Help me learn how to do grown-up lady hair
January 6, 2014 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I have thin, wavy hair. Since I was about twelve, "doing my hair" has consisted of washing it and leaving it down, or, on a not-shower day, putting it up in a ponytail. One of my goals this year is to learn how to have nice-looking hair when I want to. Help!

I like being a low-maintenance person. I don't like showering more than a couple of times/week, and with two small children, plus part-time school, it's hard to make the time. So my hair routine tends to be:
Day 1: Wash, comb, air-dry, wear down.
Day 2-4: Ponytail.
Sometimes on Day 2 I throw in some braids or put it partly up, but really, it's the same. When it's short, I have to wash it every single day or it just looks greasy.

I have thin hair that is straight, wavy or curly depending on length and humidity. It tends to be greasy -- the day I wash it, it looks great. Any day after that, it's lank and oily-looking. Over the course of years, I've tried fancy shampoo, Trader Joe's brand shampoo, hippie shampoo without parabens or sulfates, and the apple cider vinegar no-poo method, with no apparent change. I thought the hippie shampoo was helping, but I started using it while pregnant, and after having the baby, my hair actually seemed to get worse. I'm 29.

Here are some reference pictures:
My hair the day of a washing (I'm on the left)
The way it usually looks, up in a ponytail (I'm the mom; the baby's fine now.)
The last time it was short, pre-bangs (I'm on the right)

I have no idea what to do to make my hair look better; I feel like I missed some kind of lesson in high school when suddenly all my peers began having nice hair. I kind of guess at hair cuts, and often cut my own hair. I don't know how to use a hair dryer. I don't know whether or how to use conditioner (it doesn't seem to make any difference) or any products. I don't like it when hairdressers put stuff in my hair that makes it sticky or stiff. When I've asked the people who cut my hair for advice, I haven't gotten useful information, and I have social anxiety that makes doing that hard.
Here's what I'm looking for:
1) Ideas for a haircut. I've been thinking about going short again, as my six-month-old is into pulling my hair. I'm fine with or without bangs.
2) Ways to make my hair look good, especially lower-maintenance ways, that don't involve just putting it in a ponytail.

I'm expecting to have to step up my routine a bit. I'm open to books, videos, websites, being convinced that product is actually okay, whatever. I'd just like to look more put-together.
posted by linettasky to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Our hair is similar, though mine's a bit thicker. I LOVE mousse, even though it seems to have gone out of fashion for some reason. It keeps my waves and makes my hair look shiny without any stiffness. I just put a little in when my hair is damp, and I don't comb afterwards.

I think the bangs-less style was better for your face! Also, bangs are fussy and annoying and get greasy before the rest of your hair. Bangs are like the opposite of low-maintenance.

Also: yes yes conditioner! And occasional deep conditioning. If it's not too conceptually gross for you, I swear by this stuff.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I like the short style too.

Also, my hair is very similar to yours, and the longer it gets the doofier I look. I just finally got it cut to about the length of your "short" picture, and it is SO much easier to work with.

In terms of washing - I can keep the whole "nice when it's just washed/oily when not" stuff under control thusly: by rinsing my hair with apple cider vinegar each time, after I condition it. That is, like, miracle stuff - you just wash your hair and condition it the way you usually do, and then the very last thing you do is pour a couple of glugs of apple cider vinegar straight onto your hair, run your fingers through your hair to spread it out, and then rinse it out again. And it sort of magically knows how to take just enough of the extra oil out of your hair, but not take too much out so it's not all dry. And it is so cheap - I just use the regular apple cider vinegar you get at the supermarket, the el cheapo stuff you can get for less than a buck a bottle. And contrary to what you'd think, it doesn't leave you smelling like a salad bar either.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:36 PM on January 6, 2014

we're like hair twins. but yes on conditioner - it took me awhile to accept that conditioner was a THING and i needed to use it. only use a little bit on your ends, though - adding it to your scalp part will make your hair limp.

i am almost always firmly in the bangs camp, but i agree with showbiz_liz - the bangsless style frames your face better.

if you're running into excess oil on days 2-4, try a dry shampoo. this lush one is good. AND if you've got a lush near you. you can definitely ask them for a sample and see if you like it before committing. if not, this dove one should be in any drugstore. these help soak up some oil and (bonus) add some volume.
posted by kerning at 2:42 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

The easiest thing to do is probably the most expensive thing to do, but it's the only thing that worked for me after 27 years of hating my hair.

