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We Asked Women Across the Country All About Their Hair

Splitting Hairs is our monthlong exploration of hair based on a survey of women across America. It’s like you brought a photo to the salon — we’re giving you exactly what you want.
Aug 06, 2018 @ 9:00 am

This spring, InStyle tried something new. In a nationwide survey, we asked 1,463 women to open up to us about their hair. We know hair’s important (based on our own experiences in the salon chair, and the sustained interest we see in InStyle beauty content). But it turns out, there’s a whole lot tangled up in how women think about hair, and we have the data to prove it — which we’re turning into a month of articles tailored to what American women want and need to read on the subject.

We asked women of color (29%) and those who are white; women who are married (66%) and not; who have kids (34%) and don’t; who work (64%) and are unemployed as many questions as we could about what they hate, love, and don’t understand about their hair. Some of the answers were predictable: Women love Jennifer Aniston’s hair. (We get it — we’re considering getting highlights again because of her September issue cover alone.) Other responses were a little less expected.

Such as: The number one product among women 18 to 74, from coast to coast, is hairspray. Hairspray. So we can all stop pretending we don’t use it. And if you feel like this whole dry shampoo moment came out of the blue, your age probably has something to do with that: 13% of women under 35 say they use it every day. Women 35 and older? Dry shampoo is hardly on their radar (only 3% use it regularly).

Of course, our findings go deeper than that. A full 81% of women reported that they feel the most confident when their hair looks great; 72% say feeling good about their hair is empowering. But this is even more true for moms than women without kids (something we’ll examine later this month).

We also found that geographic location plays a role in how women feel about their hair. In the Northeast and Midwest, women are most likely to feel that their hair is a big reflection of their personality. Women in the South are the most likely to experiment with new products and tools. (Black women, no matter the location, are the bravest when it comes to trying new styles.) And say what you will about everything being bigger in Texas — it’s women in the Midwest who are the most concerned about thin or fine hair, and looking for products and styling tips that guarantee volume. All of those answers, forthcoming this month.

Here’s a fun fact about red hair: It’s even rarer than you think. While 10% of women with dyed hair have the shade, only 4% of those with untreated hair do. That makes any given red 2.5 times more likely to be salon augmented.

If you’re looking for a great hair unifier, frizz may just be it. A full 71% of women list it as their biggest hair concern. Moms put breakage and split ends at the top of the gripes list. For Black women, lack of moisture is the number one hair issue — and 60% cite leave-in conditioner as their hero product. Latina women add hair loss to the list of concerns, and worry more about that than other groups, despite reporting a tendency toward naturally thick, voluminous hair. Asian women’s top reported hair problem, on the other hand, is a lack of volume, though they rank hair loss, breakage, frizz, and dryness close behind.

Then there are the celebrities: Jennifer Aniston. Jennifer Lopez. Gabrielle Union. Julia Roberts. These are a few of your favorite hair icons (duh, right?). Among Black women, Beyoncé nabbed the number one spot. Number one overall? That’s Blake Lively. Stay tuned for the full list, and how to get each woman’s best look.

Here's a surprise: Celebrity hair inspiration doesn't drive women to the salon. In fact, 84% say they got their last cut because they were just bored with their hair; 70% wanted less maintenance. Weirdly, big life changes, like breakups, new jobs, and babies, did come up, but not frequently enough to rank.

Below are more findings from our Splitting Hairs survey — America's top products, how much you’re spending on maintenance, and more. And please, check back throughout August. You’ll find stories every single day, from one editor’s battle with being allergic to her own bangs, to an exploration of all the ways black women’s hair is still regulated and repressed in the U.S., and a whole lot of products you’re going to want to buy. We’re not going to spoil much more than that, so get your satin pillowcase ready, and settle in.