Here are my best tips for adding lift and shape to hair that prefers to lie flat against your scalp. I’ve been dealing with this problem for decades so here’s my best advice.
Why is your hair flat?
There are four reasons your hair lies flat. It’s thin, it’s fine, it’s naturally very straight or it’s oily. And in the worst scenario it’s all four. You need to know what you are dealing with in order to apply the right fixes for your flat hair.
At menopause most of us lose hair as our hormones change. You’ll probably have seen lots of hair strands in the shower around the age of fifty or so. It’s no cause for alarm but it does mean that over 50 our hair might be different and suit different styles.
Illness and natural aging can make hair even thinner and many women over 70 have much thinner hair than they had ever envisaged.
Some of us have a reasonable amount of hair but it’s very fine and silky. That looked great in the seventies when middle parts (UK partings) and hair like heavy drapes were the fashion. But after 50 most of us no longer suit long straight hair. However our silky smooth hair slips easily out of a style and even out of bobby pins and clasps as it demands to lie flat.
Silky hair is usually straight. Curly hair usually has a coarser shaft and accepts styling more easily so that it’s possible to shape it more softly for your older face.
Oily hair is much less of a problem after menopause. Where we might have had to wash hair every day we may find it will last a week between shampoos. But leaving it too long before washing can allow oil to build up near the roots and this gives the impression of flatter hair. Scroll down to my comments about dry shampoo.
At every stage of doing your hair you need to be aware of what you can do to enhance the body.
The right cut adds volume
This is paramount.
Over 50 we generally need softness around our face if we wear medium or longer hair. So a bob may look better with long bangs (side bits). But make sure they have a slight curve in the direction you prefer – that only takes seconds each morning with a brush and hairdryer.
A pixie cut with short hair all over can be a great way to deal with flat hair. Just use a little product in it (see below).
Or a pixie with a longer top section with either spiky fronds (get out the product!) or half-curls (get out the tongs) or smoothed sideways (like Clare Underwood) can be very flattering and work well with flat hair.
Take a picture to the salon to show what you like but accept your stylist’s advice on whether that style is achievable and manageable with your fine or thin hair.
For lots more styles like these pictures take a look at my post 25 flattering easy-care hairstyles for women over 50.
Do hairdressers still do perms?
They do indeed. Of course there’s much more emphasis on maintaining the condition of the hair especially the ends than back in the day.
Speaking from experience a loose perm is God’s gift to the woman with fine straight hair. It doesn’t fully style your hair – you’ll still need to do that with a brush or straighteners. But it gives you the innate bounce that makes styling faster and last longer.
You’ll probably have to choose between lightening your hair and perming it. Artificially blonde hair is just too delicate for the perm solution.
I’ve gone for the blonde highlights and said goodbye to the permanent wave. But I may reconsider in a year or two. Especially if I decide to go for a shorter cut.
Perms can be so useful in avoiding (motor bike) helmet head with short cuts like the pixie.
But you’ll need to get a (good) hairdresser to look at you hair before booking in. Damaged and thinning hair might be deemed too delicate.
Do layers improve thin hair?
Layering can be good for some types of thin, difficult to style hair as it helps hair to fall in a certain way to create the style. Short layers are easier and quicker to style. Products used on layered hair often work better too. If you add mousse to the roots of a very short layer at the top of your crown you will get a much greater lift than adding it to the roots of a shoulder length blunt cut bob.
However fine hair sometimes looks better blunt cut. That could be a very short bob with or without a heavy blunt fringe (US bangs). Or it could be a mid-length bob with or without bangs around the face for softness. It will need regular trimming to stay sharp at the ends.
Should you color fine or thin hair?
As well as the cut you should definitely invest in color.
A good stylist will know how to use color to give the impression of volume. Using lowlights and highlights can make hair look bulkier and natural. Using a top color and an under color on a short cut can emphasise the different lengths and give a more blocked and structured look.
Beware one flat color such as mahogany or blonde. These can look fine for thicker hair but won’t do much for thin hair.
How to keep thin or fine hair in top condition
Flat hair that is damaged is even more difficult to style. It can be lifeless through too much lightening or sun. Even oily hair gets split ends.
So make sure you have your hair trimmed regularly. Timing depends on how fast your hair grows and how accurate your cut needs to be. But never go more than eight weeks between trims.
If you are still washing your hair every morning in the shower, after the age of 50 or so consider washing it slightly less often.
