Skip to main content

How to Use Hair Serums

I offer professional advice and knowledge about all things hair dye. Discover the terminology, chemistry, and processes behind dyeing hair.


Is your hair difficult to manage? Do you wake up with a lion's mane? A lion probably wasn't your stylistic muse, and it's likely safe to say it's not the look you're aiming for. If you have hair that is frizzy and untamed, a smoothing serum might be the answer to your hair problems.

Smoothing Serum Benefits

Hair smoothing serums are products comprised primarily of silicone compounds. These compounds have some great properties for use in beauty products and that's why they see extensive use in hair and skin products where they act as a form of barrier cream to smooth, moisturize—and more importantly—to lock moisture into the hair so that it is less prone to problems like dryness and frizz.

Whilst silicone compounds are the major active ingredient to a hair serum, they generally also contain a few other conventional conditioning and nourishing ingredients that improve the look of hair and strengthen it over time. This gives serums a plethora of benefits, and almost anyone can benefit from using one.

What Serums Can Do for Your Hair

  • Tame frizz.
  • Calm down static.
  • Prevent heat damage.
  • Act as a straightening or curling aid.
  • Add shine to dull hair.
  • Reduce dryness.
  • Prevent humidity from ruining your style.
Bleached and colored hair is often susceptible to dryness. Smoothing serums can help.

Bleached and colored hair is often susceptible to dryness. Smoothing serums can help.

Methods of Use

Smoothing serums are rather versatile in how they can be used, and they specific way you choose to use these products can change their effect slightly. This means if you wanted to combat a certain problem like dryness or frizz, there's a way to use the product that enhances its ability to do this.

Some of the different ways to use serums include:

  • Used prior to blow drying on damp hair, serums reduce frizz, combat heat damage, and produce a sleeker finish.
  • When used before straightening hair, they make it easier to straighten stubborn or resistant hair whilst produce all of the above effects. They also add additional shine and conditioning to the finished style.
  • Used on dry, previously-styled hair, they can improve the hair's appearance and movement by adding a healthy sheen and reducing friction that can otherwise cause snagging. They also act as a barrier cream against humidity or steam moisture.

Serums and Blow Drying

A common problem for those who blow dry their hair is that the heat can damage and weaken hair over time. If you've colored or chemically treated your hair previously, you'll want to avoid blow drying where possible as it has a cumulative effect on your hair's condition.

A smoothing serum can help to alleviate the risk of damage though when used on damp hair before drying because they have a heat-protectant effect. Serums help to coat the hair and condition it so that it behaves itself, making them a great product for anyone who prefers to regularly blow dry their hair. They can even help reduce drying time in long, thick hair due to the hydrophobic properties of silicones.

Use smoothing serums whilst styling with heat for best results.

Use smoothing serums whilst styling with heat for best results.

Styling Hair With Serum

Hair serums have significant benefits when used on dry hair prior to the use of other heated styling tools like straightening irons. For this purpose they will protect the hair from heat and help to seal the cuticle after using heated tools. They tame leftover frizz and flyaway hairs to make it easier to straighten your hair.

One benefit that certainly doesn't go unnoticed is that serums allow a straightening iron to glide across the hair much more easily. This means there's less chance of snagging or anything else untoward happening because the straightener has a smoother surface to move across. They can also reduce tangling whilst combing the hair, so there's less pain and work involved when you brush or section out your hair during straightening and styling.

To use them to help straighten your hair, administer one pump of the product and evenly distribute it through your hair. You need to use a light touch when you do this to avoid applying too much product to any one location. Keep your hands moving to reach everywhere and massage your hair for a few seconds before brushing or combing to finish evening out and distributing the product.

You can straighten your hair immediately after the product is applied and follow up with another dose of the product after finishing if you want to add more shine and further enhance the straightened style. This finishing touch is particularly helpful for sufferers of dry hair or when environmental humidity will be an issue for the maintenance of your style.

Smoothing serums can be used after styling as a finish.

Smoothing serums can be used after styling as a finish.

Use After Styling

If you suffer from dry hair and leave-in conditioners aren't offering much help, a smoothing serum is the best option. Not only do good products contain effective moisturizing agents, but the silicone compounds in the smoothing serum act like a barrier cream. This can help prevent the loss of hydration from your hair during the day.

For this purpose, you can use a small amount of product as often as you need through the day. Smoothing serums last a long time because you only need a dab of the product. They are compact and easy to carry around wherever you go, should you find yourself suffering from dryness whilst away from home.

Smoothing serums are also one of the most effective ways to manage your hair in humid climates. When the humidity is high, hair absorbs moisture from the air, frizzes up, and loses its style as a result. Because of the barrier cream effect, hair serums can protect your hair from this excess humidity, whilst maintaining the correct amount of moisture in your hair so it looks better for longer.

