F is for Frizz-Busters: Oil is Nice, but Crazy-Cat-Lady Hair Needs Silicone

by Liza Herz on 6 January 2012 · 22 comments

More than once, I’ve left the house thinking I look like this, when the reality is more this:

Grey hair is frizzy All. The. Time. Grey hair is porous, wiry and ready to frizz up at the slightest hint of moisture in the air. I live the ultimate worst-case bad hair day, every day. So if a smoothing product works for me, it will definitely tame your non-crazy-cat-lady hair.

conditioning + smoothing

Grey frizz is two kinds of sad. One, it’s weak and brittle. The inner cortex needs nourishment and moisture for flexibility and resilience against breakage. Two, the cuticle, the hair surface that, under a microscope, looks like so many wee scales, refuses to lie flat.

Deep conditioning penetrates to the hair’s interior to strengthen it, and in a small way saves wear and tear on the cuticle. But intensive moisturizing does very little for the hair’s exterior. What really kills frizz dead is silicone — its large particle size smoothes over the hair shaft, making the cuticle lie down obediently so it properly reflects light and looks all glossy and beautifully shiny.

natural oil vs silicone

Here’s where it gets tricky. Many anti-frizz formulas contain natural oils as well as silicones. But brands prefer to focus on oils and skip the mention of silicones. Understandable, because nutrient-rich argan oil, for instance, is a much sexier ingredient than something inert, cooked up in a lab. But are such oils just there for show? Can natural oils penetrate hair when larger-particle silicone is in the mix?

We took our question to “Left Brain,” one of the all-knowing beauty scientists at The Beauty Brains, for demystification:

“Silicones are in formulas in the form of an emulsion; they do not immediately form a barrier on hair,” explains Left Brain. “In fact, they never actually form a complete barrier on hair so oils can penetrate whether there is silicone in the formula or not.”

Aha. Oils can penetrate even when they’re in a hair-smoothing silicone soup.

dry hair vs frizzy hair

When it comes to just conditioning dry hair, however, Left Brain separates oil from silicone: “If you want to ensure that you are getting the most effect from an oil in a hair product, stick to conditioners,” he says. “And you should look for a product that has the oil listed near the top of the ingredient listing and is devoid of things like silicones, quats (e.g. cetrimonium chloride, stearalkonium chloride, behenmetholsulfate) and cationic polymers (guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride).”

Bottom line: You want conditioning? Go for oil, which penetrates hair to strengthen the cortex and lock in moisture. But for stellar frizz control, get thee to a silicone to make the cuticle lie flat.

Of course too much silicone and you risk greasy-looking, lank hair that sticks to your head in a way that suggests you do not own a mirror. But luckily the newest generation of silicones are no longer stubbornly heavy, so they won’t build up over time to weigh hair down.

frizz-busting oil + silicone formulas

My top six frizz busters include ingredients like cyclopentasiloxane, peg-15 dimethicone and amodimethicone, in conjunction with argan, camellia, coconut or palm kernel oil for a conditioning hit. Consider them crazy-cat-lady certified:

Kerastase Elixir Ultime ($50) — hands-down winner for best fragrance. A little goes a long way, so don’t be dissuaded by the semi-high ticket price.

Shu Uemura Essence Absolue ($68) — hairstylists are all a-swoon about this Japanese cult line and the colossal bottle pretty much guarantees you’ll never run out.

Moroccanoil Frizz Control ($25) — a lightweight version of the grand-daddy of them all. Comes with a spray, but spray into your hands and smooth over hair. You can always add more, but never less.

L’Oréal Paris Nutri-Sleek Smoothing Cream Care ($9) — a conditioner to apply to wet hair after you shampoo. For extra unruly hair, follow with a serum.

Ojon Instant Restorative Hair Serum ($28) — lightweight, and the eyedropper dispenser means you’ll never apply too much.

And finally, if you run out the door each morning in a befrizzed state, the oversized mascara-wand applicator of John Frieda Full Repair Touch-Up FlyAway Tamer ($12) lets you brush down unruly hair easily and instantly.

Touch-Up FlyAway Tamer is one of my must-haves. Another beauty editor loved it so much, she told John Frieda stylist Alain Larivée that she wished it came with a paint-roller sized applicator. Cool, but that would mean a new problem: how could I possibly fit it into my purse?

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Arianne 6 January 2012 at 12:52 pm

Dear Liza,

Have I ever told you how much I love these product group reviews? They are fun to read and I learn so much from them. :)

I am 100% sure that I will love that Kerastase one. Where can I buy it? Also, do these help with the winter static-y hair problems?


