What Causes Frizzy Strands? + How To Style Them For An Effortlessly Chic Look
Messy makeup? It's in. Messy hair? That too. As if you ever needed what's trending to dictate whether a messy chic look is the epitome of effortlessly sexy, right? That being said, we know frizz can be a bit much to handle sometimes.
In the name of hair health, sometimes frizz is a sign that your hair needs some TLC—but not always. Here are the nuances of what causes and how to tame frizzy strands.
What is frizzy hair, and what does it look like?
If you take a look at a single strand of hair, it might not look frizzy at all. Yet with all of your hair combined, a straggly look may appear—why is that? Well, frizz doesn't necessarily take over every single strand. "Frizzy hair is caused by the cuticle being flared," stylist Amy Stollmeyer tells mbg.
"Think of shingles on a roof, aligned and lying flat," Stollmeyer says. When the many causes of frizzy hair take place (more on that next), they can all cause the cuticle (aka the shingles) to raise and flare out, she explains.
"This creates a rougher and 'frizzy' surface texture as well as allows moisture to enter and swell the hair strands," Stollmeyer notes. But what does this actually look like? Let's be honest—frizz is subjective.
If you tend to have very slick, straight hair, then a slight frizz for you might be the smoothest day of all for someone else, and vice versa. We all know what frizz can look like on our own hair, and that's what matters most in terms of taming (or styling) your strands.
Causes of frizzy hair.
Frizz can either be inherent to the hair type or caused by lifestyle—or a combination of both. Here, some of the common frizz-inducing culprits:
You have it naturally.
Some hair types are more prone to frizz than others. More specifically, "Natural textured waves and curls commonly have a degree of frizz," Stollmeyer says. "The hair strand naturally bends and twists, and cuticles may not lie as flat," she continues.
While your strands may be particularly susceptible to frizz, that doesn''t mean it's a be-all and end-all situation—there are plenty of frizz remedies out there (up next, so stay tuned).
If you go from the dry desert to a high-humidity area, your strands may frizz—especially when you're not used to styling your hair for the new weather. "Humidity causes the cuticle to absorb water, making the hair swell up and frizz out," stylist and Matrix Brand Ambassador George Papanikolas notes.
"The moisture is absorbed into the cortex, or the long fibers at the core of each strand, and is especially problematic for curly and wavy hair," Papanikolas explains.
Humidity can't be avoided most of the time; however, styling tips will be your best bet for managing frizz in any climate, even those with a high dew point.
Drying hair products & product overuse.
Especially if your strands are frizzy and brittle, you may be overusing shampoo or using drying formulas. "Harsh products can strip the hair of natural oils and make the cuticle open and flare, causing it to be more prone to frizz," Papanikolas says.
It can also depend on how you use said products. A shampoo may not be the problem but instead how much you shampoo. Daily washing can be hard on hair (especially curly hair), so frizz may be an indication that you need to reduce your shampoo schedule.
If your hair gets frizzy regardless of climate, anti-frizz products, or styling method, it may be caused by heat damage. Especially if you notice frizz in the areas you iron or blow dry the most (the bangs, for example) that's a dead giveaway. While heat styling your hair isn't off limits, frizz may be a sign that you're going a bit overboard—and as always, please use a heat protectant.
Color treatments—especially bleach.
"Color and bleaching hair strips the natural oils and causes the cuticle to swell. These both are major culprits in causing frizz," Papanikolas says. Bleaching will typically be more damaging to the hair, which is why it's so important to go to a professional you trust and ease into your bleached look (translation: don't go from full-head brown to full-head platinum in one day).
Friction from towels or pillowcases.
If you've ever wondered why silk pillowcases and microfiber hair towels are a must-have for stylists everywhere, it's because they mitigate friction. "Friction is a big culprit to frizz for waves and curls," Stollmeyer reiterates.
To minimize friction, try to prevent your hair from rubbing harsh surfaces like rough fabric or dirty hot tools.
