If there’s one thing that unites humanity, it’s that we all want great hair, but I’ll be the first to admit, achieving it is a struggle. When good hair days feel few and far between, it’s easy to settle for just okay. Well, fellow men, we don’t have to.
The goal of most men is to spend as little time in the bathroom as possible. That’s why we tend to cut our hair shorter. Less hair means less maintenance, right? But, the pitfall of this thinking is that the tenants of good hair apply no matter how long your hair is, what texture it is, or how much you have. Attaining great hair doesn’t take a lot of effort, either, as long as you know what to do. Here are the best tips for all men to achieve their best hair possible, straight from the experts.
Don’t Wash Your Hair Every Day
You might think you’re getting extra clean by washing your hair every day, but you could actually be doing more harm than good. “If you’re over-shampooing, you’re stripping away oils from your scalp,” says Jen Bennett, barber and manager of education at Rudy’s Barbershop. “Those natural oils are the best thing to hydrate your scalp.” Even someone with a short buzz-cut shouldn’t shampoo every day, but it’s especially important the longer your hair is. Three to four times a week is best for most guys.
The Kind of Shampoo You Use Matters
Washing your hair with cheap shampoo is like washing your car with hand soap. Shampoos formulated with lots of harsh ingredients, usually found in cheaper products, can strip away too many of those natural oils that protect and hydrate your hair. When it’s time to wash your hair, use a gentle formula that is sulfate-free and has natural ingredients, instead (like Aveeno’s Pure Renewal Shampoo).
Know Your Hair Type
Knowing what hair type you have—straight, thin, curly, dry—and buying a shampoo designed for it can make a huge difference. It’s not just marketing; these shampoos contain specific ingredients that certain hair types benefit from. For instance, “curly hair needs something with more moisturizing ingredients,” says Bennett, whereas formulas for thin hair contain ingredients to help volumize.
Always Condition After You Shampoo (And Even When You Don’t)
We all want to save time in the shower, but washing your hair without conditioning afterward can cause serious damage. Conditioners replenish moisture and essential oils that even sulfate-free shampoos may get rid of. If you have short buzzed hair, you should always use conditioner after shampooing to keep hair healthy, but it’s especially important for longer hair, says Bennett, even on days when you’re not washing your hair. “For anything longer than three inches, you should condition your hair every day, whether you shampoo or not,” she says.
The Longer The Hair, The More Conditioner You Need
Short hair doesn’t require much conditioner, but according to Bennett, the longer the hair, the more conditioner you need. Don’t focus as much on the roots; make sure you’re lathering the full length of your hair conditioner and focusing on the ends, which tend to get dry more easily.1
Don’t Use Two-in-One Products
It might be tempting to use multi-use products to save time, which is how we can explain the popularity of two-in-one shampoo/conditioners, but they’re actually not good for your hair. “Shampoo is meant to cleanse, and conditioner is meant to moisturize, so two-in-one products are counterproductive because you’re really only getting the benefit of one,” says Bennett. “They’re harder on the hair and lean more towards the cleansing side, without giving you enough hydration.”
Hydration is The Key For Textured Hair
“The coarser and curlier the hair texture, the more moisture it needs,” says Bennett. Using a co-wash, which is a gentle cleansing conditioner, in place of shampoo will help retain even more moisture. Following with a leave-in conditioner will ensure that coarse and curly hair stays hydrated and healthy. It’s especially necessary for African-American hair, says Bennett, “which needs to be hydrating with oils and deep conditioners more often” to keep it from drying out.
Use Oils for Extra Moisture
Using a lightweight hair oil after the shower will help seal in moisture and is especially important for curly, coarse, and textured hair. Bennett recommends argan oil and sweet almond oil, which are lightweight, won’t make hair look greasy, and also won’t build up on the scalp.
Almond oil is a hydrator that is rich in vitamin D, vitamin E, and various minerals. It helps soothe the skin from irritation and protect it from UV radiation damage.
Be Gentle When Towel Drying Your Hair
Aggressively drying your hair with a towel can do more damage than good, says celebrity hairstylist Patrick Kyle, especially if you already have voluminous hair. “You should blot it with the towel, don’t rub it,” he says. Being too rough can make curly or wavy hair frizzy and decrease volume on all hair types, especially thinning hair.
Massage Your Scalp When You Shampoo
No matter what type of hair you have, taking care of your scalp can make all the difference in the health of your hair (and may help keep it around, if thinning is a concern). The first step is to give yourself a scalp massage whenever you shampoo. “Get in there with your fingers and nails to gently exfoliate your scalp,” says Kyle. “It will help get rid of dead skin cells and buildup at the roots, plus it always feels good.”
Use a Scalp Scrub Regularly
“Scalp scrubs activate hair follicle growth and deep clean,” says Bennett, who recommends using a scrub with tea tree oil once a week if you use a lot of products. For everyone else, every few weeks is enough. “It’s just like exfoliating your face,” she says, which will help prime your scalp for optimal hair health.
