The ultimate hair care guide

Want to get your best hair yet? Find out more about the newest hair helpers for erasing damage, boosting volume and delivering shine

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hair woman

The best products for bad hair days

The kind of "hair day" you're having can make or break how you feel about your looks. A recent online survey of more than 1,000 Canadian women by John Frieda revealed 39 percent of Canadian women admitted to skipping out on a commitment because their hair wouldn't co-operate. Before you RSVP regrets, check out the latest products.

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strength

To add strength

Is your hair weak, fragile or thinning? Research shows that hair ages over time due to slower cell turnover, UV rays and hormonal fluctuations. "Hair slowly becomes miniaturized," says dermatologist Dr. Jaggi Rao, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Alberta. In other words, hair follicles can shrink in size, so each individual strand appears thinner. "Hair can become finer, shorter and lighter in colour." Even hair that hasn't gone grey yet loses its colour intensity as melanin production (the pigment responsible for our hair colour) slows down. "Eventually the hair can disappear-individual follicles can stop producing hair, which is why many women experience hair loss," Rao adds.

Rolanda Johnson Wilkerson, a Pantene P&G scientist in Cincinnati, agrees. "Mature hair [usually 40-plus] has a greater frequency of split ends and a loss of natural volume, because each hair is thinner and there's more breakage," she says.

Hair Rx: Collagen, biotin, elastin, ceramides-these are ingredients in skincare products that help erase wrinkles, dark spots and dullness. Now these and other skincare ingredients are being used in hair-care products to help turn back the clock. "When combined, ingredients like niacinamide, panthenol and caffeine can have a thickening effect on the hair fibre," says Johnson Wilkerson. Meanwhile, cera­mides help boost the barrier function of the scalp, keeping nourishing oils in and environmental aggressors out.

But Rao cautions that none of these is a miracle worker. "Products will coat the hair follicle, but will not become incorporated into each hair to a point where they would make a substantial difference on the life cycle of the hair," he says. In short: You can count on hair that's softer, less brittle and easier to manage, but don't expect to have the thick or shiny hair you had at 25.

Try: Kevin.Murphy Young.Again Masque ($49, 200 mL). Sally Hershberger Plump Up Collagen Thickening Mist ($13, 150 mL). Pantene Pro-V Expert Collection AgeDefy Shampoo ($12, 300 mL). Kérastase Initialiste Advanced Scalp and Hair Concentrate ($55, 60 mL).

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volume

To add volume

Volume is sexy. "It's ultra feminine and beautiful," says Véronique Beaupré, owner of Local B salon in Montreal.

Hair Rx: New shampoos that nix greasy roots with purifying ingredients like salicylic acid (lauded for its ability to help oily skin stay balanced) add extra oomph. "For fine hair, I also recommend a volumizing powder or dry shampoo to help clients style their hair at home," says Beaupré. "If your dry shampoo is in a can, shake it really well so the powder mixes completely. Spray it into roots, and then brush it out." If it's a powder, just sprinkle a bit onto the root area, and brush it in (build gradually if your roots are extra-slick).

On medium to thick hair, prop roots up with a gel or root-lifting spray. The key to lasting volume: "Apply it section by section, and massage it into the scalp on wet, not damp, hair," Beaupré says. "Once hair is dry, it has a memory. If you have a cowlick, it remembers. As soon as you're out of the shower-get to work on your hair!" For lasting lift, try blow-drying with your head upside down, focusing heat at the roots.

Finally, simply scrunching in a dollop of mousse is Beaupré's secret styling weapon. "Mousses are performing very differently than years ago," she says. The previous alcohol-laden formulas "used to make all the hair stick together; it was stiff. Now mousses work to plump each strand so hair has movement, and looks texturized and full, not crunchy." That's thanks to ingredients such as sunflower seed oil, glycerine and vitamin E.

Try: Oribe Grandiose Hair Plumping Mousse ($38, 175 mL). L'Oréal Professionnel Série Expert Volumetry Anti-Gravity Effect Volumising Shampoo ($22, 250 mL). Garnier Fructis Volume Extend Instant Bodifier Dry Shampoo ($7, 96 g). John Frieda Luxurious Volume Root Booster Blow Dry Lotion ($10, 175 mL).

