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If you walked into a salon or scrolled through TikTok in 2023, then you know that everyone is completely obsessed with caring for their hair. Never before have we had access to so many new formulas (an overnight dry shampoo or exfoliating scalp spray, anyone?) and known exactly how to use them, thanks to thousands of styling tips, hair color trends, and unsolicited advice available within seconds on our screens. And the emergence of a thriving scalp category has us thinking a lot more about the skin on our head and how to care for it as well as our face and body.
Gone are the days of 3-in-1 shampoos that cause more harm than good. In 2023, there is a product for nearly every hair concern imaginable and we are more strategic than ever about what earns real estate in our shower. All of that is influencing what we’re going to see on shelves and in dermatologists’ offices in 2024. We spoke to some of the top experts in hair care and combed through next year’s most exciting launches, and it’s clear that the primary focus for next year is all about getting to the root of all our biggest hair and scalp concerns. We predict that nearly every development in the hair-care category — treatments and tools alike — in 2024 will be aimed at achieving stronger, healthier, shinier hair. Read on to discover why.
Meet the experts:
- Rachel Bodt, is a colorist and the owner of Homecoming Salon in New York City.
- Tommy Buckett, is a hairstylist at Marie Robinson Salon in New York City.
- Valerie George, is a Los Angeles-based cosmetic chemist and president of the product and research development lab Simply Formulas.
- Ginger King, is a New Jersey-based cosmetic chemist and founder of FanLoveBeauty.
- Justine Marjan, is a Los Angeles–based hairstylist and brand ambassador for GHD and Tresemmé.
- Uchenna Okereke, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in Boston.
- Jessica Phillips, is vice president of merchandising at Ulta Beauty.
- Helen Reavey, is a hairstylist and certified trichologist in New York City, and founder of Act + Acre.
- Lacy Redway, is a Los Angeles-based hairstylist, Unilever stylist, and celebrity hair artist for Dove Hair and Nexxus.
- Neil Sadick, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College.
- Dina Strachan, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and director of Aglow Dermatology in New York City.
- Jeroen Temmerman, is the CEO of hair-styling tool brand GHD.
Scalp care will get smarter, simpler, and more specific.
In 2023, we mastered the lesson that the scalp is skin and we must take care of it accordingly — but you can do that with more than an abrasive scrub. “We’re not even at the peak of this trend,” says cosmetic chemist Valerie George. In the salon, top concerns are scalp care and hair loss, which are intrinsically linked, says hairstylist Tommy Buckett, while the same applies when people start shopping. “Scalp care is the primary focus across our customers in all age groups — from Gen Alpha to Gen X,” says Jessica Phillips, vice president of merchandising at Ulta, noting a rise in the retailer’s scalp-specific offerings from brands like Mielle, Living Proof, Ouai, Divi, Briogeo, Bread Beauty Supply, Donna’s Recipe, Curlsmith, and Better Not Younger.
What will differentiate the scalp-care launches in 2024 is the rise of more targeted treatments for various scalp types and skin maladies on the scalp. “A lot of what’s launched are one-size-fits-all types of products,” says Helen Reavey, hairstylist, trichologist, and founder of scalp-care brand Act + Acre. Going forward, the experts see the scalp category following the same trajectory as what happened in skin care over the past five years. “You’ll be able to look for something with a specific ingredient, like BHA or salicylic acid, or a treatment for a very specific issue you’re dealing with,” explains Reavey.
Concurrently there will be a greater understanding about what works and what doesn’t. “Just like with any buzzy trend, we’re going to start to see a lot of clarity within the scalp space and a differentiation in product types,” says George. “We’ll see good all-over scalp formulas that contain ingredients we know are good for the skin and hair. These are like a daily vitamin — ideal for consumers who want to care for their scalp but don’t have specific scalp issues. Others will be more prescriptive and problem-solution focused, with very specific ingredients tailored to address the scalp problem at hand,” George adds. This tracks with what’s happening across the beauty industry in general, according to Mintel’s 2024 Global Beauty and Personal Care report: “The emerging ‘Sophisticated Simplicity’ trend emphasizes the quality of ingredients, the proven effectiveness of products, and the reassurance of simplicity,” the report states.
Speaking of simplicity, with all this attention on our scalps, dermatologists are keen to remind us not to go overboard. There’s no need to all of a sudden curate a 12-step routine for your crown. “You have to listen to your scalp, just the way you listen to your skin,” says Uchenna Okereke, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Boston. “If you’re using an exfoliating cleanser five days a week but your scalp is telling you that it doesn’t like that by getting dry, itchy, or irritated, then you need to reduce the frequency.”
One of the most important things you can do is also the most basic: Keep your scalp clean. “The time to shampoo your hair is when it starts feeling oily, because that oil can act as a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria,” explains Neil Sadick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and clinical professor of dermatology at Weill Cornell Medical College. Regular hair washing is key to removing buildup, while Dr. Okereke recommends adding a clarifying shampoo into your routine once or twice a month (which will be easy to do with all the new clarifying ranges launching in 2024). If you’re concerned about your scalp or have a very specific scalp condition, then it’s important to see a dermatologist who specializes in scalp health and hair loss.
