Even on my good hair days, I feel like there's something left to be desired. Perhaps this outlook is a bit dysmorphic, but after the final mist of hair spray falls or the last wrap of a hair tie makes its way around my ponytail, I'm still left looking for better—shinier, healthier, longer, and stronger strands.
After some chats with my colleagues and friends, it's clear I'm not alone here. We all have our hair woes, and while it's not exactly feasible to grow Kim Kardashian West's hair from our heads overnight, there are some styling techniques or product swaps that'll make drastic changes on your usual mane. To find out how to get the hair we really want (and deserve), we sat down with Herbal Essences celebrity stylist Bridget Brager for her best-kept secrets.
If you have fine hair…
"For all hair types, it starts with your routine," she tells us. "For fine hair, it starts in the shower with the right shampoo and conditioner that are giving you all the moisture you need (even women with fine hair still need all the moisture) but also giving you the volume. A lot of women fear using conditioner because they think it will take away their volume, but if you're using your conditioner right and you find the right conditioner, that doesn't happen. It's also how you use your tools.
Are you protecting your hair before you use your tools? You should protect your hair every step of the way in everything that you do." We recommend running a bit of Drybar Hot Toddy through wet hair before heat styling so that the tools draw the moisture from the product as opposed to your hair.
If you have curly hair…
"If you have a ton of frizz, it's because your hair is lacking moisture," says Brager. "If you don't have moisture in your hair, your hair just breaks. There's no softening agent." She suggests using a leave-in conditioner "all the time" or every time you wash your hair. "This is the foundation for everything I do," she says. "Everyone should have the same foundation—we should be protecting our hair. It's not going to hurt you. It's only going to help with the elements that are thrown at you. Do it every time you wash or use it [on dry hair] to refresh." Brager is a big fan of Herbal Essences Oil-Infused Creme ($7) and even raked it through her waves during our discussion to defrizz.
As far as perfecting your curl pattern, Brager says it's all about focusing on each curl. "You have to put some effort into it. There are these things called Flexi Rods—they're so amazing and so incredible for [improving the shape of your curls]. When your hair is down, you roll it up and reset your curl. I don't know that it will last from wash to wash, but if you're washing your hair every three to five days and you're setting your pattern once to a desired look, then it's pretty awesome."
If you have kinky-coily hair…
"Keeping moisture in ultra-curly/kinky hair is number one," shares Brager. "At night, wrap your hair in a silk scarf or sleep on a silk pillowcase. When styling hair, use creams and oils that are as natural as possible. Stay away from waxes and pastes—they tend to be heavy and are hard to wash out (they stick to the hair cuticle) and most of all, if you want to keep your hair coils, kinks, or curls healthy with beautiful shape, don't use any products that contain alcohol.
"If you want to keep your curls shaped perfectly throughout the day, don't be afraid to use a small curling iron and redefine the shape of some of the pieces around the face. A little touch-up here and there with an iron doesn't hurt, as long as you protect your curls first. On damp hair, use a leave-in conditioner and try to shape your curls while they're damp. Once dry, use an iron where it's needed. The leave-in conditioner doubles as a heat protector—score."
If your hair is thick and dry…
"Moisturizing with protein and driving that softness in is so important," says Brager. "Everything we do in the shower is important, but fortunately you can go and get things like glosses in the middle of February when your hair just sucks. If you're conditioning and putting moisture and protein into your hair daily, getting a gloss at your salon instead of a color freshens you up and gives you the feeling of more luster."
If your hair is greasy…
"Dry shampoo!" Brager says without hesitation. She suggests applying it at the roots. "If your hair is super greasy, it might be because you're washing your hair too much and cleansing the scalp too much. [When you do this], your body is producing sebum at a rate that's ridiculous, but it feels that it needs to so you have to counteract that. [At first], you have to go as long as you can—go seven days without washing your hair and use dry shampoo [in between]. It may not be pretty, but you'll get to a point where you can go four or five days, or maybe start with four or five days and come back to two.
But try to go as long as you can and use dry shampoo in between. Using Herbal Essences Dry Shampoo ($6) is great because it's got antioxidants, so the more you use it, the better your hair gets. There's no silicone, parabens or any of that stuff that gets stuck inside your hair and makes your hair unable to curl or style in any way and takes all the silkiness and all the shine out of it and you need to refresh and start anew." Then, you can work your way back to shorter time periods between washes.
