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How to create a hair care routine that works for you

Keep it simple to achieve hair you adore.

A woman washing her hair in the shower Credit: Getty Images / Larisa Bozhikova

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Lather, rinse, style, repeat. Sound familiar? Most hair care routines consist of nothing but a squirt of shampoo, a dash of conditioner, and a few styling products sprinkled in. But how do you know if you’re using the best products for your particular hair type and desires? Could different or additional products give your hair the qualities you only dream of?

Make no mistake, though: Creating an effective hair care routine isn't about slathering on dozens of serums, creams, or sprays, either. Rather, it's an art form that requires analyzing what exactly your hair needs—and what it can do without. Like your skincare routine, creating an effective hair care routine is all about considering your specific hair type, concerns, and styling goals.

The road to shiny tresses and full-bodied curls doesn't come without some TLC, so we've enlisted the help of seasoned hair care experts for all the tips and tricks you need to design a hair care routine that works.

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What are the essentials of a hair care routine?

A flat lay image of several hair tools including shears, brushes, and a curling iron.
Credit: Getty Images / Didecs

Getting the hair of your dreams requires the proper tools and products.

While your hair care routine should be customized to you, there are a few key components to consider, says Hair Cuttery's technical artistic director and product consultant Steve Waldman. No matter your hair type—straight, wavy, curly, or kinky—the following should be part of every routine: a shampoo that cleanses hair without stripping it of its natural oils, a conditioner that weightlessly adds moisture, strength, and manageability, and a leave-in conditioner for its detangling and moisturizing properties.

In addition to products, everyone should follow a few basic tips regardless of their hair type. For one, be mindful of how many times a week you wash your hair. "I recommend only washing your hair when it's dirty," Waldman says. "Washing too frequently robs the hair of its natural oil and emollients, making it unruly and hard to manage." If your hair is clean and only in need of a re-style—say, you're looking to swap yesterday's mermaid waves for a more straight and sleek look—Waldman says to skip the shampoo and stick to rinsing and conditioning only, then proceed with styling.

Also, when using a hair-styling tool, keep in mind that damage is caused from curling irons and straighteners that are set at too high of a temperature and concentrated in one spot for too long, Waldman says. Many hot tools are designed to reach sky-high temperatures and it may be tempting to crank it to its highest setting to get your hair finished faster. A good rule of thumb, however, is to stick to 350 degrees and keep the tool moving. Despite your hair type and texture, a heat protectant should always be used before a hot tool hits your strands to minimize damage, adds Chicago-based celebrity hairstylist Alex Brown.

Finally, even if you're on the road to growing out your lengths, regular trims are essential, no matter your hair type. "The ends of the hair should be trimmed every 8 to 10 weeks," Waldman says. "Maintaining your shape and keeping the ends healthy will eliminate the frustration that drives you to 'cut it all off.' "

This chart displays images of what the different hair types look like.
Credit: Getty Images / art4stock

The four hair type—straight, wavy, curly, and coily or kinky—each have subtypes that further describe the shape of the strands.


All of that said, the main hair characteristic to keep in mind when selecting products is your hair’s type, or the extent to which it curls. Straight hair is referred to as Type 1, while kinky, coily hair is Type 4, and all have subtypes a, b, and c, to further define the shape of the strands.

A basic hair care routine for straight hair (Type 1)

A woman getting her hair washed at the salon
Credit: Getty Images / Zinkevych

Straight hair should only be washed when it's looking dull.

Straight hair is characterized by hair that doesn't curl, with subtypes a, b, and c breaking it down to pin-straight and fine, straight with volume, and straight with a slight wave. If your hair is straight and fine, your best bet is to seek products that are volumizing and lightweight (read: sprays and lotions versus butters and creams). "For Type 1 hair that's thin, I recommend a volumizing mousse or spray to help thicken the hair and provide fullness," Brown says. You can also use a round brush if you blow-dry, or a blow dryer with a round brush attachment like the Revlon One-Step, which Reviewed beauty editor Jess Kasparian tested and adores for a voluminous blowout in under 30 minutes. Finish off with a texture spray to give more body to the hair. If your hair is straight and coarse, opt for products that don't have drying ingredients (like sulfates) and do a weekly hair mask to maintain hydration.

For straight hair, try the Love Beauty and Planet Cleansing Shampoo. It's great to maintain overall health and cleanliness, and it's sulfate-free so it won't strip your hair's natural oils.

If you're looking for a nourishing conditioner that smells like a smoothie and leaves your hair soft and hydrated, try Briogeo Be Gentle Be Kind Banana + Coconut Nourishing Superfood Conditioner.

Morrocanoil's Volumizing Mousse is a good choice for those with fine, straight hair, as it builds volume and offers flexible hold—without leaving behind a sticky residue.

A basic hair care routine for wavy hair (Type 2)

Wavy hairstyle of young woman sitting in a hair salon
Credit: Getty Images/ hedgehog94

A texture spray can bring out the volume and definition in wavy hair.

