Sick of my hair being a mess
November 13, 2014 1:38 PM   Subscribe

My hair is always a mess lately and I'm sick of it. I'm going to go to the salon soon but I'm running out of ideas for what to tell them to do with it so I thought maybe you might have some.

Here's what's nice about my hair. It's red and everyone tells me it's a great color. It’s the right color for my skin.

Here's my goal for my hair:
I want normal, unremarkable hair that flatters my face, does not call attention to itself, and does not change shape. I don’t want to be required to wear it back/up every day but that might be my only option.

Some of the problem lies with that my face is difficult to flatter and really needs flattering. It’s flabby and shapeless and the shape it has isn’t conventional because my jaws don’t fit together. I don't really hate myself or how I look, it just is what it is. I'm just trying to be realistic that I can't get away with the fashionably bald look like Lupita Nyong'o.

Here's what I've been having done at the salon for my last few visits:
It's about chin-length with hidden inside layers. (Well, the layers are supposed to be only on the inside so they don't flip out but the last guy who cut it was kind of young and didn't listen when I told him it was very important not to do that.)
This looks great when the stylist can spend a lot of time sculpting it but I don't have the time or the money for a blow-out every day.

Here is what I'm willing to do to have normal-looking hair:
Maximum of one product.
Maximum of one electronic device.
Maximum of one type of hairbrush per session.
Maximum of one session per day when I work on my hair.
I just don’t have the attention span to commit to more than that for every day.
I don’t have it in me to make sure I carry my handbag into the restroom at some point every day so I can brush it.

Here's what is making me nuts about my hair:
I have a lot of hair in the back and it piles up into a giant halo effect as it grows out.
The hairs on the outside layer like to flip up and out in a way that looks very stupid. It doesn’t matter what length they are, they will do it unless beaten into submission by a stylist or if I’m very lucky that day. It's bad right now because the last guy f'd it up but even when I get a very competent cut it still happens.
It's always frizzy and ratty.

Here is the big problem:
It makes me look like someone I’m not. I don’t see myself when I look in the mirror and see a big, frizzy, ratty, flippy mess.

Here's what I tried:
Every type of serum, mousse, hairspray, creme, shampoo, conditioner, etc. product you can buy at drugstores and salons.
I’ve also tried not using any product at all; it doesn’t seem to make a difference if I do or don’t.
Flat irons, blow dryers, curling irons, etc.
I’ve also tried not using any device and just letting it air-dry. (I do that on the weekends or when I don’t have anywhere to be.) It comes out looking like a modern art sculpture when I do that.
Lots of different stylists and approaches. I basically never see the same stylist more than twice because I’m rarely ultimately happy with the end result.

Here's what I hate about my scalp:
If I don't wash my hair every day my scalp feels hot and dirty and it's distracting and I don't like it. I also don't like getting out of the shower having not washed my hair. Getting out of the shower every morning feeling completely clean is one of the few joys in my life and I'm not going to stop doing it. But this is a problem because my hair usually calms down and starts to look normal when I don’t shower for a day or two. I can only deal with not showering when I don’t have to leave the house. I have to leave the house every weekday.

Things I’m considering but afraid of:
Expensive chemical treatments
I heard that if you color your hair it calms down but i’m afraid of doing that because everyone tells me how great and irreplaceable the natural color is.
Somehow getting my hubby to learn how to do fix it and then convincing him to do my hair every morning. I don't think he'd be down for that.
Pixie cut. Less hair, less problems, right? I'm afraid. I had a short cut once with bangs and it looked awful on me and made me look like Hilary Clinton when she had that really short cut.

So my question is, what should I do next? How do I fix my hair so I see myself in the mirror given the above limitations?
posted by bleep to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I wash and blow dry my (graying) hair every day and I have had luck with smoothing creams that are marketed as anti-frizz. No Frizz Styling Cream from Living Proof, Perfect Hair Day from Living Proof, and my current favorite is Bumble & Bumble Straight Blow Dry. You only need about half a dime-sized amount for the whole head of hair. Sorry I can't help with the haircut question since I don't have the same type of hair.
posted by matildaben at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2014

What texture is your hair? Is it naturally straight, or curly, or somewhere in between?

