The Art of Layering Hair and Scalp Products—in 3 Easy Steps
Most of us know that there's a correct order to apply our makeup and skincare products. Primer goes underneath our foundation. Sunscreen follows serums and moisturizers to ensure an uninterrupted layer of protection for our skin from harmful UV rays. But many of us are less clear on the ideal order of our hair-care products.
Should we be using our heat protectant before or after mousse? Does leave-in conditioner or heat protectant come first? Does everyone need a hair oil, hair serum or hair cream? And what about scalp treatments—where do they fit in? Help!
Don't worry. We’ve compiled a guide to understanding your scalp-care and hair-care products and their ideal order of application. Read on to learn more about different scalp and hair products and their uses in your hair-care routine!
Hair-Care Step 1: Cleanse
The foundational hair-care step for every hair-care routine is a thorough cleansing with a quality shampoo. Look for shampoos free of parabens and sulfates, which can be harsh, especially on dry, aging locks and sensitive scalps. Cleansing goes beyond shampoo, however, and a scalp cleanser is a terrific first step to incorporate into your routine once or twice a week.
On days that your scalp is feeling especially oily and full of buildup, our New Dawn Activated Charcoal Cleanser with a unique massaging applicator is the perfect pre-shampoo treatment. It’s designed to detoxify and exfoliate your scalp with clarifying yet nourishing ingredients like birch extract to rebalance a dry, itchy scalp for healthier hair. Plus, you’ll love the lather your sulfate-free shampoo creates when you use this cleanser as a first step to brush away dirt and oils.
Shampoo is primarily for your scalp. While many after-shampoo products for your hair, like conditioners, heat protectants and butter masks are for your tresses, shampoo targets your scalp to wash away excess oil and buildup.
Be sure to tailor your shampoo to your specific hair-care needs today. As we age, our hair concerns often change! If you dealt with oily hair in your 20s, this doesn't mean you still need a shampoo designed for oily hair. If your hair had plenty of volume a decade ago—but not anymore—you might find that a volumizing shampoo gives your aging locks a gorgeous boost!
If You Have Fine or Thinning Hair: Our Wake Up Call Volumizing Shampoo nourishes strands while adding instant lift and increased body, fullness and manageability. It also strengthens strands and is clinically proven to reduce breakage by 95%!
If You Have Dry or Damaged Hair: We love our Second Chance Repairing Shampoo for its ultra-hydrating formula that’s perfect for all hair types. The rice bran and argan oils penetrate and smooth hair strands so even the most damaged hair becomes silky, manageable.
If You Have Curly Hair: Our Bounce Back Super Moisturizing Shampoo for Curly Hair cleanses with curl-defining moisture for up to 24 hours. Curls weaken and droop with age, and this shampoo helps restore their vibrancy and bounce!
If You Have Gray Hair: If you’re looking to brighten and eliminate brassiness in your silver strands, our Silver Lining Purple Brightening Shampoo is formulated with optical colorants to rebalance cool tones while adding strength and vibrancy to your tresses.
Hair-Care Step 2: Hydrate, Nourish, Repair and Seal
Okay, you've got the important cleansing step out of the way. Now we’ve made it to the after-shampoo products, but the ideal order of these hair-care products can get a little tricky. To simplify this step, let's break it down into in-shower and post-shower care.
In-Shower: Conditioner and Butter Mask
While you're still in the shower (after shampooing!), you'll add either your conditioner or a hydrating butter mask like our Hair Redemption or Silver Lining. (Unless you have especially parched hair, using both at the same time will weigh hair down too much.)
Gently squeeze excess water out of your hair, and then finger-comb a nickel-sized dollop of product from ends to mid-shaft, focusing especially on the ends, as these tend to be driest. It's important to be patient with in-shower conditioners and masks! You want to leave the product on your hair for at least a full 60 seconds to allow it time to set for optimal strand-smoothing results.
Pro tip: For especially dry ends, try adding a small amount of our butter mask as a leave-in conditioner before your heat protectant (found in step 3). Applying a pea- or dime-sized amount to the ends of your hair will lock in maximum moisture!
Post-Shower: Serum, Oil and Cream
This is usually where a lot of confusion about the order of our hair-care products comes into play. Does everyone need a hair oil? What about a hair serum versus a hair cream? How about serums for our scalp versus our hair?
The best rule of thumb when considering serums, oils and creams is to look at the ingredients and read the product benefits. For the best absorption of products, we recommend that water-based products be applied before oil-based products, and thin products be applied before thicker ones. And don’t let the formula names trip you up! This is especially important when we talk about serums as there are some serums that are meant for your scalp and others for your hair strands. Let’s take a closer look.
Serums that Fortify/Nourish Hair and Scalp:
Serums that cater to scalp and hair health are often water-based serums like our lightweight and non-greasy Superpower Fortifying Hair & Scalp Serum, which is designed to nourish and fortify hair follicles for your healthiest hair. Their work at the root differentiates them from serums, oils and creams that are designed to work throughout the length of hair strands (more on that below). Water-based serums that promote hair health are best applied to damp hair before other styling and post-shower conditioning products.
