The Secret to Big Volume and Perfect Texture? A Little Bottle of Powder

The pros and cons to know before you try.
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The pros and cons to know before you try.
Big hair at Marc by Marc Jacobs for fall 2013 (Photo: Imaxtree)

Big hair at Marc by Marc Jacobs for fall 2013 (Photo: Imaxtree)

About the same time we received a sample of L’Oreal Professionnel’s new True Grip hair texturizing powder at the Fashionista office, the Glamourai’s Kelly Framel was dousing Leah’s hair with it at a Viennese ball.

Leah described it as a "magical powder"--it looks like baby powder but creates crazy volume and texture.

So what are hair powders? And how on earth do they work? Don't worry... we found out.

How They Work: Hair powders--which are usually called texturizing or mattifying powder--are meant to give you amped up volume and texture. They generally come in small shaker bottles, and the product itself is a fine, white ground powder with a bit of a tacky feeling. A small amount yields big payoff in the volume department.

All of the hair powder brands generally contain the same ingredients. But it's silica silylate that's responsible for the products' effect. "Unlike silicones (like dimethicone) that leave a smooth, shiny film on hair, silica is a rough particulate. It gives a matte look and will help 'bulk up' the hair by increasing friction between hair fibers," Randy Schueller, a cosmetic chemist and editor-in-chief of The Beauty Brains told me. The various chemicals in these powders all interact to absorb moisture, too, which means they'll get rid of excess oil, contributing to the volumizing effect.

How to Use Them: It's generally recommended that you use hair powder on dry hair. L'Oreal Professionnel Artist Amit Abraham recommends shaking the bottle directly on your hair so you get a fine dusting, although you can also pour it into your hand and then apply to hair. (We found it harder to work with and a bit messy this way.)

You can either apply to just your roots or all over your head, depending on how much volume you want and where you want it. If you apply to your roots, the powder will give you instant lift--flip your head upside down and apply to the underside for some generalized volume. Carter Todd, a stylist at the John Barrett Salon in NYC likened the effect to "Dallas hair." But you don't have to go that dramatic with it. Abraham thinks it's a great product to use to give a little strategic volume and hold to updos, too.

You can also take advantage of the texturizing benefits without adding huge volume. For shorter hair, Todd told us to apply to the ends in sections. You get a piecey effect without the slickness and heaviness that you can get from pomades. Todd and Abraham both recommended using it for more texturized ponytails--if you sprinkle a little on the ends and give it a scrunch, it will pump up a fine, limp pony immediately.

Sounds amazing right? It's a pretty clever product, but you need to be aware of a few things when using them. Below, we've broken down the pros and cons to know before you try.

Texturized pony at Alexander Wang for spring 2013. (Photo: Imaxtree)

Texturized pony at Alexander Wang for spring 2013. (Photo: Imaxtree)

Pros: • They provide incredible volume and hold that you can “re-activate” with a quick scrunching motion. If your style is starting to fall a bit flat, all you have to do is give it a quick tousle and it immeditately bounces back to life.

• Once you get the hang of the application technique, it's a versatile product, and you only need very small amounts.

• They generally don't have a strong fragrance, unlike hair sprays that can sometimes be overpowering.

• They're small enough to carry around with you for touch-ups.

• You can use them in combination with other products for cool effects. Abraham recommended using the True Grip with L'Oréal Professionnel Volume Expand Leave-in Spray for easy beach waves.

Cons: • This is a big one and could be a deal breaker for some people: Your hair, while it doesn't look crunchy, definitely isn't touchable after you use it. Your hair will have a sort of cotton candy texture to it, especially if you use it all over. So if you're a fan of natural-feeling, shiny hair, you might hate this product.

• The delivery system is weird and messy--it definitely takes some practice to master.

• Many of the brands tell you that the powder blends in, but that's not always true--my hair is practically white and I could definitely see some at my roots with a few of the powders, especially when I accidentally squeezed too much. So you have to make sure you blend it in well.

Intrigued and want to try some? Click through for a review of six different brands.

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Redken Powder Grip: Definitely one of the strongest of the six I tried. Seriously--you just need a teeny, tiny bit of this one.

Big Sexy Hair Powder Play: For some reason I had to use a bit more of this powder to get the same effect as some of the other powders. But once there's enough on, it's not going anywhere.

L’Oreal Professionnel True Grip Texture Expert: As with all of the powders, a little goes a long way. The spout only has one hole in the top, so it's a little easier to control how much product comes out.

Osis Dust It Texture Mattifying Powder: Best for overall volumizing, thanks to the multiple holes, which are arranged in a cross shape for consistent "puffs." It hits the most surface area on your head and spreads the product evenly.

Aveda Pure Abundance Hair Potion: If hair powder scares you, this is the one to try first. It gave more gentle, subtle volume than the other brands and didn't seem as mattifying (ie dry).

Shu Uemura Volume Maker Invisible Texturizing Powder: Of all the powders I tried, I liked this one the best and it's purely because of the delivery system: There's a brush applicator attached to the end that made it so much easier to apply accurately, especially if you're looking for a bit of targeted volume or texture.