Finally, I reached age 40, and I started wising up. I got real about how I really like to wear my hair (long, no perm, no bangs,) and I now know what to say/do when it's time for a cut. I figured out what products to use to keep my hair from looking dry and dull (a serious problem for most women after age 40, including me.) I also figured out what to spend big $$$ on and what products don't need to cost a fortune for me to have great hair.
Everyone's hair is different, and you have to do some experimentation to figure out what works best for your hair type, your skin/eye/hair color combination, your own personal style, and what you can work with in terms of styling technique. I'll share here what works for me, in hopes that you can get some ideas and inspiration (and probably save a little money too.)
My Basic Hair Care Routine
1. I always wash my hair with "damage repair shampoo" even though my hair isn't really damaged. My current go-to is L'oreal Total Repair Extreme Reconstructing Shampoo and Conditioner, although their Total Repair 5 is very similar and works well too. (I give these links so you can see the exact products I'm talking about--I don't have any affiliate relationships with any companies or with Amazon at the moment!) These shampoos and conditioners are usually less than $10 a bottle at drugstores and supermarkets. I have spent tons of money on expensive shampoos at salons and beauty supply stores, and trust me, L'oreal's Repair line is way better than anything else I've tried, for way less cash.
2. I use a lot of conditioner. I comb it through my hair in the shower and let it marinate for 3-5 minutes while I wash my face, shave my legs, etc.
3. I gently wrap and twist my hair in a towel when I get out of the shower. I do not "scrub" my hair dry or rub it between my hands with a towel.
4. I use about a quarter-size drop of Argan oil (Organix makes an inexpensive one that I like, under $10 at Walgreens, and I am also liking Garnier Fructis' Shine and Sleek, which I think I only paid $5 for at Albertson's last week) and run it through my wet hair with my fingers.
5. I blow-dry my hair while combing it with a wide-tooth comb, about 25 strokes on each side of my head (not the top - save that for upside down drying for volume,) and then I flip it over to finish drying it upside down.
6. I either a) straighten my hair with an expensive ceramic flat iron, or b) spray on some heat protector (right now I'm using Chi heat protector, which I really like) and curl my hair with a cheap Walmart curling iron, being careful not to hold the curling iron on my hair longer than 3-5 seconds at a time. (Besides trying not to fry my ends, my hair takes curl easily, and I don't want my curls to be too tight.)
I don't use the Chi heat protector when I straighten my hair because the guy who sold me this $195 iron swore to me this iron would not, could not damage my hair. He demo'd that by lighting a flame, laying a strand of my hair on the ceramic, and then showing me you couldn't burn the hair even with a flame against the ceramic. True story. Also, when I use heat protector with this iron, I don't like the texture/shine level I end up with as much as without.)
7. I don't brush my hair out after I style it. Wide-tooth comb or fingers only, until next wash, or if I'm putting it up.
8. I use very minimal (or no) hairspray. I am pretty devoted to Big Sexy Hair Spray and Play, although the nozzle clogs like crazy here in Colorado and it will spray in all different directions (your face, the ceiling) unless you pick at it with your fingernail pretty much every time you use it.
9. I put my hair up in a large fluffy scrunchie for sleep, directly on top of my head, looping the scrunchie only twice so it doesn't leave marks. I make sure that loose bun is lying on the pillow, not under my head while I sleep. I take it down in the morning and I have good volume on top as well as well-preserved style. This works well for me whether I straightened my hair or curled it.
10. I don't wash my hair again until it is absolutely necessary, usually 3-4 days here in Colorado where the climate is so dry.
My Color and Cut
I use inexpensive box color to do my own brown and cover gray roots, but I get professional highlights at a salon (AL.KA.LI in Santa Ana, California, with Audrey Taylor, to be exact :).
1. I LOVE Clairol Age Defy box color in Medium Brown 5. This shade matches my natural color very closely, and it's the perfect mixture of shine + gray coverage + moisturizing. I'm getting a fair amount of gray coming in nowadays, so I have to color my roots every 4-5 weeks. I only put brown color on the rest of my hair the month before I get new highlights.
A close second for me is L'oreal Excellence Creme in Medium Brown 5. I like the Age Defy better mostly for the color--Excellence Creme comes out a little darker than I like.
2. I get professional highlights done once a year, at the beginning of summer. I usually ask for blond highlights, and they will usually vary between a dark blond to a light caramel on top of my brown box color. I let these highlights grow out all year, into a kind of balayage look. (In the photos above and below, my highlights are 9 months old.)
3. To get a good cut, I almost always ask for a "slight trim" at the stylist and I say "I want to keep the length." I say, "I like face-framing layers around the front, but not bangs," and "I want my hair to look smooth and shapely when I flat-iron it." You have to specifically say aloud what you want, and even if I've been going to the same person for a long time, I don't assume they can remember exactly what I want from amongst all their clients and/or can read my mind. I spend $$$ on hair cuts because I think a good cut is tantamount to beautiful hair, but I only need them about 3-4 times per year so I don't mind the splurge.
So to sum up, I spend a little extra money on certain things (cuts, highlights, that damn $195 flat iron, Big Sexy Hairspray, Chi heat protectant) and I save money on others (shampoo, conditioner, argan oil, box color for roots/base.) I don't skimp on products just to save money though--I buy what works. And the boost of confidence it gives me to still get compliments on my hair at the age of almost-48...is totally worth it!