Use Sunscreen on Your Scalp
If you have thinning hair or bald spots, protecting your scalp is key. According to Bennett, that means wearing sunscreen on any exposed parts when you’re outside. She recommends spray sunscreens, since lotions “can get greasy and clog the follicles.” Even with a spray, you should shampoo after you come back inside to minimize buildup.
Get a Haircut Every 4-6 Weeks
Regular haircuts are about more than just keeping the shape of your hair in check. They’re also about keeping the rest of your head tidy. “You’ve got neck hair growing out, you need to trim your eyebrows, and there’s ear hair,” says Mr. Natty of Tuft NYC. A clean neck is what makes a haircut look fresh, even if you have long hair.
Instead of trying to describe what haircut you want to your barber, bring pictures. “Pictures help a ton,” says Bennett, “and be able to point out what you like and don’t like about it.” Showing your barber a picture or two of the kind of haircut you want will ensure they understand exactly what you’re going for. This will help eliminate the risk of something getting lost in translation and ending up with a result you’re not happy with. Your barber will also be able to tell you if that particular style will work for you. “The only time your barber will tell you they can’t do something is if your hair physically can’t do it,” says Kyle.
Don’t Try to Use Barber Terms
Trying to speak your barber’s language can lead to disaster, yet another reason to rely on visuals instead of words. “Clients who try to use barbering terms rarely know what they actually mean,” says Bennett. “The most commonly misused term is fade.” A true fade is a skin fade, which means the hair is shaved to the skin around the ears then tapered up to the crown. “What they really mean is they want their haircut blended, and they still want half an inch on the sides.” It might sound cool when you hear your barber say those words, but you should just whip out your phone and show them an inspiration photo instead.
Don’t Cheap Out
“The biggest mistake people make is getting a cheap haircut and thinking no one will know,” says Mr. Natty. “It’s like buying a nice watch. Do you want a Casio or a Rolex?” You don’t need to break the bank, but a haircut is not the place to pinch pennies. Find a barbershop or salon where you feel comfortable paying their prices, and you vibe with their work. You might not think anyone can tell the difference, but they can.
Texture Makes a Haircut Last Longer
One of the biggest differences between a cheap haircut and a more refined one is texture. Adding texture to a haircut will not only be easier to style, but it will look better as it grows out. “Texture actually makes a haircut last longer,” says Mr. Natty. “If you cut a straight line into hair, it grows out very quickly and looks sloppy.”
Don’t Fight The Cowlick
Cowlicks, parts of our hair that grow in a different direction from the rest, are a reality of life, especially for men who have shorter hair. They resist laying flat like the rest of our hair and can be frustrating to style. Instead of fighting a cowlick, Bennett recommends working with it. “It’s about finding the right kind of blend for the haircut,” she says. “You can either cut it really short, so it’s not able to stand up, or it needs to be long enough to lay down (at least two inches).” A seasoned barber will be able to know which of these options is best for the haircut you want and advise you on how to style it.
There’s a Difference Between a Haircut and a Hair Style
Lots of guys don’t realize the work that goes into some haircuts (more on that later), so when you’re showing your barber what kind of look you want, listen to what they tell you about styling. If you’re not willing to put in the time, it’s not the right haircut for you. “If somebody shows me a photo of something highly styled like a pompadour, but they tell me they don’t want to spend any time on their hair, I’m not giving them that haircut,” says Bennett. Think realistically about how much time you’re willing to put into styling your hair and if you know it’s not a priority for you, go for something short and easy to maintain.
Be Patient When Growing Out Your Hair
Longer hair is trending right now, and more men are embracing it. But going from a high-and-tight fade to surfer waves takes time and patience. “Hair grows about a half inch per month on average, so you should let your hair grow for about three months before you trim it,” says Kyle. “You need to have something to work with.” Once it starts to get long, ask your barber for a shape-up, not a cut. “It won’t look as disheveled and sloppy and will create the shape you want it to grow into,” he says. The key is patience.
Use a Hair Brush With Natural Bristles
Brushing your hair every day with a well-designed hairbrush can help evenly distribute the natural oils along the length of the hair shafts, which helps to preserve moisture and makes your hair look healthy. “It also stimulates the scalp,” says Mr. Natty, who recommends a brush with natural bristles, not plastic, on dry or wet hair.
Shape Your Hair Into Place While It’s Still Damp
After the shower, while your hair is still wet, “shape your hair into place using your fingers or a comb, even if you’re not styling it right then,” says Bennett. As it starts to dry, the shape will begin to get locked in, which will help make it easier to style once you put in the product. And remember, “if you put on a hat while your hair is wet, it will dry flat to your head,” she says.
Put in Products When Your Hair is Wet, But Not Too Wet
“Most products are water-soluble now,” says Bennett, “which will dilute if the hair’s really wet, but is harder to use if the hair is too dry.” She recommends towel drying or using a blow dryer for “about 30 seconds, till your hair is about 60-70% dry,” before putting in any product.