Humidity Protection

  • Smoothing serums protect the hair from environments that are high in humidity.
  • They lock in adequate moisture to prevent hair from being dry and brittle.
Locking in adequate moisture is a great way to make sure your hair stays strong.

Locking in adequate moisture is a great way to make sure your hair stays strong.

More Styling Tips

For best results with hair smoothing serums, it's important to always use them properly and there's a few things to note that will ensure that you get the best out of the product:

  • Never apply too much. Using too much will cause the hair to feel too slick and have the opposite effect—a little is really all you need.
  • Apply before the use of heat to protect against damage.
  • If you're using hairspray, apply your smoothing serum first and give it time to set into the hair.
  • Using smoothing serums with waxes or gels is counter-intuitive and won't produce the best results. Smoothing serums reduce cling, add shine, and make hair sleek. Waxes and gels are meant to add grip and a matte texture. If you need to use wax or gel, give the serum a miss, and vice versa.

Choosing a Serum

Choosing the right smoothing serum for your hair will give you the best results. Whilst there's no hard and fast rule to tell you which product is best for your hair type, you'll find that different hair types generally suit specific consistencies of serum.

  • Fine, thin hair lacks volume and tends to sit flat and look dull. The last thing you want to do with hair like this is weigh it down more. For hair that is fine or thin, look for a lighter serum to avoid over-coating your hair. A lighter hair serum will protect and nourish your hair whilst allowing it to maintain volume and movement. For great results, use a product like Matrix Deep Smoothing Serum, or a spray-based product like Goldwell Sleek Perfection, and apply sparingly.
  • Coarse, thick hair however, has no problem with volume. The issue with this hair type is that it tends to puff up and be unruly. To smooth out thick frizzy hair, use a denser and stronger smoothing serum like Redken's All Soft serum.
  • For hair that is in-between, you'll find that you can use either side of the smoothing serum range. In this case, it will take a little testing to find a hair serum that gives you the absolute best results, but all serums should work quite well to tame your hair.

As is always the case, different people have different needs when it comes to hair. It may help to try a few different serums before you commit to purchasing one. Salon products are generally significantly better than the products you can buy in a supermarket and will provide you the best results overall. Most importantly though, have fun styling your hair and don't be afraid to try something new.

Do you have a question about smoothing serums? Having trouble finding a product that will help you manage your hair? Leave a comment for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.

More Information

  • How to stop frizzy hair
    Frizzy hair can be a nuisance. If your hair has you unduly stressed, it's time to stop frizzy hair in its tracks and keep it at bay once and for all...
  • Caring for colored hair
    Colored hair requires care to keep it looking good and prevent the shade from fading. By following a few care and styling tips, your color will look fantastic for longer.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Maffew James


Lee on May 21, 2018:

What is the best serum for natural gray hair?

Shiwani on August 08, 2017:

Mam can I use pre colour serum for uncoloured hair as well

toby78 on November 27, 2016:

I do not straighten my hair as much as I used to, but I blow dry alot. So I was in need of a good quality heat protection spray. I had read some reviews of the Somaluxe Argan Oil that it left hair feeling not heavy or greasy. So I tried it

I just use the Somaluxe Argan Oil after I finish showering and it has totally protected by hair from the blowdryer. It has a lovely fresh smell and my hair just looks SO GOOD after using it

Nishad on October 15, 2016:

If i oil my hair @ night and use a serum in the morning, does it soak up the oil?

Also can i apply it everyday?!

Mary Ware on June 23, 2016:

Hi Maffew! Great post on the usage of hair serum. Love your posts. Whenever I shampoo or deep condition my hair I must pump up some of my favorite GKhair serum into my dry and frizzy hair to create smoothness, shine and glow. And I am glad that it works perfectly on my hair. The best I have ever used I can say that. :)

Zoya on November 02, 2015:

can i apply oil after using serum

Maffew James (author) on January 22, 2015:

Hi Daphne,

No problem, good luck with the Macadamia oil, it should work well.

Daphne D. Lewis from Saint Albans, West Virginia on January 19, 2015:

Thanks for giving me the link to this one on your other hub, Maffew! I've used the Argon oil before and am now looking forward to getting and trying the Macadamia oil.

Maffew James (author) on June 22, 2014:

Thanks for the comment, it's great that you've found a product that works.

As much as you hate blow drying your hair, it's probably preferable to blow dry it rather than sleeping while it's wet. Hair is more fragile when wet so if you're moving around in bed it will really frizz it up and potentially cause split ends and breakages. Using the leave-in product will definitely help because it will condition your hair and eliminate some of the frizz.

