The Best Volume-Building Products for Fine Hair

My all-time faves for volumizing, thickening and root-lifting. (You're welcome.)
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Michelle Villett
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My all-time faves for volumizing, thickening and root-lifting. (You're welcome.)
Topshop-Unique-spring-2011

Remember the halcyon days of the late '90s and early '00s? For those of us born with fine, straight hair, that was our heyday. It was definitely post-"Rachel" cut, but before the advent of what I call "Hollywood Hair," a.k.a. loose, piecey, beachy waves (otherwise known as the hairstyle that refuses to die). Anyway, there was a period of maybe a couple of years in between where SOOPER fine, SOOPER straight, SOOPER stuck-to-your-head hair was actually in style. Everyone else ran out and got a flat iron, but we didn't need to. Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy was our heroine and life was good.

Sadly, I don't think those days are coming back... evah. Which means that we volume-challenged need to accept that we're just going to have to put in some work. That means forgoing the wash 'n wear at least occasionally in favour of properly styling avec one or more of the bodacious bodifying hair prodz out there.

Now, there are two things to realize: 1) Most of them are mediocre, with a few rare exceptions THAT I WILL TELL YOU ABOUT IN JUST A MOMENT. And 2) You may not be applying them correctly for the results you want. So! Today I'm going to help you out by revealing my top-secret, all-time greatest picks (because if there's one product category I've tested rigorously, it's this one), as well as how to use 'em. Excited? You should be.

THE BEST VOLUMIZING SHAMPOO: TRESemmé 24 Hour Body

Busted Image

The end. No wait—I just started this post, didn't I? Anyhoo... I've tested way more than my share of volume-building shampoos and this one's still on top. The reason is because it contains, like, zero moisturizing ingredients (from what I can tell), so there's none of that weighing-down-your-hair business. AND it's stupidly cheap and widely available at drugstores. (Or order online for $7.15 from Well.ca—free shipping and no minimum order!)

My theory on why 99 percent of high-end volumizing shampoos kind of suck is because they can't help themselves with adding luxurious, expensive moisturizing ingredients that we didn't ask for and which defeat the entire purpose on the label. Now, I'm not gonna lie, you won't want to use this everyday—especially if you colour your hair—because it can be a bit drying. But for those special days when you're putting the effort in? Mais oui.

Make sure to use it with a very lightweight conditioner, on your ends only, so that you don't undo your good work. The matching conditioner is just fine:

Tresemme-24-hour-body-conditioner

(Buy it for $7.15 at Well.ca.) Or if your hair's in pretty good shape, you could just skip conditioner altogether and maybe use a lightweight detangler to comb out.

Honorable mention goes to Kiehl's Ultimate Thickening Shampoo:

Kiehls-Ultimate-Thickening-Shampoo

This one's pricier ($25.50) and actually designed for thinning hair. (Oh the lengths that I will go to!)

BEST MOUSSE AND ALL-AROUND VOLUMIZER: Phyto Pro Intense Volume Mousse

Phyto-Pro-Intense-Volume-Mousse

Okay, so we need to have a moment over this one. I was sent a press sample a little while ago, and as I normally don't get my hopes up with volumizing products (see: paragraph three), I busted it out rather absentmindedly as I was getting ready one evening.

Then I did a double take, because it appeared to have magical thickening powers which to date I have not seen in other mousses. I used it again; same results. So THEN I asked my mom to try it—because she's even more of a volumizing aficionado than I am. Her verdict? Amazeballs (okay, she didn't really say that). But she did make me go and buy her three bottles.

So what I'm saying is that this puppy's a winner. You'll want to apply about an egg-sized amount both as close to the roots as possible and running the remaining bits through the lengths of your hair, so that they thicken up too when you blow-dry (more on blow-drying in a second).

It's around $30 and a little tricky to find as it's not sold everywhere that the regular Phyto line is. (I suggest doing a search of the locations here but calling ahead to make sure they have it.) In Toronto, I got ours at Sudis Salon & Spa at Hazelton Lanes.

BEST ROOT LIFTER: Kiehl's Super Thick Volumizer

Kiehls-Super-Thick-Volumizer

This is an old favourite of mine (and my mom's), for the simple reason that the applicator allows you to get right at the scalp for maximum root-lifting power. It succeeds where many mousses, and other volume-boosting products fail. Word.

