Styleless, fine, wavy, frizzy, dull, graying hair. Help me banish the dowd without color or blow-drying.
August 22, 2010 9:48 AM   Subscribe

Shortish, fine, vaguely wavy, frizzy, dull, graying hair. Unhappy with the cut, color, and texture. HATE coloring and blow-drying. Help me fix it.

Texture: Fine, medium thickness, tendency to frizz. Big, loose waves that can't be straightened without torture devices (or some magical method I haven't learned?) and can be encouraged to look almost-curly. Every day, I try to beat them into submission with a blow-dryer in a desperate but ultimately failed attempt to avoid PFH (Perfectly Feathered Hair) or hair-flipping-out-in-exactly-the-wrong-way. My glasses aid and abet the bad behavior.

Color: Hairs range from light blonde to darkish brown, resulting in a mousy light brown. White hairs scattered throughout in unpluckable quantities. Tone is cool. Overall dull because of this mix, the blow-drying, and the frizz.

Cut: Despite my request to the contrary, it was cut into a longish pixie style that had to be blow dried. It has grown out significantly and now the top layers pass my ears.

I don't have the time, inclination or money to color it myself or have it colored and touched up professionally.

Goal: Healthy-looking, stylish hair that takes a maximum of 2-3 minutes to style after I get out of the shower, and does not require coloring or blow-drying.

1. What do I wash/condition it with? I've been reading that people with curly hair should consider using just conditioner. Will this make my fine, barely-wavy hair limp, or will it cause it to shine magnificently, luring in squirrels, fish, and colorful birds? Should I consider the coloring rinses to minimize the whiteness of the whites, or will they make my hair brassy/gross?

2. What products should I use? Is there something that can boost the curls without being stiff or goopy, and can be used when my hair is wet? What will get rid of the frizz and dullness? Will trying for more curls only boost the frizz and dullness?

3. What cut should I get? What shortish and medium-length styles accommodate disobedient, loose waves and don't mind if the right side MUST FLIP OUT? If caring for my hair with certain products causes it to be somewhat curlier, what styles would rock the curls? I am unafraid of edgier cuts, but most of them seem to want a lot of care and/or malleable hair.

When I was younger, I had long, silken blonde locks. Sob.
posted by moira to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (31 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What about a short Jamie Lee Curtis cut? Only potential issue with that is that it requires frequent cuts.

What's with the random bold letters in your post?
posted by amro at 10:02 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: They're my annoying white hairs. Frequent cuts are also outside of my budget.
posted by moira at 10:07 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I should clarify: I'm not interested in ultra-short at this point. I ask for "shortish" cuts because that's what length my hair is right now. I'm kinda wanting to grow it out a bit, hence also asking for medium style ideas.
posted by moira at 10:10 AM on August 22, 2010

I agree with a very short cut, if you think your look would allow it. Maybe a little longer than the Jamie Lee Curtis look, but that depends on what you can do. You clearly needs something that will work with what I like to call Combs One and Two, aka your hands.

Go to your stylist (or perhaps now is the time to find a new stylist, if the cut isn't doing much for you) and ask about styling products. You may want something like a wax or paste. I have used Redken in the past, specifically their Water Wax or whatever they're calling it these days, which gives my hair a little texture but not, like, "I'm a guy in an Urban Outfitters ad." But I don't have curly hair, so take this with a grain of salt.

Something you did not ask me about:
The thing I'd encourage you to do, given the color, is just to be mindful of your overall effect. Your face will be more on display with shorter hair, and your gray hair can wash you out a lot, particularly if you have pale skin. Your eyes can take the brunt of this, especially if your brows and lashes are going gray as well. So make sure that your glasses are really cool (not necessarily FAR OUT CRAZY but just suitable and cute) and maybe wear a very light touch of makeup. Keep your brows in good shape and swipe them with a pencil or powder, which will take two seconds. Maybe some eyeliner. Maybe some lip gloss.

None of this is scary; gray hair is cool and you will surely look great if you embrace a non-fake look. (Just think how sucky it would be to have to keep dealing with dyeing your hair and avoiding that dreaded grow-out line! Nothing is less professional.) The key is to look like you've been intentional and not just "I'm giving up on keeping things nice."
posted by Madamina at 10:16 AM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Curly hair has its own champion in Lorraine Massey.

