After literal decades on this earth, my hair still feels like it only knows two moods: "butterball greasy" and "bushel of hay." That's especially true in the wake of a New York City winter, in which my roots have been smacked up by cigarette smoke, extreme dryness, and sleeping on pillowcases that have a lower thread count than printer paper. This sucks. So, maybe it’s time to grow up. We got the mattress off the floor. Next is learning how to actually take care of thine hair.
But, man, the Online Hair World™ is overwhelming. Amongst all of the blessed jojoba serums and shampoos out there, I’ve discovered there’s also a lot of snake oil and overhyped hair care regimens. I’ve tried the ~aesthetic~ hair care brands that prescribe shampoo and conditioner via an extensive online test, taking everything from diet to the local air quality into consideration. In spite of this Myers-Briggs thoroughness, the products, despite their fancy branding, were… just OK.
“I would steer clear of [those] brands where you take an online test,” says Mischa G., the hair stylist and owner of Treehouse Social Club in New York City. She’s one of three NYC-based hair stylists who will be making up our holy trinity of split-end savers today, along with the talented Blake Erik and Ro Morgan, on our pilgrimage to finally understand what the best shampoo and conditioners are for our various hair types (and whether or not you should even be conditioning your hair at all).
Unless you’re getting an in-person hair and scalp analysis, says Mischa G., you could be getting an incorrect and gimmicky diagnosis for your hair. Your head requires more sensitivity than that. “I’d generally stay clear of shampoo-conditioner combos bought at local drug stores,” adds Erik, who has turned out some of the most exciting red carpet ‘dos and runway hair in recent years. “They generally build up on your hair, which can weigh it down or make your scalp oily.”
Morgan, meanwhile—who specializes in natural hair, wigs, and hair extensions—has lent his talents to the hair of Queen Naomi Campbell (among other dreamy clients) herself, and has just as much advice on what not to look for in hair products, including those that claim to be sulfate-free on the surface. “It may just be free of sodium lauryl sulfate,” he says, “which is one of the harshest [chemicals], but it may contain other sulfates that may leave your strands feeling dry. Read the ingredients.”
Anyways, we’ve asked these hair genies a bunch of straightforward questions to save our scalps. Here are their clear- (and shag-) cut tips for better hair care, and the shampoos and conditioners these top stylists use on their high-profile clients (and themselves).
The best shampoo for fine hair
For fine hair, Erik goes for Christophe Robin’s Delicate Volumizing Shampoo. “This is my hair type,” he says, “and before I colored my hair I would use this without conditioner to make my hair full.”
Mischa loves Innersense Organic Beauty, because "their Pure Harmony Hairbath is perfect for fine to medium hair; it’s a gentle cleanser that’s weightless and silicone-free.”
The best shampoo for medium hair
For medium-thick hair, Erik reaches for Davines Momo shampoo, and the brand’s Love Curl Enhancing shampoo for curly hair.
Mischa G. says her favorite line is Act & Acre, a shampoo brand created by stylist Helen Reavey with an ethos of treating your hair with the same sensitivity that you (should) treat your skin. “It’s cold processed using organic ingredients,” says Mischa G., “and it balances out the pH of the scalp and removes build up from the scalp and hair."
The best shampoo for curly hair
“My favorite shampoo for naturally curly hair from 2A–4C,” says Morgan, “is Design Essentials,” adding that it really reduces the detangling time for wavy, curly, and coily hair. “Another one of my favorite shampoos for hair textures 2A–4C is the Fekkai Shea Butter Shampoo,” he says. “[It’s] packed with shea butter and monoi oil, which help hydrate and eliminate frizz for smoother hair. [It’s] great for thick, coarse curly hair.”
The best conditioners for fine hair
On hair that’s both fine and not frizzy, Erik actually recommends trying no conditioner. “If you feel like you still need some moisture,” he says, “I love the Christophe Robin delicate volume conditioner. Try applying only on your ends at first.”Also, don’t be so rough when you towel-dry your hair. Just some gentle pats, please.
Mischa G. recommends Innersense Organic Pure Inspiration Daily Conditioner for finer hair. “The rice bran oil and aloe strengthen and increase shine without weighing the hair down,” she says.
The best conditioners for medium hair
Mischa also recommends the brand’s Hydrating Conditioner for “thicker, thirstier hair” (the shea butter and coconut oil, she says, will provide intense moisture, while the flaxseed reduces breakage and restores strength and elasticity.)
The best conditioners for curly hair
“For medium texture hair,” says Erik, “both straight and curly, I use Davines NouNou Conditioner. This has been my go to for years. [And] on all hair types lacking moisture I always use Oribe’s Intense Conditioner for moisture and control, which can be used daily or even just once a week.”
The best budget shampoo and conditioner
Admittedly, we don’t always have it in the monthly budget for this fab jazz; Daddy also needs burrata, dog food, and healthcare. Also, sometimes we’re traveling, or on vacation, and straight up can’t find this stuff. That’s OK, says Erik, who reminds us that “anything that Redken offers is very high-quality” (and in my experience, can be found in a lot of grocery stores). When you are on a budget, but still want the best shampoo and conditioner for your curly strands, adds Morgan, go for Kim Kimble RepHair shampoo and conditioner. “[It] will cleanse your hair without leaving it dry and brittle from stripping natural oils,” he says, “[and] the conditioner is packed with black honey and jojoba oils. They are both available at Walmart.”
“[My] best budget pick would DEF be a refillable organic brand,” says Mischa G., “I love the company The Good Fill. Their unscented shampoo and conditioner refills average about 83 cents per ounce. Initially you buy a glass pump container, then buy pouches to refill. The pouches are then returned, cleaned, and refilled for the next customer. Everything is cruelty-, Sulfate-, paraben-, and phalate-free, and good for the planet.”
Lasting Bagel Bites of wisdom
Some final, Bagel Bite-sized pearls of wisdom? Try a proper hair comb/detangler. “Often people do not shampoo their scalp (which is what shampoo is made for),” reminds Mischa G. “I am even guilty of this.” Use. That. Brush. And please, asks Erik: “Pat your hair dry with a towel as opposed to rubbing aggressively.”
“When shampooing curly hair,” says Morgan, “try to pull shampoo through hair and not ‘rough up’ hair too much. Doing so can cause the cuticle layers of the hair to tangle. [So] when [you’re] detangling hair once conditioner is applied, start from the ends with a wide-tooth comb/detangling brush and work your way up, [and] detangle in sections.”
I don’t know about you, but all of this herbal, scalp-massaging wiz has me ready to look like the prettiest My Little Pony in the office. Here’s to staying moisturized, patted-dry, and conditioning those tips like udders, baby.