When it comes to hair styling products - mousse, gel, volumizer, hair spray, hair styling paste, to name a few - I don’t blame you for becoming paralyzed by choice. It’s just what our brains do when we’re presented with literally too much choice - aka decision paralysis.
(Throwback to the time I couldn't choose the perfect hair dryer for two. Freaking. Months.)
There are so many to choose from, plus how are you supposed to know that they’ll actually deliver?!
I’ve been in that situation before - poring over ingredients lists of two almost identical products, only to be let down by the one I chose.
I’ve rounded up fifteen of the best styling products - no matter how long or short, thick or thin, curly or straight - there is something for everyone on this list!
Color Wow Dream Coat
CHI Guard Thermal Protection Spray
Jack Black Sleek Finish Texture Cream
Ouidad Advanced Heat Climate Control Gel
Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray
CHI Shine Infusion Hair Spray
Blind Barber 90-Proof Pomade
Oribe Superfine Strong Hair Spray
R+Co Dallas Thickening Spray
Jack Black Body Building Hair Gel
Oribe Grandiose Hair Plumping Mousse
R+Co Twister Curl Primer
CHI Keratin Mist
FatBoy Hair Sea Salt Pomade
Ouidad Botanical Boost Curl Energizing and Refreshing Spray
Do I really need special hair styling products? Isn’t it just ‘marketing’?
If you’ve ever wondered why your hair always does exactly what you don’t want it to do, you might need a little extra help - and that help comes in the form of a hair styling product. Different hair styling products help to defrizz, hold down, hold up, add volume, add texture, smooth hair - anything you want! Some hair styling products also work better for your hair in the long run - for example, thermal protection sprays help prevent long-term damage from heat. Yes, it isn’t really something you see immediately, but in the future, your hair will thank you.
How do I know what to choose for my hair?
I’ve put together a little cheat sheet as a general guideline for which products are for which hair types - making it easier to choose the best hair styling products for your needs. I know there are a lot to choose from - organic hair styling products, salon-only hair styling products, natural hair styling products, and drugstore gems. Putting all brand names aside, this is a rough list for the types of products that are out there, and what they’ll do for hair.
Texturizing Spray: Texturizing sprays usually contain ingredients like sea salt to create a signature beachy, tousled look. They usually create volume and texture to amp up short and fine hair.
Pomade: Pomades give hair hold without the crunchiness of gel. While it's great for holding the hair in place, it also lends a lot of flexibility to hair.
Mousse: Mousse is actually super versatile product - any hair length can use it. It helps most to add volume and help define curls - but beware, a mousse overload can create crunchy curls.
Gel: Despite what your memories of the early 2000s might tell you, hair gel is for more than making pre-teen boys' hair spikey. While it is an ideal form of hold for shorter hair, the best hair styling gel is also perfect for taming baby hairs or creating a sleek, pulled back low pony look.
Thermal Protection: Thermal protective sprays can be used by ANY hair type - they help to preserve hair against high heat, cutting down on split ends and heat damage.
Keratin Spray: These are basically at-home keratin treatments - ideal for anyone that wants to straighten their hair, and have it actually stay that way after washing. They are heat-activated and seal hair against excess humidity for silky straight hair.
Thickening Spray: Thickening sprays, aka volumizers, are perfect for gals (and guys!) that have fine hair that tends to lay flat. Unlike texturizing products, they don't add texture to hair - just a whole lot of volume!
Hair Spray: Hair spray is for everybody, and it’s come a long way since the Aqua Net days. Hair spray comes in different strengths and is sometimes reinforced with hair-moisturising ingredients.
Curl Definer: A little bit self-explanatory in the title, but a great curl definer helps create loose, natural curls without any crispy-crunchiness that other products sometimes lend curls.
Dry Shampoo: Dry shampoos can come in aerosol form, or in powdered form. I find the aerosol form a little easier to use than a hair styling powder since the powder can be targeted right at the root, without leaving a super obvious residue.
Okay, now this one is magic - I swear. Do you know how humidity is basically curly hair's nemesis? Like a Thanos-Avengers type relationship? The Color Wow Dream Coat is basically the Infinity Gauntlet, minus the sacrifices.
Spray it over hair before heat styling and it basically seals the hair against any humidity, keeping it straight and silky for up to 3 washes. Yes, THREE washes! The key to getting the most out of this is by only using it every three washes or so, though - too much protein is a bad thing for hair and overusing it could lead to brittle hair.
This should honestly be essential in everyone's bathroom cupboard - and especially for my gals with fine, bleached, or chemically treated hair. If you’ve been here for a while, you know that I’m all about a good thermal protection spray - for everybody.
A thermal protection spray can help with every hair type, but as I said before - if you're having issues with split ends and wondering why this is the product for you. It might not help with the ones you already have (unfortunately, there's nothing you can do short of trimming them off), but it can definitely stop new ones from happening!
This one is for my gals - and guys - that like a low-maintenance but effective product for their hair. Perfect for straight hair styling or wavy hair styling, the Sleek Finish Texture Cream helps to smooth even the thickest, coarsest hair. It’s probably the best hair styling cream for hair that isn’t too curly, but is perfect in the category of “wavy hair styling products”.
What I really like about it is that you don't need to go through the extra step of blow drying hair - it's just as effective on damp hair as it is on dry for smooth, but not necessarily straight hair.
This has to be one of the best, if not the best hair styling gel for natural hair out there. When it comes to curls, the key thing to reducing frizz and keeping curls gorgeous is keeping out humidity.
This styling gel from Ouidad is designed for use on curly hair, with or without heat - promising to keep curls frizz-free. Even though it’s a gel, it leaves hair flexible instead of stiff for bouncy, frizz-free curls.