Start shelling out for expensive haircuts.

If you cut your hair yourself, it's probably going to look crappy. But if you go to a nice salon (get recommendations for specific hairdressers, call the salon, ask for an appointment WITH JEANINE or whoever) and talk to the stylist about what you want - a wash and go, low maintenance haircut - they will be able to look good.

However, you may have to shell out $80 to $150 for the privilege. Maybe after you get a cut that you like and a shape that flatters your face you can take some pictures to a less expensive stylist and still get good results.

Also, go in prepared. Spend some time gathering pictures of haircuts that you like, print them out, and bring them with you.

Here's the pinterest board I started when I wanted to bring some pics to my hairdresser. This might be shorter than you want but short hair is very consistent and very low maintenance.
posted by bq at 2:50 PM on January 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think your hair looks perfectly nice.

If you want to up your game a bit, I would stop cutting your own hair. A professional will be able to give you a cut that suits your face and hair type better.

Example: a couple years ago I got a simple blunt bob from a student at a beauty school. It wasn't the worst haircut and it always looked just fine, but there was just something I didn't like about it that I couldn't put my finger on. After that, I ended up growing it out, and that was my last memory of having a bob.

Cut to last week. It was finally time to get a REAL haircut, not a trim. The salon stylist talked me into another bob, despite my bad memories of my last one. In this particular case, she tailored the cut to what would be flattering on me, thinning it out in some areas, adding layers in other areas, and giving it actual style and dimension. I'm much happier with this bob than the simple student-cut version I had a couple years ago.

I'll also chime in and say that you look better without bangs.

That said, again, I think your hair looks nice and you don't really need to do anything different.
posted by Sara C. at 2:54 PM on January 6, 2014

OK, loved your last short haircut, no bangs. Just to start there. That cut is great on you.

But some grown-up lady hair tricks? (These took me years to learn....)

* Find a great (expensive) haircutter and WATCH THEM WORK. Sometimes you can repeat their results at home (not always) if you do cut your own.
* Wash every other day. Put the shampoo on the top of your head, not at the roots. Put the conditioner on the roots, not at the scalp.
* For the days you don't wash (hello timesaver!), invest in a fun showercap and some dry shampoo.
* Buy good tools. A good flatiron. A good ceramic hairdryer. A good boar bristle brush.
* I have a nice spray conditioner (meant for ladies of color, but excellent for all!) that smells like vanilla which is an awesome final touch.
* If you want to knock people's socks off for a special event, treat yourself to a blowout. Watch how they blow your hair to be fluffy, straight and with lovely curled ends. Repeat at home.
posted by amoeba at 2:57 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Another vote for dry shampoo. Spray it in and then brush it out. It'll get rid of the greasy feeling and also give your hair more body. Some people get good results putting it in right before bed and sleeping with it and brushing it out in the AM. Experiment a bit.

Getting a good cut will go a long way as well. With your hair type, I like a chin-length, A-line bob (slightly shorter in back and longer in front)with a few subtle layers and side-swept bangs. I think a side part with side-swept bangs would give you a more sophisticated look. Or, no bangs at all - you look great with no bangs.

Also, I LOVE a flat iron to make my hair go from frump to glam. Flat ironing my hair takes about 5 minutes and with some light-hold, aerosol hair spray, it's a style that I can stretch for 2-3 days with minimum re-ironing touch-ups. Light-hold hairspray works a lot like dry shampoo for my hair.