I've had really long hair and really short hair and everything in between, in many different iterations, and in my experience long hair is way, way easier to take care of. Short hair is so temperamental, trying to get the layers to lay right and having to use product and blow dry every day and all that. With long hair you probably won't have to do nearly as much work to reach a consistently okay baseline. But I understand that growing out hair is an unfun grueling process.
posted by something something at 1:50 PM on November 13, 2014

I will also add: do you have a friend (or friends) with hair you particularly like? I would start asking around for personal recommendations for excellent stylists in your area. Then just go and talk to them. Professional, high quality stylists are invaluable - but can be hard to find. If you find a good one they will work with you to find something that looks great and is also relatively easy for you to take care of.
posted by something something at 1:53 PM on November 13, 2014

It would help to see a photo of your hair. I assume it's pretty straight, otherwise you wouldn't be talking about the ends going under or going out, but people mean different stuff when they say "frizzy". Do you mean there are stray hairs that make an outside layer of not-straight stuff in an aura around your head? Do you mean the bulk of the hair starts curling in an uncoordinated way? Do you mean there's a lot of very tangly-messy volume?

About the things you're considering but afraid of:
- color it if you want to color it. Natural color is not at all irreplaceable, it grows in at about a half-inch per month. If you had waist-length hair and wanted to dye it, then dye it back to what you had before, then yes, that's not going to look as good afterward, but your hair is chin length. A year from now you will have a head full of untreated hair (a month if you want a pixie cut).
- a pixie cut? Gather your courage, and give it a shot. First, though, look at a lot of short haircuts, and plan your escape route. If you cut it and hate it, you'll need to grow it back out, and if there aren't any intermediate cuts, long-pixie or short-shag or mini-bob type styles that you like, then you will continue to hate your hair for a whole year, and I'd be a little less reckless about recommending the pixie.
I was considering a pixie, but waffling; got a short angled bob (something like this) and have had good luck with it lying well with just a blow-dry and a bit of mousse. No blowdry and it looks like crap, though, which I think is typical of short hair. I'm about due for a trim, and I've decided to stay with this instead of going as short as I was originally considering. Who knows if it'll last, though, maybe in 6 months I'll have inch-long hair.
posted by aimedwander at 1:56 PM on November 13, 2014

Response by poster: It's wavy, with some waves being tsunamis and some being gentle laps.

I found a stylist here that I like, who is a genius AND we even have the same weird-ass hair problems but even she could not solve this. She spends hours flat-ironing her hair a few times a week and doesn't wash it daily. I can't get with that.
posted by bleep at 1:57 PM on November 13, 2014

Response by poster: Do you mean there are stray hairs that make an outside layer of not-straight stuff in an aura around your head? Do you mean the bulk of the hair starts curling in an uncoordinated way? Do you mean there's a lot of very tangly-messy volume?

Yes, yes, and yes.
posted by bleep at 1:58 PM on November 13, 2014

Is your hair very fine? In my experience (my hair has been thick and thin, curly and wavy, long and short, but always very fine) if it is, you're stuck with having to brush or comb it throughout the day or it's going to tangle/rat/flip itself. Nothing short of a ballet bun created with loads of gel and spray will change that.

However, if it's normal or coarse, there's probably some combination of cut/products/styling tools that will help at least somewhat. (My hair likes Aveda products best, but YMMV.)

I totally get the difficult-to-flatter-face thing. My face is a shapeless, potato-like blob and while I think it might be hopeless in my case, I have found that short hair and layers are better for those with more "defined" faces.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:59 PM on November 13, 2014

Here's the thing: everyone's idea of 'normal' varies. I have no idea what your hair looks like. But I can tell you what I do to my thin, weird hair, and hope that it helps.

Real talk? One product is totally unrealistic. I have bra strap length, very fine, very thin hair. My hair is growing back from a period of hair loss, so I also have a 'halo' of regrowth that will frizz out and drive me nuts. I find it easier to think of products in terms of layers: a 'priming' anti-frizz or leave in conditioner layer, a heat protection layer, and a finishing layer.