Wavy hair types refer to hair that's in between straight and curly, with subtypes a, b, and c breaking it down to loose S-waves, more defined S-waves, and defined S-waves with some curl. This hair type is generally drier than straight hair, which means it's more likely to frizz, particularly if it’s regularly heat-styled or chemically treated (see more specifics on damaged hair care below). Look for a smoothing shampoo and conditioner that aims to deliver moisture and shine through ingredients like avocado or olive oil. To avoid frizz, Brown recommends using a microfiber towel versus your typical cotton bath towel post-shower, as this creates less friction on the hair.

Avocado is the star of the show in NaturAll Club's Cleansing Shampoo. Reviewers rave about the product's ability to moisturize dry hair, get rid of buildup, and smooth out frizz.

Harklinikken's Daily Conditioner delivers intense hydration without weighing down your hair, and wavy hair types will find the avocado oil formula hydrating.

If you plan on air-drying your wavy hair, Brown says to apply a product that offers hold and definition to play up the texture of your natural wave, such as the Ouai Wave Spray, which boosts volume while defining shape.

A basic hair care routine for curly hair (Type 3)

A woman with curly hair in the shower washing her hair
Credit: Getty Images / Moyo Studio

Use hydrating, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner for gentle cleansing without stripping moisture.

Curly hair has various curl shapes under its umbrella that don't have as much shrinkage—that is, change in length from wet to dry—as coily (Type 4) hair (more on this coming). The subtypes a, b, and c of this hair type cover loose spiral curls, flexible ringlets, and corkscrew curls. Typically, the more curl hair has, the drier it can be. Because of this, curly hair can be prone to frizz, which is why moisturizing, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner formulas that contain natural oils and moisturizers can be a game-changer, Waldman says.

For Type 3 hair, the goal is to use products that bring both life and smoothness to your curls, and it all starts in the shower. "While hair is wet in the shower, detangle with your fingers and a wide-tooth comb before rinsing out your conditioner," Waldman says. "The added slip of the conditioner will help prevent overstretching and breakage on this hair type." Post-shower, he recommends using a defining cream that won't disrupt your curls, citing ingredients like aloe and awapuhi as tried-and-true moisturizers that define without coating or weighing down your curls.

Ouidad's VitalCurl+ Clear & Gentle Shampoo and VitalCurl+ Balancing Rinse Conditioner claim to offer a balance of moisture and definition for curly hair with sunflower oil and a botanical omega 2-6-9 complex—all without weighing down your curls.

For a defining cream, try Herbal Essences Mango & Aloe Vera Curl Cream—reviewers love that it has frizz control and leaves curls soft and manageable.

A basic hair care routine for coily hair (Type 4)

A woman with curly hair gets her hair styled in the salon
Credit: Getty Images / wsfurlan

Coily curls crave lots of moisture and TLC to look their best.

Coily or kinky hair can be fine and frizzy or coarse and frizzy with densely packed spring-like curls. The subtypes a, b, and c break this hair type down to tightly-coiled S-curls, tightly coiled Z-curls, and tightly kinked curls. "Coily hair tends to be fragile, having the fewest cuticle layers to protect it from becoming dry or breaking under too much heat and tension," Waldman says. If you have this hair type, prioritizing moisture, detangling, and shine will keep it looking healthy.

As coily hair is typically drier (and thus, thirstier) than all other hair types, it requires extra moisture. Waldman recommends adding a few drops of hair oil into your conditioner and letting it absorb into your strands for a few minutes before rinsing. Also, water temperature with this hair type matters—hot water can open the cuticle and break down the natural oils essential for the hair’s health and control, Waldman says. Instead, always rinse hair with cool water—this will ensure the beneficial ingredients stay in the hair and don't wash down the drain. Finally, resist the urge to touch your hair while it's drying, as this can contribute to more frizz.

For cleansing, try the Emerge It's Knot Happening Sulfate-Free Shampoo, which works to detangle, defrizz, and define coils using shea butter as its star ingredient.

For a deep conditioner, try the Silk'e Repair Therapy Deep Conditioning Hair Mask, which features green tea, shea butter, and keratin to strengthen and hydrate dull, dry strands.

Coily hair will benefit from a concentrated hair oil like the IGK Best Life Nourishing Hair Oil. It's formulated to provide softness, smoothness, and moisture specifically for dry, curly, coily, and multi-textured hair types.

A basic hair care routine for hair that's colored or heat-styled

A woman getting her hair dyed red
Credit: Getty Images / Larisa Bozhikova

If you color-treat your hair, you'll want to use products that won't dull its vibrancy.

If you’re in the habit of heat-styling, coloring, or bleaching your hair, you’ve likely caused some damage, leaving hair drier and frizzy or straw-like. In this case, consider using a hair mask in place of your conditioner each time you wash your hair, Brown says.

For colored hair of all types and textures, Brown recommends the K18 Leave-In Molecular Repair Hair Mask, which helps rebuild broken peptide bonds in color-treated hair. If you're heat-styling your hair, always make sure to apply a heat protectant, like Sun Bum's Heat Protector, before the hot tools hit your strands.

To reduce damage in general, steer clear of any hairstyles that require excessive tension or are tightly secured, such as tight ponytails and braids. Lastly, sleeping on silk pillowcases may be a good idea if you're a user of excessive heat tools—Brown says it causes less friction on your hair and can help maintain frizz.

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