Conditioner only goes on your ends. Your scalp doesn't need it.
posted by quince at 3:00 PM on January 6, 2014

I always thought shelling out for fancy shampoo/conditioner was a ripoff, but my stylist turned me on to Paul Mitchell's Awapuhi products and they are the bomb. I have wavy hair similar to yours and the Awapuhi Wild Ginger Hydrocream Whip (oh god it's embarrassing even typing that out) is the most awesome mousse. I get lots of compliments on my curls now.

Nthing the comments that the shorter, bang-less style looks great on you. Regular cuts (long-haired ladies can do without a trim for months and months, but to look polished with a short or medium-length cut, 6-7 weeks between cuts max) too.

Have you considered a graduated bob? This would be short in the back, and then chin-length curls in the front. Depending on the cut, it can look a bit dated on people with straight hair but for wavy and curlyheads it's current and awesome.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:05 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Instead of just doing plain old ponytails on days 2-4, step it up with some different ways of putting your hair all or half up.
- Braids are in, so if you are good at braiding you could try french braiding your bangs/front pieces of hair back and then bobby pinning the braid behind your ear, like this.
- If your hair is longer you could try my favorite lazy hairstyle, which looks like a fishtail braid but is actually very simple to do.
- I'm a big fan of the sock bun but I realize not everyone likes to have a big donut of hair sitting on the top of their head. This is a very lady-like alternative to the ballerina-style sock bun that still utilizes a rolled up sock to fake more volume (which is great for those of use with thin hair!).
- Even if you don't want to wear a sock bun out in public, they're great at giving your hair heatless curls or waves if you put your damp (not wet!) hair into a sock bun overnight. Since I cut my hair shorter, the sock bun gives me more 'bouncy volume' than waves or curls, but it still is an easy, fun change of pace. The trick is to place the sock bun on the top of your head, not at the nape of your neck.
- There are lots of stylish headbands out there that won't make you look like Matilda. They're great for getting your hair out of your face when the front pieces are a touch greasy.
- Speaking of greasy, get thee some dry shampoo to keep your hair from looking lank between washings. I think I've tried every dry shampoo known to man, and THIS is the best stuff ever. It has a light, lemony scent that masks that dirty scalp smell, a small applicator tip that makes it easy to target the greasy spots (hairline, temples), and it rubs in easily so you don't look like you've suddenly decided to bring back powdered wigs. This has the added benefit of giving your hair a bit more texture so that things (bobby pins, sock buns, headbands, etc.) stay in place better, and certain styles (half-up, anything involving teasing, etc.) look better and last longer.

None of these things require you to use a blow dryer, curling iron or straightener, drastically change your haircut or hair washing routine. The trick is to watch a couple YouTube videos if you're unsure and practice a lot at home. I've found Pinterest to have some good tutorials for hair ideas, but be aware that a lot of them require fancy braiding techniques or like, insanely long mermaid hair, of which I have neither.
posted by gumtree at 3:10 PM on January 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

I have fine hair that likes to get oily too, but mine is different than yours in that it's stick-straight. Your hair looks to me like it's actually frizzy due to being treated as straight hair rather than curly hair and I suspect it is more curly than you may believe. I'm not a curly-hair expert but I do know the general rules are: don't shampoo (I know, you've already tried this), use a really good quality conditioner that adds a decent amount of moisture, don't blowdry and ONLY use your fingers (no brushes or combs ever) sparingly to separate hair.

If this is the case, you may benefit from seeking out a hair stylist who specializes in wavy/curly hair and learning from them how to manage your locks. Also, invest in some good conditioner that is meant for curly hair and use it religiously.
posted by joan_holloway at 3:17 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

My hair is very similar to yours, and it's been transformed by this - it allows me to get that full, blown-out salon style at home, in about five minutes. (It's called the Babyliss Big Hair in the UK.) Truly amazing. I use some kind of 'product' with it - a mousse or a little serum or styling cream. Demo here.