About That Blow Dryer: You Should Use One
Many guys don’t think about blow drying their hair, but they should. “You should blow dry any hair that’s over two inches long, especially if you’re trying to wear it up and back off your forehead,” says Bennett. Pay attention to the airflow and point the dryer in the direction you want your hair to go. “Don’t think of it only as getting your hair dry, but as directing it the way you want it,” she says. Blow drying can also give extra volume for thinner hair that needs extra shape.
Don’t Use More Product Than You Need
More is better, right? Not in the case of hair products. Men generally use more hair product than they actually need. “Start with a pea-size amount if you’re using something like pomade,” says Bennett. If you can’t run your fingers through your hair, you’ve used too much. You can always add more product if you need it, but if you go too far, the only thing you can do is get back in the shower.
Make Sure to Spread it All Over Your Hands
The key to applying hair product is to make sure you completely coat your hands and fingers with it before putting it in your hair. “Men tend not to distribute product enough,” says Kyle, who says to make sure you get the product between your fingers as well as on the palms of your hands. It will help ensure a more even coating and won’t form clumps in your hair.
Massage The Product In
Once the product has completely coated your hands, massage it into your hair; starting from the back and working your way to the front. “Distribute the product completely through your hair first, then go back and shape it into place,” says Bennett. “You can always add more product to the front if you need it.” Starting from the back keeps your style from veering into There’s Something About Mary territory.
Find Your Natural Part
If you’re going to part your hair, don’t force it. Use your natural part instead. “Everyone has a natural part somewhere,” says Bennett. “If you comb all your hair back, you’ll see the natural separation.” Utilizing your natural part will help keep your part in place and look the most suited to your head. The only way to force it apart somewhere else is by using a blow dryer and a lot of product to keep it in place, according to Bennett. But don’t part your hair if you want it to look casual, says Mr. Natty. “A crisp part is a very classic, gentleman style,” he says. “Most people look better with more textured separation than a true part.”
Salt Spray is Your New Favorite Product
Salt sprays are the most versatile, yet underrated, styling products for men. “They are incredible because they act like a styling product as well as a fixing product,” says Mr. Natty. “When you have thinner hair, salt spray can make it look thicker.” The salt adds grip to the hair and puffs it out, creating texture and volume. Most sprays also have a light hold, so that they can be used in place of heavier pomades and gels. Spray it onto damp hair and let it air dry or use a blow dryer.
Know The Difference Between Pomade and Clay
Traditionally, pomades have more hold and more shine. “They give you a wet look and are for side parts or slicked back styles,” says Mr. Natty. On the other hand, clay is matte and gives a dry, natural look with no shine. Pomades are ideal for slicker styles, whereas clays are better for messy texture. Which one you choose should depend on what look you’re going for, but the application rules are the same (see above).
The Difference Between Gels and Creams
Like pomades and clays, it really comes down to shine and hold. “A cream will dissolve into your hair, whereas a gel is more aggressive and coats your hair,” says Kyle. Cream will give a more natural look, and gels have a shinier finish, thanks to a higher alcohol content (which is also responsible for the crunchy feeling, if you use too much). “Creams are lighter products, and it’s harder to go overboard with them,” he says. Most creams will still have a slight amount of hold and are ideal for drier hair since they also offer moisture.
Don’t Sleep on Hairspray
“Most guys don’t think about hairspray because they think it won’t look natural,” says Mr. Natty, but really it’s just to keep your style in place. Don’t spray it directly onto your hair, though. “Spray the hairspray onto a brush first and then run it through your hair,” he says. “It will help keep the shape, but not make it look like a helmet.”
The Best Haircut for Thinning Hair
Thinning hair is a reality for a large percent of men (with risks increasing as we age). If you start noticing your hair thinning, Mr. Natty recommends cutting it short. “Go shorter on the sides and finger length on the top,” he says. “And if you don’t have enough on top, whack it all off with clippers.” It might seem extreme, but in the long run, it will always look better than long, wispy strands. Shorter hair holds volume better and will give the illusion that there’s more than there is. “When hair lays flat to the head, it actually exposes more scalp,” says Bennett.
Don’t Cut it Yourself
If you’re panicking because you’re losing your hair, don’t reach for the clippers. “A barber will be able to take control of the situation,” says Mr. Natty. They’ll be able to look at your scalp objectively and advise you on the best solution. “It’s an emotional experience,” he says, but your barber has your back.
Use Texturizing Products
Classic pomades and gels can be too heavy for thin hair and make it appear even thinner. Instead, use texturizing powders and dry shampoos. “They help build up hair and give it more fullness and volume,” says Bennett, especially for shorter hair. The bonus is that they help soak up oil and keep your hair looking clean longer. Just never use them on wet hair. “Spray it on dry roots and massage it in,” says Kyle.