If your hair needs extra volume and texture, this is one of the best styling products for fine hair. It’s almost like a volumizer, texturizing spray, and dry shampoo all in one - it’s perfect for refreshing hair that needs a boost, or creating a beachy boho look with wavy hair. Styling with the Dry Texturizing Spray is super easy - just spray into your roots for a refresh, and spray into the lengths and scrunch for casual waves and texture.
Both dry shampoos and texturizing sprays are some of best styling products for thin hair because they get rid of oiliness at the roots, plus add a little more body to hair by adding texture - making this the perfect product for working double-time on thin hair.
Despite the name, this isn’t a hair styling spray - it’s a spray designed to add shine and life to hair, without weighing it down. It’s perfect for making hair look super glossy, just like in the ads.
So if you're finding that your hair looks a little dull and frizzy, or you want to make your hair color pop more, turn to the CHI Shine Infusion. It is heat activated, so you'll want to use it just before blow drying or heat styling for shiny, gorgeous hair.
This one is highly, highly, recommended for all my gals with short hair (and guys!). I never realized how much work it takes for a pixie cut to look effortless. Thank goodness I never got one! Just one of the products that really helps to style short hair is a good pomade.
Hair pomades are basically lightweight versions of hair wax, or a very thick hair styling cream - they help to hold hair a certain way, without weighing it down or adding a very obvious "THIS IS STYLING PRODUCT" shine.
The 90-Proof Pomade from Blind Barber is formulated with hops (yep, like the stuff beer is made from) to help add volume and eliminate dandruff. When it comes to choosing styling products for short hair, pomade is a great place to start!
Remember how we were talking about Aqua Net earlier? One of the biggest complaints about Aqua Net was the smell.
You know what I mean - that chemically, aerosol smell?
Not only does this hair spray from Oribe double up as a hair perfume, but it also locks in styles with no stiff, crunchy hold. It's tried and tested in humidity and on all hair types - all with the same result: shiny and perfectly styled hair. Buy it now and thank me later!
While R+Co states that this is good for all hair types (and I don’t dispute that!) this is definitely one of the Holy Grail styling products for fine hair. It’s best used with heat to lift roots for that extra volume - did you know it’s named Dallas because everything is bigger in Texas?
Formulated with Aloe Vera and Ginger Extracts with a splash of Panthenol thrown in (trivia moment: did you know this ingredient is what Pantene got its name from?), the Thickening Spray works to keep hair healthy and even does some overtime by working as a UV and heat protectant.
Let me just start by saying how hard it is to get a hair gel right. Crunchy hair, flakes that looked like dandruff, plus that super wet “This is way too much product" look pretty much defined how I remember boys in middle school, circa the early 2000s. This Jack Black Hair gel knocks it out of the park - for real. A hair styling gel that isn't somehow simultaneously crunchy and greasy? Sign me up!
While this is definitely one of the best styling products for short hair on this list, don't underestimate what a good gel can do for longer hair - tame baby hairs, slick down flyaways, and create that a sleek, low-bun look that's dominating social media these days. Plus, a little goes a long way - so you won't need much for voluminous and perfectly styled hair.
This hair styling mousse from Oribe is perfect for hair that wants some serious volume. Mousse has to be one of the most foolproof ways to amp up fine hair - just give it a shake and work it through hair before blow drying. Mousse does need a bit of heat for the best volume possible - but once your hair is dry, that volume is unbeatable.
It promises all-day volume - I know that sounds like a big promise, but this mousse from Oribe keeps its word. I swear, the Oribe Mousse harnesses some kind of sorcery! Even after hair gets tousled or moved, it just takes a tiny bit of restyling and bam - your hair looks flawless again, volume and all. Definitely one I’d like to have in my hair styling kit!
A hair primer? Are you for real?
Yes, I am, actually. Curl primers are amazing for styling natural hair because they help the curls hold on to much-needed hydration, without the frizz. It can be used as a lightweight styling cream for natural hair, or as the first product in a hair-styling routine.
Formulated with nourishing plant extracts like Aloe Vera, Pequi Fruit Oil, and Shea Butter, the R+Co's curl primer also works as a leave-in conditioner for luscious waves and curls.
The CHI Keratin Mist is a leave-in strengthening treatment designed to nurture damaged hair, keeping it healthy, sleek, and frizz free. It works on straight to curly hair types, sealing in hair against the humidity and completely getting rid of frizz.
It’s the kind of thing that you’ll love if you are looking for that perfect product that leaves your hair shiny after blow drying, with the added bonus of reinforcing and strengthening weak hair.
Anything ‘sea salt’ instantly means ‘texture’, making this a great way for those of us with naturally stick-straight hair to have beachy waves (we all want what we don’t have, right?)What I like over this over a sea salt spray, for example, is that pomades tend to have a little more hold than a spray because they tend to be a little bit thicker. However, pomades don’t have as much hold as a hair styling clay. They’ll still leave your hair with enough movement to look like you just woke up like this - flawless!
The Best Product for Dry and Curly hair
I love products that can be used on wet or dry hair - and this Ouidad Curl-Boosting spray is no exception. It perks up tired curls without leaving a sticky residue, making it perfect for refreshing 2nd-day hair.
It helps to tame any unruly waves or curls without a crispy, over-styled feeling, perfect for my gals that want lush curls and gorgeous, soft waves with practically zero effort. There’s nothing like a hair product that performs amazingly with hardly any work on my end - just apply and go!
I hope that you’ve found a product here that turns on a lightbulb in your head about why your hair just won’t behave!
Here’s to good hair days ahead!
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About the author Stephanie Morin
NYC-based beauty and skin care blogger, Stephanie delivers a healthy dose of practical beauty tips for some serious skin care inspiration!