I saw my hairdresser in the street one day after I'd styled my hair with my Big Hair styler and he thought I'd defected to another salon, it's that good. I had to take the Big Hair into his salon to convince him. It gives my hair body, bounce and smoothness that I've never been able to achieve with any other kind of styler.
posted by essexjan at 3:39 PM on January 6, 2014

My hair type is nothing like yours, but my life was changed pretty much forever by finding a good stylist who taught me how my hair needed to be treated. It is more expensive than the old way, but I consider it worth it.
posted by Sequence at 3:43 PM on January 6, 2014

Best answer: Girlfriend. Tough love here.

One, lose the bangs. Grow them out. It's going to be a pain in the rear for a while, but the bangs are doing nothing for you.

Two, cut it (ok, rephrase, "get it cut"). The third picture is by far the most flattering. Notice that this is a pretty unanimous opinion. Also, as someone who has frequently cut/colored/etc her own hair, but is a hairstyle junkie who watches youtube style videos like it's a second job, I don't really recommend you do it unless you feel like you can handle layers and get them even, which is really really hard to do on yourself. It takes me about 2 hours to do it and I've done it a bunch of times.

Three, get thee some good conditioner, not the V05 or Suave on the bottom shelf at the grocery. And some more of that sulfate-free hippie shampoo. Your hair getting worse after having the baby probably wasn't the shampoo's fault, it was the baby's fault. Post-baby hormones make your hair fall out in clumps. I'm 14 months postpartum now, and a third of my hair is about 4" long because it started falling out when I had my son and KEPT falling out until about 6 months on. Don't trust this.

(1) Wash your hair with the sulfate-free shampoo. Take your time to work it all over your scalp and massage it in - it doesn't suds as much as normal stuff.
(2) Use a good thick conditioner. You can try different ones, but put a bit on the middle-to-the ends, not the scalp (unless you notice your scalp hair getting really frizzy) and rinse. You shouldn't need to use a lot - maybe a quarter sized amount for your hair. If you have to use more than this, you're using crappy conditioner.
(3) Whenever your head feels like it's getting super greasy, substitute your normal shampoo for the sulfate-free... but not every time. This will get rid of any bad buildup often enough to keep you purty, without frying your poor hair too badly.

(4) When you get out of the shower, put a little bit of product in it... rub the stuff (mousse, pomade, shine serum; I recommend trying different ones out and seeing how you like them, other commentators have given some good suggestions) into your palms and then run your hands through your hair (like you're combing it with your hands) trying not to get all of it in one section. Do this while it's still soaking wet, then press most of the water out with a towel (don't rub). Finally, for the lowest-maintenance style, take a fine-toothed comb and run in through your damp hair to make it smooth (and to help distribute the product); after this - hear me out - rake your hands a bit roughly through the lengths and shake it out. The comb "sticks" your damp hair together so it looks smooth; the finger-raking breaks it up into chunks. Then DON'T TOUCH IT. Let it dry like this. My guess is you wind up with pretty, smooth, chunky waves, and with a little practice it takes about 20 seconds to do after a shower in the morning.

On days when you have a little more time you can try a blowout like a few of the above people suggested (I still think this will work best if you cut your hair short, though). Don't do this every day, especially if you have thin hair that breaks easily. Once it's straight, you can leave it a few days before washing it again - a spritz of dry shampoo on the scalp is your friend. I use this, they have various colors.
posted by celtalitha at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2014 [11 favorites]

I like that "shorter" pic! You suit the no-bangs look.

Like joan_holloway, I also suspect your hair is probably curlier than you think. Have you tried "washing" your hair with conditioner? This is one of those things recommended on curly-haired forums. I do this a few times a week instead of washing with shampoo and following with conditioner (which is what I do the rest of the time), and it works very well--like you, I don't use much in the way of styling products, so that probably helps. It makes my hair feel clean and soft, and my hair usually airdries to nice waves. If I need to blowdry it I use a diffuser.

