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How to manage thick hair, from the right haircut to the best products that help tame, detangle and nourish

Image: Pexels
Image: Pexels

Going through a bottle of conditioner a week? Read this.

My family is blessed with the thick hair gene. My 80-year-old dad still has a head of thick, bright white hair, and the women in my family require at least two stylists every time we get a blowdry. Growing up, I had Rapunzel-like hair down to my bum.

My mum would spend hours – or what felt like hours – gently de-tangling and brushing my hair back into bunches or pigtails, before securing with a velvet Alice band, or those plastic snap clips all '90s babies will remember.

Needless to say, she cried when I chopped half of it off aged 12 (sorry mum).

Fast forward to almost 30, and as well as thick hair being a blessing, it's most definitely a curse too.

Styling is a colossal struggle, particularly on those days when I've pressed snooze one too many times (read: most days) and don't have time to do anything more than brush it back into a messy bun.

I still encounter the problem all thick-haired gals can relate to: brushing just makes it fluffy; no amount of conditioner is ever enough; and styling just takes hours.

So, I called upon renowned hairdresser Michael Van Clarke to help answer my thick hair woes for good, from the best haircut to the right hairbrush and products.

What's the best haircut for thick hair?

“Thick, healthy hair isn’t usually the problem," says Michael, “often it’s the haircut; and the roughness or lack of pliability that makes thick hair – especially coarser hair – difficult to style.”

The key, Michael says, is in precision layering. “One-length, A-line haircuts on already thick hair make it such hard work – long-layered shaping is the answer, particularly for long or mid-length cuts.”

This is best done when the hair is dry, as opposed to a traditional wet-cut technique, because this is when the hair is in its natural three-dimensional state and its unique features and type can be taken into account.

Michael calls this is ‘Diamond Dry Cut’ approach; sculpting dry so you can see the shape of hair evolve. This is particularly useful for thick hair as precise layering can add movement and balance, to ensure hair isn't too bottom-heavy and ‘pulled down’ towards the ends, making it flat and lifeless.

Precision layering also cuts home-styling times in half, Michael says. “Clients of mine used to have bog-standard, one-length haircuts that were totally inappropriate on such thick, textured hair. Their home-styling times dropped from an entire hour to just 10 minutes.”

What sort of hairbrush should I use?

“Poor-quality hairbrushes can do enormous damage, both from the friction the bristles create on the hair shaft, to the snagging, tangling and breakage a poorly-designed brush will cause,” says Michael. “The type of bristle, the density of bristle, and the variation of bristle length are all critical to how the brush work.”

High-quality brushes come at high price points, but they're one of the best investments you can make for your hair – a good hairbrush should last years, if not a lifetime.

Avoid brushing wet hair (stick to a wide-tooth comb) and try not to over-brush, Michael says. Long, thick hair may benefit from a paddle brush with a round brush for styling.

Nylon bristles are great at detangling, as are boar bristles, which use the natural oils from your scalp and gently detangle without harsh pulling. There are plenty of synthetic and vegan options on the market, too.

What are the best products for thick hair?

When it comes to keeping thick hair healthy and manageable, the key is finding nourishing products that don't weigh hair down. “Products that properly hydrate and soften the hair will put a more fluid, glossy vibe back into the look,” says Michael.

"Avoid silicone ingredients that displace water, making hair more prone to frizz and breakage. Look out for dimethicone or cyclopentasiloxane on the ingredients list, or other versions of ‘-cone’ or ‘-conol’.

This story originally appeared on Glamour UK

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