Bond-building continues to stay strong.
Bond-building products aren’t going anywhere in 2024 as damage repair remains a top concern in salons. “Breakage is always at the top of everyone’s list,” says hairstylist Lacy Redway. “And I’m starting to hear clients dig into what they can do to prevent their bonds from needing repair in the first place.”
Phillips confirms this interest translates from the salon chair to the beauty shelves. “Guests [at Ulta] are gravitating toward shampoo, conditioner, and styling products that feature bonding concentrates to reverse hair damage, aid in [smoothing] split ends, and rebuild the protein found in hair,” she says.
With more people than ever seeking out medical advice for hair loss issues, bond builders have the approval of dermatologists, who see them as a solution for patients dealing with acquired trichorrhexis nodosa (ATN), a disorder characterized by easy breakability of the hair shaft resulting from repeated trauma ( i.e. overstyling and overbleaching). “When I’m looking at a patient’s scalp through the dermoscope, if I’m seeing the right number of hair follicles but it’s not matching what I’m seeing at their ends, that means they are dealing with breakage, not hair loss,” explains Dr. Okereke, who’s long recommended Olaplex to her patients. “Bond builders are super important because if the strength of your bonds is weak, your hair will just keep breaking.”
When it comes to at-home products, in the new year expect to see new bond-repairing ranges from brands like L’Oréal Paris and dpHue. And look for functional ingredients like cystine bis-pg-propyl, silanetriol, or lysine carboxymethyl cysteinate, cosmetic chemist Ginger King previously told Allure. On the other hand, if the product includes ingredients like starch, honey, ceramides, and protein, they may offer some benefits on their own, but they’re not contributing to repairing your hair’s disulfide bonds.
An important caveat with bond builders: Too much of a good thing is certainly possible. “If you are consistently using these treatments and heat styling your hair, you might experience extreme brittleness and dryness,” explains Reavey, who notes that these products can build up and coat the hair strands, delivering too much protein and resulting in flat, lifeless hair. “This is especially true for those with damaged or processed hair since over-treating it leaves the hair more susceptible to breakage, damage, and dryness.” Typically, if you haven’t bleached or processed your hair you don’t need to worry about overloading it, but Reavey notes that it varies from person to person. If your hair is very dry, bleached, or damaged, all our experts highlighted the importance of incorporating a hydrating mask into your routine in addition to any bond-building treatment you’re using. “While bond repairers help the hair retain moisture, they’re not designed for that,” says Rachel Bodt, a colorist and the owner of Homecoming Salon in New York City. And if you’re unsure whether you need to use a bond-building product in the first place, it’s best to consult your hairstylist, adds Reavey.
Fragrance-free hair care is about to become a thing.
As someone who grew up on the orgasmic Herbal Essences ad campaigns of the early aughts, it’s hard not to associate freshly washed hair with the fragrance of a beautiful bouquet of flowers or an intoxicating blend of sandalwood. In fact, it almost seems wrong to have fragrance-free hair-care products stocked in your shower. But the “skinification” of the hair-care category continues, says Reavey, whose Act + Acre range is entirely fragrance-free.
TikTok has been flooded with talk about fragrance’s effect on the scalp. But before you toss your bottle of rosehip-scented shampoo, it’s important to remember that you should take everything you hear on TikTok with a bucketful of salt. Many factors play into skin sensitivity, and fragrance (synthetic or not) is just one of them. According to Dina Strachan, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and director of Aglow Dermatology in New York City, for some individuals, fragrance in hair products could cause allergic contact dermatitis, but most negative reactions to fragrance occur with skin products. “If your scalp becomes dry, red, or flaky, it’s probably a good idea to pause and reassess the products you’re using,” says Dr. Okereke. If you haven’t noticed your scalp reacting adversely to fragrance, then there’s no reason to make the switch other than personal preference.
This doesn’t mean the market will say goodbye to the scented stuff either. Like the skin-care space, this trend is more about offering alternatives for people who want or need to go fragrance-free. “I’m big on no moisturizers with fragrance, but as far as scalp products go, I think it’s important that we have both options,” says Dr Okereke. “A lot of my patients who are allergic to fragrance have a limited amount of hair care to choose from, which becomes a potentially depressing situation. At the same time, washing your hair is such a sensorial experience, so it’s good that we will start seeing really nice options for both scenarios that people feel good about using.”
Get ready to shine on.
With hair health as consumers’ top priority in 2024, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that shine-enhancing products are on the rise. Brands are ramping up launches that help consumers achieve softer, more lustrous hair, whether that’s in-shower glosses, strand-protecting humidity blockers, shine-enhancing stylers, or hot tools that inflict less damage.