Liza 6 January 2012 at 1:18 pm

Thanks, GlitterGeek. I think you’ll adore the Kerastase Elixir. And yes, it’s brilliant at calming static hair (Thanks a lot, central heating! Grrr.)

Just put a tiny drop in your palms, rub them together and gently smooth over your head and then run your fingers through the ends. That way you won’t use too much. Happy smoothing.

Oh, and Kérastase is available only at salons. You can find one here:


Abba 6 January 2012 at 3:27 pm

:)))) love the crazy-cat-lady picture! I don´t know how many times I´ve left the house, really happy I had time to do my hair. Only when I see my reflection in a shop or café window, do I realise that my hair seem to have a life of their own. bye bye happiness.


Liza 6 January 2012 at 5:54 pm

Awww. You share my pain. That makes me very happy (the sharing part, not that you have hair-pain.)

So try one of the above serums and report back. Maybe café window-reflections won’t be so scary afterwards. Fingers crossed.


Lesa 10 January 2012 at 6:40 pm

Another great post. Oh Liza, why have you forsaken me?


Janine 10 January 2012 at 8:49 pm



Sandy 25 March 2013 at 8:12 pm

I found your website during a search for products to help grey, frizzy, dry hair. I, too, am a crazy cat lady. I, too, wear my cats’ fur wherever I go. If I could wear a tee shirt that looked like your picture, I would it. It might help me explain a lot.

As for my hair, I have never read a more informative, easily read and well-researched article as this. I really don’t know if I have that much frizz, but my hair is super dry, so I am certain I’ll find the help my old, grey head needs.



Victoria 20 April 2013 at 5:13 am

Great article, but don’t all of these products make grey hair yellow? They are all yellow in color.


Liza 22 April 2013 at 2:41 pm

Hi Victoria. Thank you so much – - that is a fantastic question.

And because we are such beautygeeks, we can’t possibly answer you in one tiny paragraph.

We’re preparing an in-depth post to reply to this and beyond. Stay tuned!


Victoria 23 April 2013 at 11:25 am



Janine 4 July 2013 at 8:06 pm

Hi Victoria! Liza’s follow-up post answering your question is up now! Click here :-)


Janie 27 June 2013 at 8:45 am

Thanks so much for this article! My hair is grey but colored and I have a frizz problem like never before. I have spent so much money trying to find the right product(s). Thank you for narrowing the choices. My hair is quite fine and I tried the Morrocan Frizz Control, over an antifrizz styling cream, but it doesn’t work for me. Maybe not heavy enough? Which of your products would you suggest for ultra-fine hair that frizzes even in a humid room? Thank you again.


Liza 27 June 2013 at 10:04 am

Fine hair that frizzes is the worst, isn’t it? You go from having a giant unruly shrub on your head to looking like you never wash your hair if you use so much as one drop of serum. Unfair!

We’re working on a post right now (!!) t to address this topic. Watch this space! (And in the meantime, you know that turbans are a thing, right? Or maybe a fancy sunhat? Stay protected from the sun’s rays and keep that hair under wraps.)


Janie 27 June 2013 at 10:49 am

Thank you! Can’t wait to read it. This fine frizzy hair is a gift of middle age. Took a while to realize that under all the hair dye (well matched to my old color) is different hair — no longer full-bodied and smooth. The grey is frustrating! Thank you so much for the help.


Janine 4 July 2013 at 8:09 pm

Hi Janie!

Liza’s post that suggests smoothing options for ultra-fine frizzies is up now: click here :-)


anne torpey 29 July 2013 at 11:49 am

HI– Thanks much for your helpful and witty tips. I’m 54 with a super-wiry bramble on my head–one stylist called my hair the most dense he’s ever seen–and it keeps getting more wiry every year. i’m desperate for something to soften and smooth that doesn’t cost a fortune, considering I have to use so much. Any help would be much appreciated! –Anne


Dodie 6 August 2014 at 11:49 pm

Looks like I’m not the only one fighting this crazy hair…I’ve done everything, and mine still frizzes and looks like a brillo pad…The rest of my family have that pretty soft grey….lucky for them huh……The thing I’ve found that works best for me, is, Suave Natural Infusion..It is a strengthening ” leave in ” cream…You apply away from the roots, onto the middle of the hair out….Use it on damp hair…..We are all fighting this battle together friends………


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