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shine

To add shine

When the outer layer of the hair (the cuticle) gets roughed up from styling damage, it mutes light reflection, resulting in dull strands-especially on naturally curly or colour-treated hair.

Hair Rx: For real sheen and softness, a moisturizing shampoo helps to give strands a boost. Even better? Reach for sulfate-free shampoos, since lathering agents can rob your hair of the protective oils it needs for strength and shine.

Out of the shower, the latest stylist's trick to add surefire shine is with hair oils. For centuries, olive oil and argan oil have been used as shine boosters, and now there are added options for volume, sleek styles, coloured hair and more. Making them work for you is all about application. "Apply a dime- or nickel-sized amount into hands, then emulsify by rubbing hands together to blend the oils," says Jorge Joao, a "performing artist" for Redken. "Apply from the ends up, because the ends of hair are usually driest," he says. They can be used on wet hair, or as a finishing touch on dry (place just a drop in hands, and then glaze hands over hair from crown to ends for a veil-like coating; style as usual).

If oils aren't your thing, boost sheen on dried hair with a shine spray (best for longer hair because a spray can cover a lot of surface area without weighing hair down). For shorter styles, a shine pomade or wax is best, as you can really control where you place it (ideally not on the roots so you don't weigh your hair down).

Try: Redken Diamond Oil Shatterproof Shine ($40, 100 mL). Shu Uemura Touch of Gloss Brilliant Melt-in Wax ($42, 50 mL). Herbal Essences Moroccan My Shine Nourishing Shampoo ($4, 300 mL). Kevin.Murphy Shimmer.Shine
Repairing Shine Mist
($28, 100 mL).

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damage

To repair damage

"Mechanical damage-wearing ponytails every day, or excessively heat styling-that's the biggest driver of damage to the hair, resulting in breakage, split ends and frizzy hair," says P&G's Johnson Wilkerson.

Hair Rx: The latest thinking on what will help? Keratin repair. "Hair is made up of more than 80 percent protein, and keratin is the primary type of protein," says Johnson Wilkerson. "When we cause extreme damage, there's significant keratin loss." Products that are labelled "keratin repair" can help smooth your hair, but to be clear, they don't add keratin to the hair; what they aim to do is add an invisible, continuous layer of protective ingredients "so hair appears thicker and is less susceptible to wear and tear from daily styling," she says.

Dove has boosted their latest damage-repair formula with keratin actives. Says U.K.-based Dhaval Patel, product appraisal technologist at Unilever HPC (makers of Dove), "Amino acids can be thought of as the backbone of keratin protein. More than 20 have been identified in hair." Damage from colouring, perming and bleaching breaks down the amino acids of hair proteins. "It's important to replenish them to help maintain hair's integrity and strengthen it," says Patel.

Beyond keratin, Dove employs a cool innovation to treat damage: "Since damaged hair has a negative charge," explains Patel, "we formulate all of our shampoos and conditioners with positively charged conditioning molecules, which are automatically drawn to the most damaged parts of the hair."

For those who prefer not to use products with silicones such as dimethicone, Living Proof (based in Cambridge, Mass., and co-owned by Jennifer Aniston) relies on an ingredient with the acronym OFPMA-developed by MIT scientists, no less-which reduces frizz without leaving hair feeing greasy. Since excess moisture causes hair to swell and frizz, the primary function of OFPMA "is to modify how moisture 'fluxes' in and out of a hair fibre," says Eric Spengler, chief commercialization officer and senior vice-president of R&D at Living Proof. "It creates an imperceptible barrier on hair that helps regulate moisture levels," yet hair still feels clean and smooth.

Try: Pantene Pro-V Expert Collection Advanced+ Keratin Repair 60-Second Therapy Ampoules ($16; 5 x 10.1 mL). Dove Hair Therapy Damage Solutions Intensive Repair Daily Super Conditioner with Keratin Actives ($8, 236 mL). Matrix Biolage Advanced Keratin-dose Pro-Keratin Renewal Spray ($20, 200 mL). Living Proof Satin Hair Serum ($33, 45 mL).

Related:
Get gorgeous hair with a healthier scalp
9 tips for shiny hair
How to fix damaged hair