Color, even temporary color or henna, will add some bulk, as it coats the hair shaft.

Mere suggestion. I'd stop blowing it dry, if I were you.

And I'm a big fan of The Sartorialist blog because he photographs real people with real style. I like this woman's hair. She might have more of it than you do.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:35 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: How about something between a Meg Ryan and Halle Berry cut? The messy wavy locks look is pretty low maintenance. You could, I think, get away with cutting it 2-3 times a year, letting it grow out to something like this before you get a trim.

I have frizzyish-wavyish hair (that I am impatiently attempting to grow out) but when it was shorter, I could easily do with just a towel dry, a little bit of frizz ease (works on wet hair), a shake of the head, and a few scrunches with my hands to boost some of the waves.
posted by raztaj at 10:39 AM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: Love Milan woman. That last Meg Ryan pic is very close to what level of wave my hair has when encouraged, and looks pretty close to my texture, too. I like the length and style.
posted by moira at 10:51 AM on August 22, 2010

I've got hair like yours minus the greys (but I color, so who knows) but there is no magic haircut (unless you go extremely short, but that requires more frequent haircuts than you're willing to do) to make hair like this look good in 2-3 minutes straight from the shower. Given the texture of your hair, most short cuts are going to frizz and poof straight from the shower, especially without frequent maintenance. Even the haircuts linked above are not going to look like that on your hair if you simply let it air dry, without using straighteners or anything to aid the unruly willfulness your hair is prone to. But talk to a stylist; your hair might not be quite what I am imagining.

I also hate blow-drying and what I sometimes do is wash my hair late at night so that it's dry in the morning. I then have to spend 10 minutes with a hair straightener or hot rollers, though, which it sounds like you aren't willing to do. Rollers are very simple--5 minutes putting them in, then finish the rest of your morning routine until they set, then 2 minutes taking them out. It doesn't curl your hair so much as smooth out the frizz and crazy waves into nice, tamed, volumized waves.

I have never been a fan of conditioner-only washing (I think it does make hair look dull and limp) but obviously some people like it. Cutting back on the frequency you shampoo will help though (for example, wash every other day, which also comes with the bonus of not having to really do much to your hair on the days you don't wash it. It might sound gross if you're used to washing every day, but after an initial period of adjustment the condition of your hair will be much better). Change up the types of shampoo and conditioner you use, too (two of each at minimum that you can switch up every week. When you switch, your hair just looks better). Coloring rinses aren't going to be strong enough to penetrate your white/grey hairs and anything that manages to will wash out straight away, so I think this would be waste of money (and also wouldn't be any cheaper than buying a box of hair color, which you say is outside your budget, though this would instantly make your hair look better and improve the texture).
posted by Polychrome at 10:55 AM on August 22, 2010

Re: frequent trips for short hair

I have very short hair. I got a pixie cut back at the beginning of May and haven't had it cut since because I'm low on funds. If you get a really well-styled cut to begin with and are willing to adapt, short hair styles can still look good even if you're not getting regular maintenance on them.

From what you describe, it sounds like really short hair is the right path for you. Don't let the threat of frequent trips to a salon keep you from trying it.
posted by phunniemee at 10:56 AM on August 22, 2010

Sounds like we have the same hair. The almost-wavy flippy thing is a HUGE pain in the ass.

I swim, so I wash my hair with Suave clarifying shampoo several times a week (to keep my whites from going green!) and follow up with L'Oreal's Nature Therapy. On non-pool days I use Suave Green Apple shampoo & conditioner. My hair has a lot of moisture and shine since starting this regimen, even with the drying chlorine exposure, almost daily blow-drying and straightening. I think the clarifying shampoo helps to keep the other shampoo effective, and I'm getting deeper conditioning a few times a week with the L'Oreal. Might be worth a try even if you don't swim.

On days I don't feel like blowing and straightening I use Sunsilk Waves of Envy to scrunch my waves into curls. It's not sticky at all and leaves my hair soft.

I have my hair cut in long layers with some face-framing shorter layers in front. I'm pretty happy with this length & style because I can scrunch, straighten or ponytail as desired.

