Anyone with short hair knows it has its ups and downs. Five years ago, I chopped off around 12 inches of hair. Going from hair that went well beyond my shoulders to a pixie cut required a total reevaluation of my styling routine. I’m still amazed at how quickly I can wash and dry my thick hair, and I haven’t had a knot or tangle since going short. On the other hand, I’ve had to say good-bye to messy buns and ponytails, my old bad-hair-day staples.
As Salon Jatel stylist Tyler Lin says, “You can’t hide a bad shape” with short hair, whether that’s a crew cut or a bob, so getting a good cut is an essential first step. Once you leave the salon and are on your own, though, there are products and techniques you can use for styling your cut. We asked three hair stylists to recommend their favorite shampoos, creams and waxes, tools, and more for short-hair upkeep.
Best shampoos and conditioners
According to Lin, short hair, unless it’s been double-processed, is generally healthier than long hair because it’s cut more often and doesn’t incur as much breakage or damage. Therefore, he says it’s less important to look for smoothing or hydrating shampoos and conditioners and instead focus on products that improve scalp health. He’s a fan of this scalp-focused line from Japanese brand Milbon. “It thickens the scalp and helps the hair grow, and it also feels very refreshing and smells good,” he says.
Tahlya Loveday, stylist and art director at The Drawing Room salon, likes this shampoo-and-conditioner set, with lavender and sweet almond oil, for managing frizz in short hair. “It’s infused with anti-static polymers, which adds volume while helping to prevent static and fly-aways,” she says.
For adding volume to short styles, Corrinn Dinan uses “a volumizing or even a clarifying shampoo, and a lightweight conditioner that won’t weigh the hair down.” She says she’s “currently in love” with the sulfate-and-silicone-free shampoo and conditioner from Living Proof’s Full Collection, which meet all of her requirements for a body-boosting pair.
Best styling products
Loveday turns to this lightweight paste for holding a style in place. “From bobs to pixie cuts, this product is engineered to work with most hair types and styles,” she says. “The paste adds extreme texture and provides elastic support without feeling too heavy or waxy.”
Compared to the Label.M paste, Loveday says this wax “has a little more guts,” and gives hair a stronger hold. While it has firm staying power, she also likes its “easy-to-apply creaminess” that means it won’t feel thick or sticky when combing through your hair.
Especially good for slick and barbered looks, Dinan likes working this cream through damp hair to smooth it in place. If you want a style with more piecey-ness and movement, though, she prefers the brand’s Fiber wax. Designed for short hair, American Crew’s unisex styling products work well for quick styling and air-drying on busy mornings.
Another strong yet gentle cream, this Moroccanoil option is one of Lin’s favorites for styling pixie cuts, bobs, and everything in between. “It’s a cream gives that gives hair nice definition with enough power to glue everything together without feeling too sticky.” He recommends it for those who don’t like the feeling of too much product in their hair.
A soft and flexible styling clay, Lin says this Aveda product is perfect “for people who already have a shape but need definition with minimal control.” Although it’s marketed for men, Lin likes using it for anyone with short hair who doesn’t want to feel weighed down. And since it gives a matte finish, it won’t leave hair overly shiny or greasy.
Best styling tools
Blow drying hair helps lock in sleek styles, and this professional hair dryer is Dinan’s favorite. “It’s pricey compared to drugstore hair dryers, but it’s a worthy investment if you take your blow drying seriously,” she says. “It has powerful airflow and heat, drying the hair quickly and efficiently.” She likes giving blow-dried hair more body and hold with Living Proof’s Prime Style Extender.
The stylists we spoke to agreed the best type of brush to use while blow drying is a flat, paddle style. “Blow dryers and a flat brush are always my-go to with shorter hair types,” says Loveday. “It enables you to control the shape and work around and manipulate your natural cow licks and crown.” Dinan recommends this small paddle brush for short hair. “It’s gentle on the scalp,” she says. “You can brush the hair back and forth while blow drying and follow the brush with you blow dryer to get a relatively smooth look.”
If you’re after a wavy or curly look instead, Dinan says to use a diffuser attachment when blow drying. “The diffuser allows heat but reduces airflow so that the hair can dry in its natural state without frizz,” she says. “I love that this diffuser fits over any blow dryer.” She’ll pair this with Verb Curl Cream for giving curls a soft hold.
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