I wash my hair every other day because I don't like blow drying my hair, and because I have longer hair and I don't want to ruin my ends. Lately I've been loving Elvive Extraordinary oil as a 'priming' layer; I keep it in my bathroom and run it through my hair before I towel dry.

I usually go to bed with wet hair and wake up with messed up, awful looking dry hair. Then I either hot roller (my preferred option, but I have long hair), flat iron or curling iron. I imagine a flat iron is your best option. What kind of heat protectant do you use? It makes a big difference for holding the style in place. You can get an Elnett heat protection spray that works really well. Work in SMALL sections and go slowly.

I always have frizz when I'm done. Always. To deal with that I spray my hands with Elnett hairspray then run my hands over the frizzy parts. This helps hugely, I can't even tell you.

If I don't 'layer' products like this my hair is a disaster. If I do? One heat styling session lasts two days, especially if I use dry shampoo the next day. Multiple products. They're there for a reason.
posted by nerdfish at 1:59 PM on November 13, 2014

I have found using a boar's hair brush to be life-changing. Tames the frizz, distributes natural oils, shapes the natural wave, makes hair extremely low maintenance. If you're using a plastic or metal brush, give the old fashioned type a try.
posted by Scram at 2:05 PM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Hm. It's fine in some places, thick in other places.
If more than 2 products are required then I'll just resign myself to wearing it back forever.

Here's a secondary question, if it looks ok when i have it in a ponytail with artful pieces left out around my face, is there a way to get a haircut that mimics that without making me look post-menopausal? I'm paranoid about looking my age (30), no older, and no younger. Shoulder-length hair also ages my face.
posted by bleep at 2:06 PM on November 13, 2014

Would you be willing to wash it at night and style only in the AM? My hair behaves best that way. I shower and wash before bed, don't care how it dries, and then flat iron in the AM. The frizz is greatly reduced by this schedule. Even a blowdry and flat iron immediately after shower with various products doesn't tame my little frizzies.

You could also consider a keratin treatment. They last several months and can be spendy, but they really do calm and flatten curly/frizzy hair and make it behave. There are often Groupons for them to take some of the financial sting out of it.
posted by quince at 2:13 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

More real talk: hairspray is a frizz-killing miracle if you have a halo of baby hair, as I do, but not if you spray it right in your hair. Try spraying it onto your hands then smoothing it over the frizz.
posted by nerdfish at 2:16 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

if it looks ok when i have it in a ponytail with artful pieces left out around my face, is there a way to get a haircut that mimics that without making me look post-menopausal?

Do you mean something in the neighborhood of this? If so, searching Google for "inverted bob" should get you a lot of variants on that style.
posted by telophase at 2:19 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Before you do anything, I would suggest you find out if you actually have curly hair you've just been dealing with incorrectly your whole life. This is really common with what I think I am understanding is your hair type, as is the top layer of frizz that escapes because it's not being helped to bind to the curl it belongs to. Try this method and see what happens. You, like the OP in that thread, may discover that you in fact have curly hair and thus need an entirely different approach to hair care and cutting.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:24 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

Good hair is the result of work so you have to make some sacrifices here. My first tip: about every 3 or 4 days, wash your hair with a 1/2 tsp of shampoo mixed into a small handful of conditioner. Yep, I said 1/2 tsp of shampoo. Work it all the way around your hairline and then throughout. Dry it, style it, and it should hold up with minimum iron or curler work every morning. It sounds like you are washing the very life out of it with daily shampooing. Obviously, get the best cut that you can. If you see someone's style that may work for your hair, ask for the name of their stylist.
posted by Lornalulu at 4:01 PM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have thick frizzy wavy hair. After learning what products to use, I've been able to quit blow drying and straightening my hair, and wear it curly. It sounds like a lot of product but I've gone from a 45 minute routine to about 10 minutes max. Moroccan oil, curl cream, mousse, dry with a diffuser and a little hairspray. Search YouTube for videos about drying wavy hair with a diffuser.
posted by tamitang at 4:30 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am pretty clueless when it comes to styling hair and I've struggled with my hair for as long as I can remember. It's been all lengths from shaved (number 3) to collar bone length. It would probably be wavy if I followed the "curly girl" method, but I just can't manage to make the switch, so I have to be careful that I don't end up with a frizzy mess. I've finally found a cut and hair care routine that works for me, so maybe some of this will be helpful to you.

