7 Hairstyling Products You Should Avoid (and What to Use Instead)

7 Hairstyling Products You Should Avoid (and What to Use Instead)

Most of us style our hair every day, at least to some extent. Whether you use hairspray to set your style, straightening cream or lotion before flat-ironing, or mousse to add volume or hold curl, styling products are essential for creating the hairstyle you desire. These products, combined with the correct styling tools and techniques for your hair type and cut, are the best way to make sure your hair looks the way you want before you face the world. The question is: Which styling products are worth buying and which ones should you avoid?

It's Hard to Find a Bad Styling Product

First, you'll be glad to know that it's surprisingly difficult to find a truly bad hairstyling product. You may have tried a few and found they didn't meet your needs, but that's most likely because you believed the claims on the label or you bought a product that wasn't right (or was mislabelled) for your hair type. With hundreds of products vying for your attention, whether at the salon or chemist, all of us have bought the wrong product at least once. Of course, it doesn't help that almost every hair-care product label has claims that are misleading, inaccurate or outright false.

So, how can you be sure you're avoiding the really bad styling products and getting great ones? Check out our list below! Our testing revealed some duds that aren't worth your time or money. Along with each bad styling product, we also list a great, inexpensive option to try instead, plus details on the hair type for which it's best. Armed with this list, you'll save money and be sure to find hairstyling products you'll love! Get ready for lots of good hair days...

Hairstyling Products to Avoid–and What to Try Instead

Matrix Biolage Sculpting Jelly ($17)

Why it's bad: This styling gel has a tendency to flake when you brush through your hair, but its biggest issue is the intense fragrance. This also contains several fragrance ingredients capable of causing scalp itchiness and irritation.

To try instead: A lightweight alcohol- and fragrance-free styling gel will keep your tresses shaped and tamed without risking scalp irritation. Try Free & Clear Hair Styling Gel for Sensitive Skin & Scalp ($9.95). If you want to fragrance your hair, spritz some perfume on your hands and rub them through your hair from mid-length to the ends, avoiding the scalp.

TIGI Bed Head Creative Genius Sculpting Liquid ($16.50)

Why it's bad: This styling liquid provides strong hold, but it feels sticky once it sets and it's difficult to brush through. It also contains preservatives that are known skin (scalp) sensitisers.

To try instead: Paul Mitchell Hair Sculpting Lotion ($8.69) is a longstanding favourite for its light to medium hold that leaves hair soft, not sticky. It contains some good conditioning agents to help shield hair from heat damage and is suitable for all hair types, especially for normal to fine or thin hair. This is fragranced, but the scent is subtle.

Frederic Fekkai Full Volume Mousse ($23)

Why it's bad: This liquid-to-foam mousse is designed to add body and fullness to hair, which means applying it to the roots, right next to the scalp. The formula contains a high amount of lemon oil, which is a significant scalp irritant. It also leaves your hair feeling slightly sticky.

To try instead: John Frieda Luxurious Volume Bountiful Body Mousse ($5.99) has a gentle, alcohol-free, lightweight formula that, when used with heat, provides long-lasting body and a healthy bounce. It's ideal for normal to fine or thin hair that's straight, curly or wavy.

Frederic Fekkai Ageless Overnight Hair Repair ($195)

Why it's bad: The price! It's nothing short of outrageous for a hair-care company to charge this much for what's essentially a spray-on silicone product. Despite some intriguing ingredients, this cannot repair hair, regardless of your age or how the damage occurred, because hair is dead ... and once it's damaged, it's damaged. Anything you do to repair it is the equivalent of putting a Band-Aid® on a wound, with the difference being that a wound will heal.

To try instead: Save your money (in this case a lot of money!) and go for an inexpensive yet effective silicone spray instead. You'll find options from chemist favourites like Pantene and L'Oreal as well as from lesser-known inexpensive brands such as Citre Shine and Got2Be. Silicone sprays shouldn't cost more than $10 (which goes for almost all hair-care products), and they're suitable for all hair types, although those with fine or thin hair should apply sparingly.

