The Products That Secretly Sabotage Wavy Hair and What to Use Instead
Choosing products that are designed specifically for your hair type is so important. That's because they're formulated with ingredients that will enhance and work with your hair, not against it. Take, for example, my hair. It's stick straight and not voluminous at all, so I don't want any products that will weigh it down too much, like super-thick conditioners.
Those of you with wavy hair are probably working with frizzy moments and need hydration. "This hair is loose, wavy, and has a slight S shape," explains Mane Addicts artist Irinel de León. "It's considered to be type-2 hair, and within are subclassifications such as a, b, or c. Each letter represents the level of wave within the strands." Danielle Priano, celebrity hairstylist and SexyHair stylist ambassador, says wavy hair can vary when wet or dry: "Some wavy hair will be wavy when wet but will dry straight, and some will keep the pattern even when dried, but it does not have a full coil pattern."
What does wavy hair need?
The main takeaway here is you don't want your hair to dry out. "Curly, coily, and wavy hair types often have more frizz compared to straight hair—these hair types tend to be drier in nature, so hydration is important while [you're] also making sure the products aren't weighing down the hair," says Leo Izquierdo, co-founder of IGK. If products are weighing down the hair, it can prevent your wavy hair from having that natural bounce and body. You can find the type of moisturizing routine that works for you—there are so many products that could work, including liquids, oils, creams, masks, and more.
You don't want to over-cleanse your hair, celebrity hair colorist Bianca Hillier says, as it will strip your hair's natural oils and leave it dull and dry. "For extra hydration, I recommend to my clients to have a filter for their shower. Within water, there are heavy metals, which cause dehydration in the hair," she adds.
And sometimes, you just need a haircut to freshen everything up. Siobhán Quinlan, a colorist and stylist at Cutler West Hollywood, says starting with a good haircut will make all the difference in wavy hair. "Going to a stylist that knows how to encourage your wave will make a huge difference," she says. "I would start with a good primer, next a moisturizer, and then something that would help encourage that wave and give the style a little hold. Often, wavy hair can air-dry very nicely, but if people don't have time for that, have a hair dryer with a good diffuser. I like big hair, so a little texture powder never hurts!"
When it comes to styling your hair, sometimes, it's best to let it be and not mess with it too much. "Wavy hair is pretty to look at but not touchy-touchy," says Aloxxi stylist Jessica Wall-Innella. "Leaving it alone and using a lightweight texture spray is good to keep the waves tame and together."
Ingredients to Avoid for Wavy Hair
"You want to avoid products that contain formaldehyde, sulfates, parabens, and silicone," Priano says. "These are highly irritating ingredients that can cause dryness to the scalp and can lead to hair loss. For wavy/curly hair, I recommend products that are not going to strip your hair of the nutrients it needs. You want to find products that are going to have a good balance of cleanliness while giving your hair the necessary oils you're going to want to make it shine and feel healthy." Izquierdo also recommends being cautious with products that are specifically marketed for curly hair and opting for products that offer frizz reduction and detangling for all hair types. "Curly hair typically requires extra moisture and smoothing, so these products can often be too heavy for wavy hair," he adds.
Hillier says alcohol can dry out the hair and create frizz, so avoid any products that have high alcohol content. "Most mousse products contain alcohol and will make the cuticle layer of the strand swell and open, therefore creating dry, fuzzy locks," she says.
Ingredients to Prioritize for Wavy Hair
As for the ingredients that will help, anything that's moisturizing will make a difference, but you should avoid anything that will weigh the hair down. "People with wavy hair should look for ingredients like coconut and avocado oil in their hair products to keep their hair as moisturized as possible. These light oils are packed with vitamins and minerals that feed the hair strands and nurture the scalp," says StyleSeat natural hair stylist Erinn Courtney. Oils like shea butter and argan can help, too.
You can also try moisturizing agents like glycerin and hyaluronic acid—yes, the same ones you might recognize from skincare. "Glycerin retains moisture while preventing breakage in the hair strand. The hyaluronic acid hydrates the hair in addition to boosting volume," says Hillier. Matrix Artistic Director Nick Stenson says he likes to see water listed early on in product ingredients. "While this may seem like a strange response, it's important to keep in mind that water temporarily softens the disulfide bonds in our hair, allowing us to reform and enhance natural waves," he says. "Paired with the right set of additional ingredients that promote softness and oils that give a gentle slip to the hair, this is the secret sauce for maximizing your waves."
On the styling front, some grit can be beneficial. Wall-Innella suggests cornstarch, which will give extra texture and light hold to keep the waves in place. Look for styling products that encourage the hair's natural texture, such as dry volume and texture sprays, air-dry creams, and cleansing systems with volumizing benefits.
How to Enhance and Define Wavy Hair
Keeping up a moisturizing routine will help your natural waves stay defined—shampoo, conditioner, serum, cream, etc. "Wavy hair is best defined with medium- to light-hold products and minimal touching with our hands during the drying process," Stenson says. "And speaking of the drying process, a blow-dryer with a diffuser attachment is a great way to accentuate and harness natural waves to define them without creating frizz."
Best Products for Wavy Hair
Shampoos and Conditioners
It's hard to beat snagging a top-rated shampoo and conditioner for under $20 total, but here we are! Designed for fine and thick hair alike, this sulfate-free moisturizing duo gives wavy hair top-notch hydration, softness, and shine. (Nearly eight-thousand, five-star reviews on Amazon say so!)
