longer styles with lots of movement (think above-the-shoulder layers and tousled, textured waves) can help disguise your cowlicks and leave your strands looking super chic.
Be Mindful of Tools
Truth be told, "if you know how to neutralize your cowlick, you can wear a variety of hairstyles," says Rourk, who swears by the concentrator on your blow dryer as your greatest taming tool. (Concentrators are those removable nozzles that clip onto the opening of your blowdryer and help manage the direction of the air flow.)
"Using a concentrator on your blowdryer and medium heat while pushing the hair in the opposite direction of the cowlick is the best way to neutralize it," says Rourk. Heat is always the contributing factor that alters the state of our hair, so when in need, use it to your advantage.
If your hair is already dry, spritz the cowlick with water and/or heat protector before blowdrying to help reset the hair better.
Rabiu credits another hot tool for its cowlick-correcting abilities. "Root tamer irons are [also] great for cowlicks," she adds. "They work great by helping you get straight to the roots without burning your scalp. Their fine-tooth comb edges help provide tension as you direct the cowlick towards your desired direction." Root tamers are especially great for thicker strands that have a higher density for heat to work through in order to see desired change, so those fine-tooth combs really will come in handy. Rabiu recommends the root tamer from Kristin Ess.
When it comes to helping your newly directed strands stay in place, no-crease clips or duckbill clips can be a great help as well. "Once the hair is wet and you've used your product of choice, place a [creaseless] clip at the root of the cowlick in the direction you want your hair to fall in once it's dry," instructs Rabiu. "Diffuse and voilá!"
No-crease clips, after the help of a little heat manipulation, will train your cowlicks to reposition themselves.
Choose Products Wisely
Once you’ve used heat to change the direction of your more stubborn strands, the way you “set” the hair is going to depend on product usage, explains Rabiu. "[Use] lightweight product on thin hair," she advises. A flexible hold hairspray like L'Oréal's Elnett is a perfect product for thinner strands because it doesn't add weight from being too stiff or sticky, and it leaves your hair with just enough hold while still remaining brush-able. A dry shampoo can also be extremely helpful for finer strands after you've manipulated things with the help of your dryer. Dry shampoo will add lift and absorb any natural oil that may be working against you and weighing down the hairs of your cowlick.
"[For] thicker hair," Rabiu says, "one should use product with slightly more hold." She suggests R+Co's Sandcastle Dry Textured Creme when you need a little more grit to help reshape your cowlick. Overall, Rabiu warns that even with thicker hair, styling products should be used sparingly so as to not bog down the hair. If you end up using a stronger pomade or creme, apply by rubbing a small pinch between your fingertips and remember that a little will go a long way.
Know Your Hair Type
We know there's a difference in how we care for various hair types, but is there a difference in how we approach them when taming our cowlicks?
"The overall basis is the same: Manipulate the direction of the cowlick [at the] root by moving it in the opposite direction of how it naturally grows by using heat on wet/heat-protected hair," explains Rabiu. If you have coily, kinky hair, Rabiu reminds us that these particular hair types rarely deal with cowlicks because the hair texture grows up and out.
As for placement on the head, a cowlick should be approached the same way no matter where it is. For instance, the hairline is no different than the crown of the head. Rourk advises to use the same precautions and tricks to get your hair to work with you. She reminds us that the shorter the length, the more exposed your growth pattern may be; however, "the approach to caring for a cowlick is the same—for both men and women," she says.
Can You Eliminate Cowlicks Entirely?
Rourk encourages us to change the perspective on our rogue strands. "You’re never going to completely eliminate your cowlicks, but there are ways to work with them." One such way is to embrace them as a part of your look. She explains, "I also love the idea of letting your cowlicks be your trademark! They're unique to you and have personality."