"Hair glosses are the best," says Carlyn Griscti, a hairstylist at New York's White Rose Collective salon. I'm laid back in the shampoo bowl while a clear glossing treatment is raked through my hair where it will sit for ten minutes, just like a conditioner. "We push them as an add-on to a cut or blowout because they're fast and make the hair look so healthy," says Griscti.
I love the way my hair feels after getting a hair gloss at the salon: shinier and more manageable. But it's still a semi-niche category in the hair world. Over the past year, Google and TikTok searches for hair gloss have spiked, with people asking: "what's a hair gloss?" "is a hair gloss worth it?" and "what are the best hair-gloss brands and colors?" — so let's get into it.
What is a hair gloss?
Hair colorists liken it to a hydrating lip gloss for your hair, leaving it shiner. Traditionally, a hair gloss is a salon color treatment, but you can also gloss your own hair at home (we'll get to that). Most hair salons offer a glossing service as an add-on, with a range of colored glosses and clear, too. If you opt for a colored gloss, it's like a semi-permanent hair color lite that will last for about four weeks or ten washes, whatever comes first.
The gloss itself is what colorist Leland Olsen describes as a "liquid acidic," which basically means it's applied like a toner and not a cream-based dye or lightener. Because of this, the process is faster and doesn't require foils or heat. "You can put [a gloss] on wet or dry hair," Olsen explains. "When you color dry hair, because there's no moisture in it, it's going to pick up the color more intensely. When you apply a gloss onto wet hair, it's going to be a little more diluted and soft. That's perfect for when you're looking for gentle refining or depositing hair color."
Whether you opt for a clear or colored gloss, your stylist or colorist will typically replace the conditioner step with a hair gloss, and it will sit in your hair for five to ten minutes. It gets rinsed out and you move on to a blowout or styling.
What are the benefits of a hair gloss?
Shine, vibrancy, and frizz-control are the most obvious benefits of a hair gloss. In my experience, a clear gloss means I don't have to wrangle my long, thick hair to do what I want it to do. Following my most recent gloss, a Kevin Murphy Color.Me treatment, I didn't wash my hair for a full six days afterwards. My blowout remained intact and actually looked better as the week progressed. On day three, I was even able to straighten the blowout for a very Jennifer Aniston-inspired '90s look, which lasted through the weekend.
Olsen notes that a gloss can be a cost-effective treatment in the long run. "The pricing is going to be dependent on what the salon chooses to charge," he says, "but when I do a quick gloss at the sink, that's like a $20 treatment. So if you're in for a haircut, think about whatever the price of the haircut is and you're just adding $20 on." Then, at home, you don't really need to maintain the gloss with anything fancy.
When I do wash my hair following a gloss, I don't need for any expensive "bonding" treatments, like Olaplex or K18, because my hair feels healthy without them. My current routine is just shampoo and conditioner; I'm not precious. The results of a gloss are more akin to a keratin-based smoothing treatment, but again, much lighter without any weightiness (or the keratin smell).
With a color gloss, there are a bunch more benefits. If you gloss over previously color treated hair, it will extend the life of the color. "For example, if you're single-process redhead, a red gloss will cover any of your natural grays or browns or blondes peeking though, so you don't need to book in for another color appointment for another few weeks," Griscti explains. A color gloss allows you to play with color with much lower stakes. "Some people don't want to permanently color their hair," explains Olsen, "so we can do a combination of glosses and get vibrancy, but you don't feel like your hair is colored."
On TikTok, digital creator @schaelove speaks to the benefits of a clear gloss on natural hair. They use Redken Shades EQ, which makes their curls more defined and conditioned through until wash day. Olsen explains how on a molecular level, a hair gloss evens out the porosity of the hair, essentially making each individual strand the same from root (new growth) to end (old growth, prone to dryness and breakage).
What's the best at-home gloss?
Given the choice between a salon gloss and an at-home gloss kit, I'm going to pick the salon gloss and have it applied by a trained stylist who knows what they're doing. Griscti explains that the results of a professional gloss will last longer than your at-home treatment because salons have access to professional-brand systems. Plus, a colorist can mix different gloss tones to get to a shade that you won't find in a box.
However, the at-home options are good, too. They're essentially like DIY toning treatments that can be applied onto wet or dry hair for subtle tint and shine, depending if you go for a color or a clear version. You may have seen the Kristin Ess Gloss in Copper Penny, which has gone viral on TikTok, taking a natural strawberry blonde to a richer, more auburn tone.
Refinery29 loves the Kristin Ess Gloss, which is available in a variety of shades for $15 at Ulta and Target. Another one of my favorites is the dpHUE Gloss+, which Grischi says she recommends to her clients, too. It's a gloss plus deep conditioning treatment that comes in a bottle as opposed to a box. It's a best-seller at Ulta in its category. I've used the Clear, but Medium Brown is the newest shade that helps tone almost any shade of brunette. Le Gloss by L'Oreal Paris is award-winning, and another easy, in-shower toning gloss that boosts shine and enhances color. Don't expect drama with a hair gloss, as Olsen explains, it's a "refined" treatment.
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