I always carry elastic bands with me in case the straightening didn't quite take and I get the flippy thing. Sometimes I don't mind if it flips, I just tease up the crown a little and go with kind of a retro sixties look. Other times it pisses me off and it goes in a ponytail. Cute earrings and hair accessories can keep a ponytail or bun from looking like you just gave up for the day, even if that's what you did.

Madamina's tips above on looking good with graying hair are excellent.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:02 AM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The conditioner only curly girl thing works really well on my very thick very curly hair but is too much for my daughter's wavy finer hair. She washes her hair with sulfate free 365 brand shampoo from Whole Foods and uses Suave Coconut conditioner. (The conditioner needs to not have silicone. ). If I "plunk" her hair, (look on you tube for 1000 how to videos) her hair comes out curly with a lot of body. You could see heat that does to yor hair.
posted by artychoke at 12:26 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a similar layered cut to the Meg Ryan one you liked above - and I love it. All I do is towel dry my hair and part it. I think the layers make the flipping out ends look more like on-purpose waviness. But I have super crazy thick hair, so no promises that it will work with finer hair. :(
posted by ansate at 1:25 PM on August 22, 2010

ok, my hair is wavy but also very it has a mind of its own but I have totally different texture, which means I don't get away with irregular haircuts as my hair just gets too thick if it's not thinned out ruthlessly ever 5 weeks or so.

However, allowing for the different texture, the answer still is to find a good stylist and explain to them exactly what your problems are, what you want in terms of maintenance including frequency of cuts, styling routine etc. At that point you can normally tell if they get that or not. If they don't get it you get up and leave and find somebody else. If they do get what you want let them do their magic.

When they style your hair they shouldn't be blow drying it or straightening it - as per your chat at the outset. In my experience diffusing hair is as close to air drying as salon styling tends to get. Don't let them do anything fancy - if they style your hair doing things you don't want to do yourself you don't know if the cut works how you need it to work before you leave the salon.

Get them to talk you through the products they use and why. Doesn't mean you have to buy these products, you just take note of what they use and then you go to your supermarket and find the cheaper versions.
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:34 PM on August 22, 2010

I have fine but abundant hair with a few greys in there to make life interesting.

What I did is tell my hairdresser I wanted a layered cut that I could finger dry or that could dry on its own. My hair is medium length at the moment (with bangs) and for the first time life is easy. I do blowdry a bit sometimes but nothing at all fancy, more just bending over at the waist and getting a bit of moisture out. Other times I just fluff the wet hair with my fingers and go about my business, brushing it a little once it dries on its own.

Also I was never successful in finding a paste or wax that worked for me. What I did was buy a
can of salon quality mousse, and use it sparingly. Works for me.

And, get another stylist.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 1:47 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm still not interested in very short hair, stylistically as well as budgetally, even though it's the most obvious choice. Been there, done that, want more hair now.

So, today I experimented with just washing, applying a small amount of (supposed) frizz control cream, scrunching it a bit, and leaving it be. Looked much like the Meg Ryan pic I linked above, but had more frizz. Looks like I might ask my stylist for a layered cut, and then find the right products. The ones Serene Empress Dork look like they may work for me.

Should I be avoiding products containing silicone? I'm using silicone-heavy stuff right now.
posted by moira at 3:03 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: * The ones Serene Empress Dork mentioned...
posted by moira at 3:05 PM on August 22, 2010

Male person here. If you have a stylist you trust, or can find one, why not present your requirements to them and see what they come up with?
posted by justcorbly at 3:28 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Get a creme or gel for curly hair, ideally one that also enhances shine, and apply it after washing and towel drying your hair. Let the hair air dry.

Skip shampooing at least every other day. If you have to shower every day, just wet your hair but don't use shampoo or conditioner on odd days.

You may have to experiment to find the right product for your hair - there are lots of choices out there. Assuming you're using a curl-friendly/moisturizing shampoo & conditioner, however, the right creme/gel should eliminate the frizz and turn the dullness to shine.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:33 PM on August 22, 2010

It's pretty spendy (something like $20-$30 per bottle), but Bumble & Bumble's curly hair creme is the best I've found, if you're looking for a product recommendation. There are also anti-frizz focused products that you might consider adding if creme alone doesn't do the job.

