Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ideas to Avoid Being a "Product Junkie"

Buying and trying new hair products is fun. But it can take on a life of its own and consume lots of money and time and frustration as each new product does or does not deliver.  Or you get frustrated with your hair. Or accumulate product build-up.

People encounter a lot of challenges in trying to figure out which hair products to use. One is looking at somebody's hair you like or who seems to have everything figured out and think "If I just use what they use, mine will look like that too." WRONG! That almost never happens. Not unless that person's hair is almost exactly the same as yours in shape, width, density, color, and curl or lack thereof. You need to have their styling skills too. And their tolerance for hair styling time.

Your hair is your hair. Products can pull it together and add a nice finish or improve she shape of what is already there. But they cannot transform it completely. That's unrealistic. A finished hairstyle is a combination of several products (cleansing, conditioning, styling), that person's daily hair care, all the physical manipulation that went into creating the style. Products are just part of the equation.

Stopping the cycle of buying and trying new things that you don't really need and getting upset about it is like breaking any habit - difficult to do because buying and trying is also how you find good products. 

How do you know if you have "product overload" or are a "product junkie?"
You hide your new purchases from your family (or yourself - put them where you won't be reminded you bought them).
You feel bad about the expense or feel guilty for making the purchases, but you keep buying new ones.
Buying hair products causes you anxiety  - and thrills.
You have several products you have purchased and tried once and not used again, or used very rarely.
You have strong feelings about buying new things for your hair - feelings that you don't feel for buying tires or cookware or laundry detergent. - You develop emotional attachment to the new products (and brands) you want to try and feel anticipation about trying them. If they don't work - the let down leaves you annoyed, disillusioned. 
Your bathroom is littered with different hair products - it looks like a drugstore. You have a "product graveyard" of things you don't use but won't throw away, just in case they magically start working.
You're thinking about hair products while you are doing other tasks that require your full (or nearly full) attention.

Is this a problem? If you can afford it, if nobody is giving you grief, and you're not feeling bad about yourself or about the waste (you have friends and family to give stuff to!) and hair products are not intruding into your mind when they should not be, then it probably isn't. But if you're not respecting your budget or you worry you won't, or you aren't feeling good about the quest for the perfect product - maybe you need a different approach.

Ideas to Avoid Product Overload:

  • Learn about ingredients - read the ingredient lists from products you like and become familiar with the ingredients. Nothing demystifies those hair products like understanding what goes into them and why it's there. Use my product list by category. Or these posts about what ingredients do here and here.  If you know ingredients, you are less likely to buy things you don't need (or already have).
  • Recognize that big changes come from new hairstyles or adding or removing curls or learning a new styling technique, not from products alone.
  • Search out sample sizes and travel sizes for a lower risk investment.
  • Don't think one product can change everything. It can't. Sure, the right product can do a lot of nice things - but have realistic expectations and make realistic assessments.
  • Set a monthly budget for hair products. Or set a per-product price (or per ounce price limit). Or allow yourself only to buy a certain number of hair products per month. Or require that you deposit an equal or greater amount of money in savings for each hair product you buy. Whatever works to bring your rational and budget-minded part of your self into the decision-making process.
  • Ask yourself if the product fits into your existing routine. Are you willing to add an extra step? If not, don't buy.
  • Know that people are attracted to novelty. Do you want this just because it's new? Are you being manipulated by marketing that exploits your attraction to novelty? Are you buying this because they got a great-looking new label or packaging? Is there something really innovative about this product that makes it different from everything else you've tried?
  • Do you already have a product that is like this one? Have you tried applying that one in several different ways and combinations? If not - exhaust all options before buying new.
  • The person in that advertisement has professionally styled hair, possibly with extensions and digital photo-editing. Be realistic about what you think a product can do based on advertising.
  • Don't be fooled by the "Something-Free" label - free of silicones or sulfates or gremlins or cheese puffs. You find these even on products that never would have contained sulfates or silicones or gremlins or cheese puffs. They're just trying to sell you on what's not in the product. Something you may or may not have been trying to avoid in the first place. 
  • If a promise is too good to be true, it isn't true. If a product promises 50% stronger hair - 50% stronger than what? How was that measured? See right through that baloney. All that matters is how it works for your hair and your lifestyle and budget.
  • Ask yourself if you already have a (shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, mousse) that works reliably. 
    •  If yes, do not buy right away - wait until you run out of what you already have. 
    • If no, what is it about the one you have that does not work? Analyze what you need.
  • Has everything suddenly stopped working for your hair? Maybe you need a trim or a protein treatment or a deep conditioning treatment or a chelating treatment if you have hard water or swim often or a clarifying shampoo if you have lots of product residue in your hair. 
  • Why do you want to buy something new? Seriously. Did you have a bad week? An argument with somebody you care about? Are you feeling lonely? Tired? Bored? Stuck? Anxiety over an upcoming event? Big life changes? Something else in your life that you'd like to change but cannot? Is having a new hair product going to solve any of those problems? That sounds trite - but it is also true. It takes self-control to avoid buying it. Self control requires mental energy. So yeah - when you're tired or busy or distracted or stressed it's more difficult to avoid wanting new products. 
  • If you "fall off the wagon" and buy more than you meant to, don't let that ruin your good intentions. Find a way to make peace with the situation without punishing yourself or being unrealistic. But don't lose your resolve. 
  • If you are in the grip of, "But I really want it!" with the intensity of a 9-year old who wants a new toy that "everybody has," compromise with yourself to wait 2 weeks and try various application techniques with what you already have. If you still want it, wait 1-2 more weeks. If you still want it at that time, either buy it to get it out of your system, or employ other means of avoidance - your emotional attachment to products is strong!
  • Has the weather changed dramatically? Keep notes of what you do to deal with humidity or drizzle or dry weather so when it comes around again, you have a plan. Weather can change the products your hair responds to for better and worse.

