Perhaps it’s a beauty-editor thing, but growing up, I worshiped celebrity makeup artists, colorists, and hairstylists almost as vehemently as I did actual celebrities. I devoured glossy magazine pages while armed with a red pen and snip-happy fingers, keeping organized lists and looks precisely organized in color-coded binders. I’ve always been product-obsessed (I owned sticks of Clé de Peau before a car), and my dream was to one day become a beauty editor—an amazing perk of which is talking to and collaborating with said celebrity experts. I feel extremely lucky that dream panned out, and even two-plus years into the job, I get just as excited to talk to artists who work regularly with members of the A-list and who are artistically responsible for the most double-take worthy hair and makeup looks walking down the red carpet. And, being the beauty-passionate nineties baby that I am, celebrity hairstylist Mark Townsend (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen’s longtime mane man) was at the top of my list. Recently, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a local event with Dove at West Hollywood’s Mare Salon where I was lucky enough to meet Townsend and experience his hair magic firsthand. Of course, I had roughly 1.2 million things on my agenda to discuss, but gleaning his best tricks for how to get thicker hair was at the top of my list. During my haircut, (one of the best I’ve ever had, I might add) we chatted all things products, cuts, celebrities, and supplements, and after a follow-up phone interview a couple of weeks later, I’m officially equipped with Townsend’s tips, tricks, dos, and don’ts for getting (or faking!) thicker, healthier, lustrously voluminous strands. Curious to learn more? Keep scrolling! I’m spilling all the details just ahead.
“I love a classic bob—right at the chin,” opens Townsend. “For fine hair, especially, it should be slightly longer in the front, and shorter in the back, which creates so much more volume. For me, length equals weight, so when you’re working with a shorter-length cut like this, your stylist can incorporate a lot more volume into it. Plus, it’s so chic, and the style really elongates the neck.” Of course, Townsend tells me you can part your hair any way you want with this kind of cut, but a deep, dramatic part with almost all of the hair pulled over to one side creates the illusion of more hair and fullness.
According to Townsend, the next best haircut for those looking to make their hair look thicker would be a longer version of the above—a lob that falls just at the shoulder. “I love what Natalie Portman’s been doing with this cut, because she really demonstrates all the different ways you can wear it and how wonderfully it works for different hair textures,” Townsend explains. “She’s worn it curly, straight, sleek—by graduating to the shoulder, you still have enough length for updos, chignons, or even top-knots, so you get a little more flexibility and versatility with styling. “Also, when it’s right at the shoulder and blown out straight, I love the movement it gives the hair when it hits the shoulder—it has to break either in the front of or behind the shoulder—which gives really beautiful movement and is a really great way of faking the look of fuller hair.” Townsend also explains that for bobs and lobs, the ends should be blunt. There are layers in there, but they’re cut from the top which gives lift and movement at the root without making the ends look thin. The blunter the ends are, the thicker the hair will look.
“I love that we’re seeing short hair as really, really cool right now,” says Townsend. “There’s pixie short like Michelle Williams and Joey King have done—and I love Joey King because she’s been doing it with her natural, curly hair. We’re seeing girls with curls keeping their curls no matter what their length us, and I love that.”
“Bangs. Bangs are a really good way to fake thicker hair because the cut gives you so much hair around the face, which creates an illusion of having more hair in general,” Townsend adds. As far as the type and length of the bang, that really depends on face shape and will depend on your unique features. “If you’re often short on time, bangs are a really great way to have a quick but chic hairstyle,” Townsend tells me. “Even if you pull the rest of your hair up into a knot or ponytail, just blow out your bangs and you’re ready to go.” Plus, as he points out to me, bangs can be a really a great compromise for women who have fine texture but still want long hair. Townsend’s longtime client Dakota Johnson being the perfect example.
“Mary-Kate Olsen actually has a lot of hair, but it’s on the finer side—that’s why we really play up that perfect natural wave she has,” shares Townsend. “If it was blown out super-straight, it would be a completely different look with less volume and fullness.” Olsen’s super-stealthy key? Tons and tons of dry shampoo and salt spray. But mostly dry shampoo. “I love products that are more powder-based for fine hair, rather than something that’s more wet and heavy like a hair spray,” Townsend shares. And, if used correctly, he says dry shampoo foams are also an amazing product to use as a finishing touch during your styling routine. (Though the unscented formula above is his other go-to!) “I love Dove’s Foam Dry Shampoo, but I use it at the very end as a styling product,” he explains. “I’ll put a golf-ball size in my hands, rub them together, and it turns into a dry powder then and there. Next, I use my fingertips and rub it all over the scalp, the hairline, and at the crown. It gives and keeps some lift in the hair and works for every texture and style.”