If nobody else has said this already: NEVER use a hair brush. You oughtn't use a comb either, if you can manage. Comb through your hair with your fingers when you're showing and have conditioner in it, and leave it at that. Brushes and combs add frizz and dimish curls.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 3:38 PM on August 22, 2010

Response by poster: Justcorbly, that's a brilliant idea. I keep doing it, and they keep cutting my hair in styles that have to be blow-dried, and then loading it with various products, blow-drying it, curling it, and telling me to use pomade to texturize at home.

Maybe I should be asking for stylist recommendations, instead.
posted by moira at 3:40 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: Curly hair, in my opinion, is not only NOT meant to be dried, but it should air dry as slowly as you can manage. My hair is thick in quantity and thin and wiry in individual strands, and I wear it very long, so I can work product (really crunchy product, too; I specifically use Garnier's scrunch gel for this) through it and put it up in a loose twist for a day, and 12 hours later it will be dry in a nice wavy curl.

You should find a stylist who is able to work with the hair you have. You might seek out an actual Ouidad-certified stylist, though there are other curly training schools, but what they'll all have in common is cutting your hair so it dries how you want it rather than trying to make it be what it's not.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:39 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: For the frizzies, I highly recommend Joico K-PAK deep penetrating reconstructor.

It's not a conditioner but a keratin treatment. My frizzies decreased noticeably after one treatment, and they're nearly completely gone now that I've done a treatment each week for the last three weeks.
posted by burntflowers at 5:20 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a similar hair type (lots and lots of fine hair that's naturally flippy and wavy, but not enough so to look decent without some encouragement), and when I embarked on a quest for the simplest possible hair routine, Aveda's Phomollient was my favorite product. It's pricey, but nothing else measured up.

After showering, I towel-dried, scrunched in a few pumps of the Phomollient, then DID NOT TOUCH MY HAIR AGAIN until I absolutely had to. That's key to avoiding frizz; if you keep messing with it, the oils from your hands do something or other that results in a limp mess.

Assuming you don't have an hour or so every morning to wait around for your hair to dry, just wait as long as possible, then use a blow dryer with a diffuser to finish it off. When blowdrying, use low heat, hold your head upside down, and just kind of hold the diffuser against your hair without moving it around too much. Basically, fingers + blowdryer = frizz, and the more you can do to eliminate these two factors the better.

(The Phomollient gives a nice hold with no crunchiness, and doesn't weigh hair down. Deep conditioners are great once in a while, but they always made my hair too smooth to hold curl well, so they're not great for everyday with this style. Ditto anti-frizz products - they'll kill your wave if your hair is fine. Beyond keeping your hair clean and making it smell nice, shampoo and conditioners don't make a bit of difference. Put money into the products that stay in your hair, not the ones you wash out.)
posted by ella wren at 7:46 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I hear you about the quest for a flattering, low-maintenance haircut. It may sound like the unicorn, but it doesn't have to be ...

This haircut (which I first saw on this thread) has worked well with my fine, very thick hair, although it is much curlier than Miranda July's.

I do conditioner-only washing with Jason Natural Apricot Conditioner. This has nearly eliminated my frizzies, but it may be weigh your hair down.

Maybe I should be asking for stylist recommendations, instead.

This site has a database of salons and stylists recommended by curly-/wavy-haired women. Good luck!
posted by virago at 8:41 PM on August 22, 2010

This has nearly eliminated *my* frizzies, but it may be weigh your hair down.

Erm, that should be "it may weigh your hair down." (Speaking of the unicorn -- the quest for a typo-free post is almost as fruitless!)
posted by virago at 8:46 PM on August 22, 2010

Best answer: I don't think anyone has mentioned this yet, but when towel drying your hair, gently use the towel to squeeze excess moisture out of the hair. If your hair is still pretty sopping after doing that once, go to a dry part of the towel and do it again. Gently, and only moving the towel in the direction of your hair growth (from root to tip). Do NOT rub the towel over your hair vigorously like most of us learned was the proper way to towel dry hair. Rubbing hair with a towel like that will only serve to rough up the cuticle of the hair, causing frizz that will be impossible to manage by ANY frizz control product.

