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The product combo that saved my hair

Me, with hair I'm actually happy about.
Alice Vitiello

In the past four years, my hair has suffered a litany of indignities. Two pregnancies with subsequent hairline shedding, multiple chops and crops (including getting and growing out bangs--twice), ombre, too-dark-drugstore-dye, a salon bleaching treatment to correct said drugstore dye, summer sun, chlorine, and rust-laden tap water, to be specific. In short, I was living with hair that just didn't feel like me--and when you're body is already going through the massive ups and downs of the child bearing years, dealing with a hair identity crisis on top of that deals a real blow to the old self-esteem.

It didn't help when I hooked up an old hard drive to my computer in order to upload the contents of my old Napster era music collection. Along with it came a host of other media, including an entire archive of photos from my early 20s. Suddenly, I was struck with long lost images of my hair at its best: thick, glossy, and natural, the way I remember it having once been and wish it still looks every time I see my reflection in the mirror.

Analyzing those pics, the first thing I did was make an appointment with the best balayage expert colorist that I could find. Two hours in her chair left me with highlights that at first seemed a little bit blonde, but ultimately came to remind me of my hair as it was as a kid. I know that she did a great job because I haven't been tempted to tinker with my hair color since then. Not once.

The highlights were only the beginning, though. The transformation actually began when I received a press release from Kerastase and Shu Uemura haircare brands. My amazing colorist had just recommended that I maintain my color with Shu Uemura prducts, but she works at Salon Lofts as an independent stylist, and she actually doesn't sell haircare products aside from a thing or two by L'Oreal Professionnel. I reached out to Shu Uemura's PR team and asked if they could send something for me to try out on my new color; that's how I came upon the Moisture Velvet line. In addition, I asked the Kerastase reps about my old favorite, the now discontinued Age Recharge masque. In its place, as equivalent/better substitutes, they sent me both the Elixir Ultime shampoo and masque, as well as the Age Premium shampoo and masque.

And this, this, is where the turnaround began. It wasn't subtle and it didn't happen slowly. I used the Shu Uemura Moisture Velvet Nourishing Shampoo and Conditioner, and the change in my hair was instant and remarkable. Because my hair can be voluminous at its best but is easily weighed down by cheap and coating drugstore formulas or heavy treatments by prestige brands, I'm always doubtful of anything that purports to be "moisturizing." For me, that always indicates that it's also going to be straightening and smoothing, which are not the look that I'm going for (I'm a big hair addict). But this was like nothing I've ever used before. It left my hair light, fluffy, but also velvety soft, as the product's name implies, with a pliable texture that is easily coaxed into waves with a round brush or styling iron. Critically, it hydrated my hair from root to tip in a way that was both visible and variable: visible, in the sense that it hydrates and seals my ends so well that my hair feels and looks freshly trimmed, and variable in the sense that my dry ends drink it up but my roots and scalp aren't overwhelmed. About six shots of Oribe Maximista spray to the scalp is the only styling product I need to ensure shiny, big hair with lots of movement. Addictive.

But I'm a longtime devotee to the ritual of alternating your shampoo and conditioner each time you cleanse. I just feel like my hair looks the best when I do this; maybe your hair really does "get used to" things, as they say, or maybe stuff just tends to build up over time if you tend to use it over and over again. Whatever it is, alternating the Shu Uemura with the Kerastase Elixir Ultime products is what gives me the best result of all. I do a fair amount of heat styling, and this Polar Vortex infested winter is insanely dry, so my hair must be uber-thirsty. I also am addicted to Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray, which can be a bit drying, but I feel like two shampoos with the Elixir Ultime removes all product residue, and five minutes with the luscious golden masque in my hair renews bounce, bend, and lightness with a glittering shine.

You couldn't force me to do without one or the other, and though I occasionally rotate in the Kerastase Age Premium Bain and Masque Substantif, they don't hold a candle to the other products, and my hair doesn't look as good when I use them. In the past three months, I've strayed exactly 5 times: twice with Pantene Damage Detox shampoo and conditioner (huge mistake that required the use of a clarifier to undo), twice with Pantene Damage Repair Cleansing Conditioner (minty, citrusy, and fun to use, but not obsession-worthy), once with Aveda stuff, and once with Redken All Soft. That type of product loyalty from me has got to set some sort of a record. It never happens.

And here's the thing. This weekend, I was at my grandmother's wake and funeral. Miserable, heartbreaking, not-fun. Here's what made it slightly easier: feeling like my hair looked cute at the wake. While that might tempt you to file me away into the superficial-bad-person-category, it can be justified in that my grandmother was an impeccable, elegant, poised woman who never appeared in public with a single hair out of place or without a spritz of Youth Dew, all through her life into her late 80s and even after her health had nosedived. Italian born and the epitome of the "bella figura" for which her people are famed, my grandmother knew better than anyone that there is power behind feeling like you've put your best foot forward.

Indeed, there is power in feeling like you've put your best face forward, too. Having a few people I hadn't seen since Christmas tell me that my hair looks great, and has it grown, and do I have extensions?, gave me that imperceptible little boost that helped me get through a couple of dismal days. Those conversations are actually what prompted me to rewrite this review--while I gave these products accolades in my holiday gift guide, after a few more weeks of use I can honestly say that I think they've kept my hair so healthy that it's been able to grow significantly and noticeably. Good stuff.

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