You put beauty elixirs on your face to protect it every day. But if you don’t do the same for your hair by using after-shower hair products — think leave-in conditioners, heat protectants, and serums — you’re not keeping your strands as healthy or protected from damage as they should be.
Juliana Ohlmeyer, a hairstylist and colorist from Bassia Bassia in New York City, says to think of using these sorts of products like protecting nice clothing. “Say you have a silk shirt and you’re going to iron it,” she explains. “You’ll want to use some sort of fabric spray to create a barrier between the direct heat and the silk, and it’s the same idea with your hair.”
This is largely because your strands are in their most vulnerable state when they’re wet (i.e. after your shower). “Your hair is the most fragile and susceptible to damage when it’s wet,” says Ohlmeyer. That’s why you’re told to not walk outside in the cold with damp hair; If it’s already damaged or color-treated, for instance, facing the harsh elements can potentially make your strands snap and break, she adds.
It’s not just wetness that you have to watch out for: The same external factors that can damage your skin, like pollution and UV rays, also wreak havoc on your hair. “Whether it’s really dry weather, humidity, inside with the air conditioner or heat blasting, you’re exposed to elements everywhere you go,” says Ohlmeyer. And that’s why you should be turning to a leave-in product to keep your strands in tip-top shape. Read on for expert intel on how to use after-shower hair products, what to look for in the formula, and some of the best ones you can buy.
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What Are After-Shower Hair Products?
Whether you turn to a heat protectant, oil, or other post-shower product for your hair, the job is essentially the same: to function as a protective barrier. “If you don’t use any leave-in products after the shower, hair can become frizzy, dry, or tangled,” says Sally Hershberger, a celebrity hairstylist and founder of her eponymous salon and hair care line. “They work to provide an extra level of hydration and protection that you may not get from your usual in-shower products.”
If you’re using hot tools, these products are a must. For example: “Heat protectants create a barrier between the hair and the heat source such as a curling iron or blow dryer,” Hershberger explains. “This barrier works to seal in any moisture and reduce the amount of damage caused by heat.” Other products work similarly to heat protectants, too. “Putting a leave-in conditioner or other protective product will create a soft barrier between heat and your hair,” says Ohlmeyer.
How To Find An After-Shower Product For Your Hair Type
Of course, hair products aren’t one-size-fits-all, so you’ll want to shop for a formula that’s targeted to your hair type and texture. One thing that’s helpful is to look for multitaskers, aka hair care formulas that offer more than one benefit.
Hershberger recommends products that contain argan oil if you’ve got thick or color-treated hair. “Argan oil is found in many leave-in products as it nourishes and conditions the hair, leaving it super smooth and soft,” she says. “It’s also great for heat and color protection.” If your strands are on the finer side, she suggests using the ingredient sparingly as it can lead to a greasy look if you apply too much at once.
Another MVP to look for is keratin. “Hair is made up of keratin, so products that contain it are perfect for adding an extra boost of protein to improve hair elasticity,” says Hershberger, noting that it’s suitable for all hair types.
How To Use An After-Shower Hair Product
The experts recommend slathering on one of these protective products after every shower — whether it’s wash day or not. “Even if you only did a rinse without shampoo, a heat protectant is still super important to use since heat and UV can be very damaging to the hair,” says Hershberger.
Be sure to apply these when your strands are damp. If it’s soaking wet, the water can prevent the product from getting fully absorbed, Hershberger explains. And start with a small amount. “Too much product can weigh down the hair, so it’s always easier to add more than remove excess,” she tells Bustle. You can skip your roots if your hair falls on the oiler side, says Ohlmeyer. “If you have really long hair, applying from the mid-shaft to the ends is going to be helpful,” she adds.
Shop Post-Shower Hair Protectants
For Heat & UV Defense
This do-it-all mist protects strands from pollution, heat, and UV rays while smoothing frizz. An added perk? Your hair gets a boost of moisture thanks to the B vitamins in the formula.
For Fighting Frizz
If you prefer using a hair oil, this elixir is a great protective treatment that also fights frizz. Its trio of castor, grape seed, and almond oils work to strengthen your strands and keep them hydrated.
For A Multitasking Protectant
Make it easy by snagging a product like this prep spray, which uses a blend of botanicals — including sunflower seed extract and rose flower water — to keep your hair safe from all sorts of external pollutants.
For Added Volume
Need a zhuzh? This mist offers heat and humidity protection while also giving a volumizing boost to your hair so you’ve got oomph that lasts.
For Hair Strenghtening
Boost your scalp (and therefore your hair) health with this nourishing leave-in. The vitamins in the bottle, which include B6 and K, help increase scalp circulation so your strands remain strong and protected.
Dias, M.F. (2015). Hair Cosmetics: An Overview. International Journal of Trichology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4387693/
Yang, F-C. (2014). The structure of people’s hair. PeerJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4201279/
Zhou, Y. (2011). The effect of various cosmetic pretreatments on protecting hair from thermal damage by hot flat ironing. J Cosmet Sci. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21635854/
Sally Hershberger, a celebrity hairstylist
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