For a style that's supposed to say "I am laid-back and effortlessly sexy," I always found the idea of beach waves rather elusive. Maybe it's because I'd only seen it perfected on women like Gisele Bündchen and Blake Lively, with hair like Botticelli's Venus: cascading loops of undulating mane. When I go to the beach, instead of looking like Kate Bosworth as surf goddess circa Blue Crush, my hair gets tangled and giant-sized. I resemble a lion.
How is a normal human supposed to achieve the loose, effortless look of mermaidian creatures? Salt spray. Think of it as a hairspray that's loaded with its namesake and other ingredients, like sea kelp, that will give your hair that windblown, beachy effect without having actually gone seaside. City-bound this summer, I tested eleven different types: I looked for ones that wouldn't make my hair sticky or crunchy, tangled or frizzy. I wanted a spray that worked just as well on dry hair as it did on wet hair. If it required too much styling or even a blow-dryer, I became frustrated quickly. If the look we're going for is effortless, I thought the process should also be easy.
Click through the slideshow to see which product was closest to getting an ocean in a bottle. Gisele and Blake: Watch your backs. My hair is coming for you.
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I am suspicious of two things in life: artificially blue anything and cutesy cocktails. Phillip B Maui Wowie Beach Mist is a) blue, and b) called, Maui Wowie. Still, I sprayed the anti-freeze with gusto. The results were not good: It made my dry hair sticky and matted, and it tangled wet hair. I can confirm, however, that after a strong spray of Beach Mist directly into my own eyeballs and mouth, this stuff at least tastes (and stings) like real, authentic salt water.
Philip B Maui Wowie Beach Mist, $22
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This bottle has a nozzle like Windex so I eyed the trigger suspiciously, anticipating a power stream of kelp-infused potion to shoot me in the head. I squeezed my eyes shut and a cloud of sea salt puffed out of the bottle and dissipated ever so lightly around my head. More! I sprayed again. More! I sprayed again! And then I realized I sprayed too much, and had to spend the rest of the day with crunchy hair that I eventually tied into a braid. I tried again the next day, this time on wet hair, and I wasn't amazed at the results. My hair was texturized, but it didn't create any waves.
Not Your Mothers Beach Babe Texturizing Sea Salt Spray, $5.99
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Recommended with reservations
The bottle claimed to offer "sexy, 'just back from the beach' hair." And it did, at first, but after about three hours of running around the city, my textured waves turned into a mass of straight-yet-poufy hair. The good news is that a few sprays and a little finger-comb action brought the waves back to life for an evening of surf hair.
Alterna Bamboo Beach Ocean Summer Waves, $20
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Recommended with reservations
This product smells like cotton candy and gave me a ton of volume and a sort of unwashed-but-not-dirty look that I was totally into. However, there was a whole lot of tousling and twisting that went on to give me the desired effect. This stuff says it is Sea Salt Primer for 'Wizards.' But didn't Harry Potter almost flunk potions?
Davines N*14 Sea Salt Primer For Wizards, $26
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Recommended with reservations
I kind of feel like Bumble & Bumble invented salt spray. It was the first brand I'd ever heard of to create such a thing, so I had high expectations. I was a little disappointed after my first time using it. I spritzed the pleasant-smelling wave-maker onto damp hair, then left the house and assumed Bumble would handle the rest. My hair dried normal: straight but not stick-straight. I expressed this to a friend who swears by all things B & B. She advised me to spray again on dry hair before bed — "A few spritzes, tie into a top knot, then call me in the morning." When I woke up, guess what? Beach hair.
Bumble and bumble Surf Spray, $24
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The bottle isn't pretty and the smell is a bit too chemical for my taste, but Wella Professional Ocean Spritz worked really well. The instructions call for dry-hair application, which is great because sometimes you want surf-y hair at the last minute and don't have time to douse your head in water. I woke up late and was slightly alarmed at the state of my hair. Instead of panicking I flipped my hair and spritzed all over. I quickly twisted individual chunks then tied the whole shebang into a knot on the nape of my neck. After a ten-minute subway ride, I undid the bun and gave a quick comb-through with my fingers. A few people asked me if I went surfing before work this day. (Okay, I made that last part up.)
Wella Ocean Spritz, $16
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This product smells like Sun In and requires scrunching, not tousling, so I had my reservations based on the fact that both of those things (sun-in, scrunching) sound an awful lot like that summer when I thought streaks were a good idea. I followed the instructions, and when I showed up to a Taylor Swift concert, one friend actually said, "Wow, your hair looks amazing." It lasted through the concert.
Kevin Murphy Hair Resort Spray, $25
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Disclaimer: I used this spray after a day at the beach. I came home, rinsed the ocean water and sand out of my hair, conditioned the ends, and then towel-dried. I sprayed this in, tousled, then let it air dry while I sat on the porch and ate my weight in lobster salad. It was light, non-sticky, and my hair didn't frizz. The waves that dried were so surfer-girl cool that I threatened to not shower for the rest of the trip. I tried again once I was back in the city and the results were basically the same, with slightly less volume.
Kerastase Spray A Porter, $35
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I'm just going to come out and say it: This stuff rules. And I usually am not a fan of VS Beauty Products because of their saccharine, artifical quality. They remind me of high school, where the bathrooms were constantly hotboxed by opium-den-like clouds of VS's Love Spell body spray. This stuff made my hair so sexy, so beachy, and so awesome that I wanted to keep it a secret (pun intended!). It also blocks harmful UV rays and made my hair smell like coconuts.
Victoria's Secret Hair: Beach Hair Wave Spray, $12
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This stuff works and it smells amazing: a scent so good that I also used it as an alternative to both perfume and Febreze. Oribe's olfactory performance aside, it ended up a favorite because it was the only spray that made my hair softer and shinier in addition to adding the desired beachy texture.
Oribe Apres Beach Wave and Shine Spray, $19.50
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If Martha Stewart and Laird Hamilton had a baby, it would smell like John Masters Organics Sea Mist. If that doesn't make you run to the nearest store where they carry this fancy sea-salt spray, then I don't know what will. Not only did it make my surfy tresses smell like lavender and heaven, but someone honestly asked me if a sea angel styled my hair. I didn't even have to answer because my hair did all the talking. As Martha would say: "It's a good thing."
John Masters Organics Sea Mist — Sea Salt Spray With Lavender, $16.50