As someone with fine hair who has been a long time (but seemingly lonely!) advocate of volumizing shampoos and conditioners, I felt extremely validated when Townsend told me faking the look of thicker hair starts in the shower. Yep, according to Townsend, you definitely need a thickening shampoo. Oh, and don’t even think about skipping conditioner. “So many women, especially my clients with fine hair—I can’t tell you how many times I say this—you can’t skip conditioner,” lectures Townsend. “There’s this old myth that conditioner is heavy, which used to be the case, but not as much anymore. Now, brands are able to put those essential volumizing agents in there without the hair-flattening creams and lotions. So many women don’t use conditioner, but then load up on volumizing styling products later, which usually have lots of alcohol and can actually leave your hair dry, flat, and crunchy—it’s a vicious cycle.” His one stipulation? Never put conditioner on your roots—just apply it on the bottom two inches (or so) of your hair if you have a bob, and add an additional few inches on top of that if your hair is longer.
“I do love a mousse,” gushes Townsend. “The technology has totally changed, and there’s a lot less alcohol in most formulas. They’ve even started to put conditioners in mousse formulas—I always rake it through wet hair, comb it through with a flat brush so it’s evenly distributed, and then blow-dry—do it old school and flip your hair upside down.” The amount of mousse you should use really depends on how much hair you have, but Townsend doesn’t recommend applying more than a golf-ball size—a little goes a really long way.
“You want to avoid wrapping your hair in a normal towel after the shower because they can really flatten the hair down after you just used your volumizing shampoo and conditioner,” Townsend warns. He says using a real microfiber towel turban (like the cult-loved ones from Aquis shown above) is better, but, and I quote, “He’d rather be punched in the face” than see a client wearing an old-school towel turban on their head. These are really meant to absorb moisture, and the hair gets stuck in between the towel’s tiny loops, which roughs it up, causes, tangles, and leads to hair loss or breakage—not a great side effect for someone looking to get thicker strands.
Townsend tells me that he’s been loving hot rollers as a great way to style and lend more bounce and body to fine hair, and afterward, strategically back-combing your strands can be an amazing way to enhance the volumizing effect even more. “This is when the fun really kicks in,” he begins. “We are seeing a lot of volume right at the hairline and crown right now, which is my favorite silhouette pretty much of all time. After using the rollers to give your hair some lift, don’t be afraid of back-combing. But instead of using hair spray, (which can get sticky and matted), I use dry shampoo. I spray it at the root, and then tease, grab another section, spray, and then tease, etc. The powders get in there and then literally build on top of each other which gives you longer-lasting volume and more natural-looking volume.” That said, Townsend is obsessed with the above formula from Kevin Murphy (which Dakota Johnson actually turned him onto!) that’s a powder-based hair spray, essentially giving you the best of both worlds.
“With fine hair, I’m always scared to add too many products because once that hair is weighed down, you almost have to start all over again,” Townsend admits. “I try really hard to stay away from any wet products. Oils and serums are great for people with thick hair in order to add shine and smoothness, but if my clients with fine hair need that, I pretty much only use two different products—the above serum from Iles Formula because it’s so, so light—almost like a lotion—or Virtue Labs The Perfect Ending Split End Serum ($40). It’s like a haircut in a bottle! It’s actually a cream, but it’s very, very light and absorbs into the hair almost immediately with zero residue.”
But be careful with your formula and always check with your doctor. For instance, biotin is touted as a wunderkind hair hero for growth, but our bodies can only absorb so much, and flooding your system with too much of the vitamin can actually lead to breakouts—something both Townsend and I have personally experienced. That said, he’s a huge fan of strategic supplements and has heard plenty of client success stories as well. “The hair growth supplements out there right now are really great, and honestly, I’ve tried almost all of them,” he shares with me. “I’ve been on Nutrafol for about a year, and I’m a huge believer in it—it has biotin, but a much smaller amount, and the brand also adds other amazing ingredients like natural stress inhibitors. I swear it even helps me sleep better. “Also, I have two clients who absolutely swear by Viviscal. For me, there was too much biotin, but everyone is different, and it’s worth some trial and error to see what works for your system.”
According to Townsend, regular cuts—even if it’s just a dusting—are essential for helping your hair to look and feel as thick as possible.
“There’s no saving a truly split end,” he says point-blank. “Yes, there are products that can
mask runs and fish hooks, but you really have to snip them off to get rid of them for good. And the longer you wait, the more hair you’ll have to part with down the road.”
Trimming off those ends isn’t something you have to do every three to four weeks, however, just heed Townsend’s advice and book an appointment every eight to 12 weeks or so.
Next: I’ve Been Bleaching My Hair for 15 Years—Here’s How I Still Have Hair on My Head.
This piece was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated.