All about hairspray and other hair styling products

Whether we spend one minute or one hour styling our hair, we want to make sure it stays in place, and the easiest way to do that is with hairspray. Sometimes called sticky water, which is a far more descriptive term for it, hairspray is essentially a lacquer or glue designed to keep the hair in place.

Of course, we've all seen the stiff, dark, clumpy mass that over-sprayed hair can become (think '80s), but used in moderation, hairspray can be the perfect weapon against wind, movement, frizz, and anything else that threatens to ruin our carefully crafted hairstyle.

About Hairspray

Hairspray is basically a coating for your hair. It contains a polymer (a molecule with repeating structures) and a solvent (a substance that dissolves the polymer), along with some other chemicals and perhaps a scent or color. The chemical mixture is under pressure in an aerosol can that, when sprayed, deposits a thin layer on the surface of the hair that acts like a cross between glue and shellac. In other words, it bonds the hairs together and seals the overall hairstyle.

How to Find the Best Hairspray

There are many different types of hairspray, but like shampoo, most hairsprays have the same basic ingredients, just with slightly different formulations to distinguish one brand and type from another.

The best hairspray for you will depend on your hair type, the complexity of the hairstyle, and the conditions it needs to withstand. You may even use different types of hairspray for different occasions or hairstyles.

In general, hairspray products are categorized as follows:

  • Light hold: Designed to add a bit of shine and keep hair in place through normal daily activities
  • Smoothing spray: Designed to fight frizz and tame fly-aways; slightly more hold than a light hold spray but still fairly light
  • Medium hold: Designed to hold a more difficult style in place all day and to withstand moderate activity (exercise) or weather (wind)
  • Strong hold: Designed for firm hold through fairly vigorous activity or strong wind
  • Maximum hold: Designed to hold firmly through almost anything

Of course, each brand defines these terms a bit differently and may include others not mentioned. While reviews and recommendations can help, your best bet is often trial and error.

Other Hairstyling Products

Hairspray can be used alone or in conjunction with other hairstyling products such as mousse, gel, pomade, sculpting wax, leave-in hair conditioner, serums, and various other sprays (e.g., volumizer, shine-enhancer, gloss, etc.).

With any hair product, moderation is key. Too much will weigh hair down, make it look greasy or stiff, and require more maintenance in the long run because you'll have to wash hair more frequently to get the product out, which can lead to breakage, split ends, and other hair damage.