It’s tempting to skip the blow-dryer or curling iron when it’s oppressively hot outside, but for many of us, air-drying hair is a bit like one of those expectation versus reality memes. We picture beach babe waves but end up frizzed out. According to Kiki Losada, stylist and lead educator at Fox and Jane salon, “when using a hot tool, the cuticle of your hair is being smoothed out or flattened which helps tame frizz and unruliness. But when air-drying, that cuticle is a bit more exposed and taking shape of your natural wave pattern.”
To find out the best way to manage air-dried hair, I spoke with four stylists who shared their techniques and favorite air-dry hair products. Whether you’re going for loose curls or straight strands, these expert picks will speed up your morning routine and prep your hair for hot and humid days.
Shampoos & Conditioners
Styling air-dried hair starts in the shower, so it’s important to use shampoos and conditioners that hydrate and lock in moisture. “Smoothing shampoos and conditioners help to seal down the outer layer before you apply your products,” said Nora Cannizzo, instructor supervisor at the Christine Valmy International School of Cosmetology and Esthetics. Losada, who explained that the main cause of frizz is lack of moisture, likes this shampoo, especially for thick curly or wavy hair. If your hair is thinner or needs more volume, she recommended AlfaParf’s volumizing shampoo.
With natural ingredients like coconut oil, Rikoko conditioner is Alibi Salon creative director Koby Ben’s pick for hydration. “Cold-pressed oils aid with moisturizing and conditioning throughout the whole day,” he said. “When the hair is conditioned, it’s less frizzy and more manageable.”
For a one-two punch of hydrating power, Losada suggested this shampoo and conditioner pair from Biomega. They’re both free of sulfates which, she said, “are basically table salts which can dry out your hair or make it look or feel dull and drab.”
An extra moisturizing step, a leave-in conditioner post-shower is a second line of defense against frizz. “All leave-ins are not created equal so try to find something that is hydrating enough for your hair type but won’t weigh your hair down,” said Losada. This means avoiding oil-based products that make hair look shiny, but don’t get inside the cuticle to actually add moisture. She recommended Evo’s leave-in conditioner which seals the cuticle, preventing and minimizing the appearance of split ends.
For fine or thin hair that’s easily weighed down, Losada likes this “extremely light” conditioning spray from R+Co. Sweet almond protein and cucumber fruit extracts soothe damaged hair while aloe leaf and prickly pear add moisture.
Styling creams and clay
Once you’ve applied leave-in conditioner, it’s time for products like cream, clay, and spray for styling. Instead of gel, which he called “very ’80s,” Ben uses clay for hold, and like this one from Davines, “It gives you that matte finish, but it’s not stiff. It’s easy to rinse out, leaves no buildup, and looks amazing.”
If you’re working with naturally curly or wavy hair, Eliut Rivera, founder of Eliut Salon, recommended this Rene Furterer cream to enhance your hair’s natural texture while protecting hair from humidity. “Apply to towel-dried hair, concentrating the product on the ends and working the product upward,” he said.
Another curling option, this one recommended by Losada, Moroccanoil’s cream also works to activate curls, keeping them smooth with nourishing argan oil.
Styling sprays for wavy hair
To get the beach hair of your dreams, it doesn’t hurt to use something imported from the actual beach. “The best thing to get volume on the roots is sea salt spray,” said Ben. “It’s the same concept of when you go to the beach — your hair feels thick and it’s the sea salt giving you that effect.” He likes Bumble & Bumble’s spray which combines sea salt with seaweed extracts that are also naturally thickening. “Spray it on your roots and let it air dry,” he said. “It thickens the hair shaft and cuticles for beachy hair with lots of volume.”
This spray, one of Losada’s top picks, also includes kelp for volume and shine, and moisturizing ingredients like vitamin C and rose hip. Losada said it’s “fantastic for a little extra texture even on second- or third-day hair.”
Styling sprays for straight hair
If you’re aiming for smooth and straight air-dried hair instead of wavy locks, Cannizzo says this spray is “great for sealing in natural moisture and sealing out additional humidity.” Unlike the humectants in the sea-salt sprays that draw in moisture from the environment to add texture, the Hydra-Seal spray contains anti-humectants, such as olive and coconut oils, for keeping out frizz-enabling humidity.
According to Rivera, “this product extends the style as well as fights humidity and frizz,” and is ideal for giving smooth hair a soft hold on humid days. He said to spray it on dry hair, wait three minutes, and then apply a second mist.
For drying hair straight out of the shower, gentleness is key. “In general, the less you manipulate the hair the less frizz you will have,” said Cannizzo. Microfiber towels are better than traditional terry cloth in this regard because, as Rivera said, “the fabric is smoother which is less likely to cause frizz or damage by splitting hair.” He likes Aquis towels which absorb moisture without excessive friction that. Incidentally, our senior editor Simone Kitchens bought an Aquis hair turban last month and said, “my hair has never been smoother.”
With its flexible bristles, Wet Brush is Ben’s choice for brushing hair straight out of the shower. “It’s amazing the way it detangles,” he said, “and it doesn’t irritate the hair.” Just like aggressive toweling, brushing wet hair too harshly can damage your strands.
The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.
Every editorial product is independently selected. If you buy something through our links, New York may earn an affiliate commission.