Carol's Daughter Loc Butter ($17)

Why it's bad: This oil-based styling fluid perpetuates the myth that African-American hair must be greased up to be healthy. The combination of heavy plant oils and wax quickly weighs hair down. It's supposed to "nourish the scalp," but with its fragrant irritants, such as tangerine and grapefruit oils, expect itching and irritation instead!

To try instead: African-American hair often does great with a silicone-based styling fluid. If your hair is thick to coarse, go for a serum texture; if your hair is thin or fine, go for a silicone spray. Try L'Oreal EverSleek Precious Oil Treatment with Argan Oil ($12.99) or Smooth 'n Shine Polishing Instant Repair Hair Polisher, Extra Strength ($5.99).

Pantene Curly Hair Style Hairspray Satin Hold ($3.99)

Why it's bad: This non-aerosol hairspray offers no special benefit for curly hair. That's not such a big deal, but whether your hair is curly or not, trying to brush through this light-hold hairspray results in the product balling up and flaking. Most hairsprays don't do this, so there's no reason to settle for one that does!

To try instead: We like Suave Max Hold Unscented Non-Aerosol Hairspray ($3.49). Note that this does contain a masking fragrance.

Nexxus VersaStyler Artistic Designing Lotion ($12.99)

Why it's bad: Too much fragrance (talk about overpowering!) and a couple of sensitising preservatives combine to make this sticky styling lotion a no-go. The fragrance and preservatives cause scalp itching and irritation. You can try to keep this off your scalp, but it makes more sense to avoid the risk altogether and use a better product.

To try instead: Styling lotions are a great way to get the hold of traditional gels without the crisp, sometimes sticky finish. As mentioned above, Paul Mitchell's Hair Sculpting Lotion ($8.69) is a great option for all hair types. Want more hold from a gel instead? Consider TRESemme Tres Extra Firm Control Gel ($3).

Bonus Favourite Styling Products!

We couldn't resist adding a few more styling products that perform beautifully and are great value:

John Frieda Secret Weapon Flawless Finishing Creme ($5.99)–Ideal for moisturising, styling and smoothing all hair types except fine or thin.

Got2Be Crazy Sleek XL Conditioning Flat Iron & Blow Dry Lotion ($5.99)–Wonderful for styling hair with heat, regardless of texture.

Neutrogena Triple Moisture Silk Touch Leave-in Cream ($6.99)–Provides sleek shine and adds some protection during heat-styling. Suitable for all hair types, but those with fine or thin hair should use just a pea-size dab and avoid applying it to the roots.

L'Oreal Paris Overworked Hair Putty Styling Paste ($4.99)–Provides strong yet pliable hold so you can play with and exaggerate hair texture for lasting results. Best for normal to slightly thick or coarse hair that needs taming.

Dove Hair Therapy Nourishing Oil Care Anti-Frizz Serum ($6.79)–Light serum provides brilliant shine and tames frizz. Great when used to finish your style or mixed with a straightening balm prior to heat styling.

L'Oreal EverSleek Finishing Creme ($8.99)–Light yet able to smooth and tame even the most unruly hair. Doesn't provide any hold, but adds shine and keeps hair from looking fried.

LUSH Cosmetics The Big Tease ($19.95)–A low-shine, medium to strong hold gel/lotion that doesn't leave hair stiff, flaky or sticky! Apply a little for fine hair, more for thick, coarse or frizzy types.

LUSH Cosmetics Dirty Hair Cream($15.95)–Fantastic styling cream for those with any hair type; provides medium, pliable hold that lasts (those with fine hair should try a smaller dab).

And, of course, you can count on Paula's Choice All Over Hair & Body Shampoo and Smooth Finish Conditioner for gentle, effective hair care that's 100% fragrance-free and colour-safe. Using these products and any of the styling options mentioned above, you'll be turning heads with your healthy, shiny hair!


About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books about skincare and makeup. She is known worldwide as The Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula’s Choice Skincare. Paula’s expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international radio, print, and television including:

The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and providing expert advice that solves your skincare frustrations so you can have the best skin of your life!