To bring out shine, when showering, you can keep the water warm, but turn it to cold (I know, it sucks but works) whenever you'll be letting it touch your hair. Nthing shampooing/conditioning every other day. If you must shower every day, only get the hair wet. You may find that you can go even longer without shampooing. If you can, do it! The reason being that your hair's natural oils will have a better chance to coat the hair and protect it, equaling more shine and less frizz.

I work at a high end salon. The more expensive products do work better than the cheap stuff, however I have found that John Freida Frizz Ease works well to eliminate frizz on my fine almost-straight-but-not-quite hair. Finally, one more thing. When using product, less is better. You can always add more, but to take it away you'd have to re-wash. You'll save money this way if you decide to buy a more expensive product.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 6:46 AM on August 23, 2010

I had the exact same texture hair. I used to hate my hair and now I love it.

The key thing to do is embrace the waviness. Which, fortunately, immediately makes caring for your hair easier.

A layered cut will work better for you than having your hair all the same length, whatever overall length you choose.

The other really key thing (which sounds kinda crazy to some people): Stop brushing your hair. The second I run a brush through my hair, it goes from wavy to kinda lumpy and the frizziness happens. If there are tangles, I'll brush my hair before I get in the shower.

I also use a wave-enhancing spray. I've used one from Bumble and Bumble and one from Garnier. Both worked fine.

My hair is easy and wave
posted by missjenny at 8:38 AM on August 23, 2010

I'm hearing good things about keratin hair treatments, aka a "Brazilian" hair treatment. It reduces the frizz and makes hair soft and shiny and blow drying time is reduced to minutes. It's literally wash and wear hair that lasts about 3-4 months.

Downside? Cost. It can be hundreds of dollars, however, might be worth it to you if you want to wash and wear hair.
posted by vivzan at 6:02 PM on August 23, 2010

Same hair here. My haircutter recommended Aveda's moisturinzing prodcuts -- she doesn't sell them, so it was strictly her professional opinion. I've found their Be Curly shampoo and conditioner to have made a huge difference.

But yeah, you also need to find a better stylist. I now get my hair cut by a friend (she has 20+ years experience) who sees me out and about and knows that I'm not going to blow dry my hair or do any work at all with it. She gives me a cut that works with my actual life, not some annoying aspirational hairdo.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:24 AM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: So I headed over to the Naturally Curly site from the links here and learned a load about different hair textures and products. Turns out I actually have a medium texture hair with high porosity, crucial to know when picking out products.

I'll be using an occasional no-sulfate shampoo, washing with a light conditioner, and conditioning with a more moisturizing, non-silicone conditioner. Gonna throw in the occasional protein treatment and deep conditioning to repair as much as I can. To style it, I'll be scrunching a curl-enhancing gel in my wet hair, letting it dry, then scrunching out the crunch. If the products work, I'll come back in and give more specifics for posterity.
posted by moira at 10:07 PM on August 28, 2010

Response by poster: Success!

Using the right products for my hair and environment slowly improved my hair's health. (Hair of mostly medium texture, high porosity, lowish elasticity, plus dewpoints from 40-55, called for protein, emollients, and some humectants, in addition to ditching the sulfates and silicones.) Individual strands became smoother, my fat whites turned into silvers that glint and disappear, and shine increased. Even so, my hair was still more dull than I liked, and the frizz hadn't gone down a bit.

Then I discovered our water is so hard, it's a miracle it can move through the pipes. A clarifying treatment with EDTA as a primary ingredient, followed up with protein and an oil treatment, did the trick this weekend. The frizz and dullness are gone. I'll be putting a filter on our shower head to soften our water.

As for enhancing the curl, the gel really helps, but I can get away with plopping/plunking a few minutes with no product. I have occasional bad hair days, but mostly I'm really happy with the way my hair looks.

I definitely suggest anybody not happy with your hair, straight or curly, hop over to and peruse the forums and the articles written by Tonya Becker, where you can learn about hair types and products. Curlies might like to check out "Live Curly Live Free".
posted by moira at 10:42 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

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