Ouai’s new Hair Gloss, for example, is a clear, shine-enhancing treatment that was developed to work across all textures from fine and straight to coarse and coily. Applied in the shower like a mask, the rich cream contains a potent blend of rice water and panthenol that helps to soften and hydrate strands, in turn increasing overall shine. When it comes to post-shower styling products, Tresemmé is launching an “amazing anti-humidity and shine spray that will do wonders to keep hair healthy and glossy — especially on multi-textured hair types,” says hairstylist Justine Marjan. Expect other brands to follow suit.
Panthenol is a key ingredient you should look for in a product that promises glossier-looking hair. “Panethnol has always been amazing for hair,” explains cosmetic chemist George, who adds it to as many products as she can. “There is data showing that panthenol penetrates the hair, providing conditioning properties such as softness and increasing the perception of moisturization in hair.” And while shine is a result of softer, more hydrated strands, panthenol’s primary attribute is not to add shine. In leave-in products, that would be phenyl trimethicone, which is the “gold standard” of shine products because it doesn’t build up in the hair and washes out pretty easily, says George. However, if you are looking to avoid silicones, she recommends looking for coconut alkanes and squalane instead.
Soften the effects of hard water.
If you’ve never given much thought to the water coming out of your showerhead beyond if it’s too hot or cold, well, same. But that might change in 2024 as more and more brands have zeroed in on hard water and how it’s affecting our hair and scalp. And chances are high you are impacted: A whopping 85% of the United States has hard water.
A little science lesson: Water hardness is generally determined by the amount of dissolved minerals in your H2O, namely calcium, magnesium, and manganese. The more dissolved minerals, the harder your water. But it doesn’t end there. All of our water — hard or soft — also contains small amounts of copper, iron, and either chlorine or chloramine. The latter two are added to water at safe levels determined by the Environmental Protection Agency to kill parasites, bacteria, and viruses that could be harmful. All of these elements, however, are really not great for your hair or your scalp, the experts say.
Unless you are that 15% of the US population with soft water, you need more soap to get things clean. This is because when soap reacts with calcium it forms “soap scum,” according to the United States Geology Survey. If you have very hard water, then your average shampoo might not be enough to rinse out the mineral buildup or the film left on your scalp and strands, which overtime can cause dullness, dryness, or clogged hair follicles, says Reavey. The mineral deposits can also “wreak havoc on the hair by changing the color, either making it orange or yellow or even green,” explains Bodt. Copper and iron are especially worrisome because they really love to be in the hair. “Copper and iron continue to oxidize the hair over time, which can cause a lot of damage, especially if you get your hair colored and bleached,” says George, which makes it more porous and fragile.
The first solution is to invest in a shower filter that removes a lot of the minerals, heavy metals, and chlorine. Hello Klean, a UK-based company that specializes in shower-care essentials for hard water, makes two options — a purifying showerhead and a shower filter that attaches underneath your faucet. Hot-tool brand T3 also offers two versions of its Source Showerhead.
What you can expect to see more of in the new year is entire product ranges dedicated to combating the negative effects of hard water. Specifically formulated to remove heavy metals and mineral buildup in the hair, these products contain high amounts of chelating ingredients that grab these metals out of the hair, explains George. Phytic acid, disodium EDTA, tetrasodium EDTA, and sodium gluconate are common chelating ingredients. “You don’t want to use them all the time, however, because they’re meant to strip the hair. Once a week or once every couple of weeks is best,” she says.
Upgrade your hair tools.
Historically, hot tools were about as good for your hair as candy is for your teeth — just swap out cavities for split ends, singed strands, and serious breakage. The reality was that if you wanted your hair to be sleek, curly, crimped, or wavy, then frying your hair with heat was just par for the course. However, recent launches like the GHD Duet Styler and Dyson Airstrait show that it’s possible to create different styles — without high, damaging heat. “As [Ulta] guests continue to prioritize their hair health, they tend to opt for hair tools that provide less damage while also delivering sleek and voluminous results,” Phillips says of the beauty retailer’s customers.
Brands are also paying close attention. “Innovation within hair tools has grown in recent years and we don’t see that momentum stopping anytime soon,” adds Phillips. Case in point: After the successful launch of the GHD Duet Styler, which uses low-temperature plates and air to style the hair, brand CEO, Jeroen Temmerman, says the key focus in the coming year is continuing to innovate its wet-to-dry styling category and investing in everything related to hair health.
Efficiency is also at the top of the list when it comes to hair tools in 2024. Phillips says she’s seen an increase in demand for heated curling brushes like the Dyson Airwrap, Shark FlexStyle, Revlon’s One Step Volumizer, and Drybar’s Single and Double Shot Blow-Dryer Brushes. “In our recent data finding, we saw a 621% increase in TikTok views month over month for these types of brushes, that’s a 20% increase in search year over year, and it’s predicted to grow another 12% in search over the next year,” adding that Ulta will continue to add to their assortment as the category evolves.
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