Hairstyling Basics: Products, Terminology

Hairstyling Basics: Products, Terminology, and my Philosophy

Introduction and my philosophy

This thread is meant to be a general introduction to hair products and styling, based on my own personal experience, and is an attempt to answer many of the questions I had when I first started out styling my hair, and which I see pop-up on this site regularly. I will also review, and in some cases recommend, the products that I have used, as well as talk about the way each product affects my own hair type (Fine strands, slightly curly with some poofiness, and in great abundance).

I’ll also talk briefly about my overall way of thinking about styling, which may or may not be helpful and/or interesting, but I feel is worth putting out there for those who might gain from it. My observation is that, when it comes to styling their hair, the first thing most men do is look at celebrities, and decide whose hair they’d like to imitate, and I feel like that’s a fundamentally flawed way of going about styling. Styling is about taking an honest look at yourself and your own hair, figuring out what will actually work for you, and what your hair is capable of.

It’s about exploration, building up a confidence with yourself and what you’ve been given, and not getting frustrated at not having what others have. You can always look at models and celebrities for inspiration and basic techniques, but do try to not get dead-set on a single specific style you simply may never be able to pull off. It won’t help you look better, it won’t do your confidence any good, and it’s just no fun. :) Which leads me to…

What I will not do in this guide:

  • Talk about shampoo and conditioner, because this is something which is very different for everybody, and I can’t give you any better advice than you can give yourself.
  • Tell you how you can achieve a Ryan Gosling or David Beckham or any other celebrity’s hairstyle, as that depends too much on your own hair-type for me to tell you how to do it. Go see a stylist and figure out if your hair type will even work for it, first things first.
  • Review products by request or allow products to be sent to me for review, unless you are somehow the inventor of a line of products. If someone recommends a product and I do some research and become curious, I will try it and eventually probably review it, but this will remain my choice.

What I might do in this thread later on:

  • Post pictures of my hair if people are really, really curious, but otherwise, I don’t think that’s the point of this thread. This is about teaching you the basics so that you can play around with your own hair and explore what works for you. And besides, right now I’m in the process of growing my hair out after an unfortunately disastrous cut, so it’s not really at its best. :P
  • Post videos of how I apply various products, if I feel there is a serious need for a more visual demonstration of how to use different products. But really, it’s usually pretty simple, and there is already an abundance of hair styling videos on Youtube.
  • Try out a new type of product (but not a specific brand) if I have somehow omitted what enough people feel is a significant category.
  • Give you specific product recommendations based on what you’re looking for. I’d rather not get in the habit of doing this, since I hope to put enough information in the main guide to give you all you need to know, but if you’re totally stumped on what kind of product would fit your needs you can try asking me.

What Products Actually DO (it’s all about Hold, Shine, and Texture)

Very briefly, I’ll outline the general varieties of products available, what they’re typically used to achieve.

First, though, it’s important to understand that all the different names products come with is often, simply put, marketing. Hanz de Fuko is guilty of this with product names like Quicksand and Spongewax, bumble and bumble does it with their sumotech, and American Crew gets into it with their Fiber, their molding clay, grooming vs forming creams, etc., and this overblown marketing jargon is a big reason why getting into hair products can be so intimidating, since you have no idea what does what, exactly.

When it comes to products, there are really only three things you need to know about them, two of which are easy enough to figure out before you buy:

  • Hold:

Quite simply the ability of the product to hold hair in a certain configuration. Medium hold is generally for looser, more casual styles, and allows more movement of the hair in a natural way. High hold is generally for more elaborate styles that you need to retain their shape for longer periods of time, and can easily cause your hair to give the impression of being over-styled if you’re not careful. It’s worth nothing, however, that these statements of hold are not strictly enforced, and your mileage will absolutely vary, especially from one line’s products to the next. What for some companies is high hold can sometimes be more like a high-medium, or even a flat-out medium, for other brands, so there will be variation within the categories. Also, there is generally no low-hold, at least not on the brands own labeling. Low-hold hair-product isn’t something most consumers will choose to buy, although there are many products that I personally think fit that description, and benefit from their looser hold. But, more on that later.

  • Shine:

This aspect has a wider range than hold, coming in low, medium, and high varieties. High shine is your basic gel or old-style pomade, Mad Men (or in some unfortunate cases, Jersey Shore) hair, very sleek and styled. This can be a very striking look, but if you can’t pull it off your hair will come off as over-styled, and you WILL look silly at best, sleazy at worst, so be cautious about high-shine products. That’s not to say they have no place, as they often cocktail well with other products (more on that later) or work exceptionally for formal occasions.

Medium shine is more versatile, allowing you to give your hair a healthy-looking sheen or, if you add a bit more (but not too much), a semi-formal look that isn’t as overwhelming as a high-shine look has the potential to become. The main factor to keep in mind with medium-shine products is that the level of shine you get tends to depend more heavily on how much product you use than a high-shine or low-shine product, which tend to stick more closely to the label. You can get a surprisingly high shine out of medium-shine products if you really glob it on, and you can also achieve a low-shine look if you use only a little. This means that with medium shine products, experimentation is key, so that you can get a feel for how much product to use for the level of shine you want.

Finally, we come to low-shine products. Low-shine is typically used to achieve looks which seem unstyled, natural, and subdued. This is also where things get a bit tricky, because there is a lot of overlap between products marketed as low-shine and products marketed as matte. Matte is, essentially, a dry look with as little shine as possible, meant to be even closer to a natural look. Matte is also very popular at the moment, as it can work in a variety of settings ranging from casual to formal, and there’s been a big boom for products that can achieve this look, such as American Crew Fiber, possibly the most oft-recommend product on this subreddit (but, more on that later). The problem is that most matte-marketed products aren’t matte – they’re just very low-shine, but there is still some shine present. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a low-shine product, and for some this is a trivial difference. But if you’re absolutely set on a no-shine, matte look, you need to be aware of this so that you don’t end up inadvertently buying a low shine product. If you want pure matte products, I do have some recommendations, which I will outline later in my review and recommendation section.

  • Texture:

The third major aspect of a product’s effects.This is, quite simply, the way the product feels and the type (but not strength, necessarily) of hold it provides. This is relatively under-discussed, and most product brands will have clear labels for shine and hold, but little if anything for texture (and what is there is often marketing fluff, like ‘provides luscious texture!’ etc.). There is some good reason for this, however, as the exact visual texture that a product will create depends greatly upon your own hair, so there really isn’t any way to guarantee that a product will produce a given texture in your hair. What is a bit easier to identify, however, is the tactile texture of the product, which is simply how it feels in your hair, especially when you run your fingers through it. There’s an enormous range of textures, from greasy and slick to gummy, to waxy, to gritty and sandlike, to smooth and pliable. I’ll go over texture in more depth in my specific product reviews, but the main point I want to get across here is that the texture of your hair is just as important as the appearance, especially if you or your lady friends decide to run their fingers through your hair. :)

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