Look Good Without Going Broke: Hair Edition

By Erika Stalder

In a perfect world, we’d all have plenty of money to splurge on high-end products for each and every hair need. (Ditto skin and makeup.) And in a really perfect world, we’d have the hair of Blake Lively, Justine Skye, or Priyanka Chopra. Alas, no such luck. We have to be picky about where we spend versus save. And with an ever-expanding roster of products at our disposal (heat-protectant spray, overnight serums, and dry conditioners are some of the latest taking up space on our shelves), knowing when to splash out and when to head to the drugstore can be tricky.

So, we consulted four top celebrity hair stylists for guidance on which types of product should be considered the investment pieces of hair care — and the answers might surprise you. Because as it turns out, the basic picks (shampoo and conditioner) make for solid splurges, while items that are normally at higher price points (hello, hair masks) can be DIY-ed for next to nothing. Ahead, your definitive guide to shopping for hair care without breaking the bank.

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Because there are so many specialty shampoos that can work wonders for treating specific hair concerns — from de-frizzing to volumizing — celebrity stylist Jennifer Brent suggests spending more on a shampoo that fits your specific needs. “I always recommend spending the extra money on a good shampoo and conditioner, mainly because most people have either color in their hair, or chemical treatments such as a keratin,” she says. “There are also special shampoos that target thinning, curly, and coarse hair.” For color-treated and keratin-treated hair, Brent suggests a gentle, sulfate-and-paraben-free shampoo.

But there is one type of shampoo that the pros love to skimp on: clarifying. Celebrity stylist Nai’vasha Johnson, who works with celebs like Danai Gurira and Eve, calls Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo the “perfect solution for dullness relief.”

Wella Professional Brilliance Shampoo, $24.50, available at Ulta Beauty.


Like Brent, Johnson suggests we spend on conditioner, which can add shine and help prevent breakage during combing. “The better [conditioners] have higher quality moisturizers and oils in them, as well as fewer chemicals,” Brent notes. Lawrence Martinez, a New York-based stylist, says, “Although there are drugstore products out there that make your hair ‘feel’ healthier, it’s likely that your hair is being coated by heavy waxes or filled in with plastic. With extended use, [they] can make your hair worse and cause it to become brittle and break.” This paraben-free conditioner nourishes with aloe, shea butter, keratin, rice amino acids, and pineapple and papaya proteins.

Kevin Murphy Repair-Me. Rinse, $35, available at Kevin Murphy.

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Detangler Spray

You don’t need to break the bank to find a quality detangler spray. This new one from WetBrush not only features a time-release formula that helps detangle your hair for up to three days, but it’s also formulated with keratin to repair split ends and seal your cuticle. So what you’re left with is shiny hair that’s super easy to brush out and style. Oh, and did we mention it doubles as a heat-protectant spray? Yeah, that too.

WetBrush Time Release Detangler Spray, $14.99, available at WetBrush.


Skimp or Splurge
When it comes to deep-conditioning treatments, our pros suggest either ponying up for a pricey product, or getting into the kitchen and DIY-ing your own. If crafting isn’t your thing, Brian Magallones, who styles Keri Russell’s hair, notes that often, it’s the luxe brands that offer customized formulas. “Luxury brands offer many more options in hair masks with different formulations appropriate for different hair textures and needs.” He likes Rene Furterer Karité Intense Nourishing Mask for super-damaged hair.

Brent’s more wallet-friendly suggestion? “I absolutely love Hask products. They have a lovely deep-conditioning treatment for textured or keratin-treated hair which runs about $2 per packet.” Even cheaper still? Just make your own. “I recommend using the ingredients in your kitchen for masks,” she says. “Avocados, coconut oil, egg whites, and apple cider vinegar can do wonders for the hair.”

Hask Keratin Protein Smoothing Deep Conditioner Packet, $1.99, available at Target.

This mask is a bit of a splurge — but it’s worth it because we know the Ouai products are good (some may even say that hairstylist Jen Atkin can do no wrong). The individually-packaged sleeves provide an intensive, moisturizing treatment that is perfect for anyone looking for a quick repair for damaged hair. Atkin recommends working the product though your hair before a workout, to let the heat from your sweat penetrate the hair follicles, then rinse out to reveal healthy and revived locks. Bonus: That’s serious motivation to get your heart rate up.

Ouai Treatment Masque, $32, available at Sephora.

Got Champagne taste on a beer budget? No problem. This affordable mask does everything you’d expect from a product three times its price, leaving hair silky, shiny, and thoroughly rejuvenated — and it leaves some money in your wallet, too.

Verb Hydrating Mask, $16, available at Verb.

Heat-Protecting Spray

Our stylists agree that when using heat-styling tools, protectant spray is a must. But it doesn’t have to be expensive. If your hair isn’t treated with keratin, Brent and Magallones say an affordable spray will do the trick. This lightweight formula protects hair up to 450 degrees of heat. If you do have a keratin treatment, look for a spray formulated without alcohol.

Matrix Style Link Heat Buffer Thermal Styling Spray, $18, available at Ulta Beauty.

Even Khloé Kardashian uses this heat protectant spray on her bouncy waves.

Tresemmé Expert with Biotin Repair & Protect Pre-Styling Spray, $4.99, available at Target.

Hair Gel

Let’s face it, the splurge column is really adding up here. The good news? There’s no need to drop major coin on hair gel, according to our pros. “If you splurge on gel, you’re really just paying for the smell,” says Magallones. Brent agrees: “The ingredients used in most gel products are all the same. If you’re aiming for a slicked back/shiny look with strong hold, then any gel should do the trick.”

KMS California Hair Stay Styling Gel, $15, available at Walgreens.