Always use a conditioner but don’t use it near the roots. If you have naturally silky or even oily hair perhaps just use it on the ends.
You can carry on using your preferred conditioner immediately after your shampoo. But today there are lots of types of conditioning products for wet, damp or dry hair. Experiment to see which works best for your hair type. Your hair may have changed over the years and your regular conditioner might not be the best choice any longer.
After using a light after-shampoo conditioner for 50 years I now use an avocado-based deep conditioner about once a month in the shower and the rest of the time use a non-greasy hair oil on damp or dry hair. I apply it by massaging a few drops through the ends of my hair then comb or brush my full head so that a little is distributed along the whole hair shaft.
Look for conditioners and shampoos that claim to be volumizing. Again you’ll need to try several and judge the results yourself. What helps me might not help you and vice versa.
Scroll down tothe end of this post to see my recommended items relevant to this section and available on Amazon.
How to dry hair to give it body
It’s a great temptation to step out of the shower and let your hair dry naturally, especially if you are retired. This is good for keeping your hair in condition but if you have flat hair your style will be disappointing.
I have a friend who gets a short cut every couple of months but never styles her hair. She doesn’t even own a hairdryer. Her secret is slightly rough hair with a natural bend in it. She couldn’t style it dead straight even with straighteners – it just springs back away from her scalp within an hour or two.
Us flat-heads have the opposite problem and need all the help we can get to mimic that natural bend which is what gives hair bounce and body. And bouncier hair makes us look healthy and younger so it’s well worth the effort.
- Step one – towel dry properly. Start by blotting your wet hair with a dry towel, squeezing it gently. Don’t rub furiously at your scalp or your fine hair can knot and make brushing difficult. Thin hair can shed if you are over-energetic. Give the roots a little more attention by spending longer with the towel there but always just dabbing or gently squeezing the moisture out. If you hair is still very wet then set the hair dryer to a medium setting and move it quickly across your hair as you use your fingers to separate and lift small sections of hair. This is a muzzy dry. Don’t try to style. Don’t let your hair dry fully. Work mainly on the roots and try to leave the ends damper.
- Step two – apply products sparingly. Work a small amount of volumizing mousse or other product into the roots of your damp hair lifting sections of hair up to get the product right where you want it. Read the product instructions. If it says pea-size don’t add a huge dollop hoping it will work better. Use your finger tips to move the product into position but touch as little as possible. Give it a moment to work.
Some products recommend using on dry hair so add them later.
- Step three – Combing through. Comb your hair through from root to tip so that it all lies neatly. If you use a brush take care not to pull hard as this can stretch the hair. Wet hair is easily stretched and damaged.
Your hair and scalp may benefit from a massage. Either use your finger tips to move the scalp across the cranium in circular movements or use a soft hairbrush. Hold it against the roots of your hair and move it gently in all directions being careful not to tangle your hair but feel your scalp move.
- Step four – sectioning ready for the hairdryer. Now section your hair with large plastic grips or twirl it into knots and clip these in place with bobby pins (UK hairgrips).
Start by revealing the under hair and clipping the top layers out of the way. Once the under hair is dry move to the hair higher up and finally to the top layer. Each time clip the wet hair out of your drying area. Do this on both sides and at the back. It’s important to section the hair because you will be using the hairdryer to start to add lift. And that is easier the thinner the section of hair you work on. That lift needs to be present right from the underhair upwards to the visible hair. This is only achievable if you dry your hair in sections even if it is thin.
- Step five – using the hairdryer to add body. You can use a round brush or your fingers to pull the hair roots at right angles or even more steeply from the scalp. I usually do my fringe using my fingers. I do the first layer of hair using my fingers too then I use a circular brush.
You could experiment on holding your head down and drying your hair that way. This helps dry the roots but don’t do your whole head this way or you’ll be in for a shock when you straighten up.
Pull the brush enough to apply pressure to the roots and put the hairdryer (use a flat nozzle ideally) under the hair. Make sure the air is blowing towards your scalp only for the roots.
As you move down the length of your hair blow from above your hair and in the direction root to tip. Turn the brush to make a wave. Use the pulling turning motion of the brush to smooth your hair section all the way down.
Put the hairdryer near your hair but not touching. If your hair is thin keep the temperature medium. Don’t run the dryer up and down the hair. If it is still wet by the time the dryer reaches the tips then do the section again working in the same way.