Pro tip: Because a healthy, active scalp is vital for healthy tresses, we always recommend applying serums with a follicle-stimulating scalp massage. Our Superpower Hair & Scalp Duo delivers our light, caffeine-packed Superpower serum directly to the scalp with our Liquid Comb scalp massager.
Serums, Oils and Creams that Hydrate/Repair Hair:
Serums that are designed to hydrate strands and lock in moisture are often thicker and silicone-based, and they act similarly to other conditioning styling products like hair oils and creams that boost shine, moisture and manageability. These products for your hair are meant to be absorbed into the hair shaft and are also formulated to cater to specific styling challenges like frizziness, dryness and dullness. It’s important to avoid applying these heavier products directly on your roots and scalp, especially if you have fine or thinning tresses.
Hair-Care Step 3: Protect, Volumize and Style
Now your scalp is freshly washed and your hair is hydrated and ready to be styled. So, what is the order of hair-care styling products for taming frizz, adding volume and giving hold to your style? While products that define and hold are typically applied after heat protecting and volumizing products, personal preference and trial and error to see how your hair responds to each product will guide you in determining the best order to apply your hair products.
Your heat protectant is typically applied before rather than after mousse and other styling products like volumizing sprays. Liberally apply your heat protectant from root to ends to ensure that your hair isn't damaged by heat styling. Look for a heat protectant that shields against even the hottest temperatures, like our vitamin E-infused No Remorse Heat Protection & Taming Spray, which protects up to 450F! If you're planning on fully air-drying your hair, you can skip the heat protectant and go straight into applying your styling products!
Volumizer and Thickening Spray
Products that thicken and add volume to hair are ideal for fine and thinning tresses. Our Lift Me Up Hair Thickener adds allover body to flat locks by wrapping around each individual hair strand to thicken and lift hair at the roots. It also nourishes the scalp and follicles for healthier-looking hair instantly and over time.
Gel, Mousse and Texturizing Spray
These products add definition and hold, and they often work best if you scrunch them into your hair starting at the ends and working your way up—scrunching is especially important if you have curly hair as you don’t want to disturb the natural curl pattern. Be sure that hair is still wet when applying these products, just not sopping wet so that products don't slide right off strands! This helps lock moisture into your tresses and prevent frizz when you dry and style your hair.
If you have curly hair, timing is everything when it comes to applying products like curl enhancers. Applying conditioning products, like hair oil, first will help the cuticle to lie flat, buying you a little extra time for adding any texturizing products before frizzies set in.
Pro tip: After you've applied all of your hair products, try plopping your hair instead of blow-drying! Check out our recent post on hair plopping and its benefits for step-by-step instructions on how to plop your hair and seal in moisture!
Hairspray and Finishing Spray
Once your hair is completely dry and styled, go in with a light- to medium-hold hairspray or re-spritz tresses with a frizz-taming spray like No Remorse to keep your style looking smooth and hydrated. Finishing sprays and even light oils and anti-frizz serums are great for adding smoothness and shine as a final styling step.
Using dry shampoo on just-washed hair as a final styling step can also help add volume, lift, texture (so hair is less likely to fall flat in humidity) and extra grip (especially great for fine tresses that are resistant to holding styles). Using dry shampoo is also a terrific way to prolong your style and reduce the number of times per week you need to wash your hair if you apply it within 24 hours of washing hair to maintain style and fight grease. Don't wait until your hair looks greasy to apply a dry shampoo—by then, it's too late for the product to work its oil-preventing magic!
Keep oil at bay with our talc-free Fresh Start Scalp Renewing Dry Shampoo. We added tapioca starch and konjac root extract to give you natural, alcohol-free oil absorption and help maximize your time between washes!
How to Pick the Best Products for You
Read All About It!
The most important thing when considering hair products and their uses is to read as much about them as possible. This includes the product labels as well as the product pages on each brand’s website as they typically include ingredients, benefits and how-to-use information. Some products are designed to be used on damp hair as cuticle-sealing treatments to help lock in moisture. Others are formulated for use on dry tresses as a finishing step to smooth and add shine. And some are heat activated and require a blow-dryer to work their magic. Knowing how to use your products will help you figure out the best scalp and hair product order of application.
Know Your Hair Type and Texture
Your hair type and texture also play a role in determining the best products for your hair’s cleansing, conditioning and styling needs. For example, heavier creams and oils are great for nourishing and softening strands while improving elasticity and locking in hydration. Thick, coarse and curly hair types benefit most from these products as they tend to be drier and more likely to frizz. On the other hand, lightweight creams and water-based serums are terrific options for fine, thin tresses that still require moisture and hydration but are more easily weighed down by oil-based products.
Test-Drive Your Layering Methods
When it comes to the order you apply your hair-care products, it can take some time before you find the best products and layering steps that work for your hair’s unique needs. And you certainly don’t need to use each and every product we mentioned, or use the same products every day—remember your hair’s needs change over time and sometimes even day to day. Feel free to play around with your products to find what works best for you!
Tell Us: What is your hair product order of application? Share your hair-care routine in the comments below.
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Better Not Younger has products for your hair at every step of your hair-care routine. As we age, we often need to add, remove or swap out products in our scalp and hair-care routines. Beyond selecting the best hair product and knowing their uses, the order we apply our hair-care products also matters. Let Better Not Younger develop the best routine for your gorgeous, aging locks!