Make the most out of "almost perfect" products.
A gel that is too stiff might need to be diluted by applying it to dripping wet hair. Or it might need to be used with plenty of leave-in conditioner to soften up and "flexibile-ize" the hold.

Try as many other application techniques as you can for an "almost perfect" product, how you apply, other products in your hair, different combinations or shampoo or conditioner and styling product, leaving in more conditioner, rinsing out more conditioner, applying products in a different order - get creative.

A leave-in that doesn't quite give the softness you're looking for can be improved by mixing with a little oil (jojoba, argan, avocado) - or layering it with the oil under or over.

A conditioner that doesn't have enough slip can be mixed with a few drops of oil (when you use it).

A creamy styling product that leaves your hair looking heavy when you use it on wet hair (to style alone) might be a perfect product to use a tiny amount of on dry hair to smooth frizz and flyaways, or for shaping up multi-day hair.

Buy a protein additive for making a protein-enriched conditioner - from a cosmetics supply company or Neutral Protein Filler or just mix in some flat beer or some dissolved gelatine.

Make your own deep conditioner with conditioner + oils + aloe vera or honey or agave nectar or baby food bananas or plain yogurt and leave it on with some gentle heat.

Take a hair vacation: If you always wear your hair down - wear it up for a week to give your mind a rest. Accessorize with scarves or headbands or whatever suits your fancy and your workplace or school. If you are striving for a certain result (hello, perfectionists!) - give yourself a week to try for something less than that. Try curling your hair or wearing it straighter - whatever you usually don't do (just don't fry it, stick to lower-heat styling). Sometimes we've got to give ourselves a break to change our attitude and break the spell of the quest for the magical, mystical perfect hair product. Saying "I don't need you" for a whole week can change your reasoning from emotional to more rational. 


  1. Wow. I really, really needed this right now. You are so right. Thank you so much.

    Your blog is a treasure. Thank you for giving your time and yourself. You've helped me so much!!!

  2. I love all your articles. Thank you.

  3. Thanks for this post! Was expecting some platitudes, but your advice is spot on, not just for a product junkie, but also for someone who is just trying to figure the frick out of their hair. Also, your whole blog is fantastic.

  4. Hi, WS, me, again. :-)

    I think I have cured my product junkie-ism -- for now, anyway -- but my curiosity to experiment is liable to be awakened IF one of my fave YouTube vloggers waxes poetic about something...which is why I'm coming to you for the real low-down.

    Eco Styler Olive Oil gel has been my jam for more than half a year now. I really think of it as one of my all-star performers. Recently, I heard a blogger talk about the merits of Eco Styler Crystal. From what I can see, the primary difference between the olive oil one and the crystal one is PVP.

    What can you tell me about PVP? When I went to the beauty supply store today, I bought a tiny jar of the Crystal to experiment with and also picked up my usual huge jug of the olive oil because, well, I KNOW that works.

    Should I at least try the crystal on an upcoming wash n go? Or should I leave well enough alone and stick with what works?

    I just don't want to end up damaging my healthy hair all in the name of experimentation.

    Thank you, as always!