Carry on with each section in turn.
Don’t allow your hair to become too dry especially at the ends. If it’s dry spritz it with water.
You should now have a neat look with a slight bounce.
- Step Six Heated tools. If you are going to use straighteners (US flat iron) or other heat appliances then this is the time to do that. Otherwise finish styling with your brush or fingers pulling on the hair especially the ends to give you the direction your style requires.
Scroll down tothe end of this post to get my recommendations for products I like to use during styling and drying – all available on Amazon.
How to use straighteners to give lift to flat hair
If using heated tools think about applying some heat protection product.
I like to use my straighteners starting right at the root. Contemporary stylists often start a bit lower than this but that’s because on young people the modern style of curls starting just above the ears looks good. It stops the big hair look of the eighties. But we want the big (well bigger) hair look so use the power of technology as close to your scalp as you can – but don’t burn yourself!!!
Pull the straighteners or styling wand or tongs slowly through the hair from root to tip with the same motion you used with the circular brush. Despite their name straighteners can be used to give wave or curl to hair either along the whole length or just at the ends. Pay attention not to pause along the way or you’ll get an odd kink. If the ends don’t look quite right give them another twirl.
You may not need your heated tools on full heat. It depends how much hair you have, how much bend you need and the condition of your hair. A short straightish style with a bit of lift and wave probably only needs medium heat. If your power tools only have hot or off then think about buying something more modern with several heat levels.
A finish with cold air from the dryer can help to set the wave.
I’ve listed a couple of good heated appliances which are available on Amazon. Scroll down to the end of the post to see what I recommend.
Tips for giving extra bounce to limp hair
- Use dry shampoo even though your hair is clean
If the last time you used dry shampoo was as a teenager with no time to wash her hair then it’s the moment to rediscover it. After decades in the wilderness dry shampoo is back. Stylists use it all the time to add body. Just rub some in gently especially at the roots and carefully style. It roughens each strand enough to give the finished style more body.
- Use hairspray on the roots
One product I find useful is hairspray. I spray some along the roots of my hair before I gently dry it. Between restyles I add a bit more, always to the roots. I lift up small strands of hair and give a quick spray to the roots then use my finger to messy it between the hairs then I move on to the next strand. This gives a slightly messy root area. If I am careful not to brush this out then it adds quite a bit of lift.
- Use hairspray with rollers
You can also use hairspray along the length of your hair then roll it onto large Velcro or bristle rollers. Rather than waiting for your hair to dry you are just waiting for the spray to set. Remove the hair from the roller very carefully keeping the wave in then separate and push into position with your finger tips. If you brush your hair you’ll move all the lift to the ends or get that pudding bowl bounce.
- Style the top section of your hair daily. There’s no need to roller all your hair. The section from forehead to crown is what matters the most. So you could just use two or three rollers one behind the other to wind your hair backwards. This also helps to give a quick fix to hair in the morning before you leave home.
- Roll hair to the back or opposite side. Hair rolled backwards needs to be pushed to the side you want once it’s out of the roller. Winding it backwards straight off your forehead helps give body when it flops into place. For even more body you can roll your hair to the opposite side then flip it fully over to get a nice bounce to the hair. It’s great for softening the line of your style next to your face.
- Change your hair parting. Some people like to change the side of their part (UK parting) every so often. Personally I don’t find this works very well. The hair certainly lifts from the roots but –on my hair at least – it has an unnatural bend to it and I need to keep flicking at it to keep it from flopping back to its usual position.
- Finish with hairspray. If you need your style to look its best all day then use hairspray lightly all over. Use a flexible hold unless you have a dramatic cut that needs strong definition.
- Use teasing. Backcombing or teasing. Yes, we learnt it in the Swinging Sixties but it’s never really gone out of fashion, it’s just got more discreet. Just tease the first inch or so of your hair then very carefully smooth over the very top strands so it’s not too obvious.
I use it to give lift to my hair if I pull it back from my face into a bun, an updo with a clasp or a half updo . Sometimes I even tease my roots before I put my hair into a loose casual braid. I usually use a tail comb (yes I had one of those in the sixties too!) to ease out a few strands of top hair to cover the teased effect and to add a less ‘done’ more casual look.
