Hairspray is Back!

Hairspray: It’s a word that conjures up so many images—most of them outdated.

Consider the bouffant, beehive, and pompadour, to say nothing of those gravity-defying ‘80s signatures like the über-teased bangs, side pony, asymmetrical chops and Flock of Seagulls styles; all impossible without this sticky aerosol fixative.

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Would you believe that hairspray had its roots in a U.S. Department of Agriculture project in wartime 1940s to develop a canister able to disperse malaria-fighting insect spray? The resulting fluorocarbon aerosol cans beget Helene Curtis Spray Net in 1950 along with a legion of competitors (including the still-going-strong classic, Aqua Net).

Although the cans later came under scrutiny when their ozone layer-depleting powers were exposed, alternative propellants and mechanical pump sprays soon took their place.   

The hairsprays that followed in the ensuing decades did the job—perhaps too well—making these styling spritzes synonymous with helmet head, hard-to-wash-out lacquers, a crunchy, gummy texture and alcohol-based formulas.

But those days are over. “The difference in hairsprays today is that while they may contain some of the same styling polymers, the technology has changed to deliver hold with a soft, smooth finish while preventing frizz,” says Rodney Cutler, a stylist, salon owner and Redken Brand Ambassador. In fact, many women use hairsprays solely for their humidity-repelling powers.

“How it’s applied makes the difference with any hairspray,” says celebrity stylist Jim Crawford. “Remember: Hold the can 12 inches from the head and use a light coating for better staying power and a soft, natural look.”

There are so many tricks today’s hairsprays can do—from hold to height and humidity protection—that this ‘80s staple is back in rotation. Here’s to hoping scrunchies aren’t next.