That said, you do need to pay attention to how you're drying your hair too. Don't expect any of these prodz to work their magic if you just leave your hair down to air-dry, for example. You need to turn your head upside down and blow-dry it *completely dry* that way, OR lift each section up with your fingers or a round brush so that the roots get dry away from the scalp. Capish? In a pinch, you could also twist your hair up into a bun and let it air-dry that way, but it's not really ideal. And it takes forever!

Just FYI, MOP makes a version of this product called MOP Lemongrass Lift:

Mop-Lemongrass-Lift

I can't really tell the difference. And at the drugstore, an excellent substitute would be good old TRESemmé 24 Hour Body Root Boosting Spray:

Tresemme-24-Hour-Body-Root-Boosting-Spray

(Get it for $5.65 from Well.ca.)

BEST THICKENING MIST: Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray

bumble-bumble-surf-spray

This isn't REALLY a thickening mist, of course. It's a beach spray, which means it's designed to give you that sexy, saltwater, wind-blown look that you get on vacation. Some peeps do use it to encourage a curl, but since I've accepted that curls are #nevahgonnahappen with my stick-straight locks, I use it a bit differently—as a texturizing, thickening spray instead. Sprayed on to damp or even dry hair, it gives you just the right amount of grit (or "guts," as Sally Hershberger likes to say), which you can then brush out once dry... I swear your hair will feel thicker.

I don't use it at the roots, though, so if you want one that multitasks for both roots and lengths, I recommend Sally Hershberger Plump Up Thickening Mist:

Sally-Hershberger-Plump-Up

I talked about it in Friday's editor's picks vid, and while it's not comparable to the Phyto Pro in sheer "Is that really MY hair?" wonder, it's a fine product with zero crunchiness.

BEST THICKENING CREAM: Living Proof Full Thickening Cream

Living-Proof-Full-Thickening-Cream

Should you fancy a creamy product instead of a mist, this is a great option, especially if your hair is on the drier side. I find this too tricky to apply properly to the roots, so I use a root-lifter there and then this for the lengths. (When I'm not singing love songs to my Phyto Pro Mousse, that is.)

BEST SECOND-DAY VOLUMIZING HAIR POWDER: Bit of a tie here, I'm afraid. If you are blonde, I am going to gently guide you toward Clean Dry Shampoo.

Clean-Dry-Shampoo

I raved about it last year, and still heart this stuff—although no, it's not colourless. However. Just like I adore those root-lifting prodz for the applicators, I love this for the pointed tip. The biggest problem with hair powders/dry shampoos is that you need to get close to the roots and hide any telltale signs of white powder by strategically placing it in the under-layers of your hair. This makes it dead easy. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I used it over the weekend and didn't wash my hair from Friday night until this morning. Yowza! But I swear it didn't look manky, and it was tripled in thickness too.

If your hair is darker, however, I recommend a colourless hair powder such as Kevin Murphy Powder Puff:

Also fabulous, although this one doesn't quite get you the same ridonkulous volume as the Clean Dry Shampoo. You basically sprinkle it on to your roots, lifting up as many sections as you want, and then rub it in, where it morphs into a colourless volumizing product. If your hair needs some de-greasing, combine with something like the John Frieda Luxurious Volume Anytime Volume Refresher:

Kevin-Murphy-Powder-Puff
John-Frieda-Volume-Refresher

Check out this video to hear about my glowing review. (And if you're ready to buy, head over to Well.ca, where it's just $10.49.)

BONUS STYLING TIP: Do you ever backcomb? Well, maybe you should. I only do this once in a blue moon, but when I want Very Big Hair, I'll spray my dry roots, section by section, with L'Oréal Paris Elnett, before backcombing them in three short strokes with a Mason Pearson brush. Then you can either put your hair in hot rollers or style however you want... but the backcombing will give you a seriously impressive lift. Just make sure to only do it on the underneath sections of your hair, as you want the top part to look silky-smooth.

Do you struggle with adding volume to your fine hair?
What prodz do you swear by?
Ever tried the backcombing thing, or do you have another technique in your bag of tricks?