    1. Hi Courtney! I have only used Eco Styler Krystal and Argan Oil versions. The ingredients I found online have PVP in the Olive Oil gel too. The Argan oil gel made my hair flexible but with hold, whereas the Krystal made it frizzy and crunchy. The oil makes a big difference in the end result. To me, Krystal is the stronger hold because of that (no oil).
      PVP is a film-forming, hold-providing ingredient. It forms a clear film over hair and sticks hairs together in just enough places to hold a style. Alone, PVP would be very brittle when dry and have a hard-candy crunch. With glycerin to retain water and keep it flexible, and oil to add more flexibility - you get a flexible-holding gel. Without the oil, you have to rely on the glycerin and any leave-in conditioner in your hair. Glycerin is notoriously unreliable in different sorts weather - for some people.
      It's worth trying the Krystal gel to see whether you like the difference in hold, but you might need to use some extra leave in or oil somewhere in the styling process, just in case.

      I find products with a crunchy hold to be tangly and end up dry feeling, but that's why I squeeze out the crunch with a little oil or conditioner now. It softens things up.
      Good luck! -W

  5. I swear, I don't know what I would do without you, WS! I really, truly don't...Thank you, once again. And, hey, guess what? We have a mutual friend! Quick story: So today is my 40th birthday, and I made a pledge last year that I would cut whatever remained of my heat-damaged ends when I turned 40...and so I kicked off today by paying a visit to my hair stylist. I LOVE her. Today marked my 4th trim with her since I began transitioning in November 2015...well, I start telling her about you, and she goes, "Oh, mean Wendy of Science-y Hair Blog!" I was floored. She basically co-signed with me in talking about how much of a genius you are and how your knowledge knows know bounds. Her name is Melissa Stites (Deva-trained hair stylist from There Once Was a Curl), and I told her I would mention that I saw you today! :-) Small (and wonderful) this curly community is! And I thank the heavens for the people I've met along the way like you and back to Eco, lol: No, ma'am. I think I will leave the Krystal alone, thankyouverymuch. I only spent 3 bucks on the small jar, so I'll just give it to my daughter to play with on her baby dolls, lol. Quick question about the Eco Olive Oil gel: I mine does not have PVP in it, which is why I REALLY don't want to start experimenting with PVP now. (Is it possible that PVP is hidden in another ingredient?) The ingredients of my gel are as follows: Water, carbomer, hydrolized wheat protein, glycerin, Amino-2-methyl-1-propanol, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, polysorbate 20, tetrasodium EDTA, olive oil, fragrance (parfum) C1 19140 yellow 5, and, love and pride.

    1. Sorry this is so late! You know Melissa Stites!? She is such a cool person and so talented. I'm several hundred miles away, but I "know" her from online forums. And I know of her work. Your hair is in such good hands. :)

      That is interesting that there's no PVP in the Eco Olive Oil gel - it's not hidden in the ingredient list you copied. But I also wonder if it was not listed by mistake. Is the Hold Level listed as "10" on your jar?

      On ECOCO's website, the ingredients are listed as follows - so I wonder if they changed the product: ---"Water (Aqua), Carbomer, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, PVP, Glycerin, Aminomethyl Propanol, Sodium Hydroxymethylglycinate, Polysorbate 20, Tetrasodium EDTA, Olive Oil, Fragrance, Blue #1, Yellow #11. Love and Pride." --- The Hold Level says 10.
      If they have indeed changed ECO Olive oil gel to have stronger hold, Fantasia IC has an Olive oil gel that might be very similar. There's a tiny bit of PVP - but it's probably there to add a little texture to the gel at that low a concentration. Here's a link:

      Best wishes - W

    2. First things first: I love me some Melissa Stites. I call her my Fairy Curl Mother. LOVE. Her. The End. I am so grateful that she is only a short drive away. (If you look at her professional FB page or my blog, you'll see a video I taped of she and I talking while she cut my hair on April 1 (my birthday)...

      God, I swear I value your wisdom. Thank you, once again about the Eco Olive Oil info. I've again checked both jars I have on hand and both don't list PVP -- yet the hold level on both jars is 10. Still, I'll stick to this and refrain from using the Krystal.

      So I do have another question, which I realize it may be difficult for you to answer because I can't for sure tell you about my hair's porosity. I've long thought that I have low porosity -- my hair behaves as such. But according to the Low porosity rules, my hair shouldn't like too much protein. But the Eco has protein in it, as does the conditioner I've been using the past two weeks, and my hair has never looked so awesome!!!