I second the people who are encouraging you to splurge for at least one expensive haircut with a really good stylist. Be 100% honest with them (e.g. tell them exactly how much time you want to/are able to spend styling your hair. If that is zero minutes post-wash, tell them that) and ask them what cut would work well with your hair and face shape. I am super up-front about how little effort I put into my hair and how much I dislike styling products, and no (good) stylist has tried to dissuade me from my lazy ways; instead they've created styles that WORK without too much effort and grow out nicely.

And, if your hair is long enough for a ponytail after your new cut, the Gibson Tuck is a nice simple style for a change of pace.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:52 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have very similar hair as you, and also a very low tolerance for primping. A few things:

1. Nthing the "get rid of the bangs." I would love bangs, but they just don't work with our kind of hair. Bummer, but that's how it goes. Also, not having bangs makes hair styling easier, because bangs often need to be styled in a different way from the rest of your hair.

2. I agree that you look best in the last photo but I think that may be the style more than the length. No bangs, and it looks like you had some layering there. That's a good look for both our kind of hair and for your face.

3. I have not used shampoo since I was 14. I ONLY use conditioner. This is not the standard no-poo style - I just realized somehow at a young age that my hair was nicer (less frizzy, more wavy) when I used conditioner and not shampoo. I do try to use the sulfate free brands: right now the Garnier Fructis Sleek and Shine is working well for me, but I have found that I usually need to switch things up once a year or so.

4. Styling: I don't even own a hairdryer or any mousses, etc. I also don't own a brush - I don't know if you brush your hair now, but it's not a great idea for hair that tends to be frizzy. Instead, I let it dry most of the way in a "towel turban" and then when it's damp but not dripping, I run my fingers through it with a dollop of a styling cream (I've actually found the specific one doesn't matter too much - but a cream works better than a gel or a mousse). I use my fingers and maybe a wide-tooth comb to set my hair the way I want it and then let it dry the rest of the way.

So, to recap: no bangs, yes layers, no shampoo, yes sulfate-free conditioner, no brushes, yes combs and fingers.
posted by lunasol at 5:17 PM on January 6, 2014

Response by poster: So, I have tried the conditioner-only thing, and my hair is still all gross and oily. How long has that phase lasted for people? When I tried no-poo, it was three weeks before I gave in and washed it. I haven't lasted that long with conditioner only, but maybe I need to try a higher quality conditioner.
posted by linettasky at 5:30 PM on January 6, 2014

FYI, conditioners never contain sulfates. They contain alcohols, silicons, and oils, usually. Sometimes they will say SULFATE FREE! on the bottle, which is akin to putting "cholesterol free!" on a bag of vegetables.

I've never been able to do conditioner-only, and trust me I have tried (thick wavy/curly hair here). (A) you have to use a conditioner that doesn't have non-soluble silicons that will build up in your hair, because more silicon won't get that out; so yes, it will build up and get gross/greasy. It's really hit-or-miss based on your hair type and the brand of conditioner you experiment with. If you're using conditioner with silicone (which is most conditioner) this phase will last ALWAYS. People who are super into this stuff are really picky about what conditioners they use, and read ingredients on everything. This is also where the "change your products now and then because your hair will get used to them" myth came from - lots of things will leave buildup, and changing products can get rid of that buildup, but it's got nothing to do with getting used to anything, it's simple chemistry. (B) You can't use any products with non-soluble silicons or anything greasy, because you'll never get it out again without a good surfectant (aka sulfate) and your hair will be sticky and gross forever again.