If you want it to look really smooth and you have plenty of time to style it, use the leave in conditioner before you blowdry it, then use a dab of smoothing serum and spread that through your hair before you curl or straighten it. You can even use a little more serum after you've straightened it to add more shine and tame any remaining frizz.

Teach42 on June 21, 2014:

My hair is wavy, coarse, long, thick, and super frizzy. When I let my hair air dry, it turns into this awkward frizzy straight hair with wavy pieces but when it's wet, it's so wavy it's almost curly. I hate blow drying my hair (because it takes an our and a half), so I usually just let it air dry overnight and straighten it in the morning. (let me note that my hair is so unruly that I also have to straighten my hair in order to curl it.)

So last night, I decided to use for the first time the Shielo Leave In Protector - and I didn't blow dry it. I let it air dry throughout the night. It's 6 am now, and though parts of my hair are still wet as usual, the parts of my hair that are dry look AMAZING. It looks like my wet hair, but dry. I'm usuing Shielo more for frizz control and the straightening benefit.

Maffew James (author) on March 17, 2014:

Not a problem, I'm glad to have been a help. Good luck :)

Cassandra from Georgia on March 17, 2014:

Thanks for pointing me in the right direction. You've been a good help.

Maffew James (author) on March 14, 2014:

I can imagine that would be very annoying :p

If you want to know more about keratin treatments, here's an article about them:

Also, if you have a favorite hair care shop and it has a website, I'd be happy to browse through their products and tell you which smoothing serums are good.

Cassandra from Georgia on March 14, 2014:

Fantastic! Because that gritty, oily stuff all over my hands and face drives me crazy.

My mother used this professional brand relaxer..don't worry, she was a dresser for many years; however, we never used a keratin treatment before. I have heard of straightening shampoos, but never tried it.

Maffew James (author) on March 14, 2014:

The main ingredient is mineral oil, and that explains why it doesn't feel very good when it gets over your face and hands. It's probably a little similar to how hair feels when the natural oils build up as it comes time to wash it. Smoothing serums are made with silicone compounds instead of oil, and after you apply it into your hair you can't feel it anymore and it doesn't move around so you wouldn't have that problem with a serum.

I think if you've always had a problem with frizz, it may be more to do with your hair type. It might help if you buy one of the spray serums and then when you style your hair, section it out into layers. For every layer, comb it out several times until you've eased out as much frizz as you can and then lightly spray it and run a straightener through it to set the layer smoothly. Sectioning your hair out like this really helps if its thicker.

One more question. Does your hairdresser offer keratin straightening treatments? It's an alternative to relaxers and it doesn't cause anywhere near as much damage. Some people even say it repairs their hair. Your hair might be better suited to that kind of straightener.

Cassandra from Georgia on March 14, 2014:

Most of the time I use a blow dryer. It's faster, though it doesn't always get as straight as an iron. My hair has always been frizzy, and it's about medium thickness.

I've tried several oils. The only one that seems to work well is Oil Sheen by Isoplus. But it gets all over my face and hands..can't stand that.

Pink Oil sheen sucks, as well as this other one I tried. I've pretty much given up straightening my hair now.

I am using this olive oil hair cream, I hear it helps repair damage. I also use cholesterol conditioner. I haven't relaxed my hair in about a year, and I always made sure I waited at least 6 months before doing it again, but sometimes even longer because I just didn't need to.

I've heard about these serums..just wanted to make sure it wasn't just some other oil spray that may or may not work for me.

Maffew James (author) on March 14, 2014:

Hi, thanks for the comment :)

Serums will give the most benefit if you have dry hair, or hair that doesn't maintain moisture properly. Because you've noticed that oils help sometimes, it could be moisture related as the oil treatments prevent the hair from drying out and this can reduce frizz. Serums add moisture also, but they feel really slippery and sleek compared to oil, and act as a barrier against the environment, which oil does not. So if oil treatments work for you then a serum could be even better.

As far as the relaxer goes, the damage from the relaxer could be the root cause of your frizz. I'd recommend a protein treatment to help repair the damage. It will stop it being so fragile too. Do you remember your hair being less frizzy before using relaxers? Or has it always been frizzy?

Also, do you use a straightening iron or blow dryer when you style your hair?

Cassandra from Georgia on March 13, 2014:

Thanks for this.

I have pretty weird hair, quite fragile. I have used relaxers so I know that has a lot to do with it. I usually resort to just throwing mousse in my hair and calling it a day. I have luck with oil sometimes, but they never seem to protect very well against humidity.

Not sure if it can be blamed on my hair type, or the product..which leads me to ask if this serum works well with all types?

My hair is very...poofy, frizzy, kinky, but soft.