Styling tips for frizzy hair.
Like we said earlier—you don't have to lose the frizz if you don't want to. However, if it is bothersome, these styling tips may help smooth out your strands:
Smoothing leave-in products.
Invest in a rich cream leave-in conditioner, hydrating serum, or omega-rich oils to apply post-wash. "If the hair is already saturated and coated with nutrient-rich ingredients, it is far more protected from being affected by the elements that contribute to frizz," Stollmeyer explains.
A few ingredients Stollmeyer recommends looking out for:
Shop smoothing leave-ins:
A blowout can help minimize frizz, if done right. "For smoothing the hair with heat, make sure you're opting for heat protection, serum, and a light flexible spray gel could be another great addition to maintain the style and repel frizz," Stollmeyer says.
Rather than blowdrying your hair sans brush (i.e., an express job), use a rounded-bristle brush to smooth the hair while drying for a silky, touchable finish.
Diffuse your curls.
According to celebrity hairstylist Nate Rosenkranz, a diffuser can help manage frizzy hair thanks to the airflow. "A diffuser slows and distributes the airflow coming from within the dryer," he says. "It works to gently dry the hair without disrupting the curl pattern, which is typically highly susceptible to frizz."
Get a good cut.
How your stylist cuts your hair can help enhance curls, let the strands fall delicately, and reduce the appearance of puffiness. It can also remove split ends and damage, which can make hair appear frizzier than it might be otherwise.
For regular cleanups, experts recommend trimming every three months. Hair tends to split around that time frame (even if you don't notice it!), and it can happen even faster if you regularly take a hot tool to those strands. "Even if splits aren't visible, hair begins to weaken every day from hair elastics, brushing, and friction that can start to form small tears along the hair's outer cuticle," says hairstylist and cosmetologist Faith Huffnagle, director of education at Prose.
Switch to sulfate-free shampoos.
Sulfates are cleansing agents commonly used in shampoos. They’re effective, however they can be very drying for certain types of hair—making strands appear frizzy in the process.
Luckily there are many sulfate-free shampoos that effectively clean the scalp and hair fiber, without stripping the natural oils or increasing frizz.
Again—frizz is one of the pillars of a timeless and effortlessly sexy, intentionally messy look. If you don't feel like taming your frizz, let it fly. Especially if you have curly or wavy hair, sometimes a bit of frizz can add a volume boost you didn't know you wanted.
How do I stop my hair from frizzing?
Frizzy hair is caused by the cuticle being flared. So to limit frizzing, you’ll want to help lay the cuticle flat. This can be done through smoothing products, such as leave ins and styling creams. You can also minimize frizz through hair care habits such as rinsing with cool water, using heat protectants, sleeping on silk, and detangling hair properly.
What are the main causes of frizzy hair?
Frizz happens when the hair fiber’s cuticle lifts. Some folks' hair does this more often naturally, but it can also be caused by heat or chemical damage, humidity, and friction.
Is frizzy hair unhealthy?
Some people just have frizzy hair naturally—such as those with naturally dry hair, waves, or curls. So frizz isn’t always a sign of unhealthy hair. However, frizz can develop or become more apparent overtime due to damage (from physical wear, chemical treatments, or heat), and thus may be an indication that your hair needs some more care and attention.
If you want to tame your frizzy strands, first find out what's causing it—if anything. To tame the stragglers, use hydrating and smoothing ingredients post-wash and put heat protectant and hair care first. For styling, reach for the blow dryer or diffuser and keep in mind that regardless, sometimes frizz is inevitable, and that's OK. If you think heat damage is causing your frizz, start here.
Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty & Health Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including skin care, women’s health, mental health, sustainability, social media trends, and more. She previously interned for Almost 30, a top-rated health and wellness podcast. In her current role, Hannah reports on the latest beauty trends and innovations, women’s health research, brain health news, and plenty more.