Basically it just wasn't worth it to me. I use gentle shampoo about twice a week, and a clarifying (sulfate) shampoo every couple months or when I feel like I have a lot of product buildup. HOWEVER, on in-between-washing days, if I want to freshen up my hair, I will totally rinse with water only or conditioner only. You don't have to shampoo every time you shower - the less, the better, generally speaking.
posted by celtalitha at 6:05 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

nth-ing the See a Hairstylist advice. Not all of them are created equal, you want someone who understands your hair type, and respects your lifestyle choices. I started by finding a hairdresser who had similar hair to mine. Other hairdressers loved the exact things I hated about my hair: it's fine and straight, so they'd do things to emphasise that when all I wanted was some body. My hairdresser with fine straight hair knows how annoying it can be and taught me all the tips and tricks I needed to manage it.

Once I found her, I asked her for a re-style that would take into account my lack of hair skills and aversion to spending lots of time on it. For me, this meant a short cut that requires a tiny bit of product and 30 seconds to look good instead of a longer cut that would take hours to blow-dry and style and oh gawd the hassle. Your ideal style might be different, but a good hairdresser will help you find the best option for you.

You can also ask what to do when you've got a special occasion. I found that knowing what to do when I wanted to dress up made me care less about the boring days where I did exactly the same thing for 3 weeks in a row.
posted by harriet vane at 7:48 PM on January 6, 2014

I know you pride yourself on being low-maintenance, but I don't think you're going to get
the results you want with the level of maintenance you're currently putting in. I would suggest making the time to wash more frequently. Even if you don't do a full shower, wash your hair in the sink (although frankly it's just easier for me to just shower).

I have thin hair, too, and I use Pantene's Aqua Clear shampoo and conditioner--they are silicone free and really make a difference in the frizz and lankiness, more than any fancy shampoo I've tried.

Seconding the shorter cut with no bangs--that was the most flattering style.
posted by elizeh at 8:11 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel like I missed some kind of lesson in high school when suddenly all my peers began having nice hair.

Could you post photos of someone who has the kind of hair you think of as nice hair? We would probably be able to give you more specific and helpful advice.

It tends to be greasy -- the day I wash it, it looks great. Any day after that, it's lank and oily-looking. Over the course of years, I've tried fancy shampoo, Trader Joe's brand shampoo, hippie shampoo...

The greasiness isn't coming from your hair itself or anything you're washing it with, it's just being produced by your scalp, no shampoo will change that. If you're absolutely set against washing your hair more often then I think dry shampoo would be a good idea. I have very different hair than you but it is also oily, and if I went 4 days without washing it, it would look totally gross, that's just the way it is. But you don't need to take a whole shower to wash your hair. I often don't, in part because I don't like to waste water. I lather up my hair at the sink and then rinse it out under the shower; the whole thing takes less than 10 minutes and I have long and extremely thick hair.

I have no idea what to do to make my hair look better; I feel like I missed some kind of lesson in high school when suddenly all my peers began having nice hair.

I definitely hear you that you want to stay low-maintenance. The thing is, a lot of people with noticeably nice-looking hair are putting a lot of maintenance into their hair. So it might be worthwhile to learn how to do those things, just so you can feel like you are making an informed choice, even if you end up not wanting to do them regularly in the end. You mentioned not knowing how to blow-dry your hair - here is a good step-by-step for fine hair. It mentions 4 things that you may not have: volumizing mousse, rollers, root lifting spray, and a ceramic brush. You should be able to get all those things cheaply at a drug store or Target kind of store. If you just try it out, you might be able to arrive at a version of it that you can do quickly and easily, or you can just keep some elements of it.
posted by cairdeas at 8:49 PM on January 6, 2014

My hair is much thicker than yours, but it is also wavy/ curly when short and straightish* while long. For me the path to least resistance is to embrace the curls. Seriously, it's so much easier. The less you fiddle with curly hair, the better. Wash hair before bed, sleep on it, finger comb it in morning, add head band/ other hair ornament if desired. The end.

I suggest getting a hair cut by someone who has been trained in the DevaCurl method. Almost a year ago I had my first hair cut with a stylist trained in the method... and even a year later my hair has been growing out nicely with no "awkward" stages like I have experienced with my previous hair cuts.