      So here's my question: I've started using V05 strawberry moisture milks conditioner after Melissa told me about how it (like Suave) is an old "tried and true" that curlies have long used before the days of all these new shiny, sexy curl lines.

      Well, I LOVE it. THE BEST conditioner I've used to date, period. (Ingredients: Water (Aqua, Cetyl Alcohol, Cetrimonium Chloride, Stearalkonium Chloride, Fragrance, Glyceryl Stearate, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Disodium EDTA, Propylene Glycol, soy milk protein, Fragaria Vesca (Strawberry) Leaf Extract, Polysorbate-20, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Tocopheryl Acetate (Vitamin E), Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Niacinamide (Vitamin B3), Biotin (Vitamin H), Red 33 (CI 17200).

      So, because this conditioner has soy milk protein, my question to you is: Am I putting too much protein on my hair with this V05 coupled with the Eco? And will this f-up my hair over time? Should I be alternating between Suave strawberry (no protein) and this V05?

      Pray tell.

      Thank you!!

    3. Hi, WS! On the heels of my last inquiry I sent you (regarding whether you think my using V05 Strawberry Moisture Milk Conditioner AND Eco Styler Olive Oil Gel together will likely result in my hair becoming overloaded with protein, despite the fact that the two products have been giving me the most awesome results for the past month...)

      So today -- just now, I just learned of a new "cheapie" gel that A LOT of curlies swear by (it's currently out of stock at the five Walmarts closest to me: It's called Super Wet Hair Styling Gel. I'm mildly intrigued to try it as an alternative to my beloved Eco Olive Oil only because the Super Wet gel doesn't have any protein in it. Here are the Super Wet Gel ingredients: Water, Triethanolamine, Carbomer, Pure Acrylic Polymer, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Fragrance, Propylene Glycol, Edta, D&C Violet 2.

      Do you see any red flags here?

      I've discovered my all-time holy grail combo of V05 Strawberry Moisture Milks Conditioner + Eco Styler Olive Oil Gel...but I fear protein overload may be in my future, and, if so, then I'll need to have protein-free alternatives on standby (ie Suave Strawberry Conditioner and, perhaps this Super Wet Gel to replace my Eco).

      I really value your thoughts on this!

      Thank you so much,


    4. My hair is lower porosity and medium to coarse - and it likes protein a lot. But I also swim and spend time in the sun and wind and things that tend to stress hair out so it needs the hydration from protein.

      I'm reading the ingredient to that V05 and wondering how I've missed it - it's the same as my beloved old Suave Strawberry before they changed the formula several years ago! I must go get some.

      I don't think you need to worry about the Soy milk protein in this product. Once you get down to where the fragrances and preservatives (Methylisothiazolinone) are listed, the concentration is below 1%. It's enough protein to boost hydration for hair a teeny bit, it might be a problem for hair that is very, very picky about protein. But it's honestly so little protein - don't anticipate a problem, but do keep an eye on it.

      Enjoy the new-found, old tried-and-true product. If your hair starts to act wonky and nothing else has changed, you might take a short break and use the protein-free Suave.
      I hope you had a good Mother's Day! W

    5. I don't see any big red flags for the Super Wet styling gel. No glycerin - that could be good for people who don't do well with glycerin. Glycerin in hair gels tends to help the gel dry with some flexibility instead of brittleness. That's more a cosmetic issue than a hair-health issue. But you might need to modify what you use with the Super Wet gel vs. the Ecostyler.

    6. Your new haircut! It's cute, it's beautiful, it's fun! I hope you're having a great time with it and it makes you feel fantastic.

    7. Oh, WS. I keep saying Thank you, Thank you, Thank you to you in all of my inquiries to you—because, trust me, I really, TRULY, mean it. And I can honestly say that I appreciate each of your subsequent replies even more than the last. You are, frankly, the bee’s knees. Thank you for your kind compliment in your last reply, as well as for sharing your knowledge.

      So, let me tell you what’s transpired since my last inquiry…

      I paired the Super Wet gel with the V05 Strawberry Moisture Milk (which I mixed with water and used as a leave-in) and…drumroll, please…the results were epic!!! It was fire. It was the best wash n go ever. Even now, as I type this, that was n go is on DAY FIVE and going strong. I neglected to add in my last inquiry that another reason why I hunted down Super Wet is because it is also glycerin free—it is, in fact, the only (cheap, yet often raved about) gel I’ve been able to find that’s free of both glycerin and protein. (Although, sidebar: my particular jar of Super Wet DOES have keratin as one of the last ingredients, so I’m wondering that since keratin is so far down in the list whether it makes an impact or not…)

      However, right *after* I ordered the Super Wet but *before* it was delivered to my doorstep, I started reading rave reviews of another gel I had never heard about before: WetLine Xtreme Professional Styling Gel. The awesome reviews about Super Wet, from what I can tell, have been exceeded only by this WetLine Xtreme.