I went to the salon recently, pretty much determined to cut all my hair off, but my stylist instead recommended something very similar to this, but worn straight. It has since grown out to chin length and I think I have found the ideal length for me.

I wash my hair every two to three days with Wella SP Repair shampoo. It helps control the frizz a bit and repair (or hide...) damage. I understand why you like washing your hair everyday, but it's obviously not doing great things for you hair. You're better off skipping a day or two and taking the time to style your hair well when you do wash it. I barely have to do anything to my hair in the days between washes, apart from a brief brush or comb in the morning. I definitely don't carry a hairbrush with me when I am out and about.

After I get out of the shower, I put my hair into a "turby-twist" rip-off from Daiso for about ten minutes. I then use a very small blob of the Organix "Moroccan Argan Penetrating Oil" and then maybe a little blob of any other kind of heat protecting serum or cream. I blow dry my hair with a paddle brush. At the end of that, it's mostly straight and smooth. I then use my GHD straightener to just smooth it out a little more and make sure the ends aren't flicking out. If it's night time and I'm not going out, I don't bother with anymore products, but if I am going out straight after washing my hair, I do finish off with a little bit more serum because my hair is a bit puffier after washing. My hair always looks better the second day.

The idea about colouring your hair to calm it down: I wonder if you could try some kind of clear gloss or glaze? That shouldn't change your hair colour and might help tame it. Here is an article about it, though I would recommend going to a salon rather than doing it at home (at least the first time, anyway).
posted by kinddieserzeit at 5:31 PM on November 13, 2014

You sound a little like me. I am generally fastidious but my hair in its natural form is sloppy and hard to control, and there is just no way that I'm going to futz around with it on a daily basis.

What works for me is Japanese thermal reconditioning, AKA chemical hair straightening, which I get done roughly every 10 months. It costs about $500/treatment, but that's okay with me because it saves me an hour a day plus the money I would otherwise spend on hair product. Well worth it IMO.

It will totally tame hair that is frizzy/ratty/fuzzy. It will reduce the volume, so you'll never get the mushroom or halo effect. It will stop your hair from randomly flipping. The effect it achieves is basically as though you had spent an hour or two with a flat-iron, except it will be that way naturally, without needing heat tools or hair product. If you search online you'll see pictures of women with the kind of stick-straight mega-flat hair that used to be very popular (like this), but that's an extreme: it doesn't need to look like that.

One more piece of advice: you should find a stylist you like and stick with them. It's worth it to pay a lot there too. A good stylist will be you better-informed actually-skillful partner in figuring out this stuff :)
posted by Susan PG at 6:23 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

My curls got much more coordinated when I took my hair much shorter and learned how to use a diffuser to sort of position things in roughly the right spot and hold it there until it could remember where it was supposed to go. I joke about it being my Sherlock cut although it's a bit too long on the sides for that now. The diffuser thing gets it looking like an organized mess and I like it and, well, it looks way younger than shoulder-length or ponytail ever did. Air-drying is about 50/50 on getting something that decides to do a weird flippy thing, in particular my bangs, which will sometimes invert if left to their own devices; the diffuser doesn't take long.

I got the stylist who was able to help me do this by calling around asking for someone who could handle curly, even though my hair when longer is not precisely curly. I think if your stylist is flat-ironing, she might be totally amazing at handling straight hair, but she might not actually know how to cut yours to work with the curl it has. I don't necessarily mean the Curly Girl thing, but my stylist is definitely cutting mine with the intention that it's not getting much manhandling. I have to put something in it but more expensive gel just makes it less crunchy.

I don't really want to post pictures publicly but I'll MeMail you so you can see if this comes close to something like what your hair does.
posted by Sequence at 7:12 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't think anyone's mentioned thinning your hair, especially at the back. Basically, it makes some bits quite short while not changing the overall length of your hair. Reduces volume, doesn't alter the overall shape.