My hair is a snob regarding conditioner. It does not like any conditioner that I have ever purchased at CVS since it becomes a greaseball if I use any products containing silicone (plus my hair would feel like straw). I confess I was a little skeptical that the stylist at the DevaCurl salon was trying to sell me yet another bottle of shampoo and conditioner, but seriously my hair loves the DevaCurl shampoo and conditioners**. It turns out my hair is happiest with a regular washing with apple cider vinegar with the occasional shampoo and conditioner from this brand. I don't need to use very much very often, so the supply of shampoo and conditioner I have will last me a very long time. You can also experiment with putting conditioner only on the hair, but not on the scalp.

*never straight since that would be "too easy"
**no affiliation with this brand, just a very happy customer
posted by oceano at 10:41 PM on January 6, 2014

Ideas for a haircut
Don't cut it yourself, and don't go to Great Clips. Go to a nice place recommended by someone - even a stranger - with a nice haircut. If that's out of your price range, find a cosmetology school and ask about their process for being a guinea pig / model.

Admit to the stylist that you're a bit clueless. They are trained to know how to pick out a good style that matches you and your needs. Pick out some things you like in their books while you wait, but let them make the final call.

My intro is usually "look, I'm busy, I'm an engineer, and I'm not particularly fashion-conscious. I do a lot of sports, and work in a conservative industry. My ideal haircut is about this long [gesture], and should not require a lot of maintenance. Can you suggest something flattering and explain how to maintain it?"
posted by whatzit at 4:02 AM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

On dry shampoo: you can try just using cornstarch. Throw some in an empty spice bottle or salt shaker and sprinkle it in your roots at night. In the morning, brush it out. Applying it at night gives it time to absorb oil and distribute through your hair, reducing the risk that white spots/streaks will be visible.

Overall, try to embrace the idea of low-maintenance hair. For inspiration, look to fashion bloggers located in continental Europe where the style tends to be more natural as opposed to fussy American curling-ironed, every-strand-in-place hair. Focus on getting a great haircut and buying products that are specifically tailored to one or two problems you are actually experiencing (e.g., oil control or volumizing) and ignore all the other stuff.
posted by payoto at 9:21 AM on January 7, 2014

Agreeing with others that using a good conditioner would help. A good conditioner doesn't have to be fancy though. I would just avoid anything with silicone, or anything that has an ingredient ending in "-cone" (dimethicone, for example). A non-silicone conditioner will feel much lighter, and will not build up and contribute to the greasy.

I also have oily hair, and cannot do the "no-poo" or conditioner wash methods. What works best for me is putting the conditioner on first from roughly my ears down, and then leaving that in while I shampoo just at the roots. The conditioner keeps the ends from getting dried by the shampoo, and the shampoo stops the greasy on top! Best of both worlds. If my hair is particularly dry, I'll follow this with just a bit of extra conditioner at the ends. Or just use a leave in conditioner at the ends when I get out. I then put a bit of cheapo (silicone free) hair gel while wet, blot (don't rub!) to get some of the water out, comb with a wide-toothed comb and go!

But by far the best thing that I ever did as an adult was to go to a stylist that really understood different hair types. I put myself entirely in my stylist's hands, and just let her tell me what cut would work best. (Stressing that I wanted the absolute lowest of maintenance.) Paying a bit more every couple of months is worth it for me, as I know that I'll get a cut that will actually works and doesn't frustrate me every morning.
posted by sarahmelah at 1:48 PM on January 7, 2014

Response by poster: Wanted to say in the short run: I'm growing out the bangs. I've been conditioning the bulk of my hair and only shampooing my scalp, and I'm enjoying a lot more texture. Still searching around for a stylist and a babysitter so I can go to the stylist. Thank you all for being honest and giving me lots of ideas to try.
posted by linettasky at 4:19 PM on January 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

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