"If you have fine hair and your hair is super greasy and you're using voluminous shampoos, nothing is going to make sense unless you take that time to adjust your body." Brager says that ideally you'll be able to get to a place where you can wash every two days. (Take a look at our guide for training your hair to be less greasy.)
If your hair is "lifeless" and flat…
Finding a volumizing shampoo and conditioner that's not weighing your hair down but that's giving you the elements of cleanliness and adding vitamins and protecting your hair is of most importance for flat hair, according to Brager. "Shampoo only at the roots (you don't need to suds up the bottom if you're not product-heavy), and then take a foam conditioner (because it's super light) midshaft to ends and let it soak in, and rinse it off, and you'll just be left with voluminous hair."
Brager also says that mousse is "huge" for flat hair. It can be used on wet roots before blow-drying or on dry hair. Explains Brager, "If I were to dry style your hair, I would rake it through your hair and then use a blow-dryer to freshen up the roots. It forms a cone around the hair shaft, and if you've blown your hair in the right direction, the memory is fantastic and you have great texture. When I blow-dry most of my clients' hair and I'm trying to give the illusion of big, full hair, I'll pick up at the temples and over-direct the hair to the other side, and that way, when it comes down, it builds a swell."
Brager jokes with me about the old-school idea of backcombing the hair, but ultimately, she's a fan of its results. "I love what it does for someone's profile—their hair just looks alive. The crown matters. I use a Mason Pearson. You can also use a rattail comb. Fromm has this cool pink one that has mini plastic bristles—all you do is go two or three inches above your root and press down. You don't want to tease it—teasing is a whole other thing. And then there's a technique called French lacing that's amazing for updos.
Basically, you take your section of hair where you want to see the most volume and gently insert your comb or brush to get this halo effect. It's different than backcombing—you pick it up at the spot worked on and use a little hair spray and then gently brush down over it and you get this amazing little pick-me-up."
If you have short hair that's difficult to style…
"The common issue with short hair is that girls want texture, but they have the curling iron for long-haired girls, so choose something that's one to two sizes smaller—I would say start at 3/4-inch curling iron—that's going to be your new home and where you'll find the best waves," explains Brager. "Get the curling iron as close as you can to your root, dragging the curling iron down and then starting your wave." Brager's favorite method is what she calls a "city wave" where you clamp a section of hair a few inches away from the root, turn the iron away from your face, slowly dragging the curling iron down the hair until you get close to the end, and then let the hair fall out of the clamp.
"Girls with short hair can pull off the gel curl to get the 'wet look,' too. Start by styling your waves exactly as you'd like to see them, then take your soft gel and diffuse the hair to dry—it won't leave your hair crunchy. It doesn't look wet; it just looks really set and cool." (Brager recently did a similar look on Olivia Holt.)
If your bangs are unruly…
"Think about your face shape and what you might be wanting to cover up (brows, forehead)—that's a very real thing that women deal with and that's why it's okay to talk about it." For example, Brager explains that if you have a square face, angular bangs or a side bang might not flatter your face shape, though she adds, "there are some women who have so much confidence in their style that having a square face and having a square bang makes them look fucking cool." Her favorite type of bang is a curtain bang because it softens the face, but the chop you go with is up to you.
"I think in our style evolution, for me the most fun thing is to look back on my grandma or my aunts and see where they were with their hair in which decade, and I love seeing that they weren't always the same. So take chances and feel confident that everything you're going to do is beautiful."
If you're having trouble getting your bangs to lay right, pay attention to how you dry them. "What I like to do with my clients when their hair is wet—I find their bang and I push them off to the side and blow-dry everything else, and as I'm doing that, I'll come around and push them to the other side and go back and forth because I want the volume," says Brager. "I don't necessarily want a swoop bang—I brush them down to then sway and open like this [Brager curves her hands outward]. So leave them to air-dry as long as you can, and then at the root, take your brush or your fingers and swoop them over to the other side.
Using a round brush also works. I use a round brush on January Jones because she likes a look, like a '60s or '80s bang moment."