      Now, the thing is, though, while WetLine Xtreme is protein-free, it does have glycerin. Here’s the tale of the tape: Water, Carbomer, Triethanolamine, Polyacrylate Acid, Glycerin, Fragrance, Phenylcarbinol, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, Panthenol, Aloe Vera Extract, Tetrasodium EDTA, Colorant FD&C Violet 2.

      So, I go on the hunt for WetLine. And it’s cheap, too! Under 3 bucks for a 35.26 oz jar. I grab three jars—without even trying it. This weekend, I’m going to try the WetLine paired with the V05 Strawberry Moisture Milk. Now, of course, I never know what will happen until I try it. But my hunch is that another damn good wash n go is on the horizon.

      Let’s assume I’m right. My question to you is this: Which gel do you think will perform the best during the summer months. I’m in Michigan, which is moderately humid; and we’ll be spending two weeks at the Jersey Shore, which can be very humid.

      Here’s the list of ingredients on my jar of Super Wet: Water, Triethanolamine, Carbomer, Acrylic Acid, Fragrance, Hydantoin-Methylchloroisothiazolinone-Methylisothiazolinone, Propylene Glycol, EDTA, D-Panthenol, Keratin, D&C Violet 2.

      I’m hoping you say I can use the WetLine Xtreme during the summer (despite its glycerin content) because it’s easier for me to get my hands on the WetLine Xtreme; therefore, my plan it to save the two jars of Super Wet I have for the wintertime.

      What do you think? Man, WS, if there was ever an inquiry that has me waiting with bated breath for your reply, it’s this one, lol. Thank you, again, for your time.

    8. Hi Courtney,
      Going from the ingredients alone, they look very similar. The hold is provided by either Polyacrylate acid (WetLine) or Acrylic acid (SuperWet) which aren't the same thing but my not-quite-wild guess is that the Polyacrylate acid has better humidity resistance (higher molecular weight, longer-chain polymer and all that). Assuming they're giving us the correct names. We can't always assume that.
      So that means the power of the hold-providing ingredient might outweigh the humidity-grabbing power of the glycerin in the WetLine. If your hair is generally pretty glycerin-friendly and doesn't get dry or dull or lose definition with glycerin, this might be just fine for "moderately humid" weather. Maybe even high humidity. You'll probably get a rainy day to test it on. A rainy or foggy day with a dewpoint above 55° would be the ultimate test. If it fails the "rainy day" test - you can always fall back on the SuperWet for the highest humidity.

      I have a list of humidity-resisting ingredients and products I should post on the blog because it keeps growing and growing. "Polyacrylate" would definitely be one of those ingredients that should resist falling apart in humidity fairly well. It's all ready to go, I'll post that shortly.
      Best wishes! -W

    9. Oh. My. GOD. Thank you so much. You suggestion of what I should do (i.e. conduct a "rainy day" test), actually read more like a recap of the last week and a half...I did indeed do just that. And, get this: The WetLine aced that test with flying colors! So, to the Jersey Shore it shall go with me. :-)

      Thank you ever so much, once again. I look forward to the publication of your list of humidity-resisting ingredients and products. :-)

      Have a fantastic weekend!

    10. Triple Product Score! Humidity-resistant, easy to find, affordable! That's great to hear. I hope it's a fun-filled and safe trip.

  6. I have bipolar disorder (type II) and I can get both obsessive and spend-y when I'm hypomanic. During my most recent hypomanic episode, the obsession du jour was hair. This was mostly harmless (I learned a lot from this blog, actually) except for the urge to buy new products (and a new hair dryer). Luckily, I managed to resist nearly all of those urges (I bought a product with Extra Care Bucks from CVS...if it's not real money, it doesn't count, right?) but it was difficult. I'm definitely going to apply some of these suggestions the next time that happens, especially trying new techniques and tweaking my "almost perfect" products.

    1. Hi Llyrra, Creativity counts, right? And it is also creativity and the need for exploration and understanding that drives us to collect information and products or ingredients or recipes. Your creative solution with the CVS Extra Care Bucks is pretty cool. I'm glad some of these tips were helpful! I like the flexibility of tweaking "almost perfect" products. Sometimes I need to go back to the regular thing vs. try to improve it. Best wishes - W