Where You Apply Product On Your Hair Really Matters

Whether you’re going for the soft bend of a beachy Beyoncé wave or a sleek-and-straight style à la Gwyneth, a lot of decisions go into doing your hair — like which products and tools to use. But when trying to achieve a specific look, it's also important to know which part of the hair to focus on.

The section you zero in on makes a difference — and you can save yourself a lot of time and energy if you know where and when to make an effort. Ahead, we asked some top industry pros for tips on when to prioritize the roots, the tips, and everything in-between.

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
The Roots
Your scalp is the birthplace of new hair follicles, and your roots are responsible for giving your look volume and making it last. Because it has this power, it's important to pay attention to this area as soon as you get out of the shower. Ricky Pennisi, founder of RI CI Salon, recommends starting your styling routine with a product specifically made for this section of your hair.

“I put a root-booster [he recommends ColorProof’s LiftIt Foam Mousse] on [clients], and work on getting the roots dry first because the ends are going to dry quicker on their own,” Pennisi explains. “You know how when you let your hair dry on its own, you’re going to get that really weird, fuzzy puffiness? You want to control that from the beginning."
Dry roots are also crucial to maintaining the longevity of a style, because if they're still damp when you finish, your whole look will collapse. After applying product, Pennisi says to lift your hair at the roots with your hands and blowdry them directly. Then, use a round brush to set your roots by grabbing the hair with the brush and applying heat from the blowdryer for a few extra seconds. Let that area cool, and work your way down to the ends with the dryer.

If you're going for a voluminous look, David Mallett — the man behind the tresses of Julianne Moore, Natalie Portman, and Naomi Campbell — suggests adding a bit of product, like mousse, to the roots post-blowdry as well. “We also do a bit of root-lift after a blowdry to reinforce hair movement,” says Mallett. “We’re doing a lot of 1980s perm looks at the moment. The Jim Morrison look with curls around the face — very bohemian and cool.”

Not all products are good for the roots, though. This is where hair gets greasiest, so you want to avoid over-applying and steer clear of anything too moisturizing or oily. If the roots are looking a little oily and you’re styling your hair dry, Mallett suggests spritzing on a little dry shampoo to soak up the grease.

Photographed by Winnie Au.
The Mid-Shafts
Texture, fullness, and curl all live and die in the mid-section. “I focus on the mid-section of clients' hair when we are doing bouncy, big French-style blowouts,” says Mallett. He uses a big round brush on large sections to achieve that voluminous Brigitte Bardot style.

This area's where you should focus your hot tools. “Just about any effect can be achieved with a curling iron or a flat iron,” says Mallett. “We do waves, beachy looks, big curls, irregular curls.” For hair types that generally don’t hold a style or curl, he goes for a tighter curl at the roots.

Pennisi says it’s important to focus on the size of a section when curling or straightening. “The bigger the section, the looser the curls are going to be and the further you’re going to be from the roots."

As for products, Pennisi says you want to make sure you’re protecting this section of your hair before you hit it with styling tools. He suggests applying a frizz-fighting product throughout, like the RI CI Velvet Serum or Thirsty Styling Gel.

“Don’t use a flat iron or curling iron to control frizz,” Pennisi warns. He also suggests adding a pre-thermal product to protect and seal the cuticle when hair is still damp (Oribe’s Royal Blowout Heat Styling Spray is a great one). After you’re done, add a little hairspray to give tresses some grit and movement.

Photographed by Lauren Perlstein.
The Ends
The tips are the most susceptible to breakage — bad ends mean dry hair, says Mallett. They’ve been with you the longest, so they've experienced the most damage from heat, products, and pollution. When using hot tools, avoid the ends and focus on the mid-lengths. You should leave a half-inch to an inch on the bottom when curling or flat-ironing.

This area is where you can use the more emollient, texturizing products, like styling creams (Bumble and bumble Grooming Creme is great for this). “I always focus on the tips for shine and definition,” says Mallett. Rub a nickel-sized dollop between your palms, and work it into your ends. Use your forefinger and thumb to rub the ends together, in order to give your look a piece-y effect.

If you're going for sleek and smooth — rather than piece-y and texturized — you can blow out your hair all the way through to the ends, and then apply a serum to seal it. Mallett uses his brand's Hair Serum #DM027 on tips as a finishing product; it increases shine and definition.

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