My hair is an ongoing saga. I've been dyeing it since I was fourteen or so, which was a year after it completely changed texture due to puberty. As a youngin' I had straight, fine, medium brown hair. I liked it, I guess, but I didn't think about it too much. Around thirteen it became fine, medium brown, and curly. It was a bit of a strange adjustment. I didn't have anything against curly hair but...when you've had one type for the entirety of your short life it's weird when it just shifts like that. I started experimenting with hair products to control it, enhance the curls, or straighten it.
Growing up, my mom had wonderfully curly, silvery gray hair. She colored it a few times but always went back to the gray because, as I have since learned, the root regrowth is a serious pain in the butt. My mom was (and continues to be in her 60's) very beautiful. She lights up a room. Her hair is a striking contrast to her youthful face and has been for as long as I can remember. I didn't inherit her beauty, but as it turns out I did inherit the prematurely gray hair and tendency to look younger than I am.
By the time I was 14 I was struggling a lot with social/school issues. People didn't like me, basically. Actually, I think they kind of hated me. And after dealing with two full years of nearly non-stop bullying, I was pretty tired of being me too. I hated how I looked. I hated how I felt. And I desperately need to do something about that. Over the summer between 8th and 9th grade I decided that something I could change was my hair. I had always admired red hair so I went in that directly. The first thing I tried was something called "Glintz" which was a temp color that gave you different highlights. It was fairly crappy.
Unsatisfied with the results I investigated other methods. At the time I didn't want to deal with chemical dyes and I was often in the health food store with my mom. Which is where I discovered henna. The rest is hair dyeing history. My mom helped me put that green goop on my head and I was pretty much hooked. Henna also had the interesting side effect of making my hair more wavy than curly. Which it still is, although if there is ANY moisture in the air it curls up like whoa. I sadly can't use henna anymore because A. I like the gray and henna is hard to do in just sections. B. it tends to make white hair a kind of bright orangey-red color I'm not fond of. I prefer cool reds.
At around 19 I started going gray. Well, really my hair started going white. You get white hairs, not gray hairs. It's just the mix of the white hairs with your natural color that make it look gray. I was excited. But with white hair comes another texture shift. Some people get coarser hair. I got "wilder" hair. It's still fine and wavy, but it has a complete life of its own. Which isn't a bad thing, it just requires more effort to get it to do what I want...and sometimes I just don't bother.
So, taking all of that into account, here's what I've learned works for my hair*. I've tried so many things that I think I've got a decent handle on what's worth spending money on and what's not for me.
*One thing I should mention: A lot of people are proponents for the "no poo" technique for curly hair. Or most hair. It's basically not using shampoo's because they use sulfates which are supposedly as harsh as detergent. The technique also usually involves no silicone products because they build up on hair, which then forces you to use sulfates, and creates a bad hair cycle. I've found conflicting data on this, so, it's up to you to decide for yourself.
I tried the no-poo/no silicone thing, for over a year. I specifically tried products for this technique and others that don't use any sulfates or 'cones after research and careful label reading. They spectacularly did not work for me. My hair was either dry or oily, hard to manage, and just...dull. Sometimes a product would work for a day or two and then, no. And I really did try. I think a year is enough time to determine that a particular technique just isn't for you.
** You'll probably notice that I don't list products specifically for "fine" hair. The reason is that most bodifying products dry out and "roughen" the hair surface to make it appear fuller/thicker. The result on my hair is a kind of unattractive poof that feels weird and looks fake. My hair is fine and that's just how it is. Instead of fighting it I find the things I like about it (the color, the wavy texture) and enhance that instead.
1. Aussie Moist Shampoo. I really like this stuff. In fact, most of the time I can just use it and not bother with conditioner. Cheap, smells non-offensive, and it doesn't dry my hair out or make it gross.
2. Free & Clear Shampoo. I've actually just started using this because my husband has been having horrible allergic reactions to something topically and we got this on the advice of his doctor. It's free of common irritants, including sulfates, but it still suds up quite a bit. And it hasn't created any problems. It's helped him with his dandruff and it doesn't strip my hair or make it feel funky.
3. Aveda's Blue Malva. This stuff is specifically for pale blonde or gray/white hair to keep out brassy/yellowing tones. If you have white/gray hair it will make the white really, really, really bright. I don't use it often, but using it once a month prevents it from getting dingy looking. It's kind of mid-range to high in terms of price, but it smells amazing, and since I use it so sparingly it lasts forever.