- Try hair extensions. Did you realize that many people use hair extensions to add volume to flat hair? Well I didn’t until I watched the Netflix series Grace & Frankie and saw Jane Fonda take her clipped-in hairpiece out of the back of her shortish hair. So that’s how she looked so alive! You could try for ever to get the same lift as she has but without that added lock of hair you’d never look quite as good. (Of course the face helps too!)
So if you have a special event coming up and you really need to look your best, talk to a hairdresser who is experienced with hair extensions about this option. Although they are called extensions they don’t need to add length they can be shorter and add volume and thickness. You’ll need to practise a lot to get the hair extension to look just right and to stay in as it should – especially as you are probably using the extension near or at the back of your crown. So I’d recommend using your hair stylist.
You could always get an idea of the difference extensions might make by buying an inexpensive faux-hair piece and practising in the mirror.
Here’s a link to short hair extensions on Amazon.co.uk. And short hair extensions on Amazon.com. I can’t add them to my recommendations because I’ve never tried them.
Got any more tips for women over 50 with thin or fine hair? Let me know in the comments and I’ll add them in.
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Products recommended for adding body to flat hair
Amazon is proving to be such a useful resource especially during lockdown and I know many readers, like myself, are of an age when we feel vulnerable to the Coronovirus and would prefer to use online retail whenever possible. However, I would strongly suggest only purchasing known brands on Amazon as products used on your hair and skin need to be well tested.
So I’ve made a list of my recommendations for most of the products I talk about in this article. They are all for thin or flat hair and worth taking a look at. But there are masses of good products available these days so use my list as a starting point on Amazon then broaden your search of similar products in the same category if you’d like to compare.
My list falls into Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Not all products are identical on each site.
For readers in the US and who use Amazon.com
The Revlon Volumizing Hot Air Brush. It’s able to turn your hair – to get a wave – as well as smooth your hair. It’s got a cool end if you like to use two hands to manipulate it. It is specifically designed to be placed very near your scalp and it’s two heat settings plus cool give you just what you need with thin or very fine hair. A hairdryer and styling brush in one tool.
The Revlon Salon Copper and Ceramic Flat Iron. You can buy it in 4 widths from 1″ to 2″ depending on how long your hair is (shorter hair needs narrower plates). It has more heat settings than you will ever need so however thin your hair you’ll get the right temperature. And its rounded plates mean you can create waves and curls easily.
Sectionning aligator clips for keeping wet hair out of the area you are drying. I’m suggesting these because they can hold thick wet hair or much finer hair. For the underlayer you’ll need a clip that has enough grip to hold all the rest of that side of your hair up high. I’ve found when I’ve bought simpler flat ‘duckbill’ clips they are often not strong enough to do this. These are plastic so they won’t heat up and burn your scalp.
Paul Mitchell Extra-Body Boost. This is sprayed on your roots before drying to give extra lift there. Watch the useful video on this page showing how to use this product and a couple of others in the range to give waves, bend and curl.
Paul Mitchell Extra-Body Sculpting Gel. Work this through your hair before or whilst drying if you need more hold eg on full but fine hair. See the above link for a video.
Garnier Fructis Instant Bodifier Shampoo. This is a dry shampoo that will help if you have naturally oily hair but for everyone else will aid lift when drying or styling. Nice ingredients.
For readers in the UK and anyone that uses Amazon.co.uk
The Revlon Copper and Ceramic Straighteners. See the description above.
The Revlon Hair Dryer and Volumiser Brush. See the description above. See the video on this page too.
Hair Sectionning Clips. These plastic clips are less heavy-duty than the ones I’ve recommended for the US. They still have small teeth though. No national stereotyping intended hahaha. If you have longer hair you’ll probably need to use more than one to keep the top layers out of the drying area. Perfect for shorter hair though.
Paul Mitchell Extra Body Boost Root Lifter Spray. See the description above and the video on that page.
Paul Mitchell Extra Body Sculpting Foam. Use on wet hair from root to tip then dry and style. Conditions and gives lift and hold. The video on the US page is useful.
John Frieda Volume Lift Dry Shampoo. Reduces any greasiness at the roots and helps texture and give body to your hair when you style it especially if using rollers.
Elnett Heat Protect Volume Hair Spray Use this on the roots before using heated styling tools or to finish and hold your hair after styling.
Leave a comment below if you purchase any of these products and say how you thought they worked for you. mention your hair type and length too. It helps me in my recommendations (I have medium length full but very fine flat hair) as I can olny speak from my own experience and some research. Readers would love to know what you think too.
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