5 Budget-Friendly Steps to Great Hair

Confession: When it comes to beauty I’ve been very, very spoiled. As a former beauty and fashion editor, I had it all, tried it all and never paid for any of it.

Truth: It was an embarrassment of riches. While hairstylists offered to cut and highlight my hair for free, I never thought too much about the cost of my upkeep. It all just happened, as I went from shoot to shoot and event to event, getting my hair done while I worked. Twenty months into my post-editorial career, the freebies have dried up and my hair is getting longer and duller by the day.

No longer an over-indulged editor, I have a new filter. I browse the beauty aisles with a newfound respect. Reflecting on the catalog of information I’ve learned over the years about ingredients, I think about my oily-at-the-root-yet-dry-at-the-ends hair, the thinning patch on the crown of my head and my increasing split ends. Here are five ways I’ve been solving these problems while keeping an eye on the bottom line.

  1. Shampoo Letting go of fancy and re-thinking the basics like shampoo has brought me to revisit Pantene. I’m wisely nostalgic — it was my fave in high school. I interviewed P&G scientists about innovations in synthetically derived organic compounds back at my days at Self Magazine. Although some of the ingredients listed on the packaging sound daunting (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine), I know in fact they are NBD. Offering a sense of luxury, the white packaging looks clean, and at $11.29 the Pro-V Classic Clean 2-in-1 formulas save me from buying an extra product while offering all kinds of solutions to my problems of the moment, be it frizz, split ends or simple grunge.
  2. Conditioner See above.
  3. Dry Shampoo My thinning hair needs volume at the root so I depend on a bit of dry shampoo daily. Because I’m stretching the length of time between highlight appointments, a bit of cover up is required. I’ve turned to Batiste, another all-time classic that has been updated with the times. The Dry Shampoo Plus a Hint of Color at $8.99 is a multi-tasker that works.
  4. Finishing Products Like rich icing on a cake finishing products are necessary, because what’s a cupcake without icing? Dry. The ends of my long hair that keeps getting longer need a high-tech luxe cream and my hair cuticles (like bark on a tree unruly cuticles are what makes your hair look frizzy rather than shiny and sleek) need to be sealed to deliver a youthful shine, enter John Frieda Frizz Ease Secret Weapon Touch Up Creme, $8.63. Recalling it as a Self Healthy Beauty Award winner, I am reminded that women across the country loved the sleek finish Frizz Ease delivered sans greasy residue. While it may be not new any more, it still works, and my wallet thanks those dedicated testers!
  5. Hair Spray To get that fine tuned, I’ve just had my hair done look, I’m following the lessons learned from all those blowouts I’ve had. Use a bit of hair spray squirted on clean disposable mascara brush (you can buy them at beauty supply stores like Sally’s) to tame fly-aways and those pesky side burns evocative of Frankenstein that seemingly appear overnight at my ears. And the cult favorite of every hairstylist I’ve ever worked with: L’Oreal Elnett, $14.03, plus a little goes a long way — it lasts forever.

My splurge? Hair color. Having written about DIY color, I know it takes time and patience and I have neither. After studying all of those boxes in the drugstore, realizing I need a combination of some sort because I have a complex shade of blonde, my strategy is to go pro. My goal: I’m aiming for a color lift about four times a year and budgeting out the extra spend.

My lesson? It’s not a bad thing to go with what you know. Everything old is new again. And though I love technology and am learning to love change, newness can be overrated. Sometimes, tried and true is just enough.

Elaine Farley is the former Beauty Director of Self Magazine, and prior to that the Beauty and Fashion Director of Cosmopolitan. This is the first in a series on budget-friendly beauty, makeup and skincare tips from the front lines. Prices quoted from Amazon may fluctuate.