4. DHC's Gentle Scalp Cleansing Shampoo. I like the smell of this shampoo and how gently it cleanses my hair. My hair feels really soft after using it even without conditioner.
5. Oscar Blandi's Dry Shampoo. This stuff is awesome. I use it on my roots if I want to avoid shampooing too often. It smells nicely lemony and compliments the white in my hair. If you have darker hair I could see this being problematic. I got the travel size which is actually pretty reasonably priced and has lasted several months.
1. Oscar Blandi's Jasmine Hair Mask. This stuff is expensive, but I love it. It smells wonderful, softens and conditioners the hair perfectly, and lasts if you don't have very long or thick hair. When it's really humid out I use it every day and it keeps frizz manageable and the wilder hair stuff under control. I miss it, but I just can't justify the cost right now.
2. Frizz Ease Leave In Conditioner. This is very light and effective for pre-heat styling. Easy to apply. Since I often don't use conditioner every day it helps keep the hair from tangling, which can be a problem when your hair is fine and wavy.
1. Frizz Ease Hair Serum. Cheap, effective, I often just use this instead of conditioner. It's a silicone product, obviously, but I haven't had any problem with it weighing my hair down or it making it oily, even when I don't use a sulfate-y shampoo. I use either the regular or the one for fine hair, and it really does matter if you put it on while the hair is wet as opposed to damp. You do have to be careful of the amount or you'll get kind of grubby looking hair, though. And generally I only use this when it's really humid out and mostly on the ends/middle instead of the roots.
2. Bumble & Bumblie Curl Conscious Cream. This stuff is technically for relaxing really curly hair, and a little goes a long way. I've had my bottle for about 2 years now. I find it very effective for soft, manageable waves. It doesn't have a ton of hold, though, so it won't keep hair under control in humidity. It's also pretty expensive like most B&B products. But since you don't need to use much it lasts a long time.
3. Aussie Volumizing Hair Gel. This is my one "no fine hair products" concession because it's actually good. I usually mix this with the B&B cream and find the combo gives me really great hold and styling versatility. I get the waves I want without frizz, I get shine, and a nice bit of body, especially at the roots. I can also get it pretty straight without heat styling if I let it dry without combing it first so it gets a tad "stiff". When it's dry you just brush it out and, at least for me, end up with straightish hair. Never had an issue with flaking or anything and the hair doesn't feel dry or funky.
4. Phyto's Straightening Balm. When I do want to use a straightener I use this. It's expensive but it works. You don't need much. Just run it through damp hair and either use a blow dryer or let it air dry before using a straightener. Gets it pretty close to pin straight, smooth, shiny and it lasts. This is what I use when I want a "professional" looking style and can't get it done at the salon.
5. Pantene's Thick Hairspray. Like the name implies, this is technically for thick hair but it works for anyone and has a higher "hold" factor than other sprays. It's also a good price and, like most things Pantene, does indeed keep hair shiny. A trick I learned from my hairstylist: Spray hairspray on your hands and run it over your finished hairstyle. This will give you hold that lasts without making the hair crispy or crunchy. I've found it holds up even in San Francisco's fairly high humidity, too.
1. Chi hair straightener. I. Love. This. Thing. These are expensive but they are so worth it. I've used cheaper straighteners and there really was a difference. The Chi has a nice nuanced heat setting, which I tend to keep low for fine hair. It heaps up fast and glides very smoothly through the hair. Only use straighteners on already dry hair or you'll burn it, btw.
3. Baybliss mini dryer. From what I've read hair dryers are not that different from one another no matter what fancy claims they're making. It's more about the wattage and heat setting. If you don't have thick hair you want a lower wattage and you don't need high heat to dry hair. The reason your salon blowout looks awesome is because that's what hair dressers do. It's not really the dryer. No matter what you put on your hair heat styling is damaging so in general I keep this to a minimum. I like this dryer because it's teeny, dual voltage for travel, and I got it for like $15 at Marshall's. It even has that weird duckbill attachment thing for more control over the heat placement.
4. Mason Pearson hairbrush. These are crazy expensive so I have a mini-travel one that cost way less and was on sale at a Sally's. I don't use this on wet hair, you should use combs when hair is wet because the cuticle is more vulnerable and delicate then and comes don't rough up the cuticle. I do, however, like to brush my hair a few times a week to get it smooth, redistribute the hair oils, and stimulate the scalp. I've never had an issue with it damaging it, even though some people swear you should never brush it.