Looking to copy Bella Hadid’s high pony? This gel goes on smooth and hardens quickly, so you’ll never get caught with a hair out of place.

OGX Extra Strength + Honey Hold Mega Glue, $2.24, available at Ulta Beauty.

Serum Or Shine Spray

Magallones suggests pulling out the big guns when purchasing a hair serum, which he notes are typically some form of silicone. “The main difference is the consistency. Many of the drugstore brands can often be a little too syrupy, and the moment you put too much in your hair, you have no choice but to wash your hair and start all over again.” This sulfate- and silicone-free serum aims at helping to restore keratin function — and therefore, shine.

Phylia [de M.] Connect, $60, available at Phylia [de M.].

Serum Or Shine Spray

At $14, this oil is a bit more than what you may spend at the drugstore, but it’s so worth it. It adds shine and eliminates frizz from dry or damaged hair in one fell swoop.

Verb Ghost Oil, $14, available at Sephora.

Dry Shampoo

Skimp Or Splurge
To skimp or save on dry shampoo is a bit of a trick question. Because dry shampoo can be used for widely different things (building volume or adding texture vs. absorbing oil, for example) and certain hair types may require more advanced formulations. “The trick for dry shampoo is to find one that is best for your hair texture and density,” Martinez says. That said, he notes that, “Dry shampoo has been around since the beginning of time and the ingredients are pretty much the same. It’s usually some form of corn starch or rice starch.”

So, for some, a sprinkle of baby or talcum powder does a sufficient job of absorbing oil on the scalp. Others might find success building volume with no-frills psssst! Instant Dry Shampoo (just six bucks!).

psssst! Instant Dry Shampoo, $4.99, available at Walgreens.

Dry Shampoo

If you want to put your money where your unwashed hair is, opt for a dry shampoo that will multitask beyond just absorbing oil. This scalp-healthy new formula is our top pick, thanks to a list of naturally-derived ingredients like charcoal, biotin, and witch hazel to prevent exactly the type of buildup that most dry shampoos leave behind.

Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal + Biotin Dry Shampoo, $24, available at Sephora.

Dry Shampoo

Willing to invest a little more money in your dry shampoo? Go for something that’s going to multitask. This one absorbs excess oil, adds texture and volume, and imparts a fresh scent that covers cigarette or dirty hair smell.

Amika Perk Up Dry Shampoo, $22, available at Sephora.

Beach/Salt Spray

The endless array of fancy salt sprays in sexy packaging might make for excellent eye candy, but don’t be fooled: It’s inexpensive, readily available salt that gives these formulas the wave-making kick they’re so popular for. The pros confirm that we don’t have to pay big money to get big, beachy hair — though Johnson does note that, much like the actual ocean, many salt sprays can dry the life out of hair. No matter the price point, look for formulas that come complete with hydrating properties. This beloved drugstore pick is always a safe bet.

John Frieda Beach Blonde Sea Waves Salt Spray, $9.99, available at Ulta.

Beach/Salt Spray

What gives beach spray its wave-making kick? Inexpensive, readily available salt. So it stands to reason that we shouldn’t have to pay big money for beachy hair. Thankfully, our instincts are right — though Johnson does note that like the ocean, many salt sprays can dry the crap out of the hair, so it’s worth finding a formula equipped with hydrating properties, as well. The stylist says this one is “rich in oils and natural ingredients, yet weightless, for the perfect waves.”

Ogx Moroccan Sea Salt Spray, $7.99, available at Ulta Beauty.

Nourishing Oil

Ideally, all hair oils should tame frizzy ends and add shine. But in reality, many can leave hair looking greasy. Finding the right formula? That may take more $$$, says Magallones, because fancy brands tend to offer more options to match the needs of different hair types. We like this one because it tames tips without weighing hair down — or adding an oily sheen. (That it smells like gardenia doesn’t hurt, either.) Brent notes that those willing to experiment a little may find that affordable coconut, olive, avocado, or jojoba oil — or even a drop or two of rose, geranium, or lavender essential oils — may do the trick.

Sally Hershberger 24K Golden Touch Nourishing Dry Oil, $40, available at Sephora.


Haven’t you heard? Mousse is making a major comeback. The wave-making styler once known to leave hair crunchy and, well, ‘80s looking, has had a major upgrade. Newer formulas help define curls, make waves, and add volume — all without sucking all the movement out of the hair. But Johnson says these elevated formulas will cost you. “This mousse defines curl-shape and gives maximum hold without leaving residue,” she says. “It’s weightless and leaves hair super-soft.”

Kérastase Discipline Mousse Curl Idéal, $42, available at Kérastase.

Texturizing Spray

Love the texture that dry shampoo gives, but hate the white, powdery residue it can leave behind? Johnson suggests splurging on a dry texturizing spray. “It adds volume and texture while absorbing the oils in the hair and is a luxurious alternative to basic dry shampoo,” she says.

Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray, $42, available at Oribe.

Curl Cream

A good curl cream will define curls without stepping on their spring. And the good news is, there are lots of affordable options that do just that. Johnson likes this one for its use of natural ingredients. “It defines curls, eliminates frizz, and restores moisture and shine,” she says. In short, it gets the job done — and for less than 15 bucks. (What’s more, it topped this curly girl’s must-have list.)

Shea Moisture Curl Enhancing Smoothie, $13, available at Shea Moisture.

Pomade Or Wax

When pomades and styling waxes don’t play well with hair, it really shows. So Johnson suggests investing in a wax that won’t leave residue or an oil slick behind. Luckily, her recommendation isn’t too pricey — and it comes with high praise. “This is the most amazing pomade on the market,” she says. “It gives strong hold without the visible residue, and can be used for simple edge control or to create extreme spikes.”

Redken Water Wax 03, $19.50, available at Redken.

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