To me it sounds like your hair is overly dry because of the constant washing and drying. Every time the natural oils in your hair get a chance to come back a bit, you strip them off again with shampoo and conditioner and then fry your hair with a dryer. It's pretty brutal for your poor hair! My hair is wavy and thick and short now, but when it was long, I would only comb it wet, in the shower, with conditioner in it. I had this technique of grabbing a chunk of it and teasing the tangles out gently so it didn't stretch or break the hair. I assume you know about towel drying it by twisting it round in a towel rather than rubbing your head? After doing that I'd put leave-in conditioner stuff in it. I think I used something from the Body Shop but I am sure there are many products. Put in wet, it meant that my hair didn't go into a fluffy helmet as it air-dried. Then I plaited it at night to keep it from getting too frizzy and brushed it as little as possible.

I found this site which looks useful in terms of providing more info about how curly hair works and what types of things work. From a quick browse, it looks like mostly they recommend shampooing, conditioning and then using a volumiser/gel/mousse (1 of them, not all of them). Obviously they think their own products are the best, but you don't have to agree. The basics still look quite helpful.

And yes, you need a hairdresser who understands curly (as in non-straight) hair!
posted by Athanassiel at 8:53 PM on November 13, 2014

It's almost impossible for any of us to give you constructive advice without so much as a picture of your hair. Really, an excellent hairdresser is the guide you need - I'm nth ing the advice to get someone who specializes in curly/wavy hair. Your hair will be a million times easier to take care of if you have a hair cut that works with your waves instead of against them. The second a hairdresser pulls out a flat iron, I know it's not for me.

Once you find that hairdresser, if airdrying isn't an option, I'd recommend using a diffuser or stand hair drier because they will maintain your natural wave, and (especially with a stand drier) allow your to read Metafilter while you style.

I also find your resignation to never wear more than 1 hair product to be bizarre. It's way more work to flat iron or blow dry your hair compared to the effort to take 30 seconds and spritz or smooth 2 or 3 products.
posted by fermezporte at 3:49 AM on November 14, 2014

Best answer: My hair is curly/wavy/frizzy and is irregular in certain areas (thicker here than there), so difficult to handle. It needs to be cut by a stylist who really understands curly/wavy hair and in particular a technique called "cutting in" – the right side of my head needs the "cutting in" technique because when the hair is cut evenly, that side will always look longer and lopsided when dry, even when perfectly cut.

My hair gets shampooed 1x per month when it is color processed. I wet my hair daily in the shower and use a Redken conditioner (I too must start my day with a shower or … I can't function). I discovered during a long hospitalization that my hair, when simply wet in the sink with no shampoo, had never looked better in my life (the rest of me was a wreck, but how nice to have good hair!)

Many years later along came the "no shampoo" campaign. A good conditioner, a gel (I vary the brand), a head toss, some scrunching and air-drying under a ceiling fan in the computer room while scanning email gets me ready for the day. In a time crunch, I can finish up with a diffuser, then run my fingers thru my hair to style.

I am low maintenance, have no facility with fancy tools or brushes and no patience to mess with my hair. In prior years I used to cut it to within one or two inches, but … it was not my best look especially after I went gray. Now that I've grown it out, I like it and so do others.

In the hands of my stylist, I look as if I have dynamite loose curls – when I am in charge, loose waves.

I checked your location and, alas, can make no stylist recommendations for you.

The no-shampoo trick has made the most difference to controlling my hair. People say: OMG, what about oil? But in truth, that's never been an issue. The natural oils are balanced and, if anything, my hair is a little dry, hence the daily conditioner.

Another trick is to ask the stylist to cut your hair dry, rather than wet. That's what they do at Devachan. My current stylist (located elsewhere), and I did a lot of talking before he picked up the scissors … I impressed upon him how little I was willing to do in terms of daily maintenance and the past year has been a good one. I hope you find a style/routine that works for you. Such a nuisance.
posted by alwayson_slightlyoff at 4:38 PM on November 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Where do you live and how is the water quality in your home? The water where I live is very hard and it totally makes its effect felt on my hair - it makes it coarse, frizzy and difficult to control. You can try a vinegar rinse once a week to see if that helps at all with the texture.
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:23 AM on November 17, 2014

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