12 Habits for Maintaining the Health of Fine Hair, According to Hairstylists
Consider them a commitment to the finer things in life.
Having fine hair is a lot like owning a cashmere sweater. Both a blessing and a curse, they're soft and silky to the touch, but improper care can lead to stretching, breakage, and other issues that damage the delicate strands. Although we can't control the way our hair decides to grow, we can manage how we decide to deal with it. My not-so-thick hair and I know that having fine hair comes with a whole lot of maintenance. So, in an effort to support my fellow unit of fine-haired sisters, I tagged a group of amazing hairstylists to coach us through our day-to-day hair obstacles. Follow these rules to keep your wispy strands in their happiest, healthiest state.
The most important step for styling fine hair starts in the shower. Stay away from sulfates—detergents found in many shampoos—which can weaken hair follicles over time, making your hair susceptible to breakage and the appearance of thinning. “Using a volumizing shampoo can help plump up the roots and add nutrients back to depleted strands,” says Nunzio Saviano, a hairstylist in New York City. “Work in a clarifying shampoo about once a week to get rid of additional buildup, leaving hair appearing fuller and denser.”
On that same note, avoid over-shampooing. “Most fine hair clients feel the need to wash every day because they feel greasy after one day,” says Jennifer Watson, a hairstylist and education director at Zenagen Hair Care. “However, fine hair only needs to be shampooed two or three times per week. Overwashing can create too much oil production, which leads to flat and lifeless hair. The natural oils created with minimized shampooing add volume and manageability.”
To manage excess oil on second-day hair, opt for dry shampoo instead—stylists say the powder remnants will mop up excess oil and create more volume. “Just remember to wash it out after using it one to three times in a row, or the buildup can irritate the scalp and dry out fine hairs, causing breakage,” says Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Conditioner might sound counterintuitive for really fine hair, but stylists say it can help, especially if you’re using a volumizing shampoo. “These shampoos tend to be quite drying, which can make the scalp overproduce oils,” says Dawn Clemens, hairstylist and founder of LarweHair. “A moisturizing conditioner will help maintain the balance so that no extra oils that drag down hair are produced.” And more words of wisdom from Saviano: Never apply conditioner to the scalp (only mids to ends) and avoid formulas with heavy molecules and additives. Unless your hair is really long (read: Rapunzel-like), a nickel-size drop of conditioner is more than enough.
Unfortunately, having fine hair makes choosing hair products a game of styling roulette. It’s not enough to pick something with a “volumizing” label—in fact, some volumizing products can dry out the hair and make it brittle. Here’s a quick rundown: Stay away from heavyweight products like pomades, oils, waxes, or other products that are meant to coat the hair, as they will weigh your hair down. Oh, and stay away from protein treatments, too. “Protein treatments coat the hair, but because yours is thin in diameter, the coat might be too heavy,” says Ghanima Abdullah, a licensed cosmetologist from Chicago.
Instead, look for products that add moisture and volume. “Applying a lightweight volumizing mousse from roots to ends helps thicken your fine hair without weighing it down,” says Jenna Marie Shafer, a hairstylist in New York City. “Try Amika Plus Size Perfect Body Mousse ($25; sephora.com), which provides massive volume and hydration in a cushiony whipped formula.”
Fine hair should always abide by the 75 percent rule. “This refers to air-drying your hair until it is about 75 percent dry,” says Michon Kessler, a hairstylist at Haven Salon Studios. “Wet hair is the most vulnerable to stretching and breaking while being pulled.” After that, Kessler advises blow drying upside down to add extra shape and volume at the roots. This will produce the perfect blown-out look while minimizing damage.
Because fine hair is so, well, fine, it is especially vulnerable to breakage, which is why excess heat styling is generally not advised. But if you must style your hair (we love our curls), try using hair rollers instead of a curling iron. “Divide the section of hair you're rolling based on the diameter of the roller (so if the roller is two inches in diameter, use a two-inch section of hair),” says Abdullah. “The trick to creating volume with rollers is to roll at a 90-degree angle to your head and roll all the way down to the scalp to secure it.”
Fine hair tends to tangle more easily, which, when left alone, can lead to breakage. Don’t be scared by the hair falling out—brushing finer hair is a great way to stimulate the scalp and encourage growth, says Shafer. “When brushing, hold onto the hair closest to the scalp to gently detangle. Make sure to use a brush with soft or flexible bristles, like a natural boar bristle brush, as opposed to one with stiff bristles, as this will help you brush through without applying too much stress.”
Before you dip at the word oils, hear us out. According to Dr. Shainhouse, scalp oils can help provide a nourishing environment for hair to grow. “This is generally used to help moisturize the scalp and strengthen the skin barrier with hydrating oils like argan, shea, almond, sunflower, and safflower.” Another plus? The act of rubbing and massaging these oils into the scalp can increase circulation and stimulate hair growth.
Shelly Aguirre, a hairstylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, swears by silk pillowcases for silky hair. There’s a lot of benefits to using a silk pillowcase, but these benefits increase twofold when dealing with fine hair. “The glide of satin is less damaging because it reduces the friction that comes with a cotton pillowcase,” she says. That means less frizz, flyaways, and breakage come morning.
To make your hair the strongest—and even longest—it can be, the key is getting your hair trimmed on a regular basis. “Fine hair needs more frequent trims than other types of hair because it’s more susceptible to split ends,” says Kessler. “These will just work their way up the hair shaft and make the strand even thinner.” There’s no magic number here since everyone’s hair type is a bit different, but stylists estimate around every six to eight weeks as the marker for setting another appointment.
Sorry to disappoint, but you can’t actually make hair thicker. However, with the right styling, you can make those fine strands of yours look fuller than they really are. “A deep side part can give the illusion of fullness, while a jagged part makes the top layers stick up, giving the illusion of thicker hair,” says celebrity hairstylist Martino Cartier. Another thickening hack? Ask your hairstylist for lowlights or highlights. “The depth of the low light and the accent of the highlight tricks the eye into seeing more hair than there actually is,” says Kessler.
If you’re frustrated with what you perceive as a lack of hair, the first step in reaching your hair goals is knowing the hand you were dealt. That starts with understanding the difference between fine and thinning hair. Having fine hair refers to the diameter of each individual strand, which should be thinner than a strand of thread. On the other hand, thinning hair refers to the density of your strands per square inch of your scalp, or in other words, how much hair you have on your head.
If your problem comes down to thinning hair, Dr. Shainhouse recommends looking for ingredients like minoxidil and saw palmetto. “Try Keranique Scalp Stimulating Shampoo ($20; ulta.com), which contains minoxidil, the same ingredient in Rogaine,” she says. “Interestingly, certain dandruff shampoos can also help manage hormone-associated hair loss. Add one into your routine twice a week, and lather it in for two minutes before rinsing.”