"Defining wavy hair starts in the shower. I recommend an ultra-hydrating option such as R+Co Cassette Curl Shampoo," says Adam Federico, vice president of technical education at R+Co.
Federico suggests pairing the above shampoo with R+Co's complementary conditioner. "These products work together to tame frizz and add nourishment without weighing the hair down," he says.
Izquierdo recommends IGK's Extra Love Volume and Thickening Shampoo for waves.
Pair IGK's shampoo with its matching conditioner: "This duo's thickening and hydrating formula enhances waves, leaving you with luscious, bouncy hair," Izquierdo says.
Quinlan says Evo's shampoo (and its conditioner) provides lightweight moisture.
Celebrity stylist Sophie Gutterman stresses the importance of finding shampoo and conditioner that keep the hair clean but are also moisturizing and safe to use every day. She has All About Curls's Lo-Lather Cleanser in her shower and loves it.
Priano recommends this shampoo because "it cleans the hair lightly but keeps the shine and moisture in, perfect for wavy/curly hair."
This best-seller from L'Oréal has nearly 38 thousand reviews on Amazon and a solid 4.4 star rating. (And according to the brand, one is sold every eight seconds.) Pros in the hair space rave about it as it's a godsend for all hair types and textures, but especially those with waves. Post-rinse, you're left with the most weightless shine and shape to your bends.
"Adding a weekly treatment to your haircare routine will maintain hydration and health," Hillier says. "The Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector, which is their top seller with one sold every 3.5 seconds, is a reparative treatment that adds shine and will help strengthen the hair, allowing the curl patterns to realign to their natural state."
Amika's overnight hair mask is infused with hyaluronic acid, which boosts moisture for up to 72 hours and prevents breakage.
Here's another product to support scalp health. Briogeo's Scrub Shampoo detoxifies the scalp while also soothing any irritation and providing hydration.
Deeply conditioning, Ceremonia's mask is enriched with oils and butters such as babassu oil, chia-seed oil, and cupuaçu butter.
If you're dealing with an oily or dry and flaky scalp, this oil can help. It cleanses the scalp while also calming it and supporting the hair follicles. Ingredients include squalane, hemisqualane, rosemary extract, and basil-root extract.
"I always prep wavy hair with a light, nourishing leave-in conditioner like Matrix's Miracle Creator Multi-Tasking Treatment," Stenson says.
"Wavy hair will need a fresh cut to show the pattern/texture more (layers really enhance the texture) as well as a hydrating leave-in conditioner with some oil to add moisture to the hair and define the pattern and control frizz. I love the Healthy So You Want It All Leave-In Treatment for this," Priano says.
A more natural hair gel alternative, this light, milky gel gifts waves with the essential moisture they need whilst also giving your strands loads of frizz-free gleam.
"Olaplex products are the most suitable to moisturize and accentuate wavy hair since it contains their patented bond-building technology to relink the hair bonds for stronger and healthier hair. The curlier your hair is, the more hair bonds you have," explains Hillier. She likes to pair the No. 6 Bond Smoother with the No.7 Bonding Oil. The Bond Smoother defines waves and reduces frizz for up to 72 hours.
"Olaplex's No. 7 Bonding Oil adds shine to the hair while protecting and repairing compromised hair with their exclusive bond-building ingredient," says Hillier. There is UV protectant, so if you do decide to thermal style or hit the beach, you have ultra-protection."
"This is a great product to use for styling wavy hair and fighting frizz," Courtney says.
"I like to use R+Co's Two-Way Mirror to refresh second-day curls. It adds shine, color reflection, and tames frizz but is also very lightweight," Federico says.
"This product is light enough to use on wet hair and let air-dry for the perfect waves or curls," Courtney says.
"Rich Kid is a coconut oil–infused air-dry styler that smooths the hair as it dries, giving it that naturally textured, hydrated, lived-in style," Izquierdo says.
"Post-shower, I recommend drying the hair gently with an old cotton T-shirt," Federico says. "Once the majority of the water has been removed, add R+Co Turntable to the mid-lengths and ends. Part the hair and work the product through with a wide-toothed comb. Allow it to air-dry."
"Try finishing off your look with the Beach Club Volumizing Texture Spray, which can be used in damp or dry hair. This versatile spray delivers salty, beachy texture—without the salt or stickiness!" Izquierdo says.
"This is a great moisturizer [that] adds softness and shine to the hair and soft definition to waves," Quinlan says.
Stenson recommends this mousse, which is a gentle-hold volumizer. It provides "a hold that can be lightly broken up to create a more natural feel after drying," he adds.
"Bombshell Grip styler and Shine Mist are in my styling bag to create today's beach-themed styles," says Wall-Innella. "Heat protection delivered from these two products protect the hair, especially if the waves are from heat tools and not genetics."
Quinlan says this balm provides a stronger hold for waves and curls and also helps encourage more waves and curls in the hair.
"For those that enjoy a lived-in wave, finish with Matrix's Miss Mess Dry Finishing Spray to create volume within the waves and breathe additional air into the style," Stenson says.
"The best way to define your wavy hair is by starting when it's wet fresh out the shower," says Gutterman. "I would then work in a moisturizer that has some hold to it. I'm loving the Taming Cream by All About Curls for my wavy clients because it's not too heavy and really hydrates the hair to bring out the natural wave/texture. After I apply the products, I like to do a light diffuse with a blow-dryer that has heat control and diffuser attachment like the T3 AireLuxe Dryer."
Next, The Best Shampoos and Conditioners for Every Color, Hair Type, and Texture
This article was originally published at an earlier date and has since been updated.
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