Hair Tonics Are the Multitasking Products You Didn’t Know You Needed
They're like serum for your scalp.
Are you looking for a product that can add shine to your hair? What about a product that can increase your hair's manageability and hold? Or are you looking for a product that can give you fuller, more voluminous hair? Believe it or not, there's one category of hair product that can do all of those things (and more).
I'm talking about hair tonics. If this is the first time you're hearing about them, you're not alone. Even though they've been around for ages, hair tonics are a class of haircare products that is just now becoming a bonafide beauty trend.
What are hair tonics?
Because they cover such a wide range of hair concerns, hair tonics aren't an easy category of products to pin down with a single definition. They do a little bit of everything, depending on which tonic you're using. As Bianca Garcia, a stylist at Bumble and Bumble, puts it: "All hair tonics are different!"
One thing is for sure, and that's the fact that "hair tonic" is an umbrella term for a wide range of products. According to Matrix celebrity colorist George Papanikolas, "'Hair tonic' is an old-school term for products that add shine and help with styling and keeping the hair in place."
Old-school is right. According to Jeannette Graf, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, "Hair tonic has been around for many, many years, and its purpose is to make hair appear healthier and glossier."
What do hair tonics do?
Aside from prepping the hair and assisting in styling, hair tonics can boost hair health. "Traditional hair tonic has oils that can help hold the hair in place, moisturize dry hair, and make it easier to style," Dr. Graf says. "Newer versions of hair tonics are like serums for the scalp to deliver ingredients that stimulate healthier hair growth. There are also tonics for people with sensitive scalps, with anti-inflammation benefits to soothe it."
Hair tonics can also act as targeted treatments, addressing concerns like dullness and thinning. "Hair tonics target follicles right where the hair grows," says Brooklyn Cardenas, Paul Mitchell educator and owner of a Kelly Cardenas Salon. "Stressed or dormant follicles can be tight, causing hair to grow in thin and shed faster. Healthy follicles have sufficient nutrients and proper circulation, which creates healthy and plump follicles, creating thicker and fuller hair."
How do you use hair tonics?
Most hair tonics should be used post-shampoo to prep and prime the hair for styling. Tonics that target specific hair concerns, however, can be used up to two times per day at the roots. Again, it all depends on which tonic you're using and for what purpose.
Keep scrolling to see five expert-recommended hair tonics and instructions for using each one.
1. Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Scalp Care Tonic
"I recommend the Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Scalp Care Tonic," Cardenas says. "It contains an exclusive botanical blend called Regeniplex. The natural cocktail of ingredients includes Kakadu plum, pea peptides, clover flower, turmeric, and ginseng, resulting in fuller, thicker-looking hair."
Apply the tonic one to two times daily. "Section your hair, spray directly into the scalp, and massage in with your finger. Apply to all areas needing treatment. The product will absorb and not leave any residue and will not affect styling." Cardenas says consistency is key when it comes to this hair tonic. "It can take up to six weeks to see dramatic results. Hair loss happens slowly, and it comes back slowly."
2. Matrix Total Results Miracle Creator Multi-Tasking Hair Treatment
Both Papanikolas and Stenson recommend this treatment, which doubles as a hair tonic. "I recommend using this hair treatment if you're looking to hydrate your hair and keep a moisturized finish," Stenson says. "This product is a great option for winter because it keeps the hair hydrated in the dry air and remains touchable."
"It's a multitasking treatment that offers 20 hair-beautifying benefits through each use," Papanikolas continues. "Some of the product highlights include detangling, protecting against heat damage, and improving overall manageability in hair."
3. Bumble & Bumble Tonic Lotion
"The Bb. Tonic is a priming product; it's used to soften and add moisture to the hair for a smooth detangling process," says Garcia. "I like to use this tonic on towel-dried hair; spray it all over. It preps the hair for detangling and helps all other products penetrate the hair evenly."
4. Foligain Triple Action Complete Formula Scalp Solution
This hair tonic is a targeted treatment for women with thinning hair. It supports the look of fuller, more voluminous hair while also aiding scalp health. "Foligain's Triple Action Complete Formula Scalp Solution is great for women with fine or thinning hair looking to increase the look of thickness, fullness, and body," says Dr. Graf. "It's clinically studied to show hair growth without any OTC drugs—just with natural botanical extracts! A lot of topical OTC solutions are actually quite harsh and drying to the scalp, so this is a great alternative." Apply it once daily directly to your scalp, and massage it in for best results. If you want to take it a step further, use it in conjunction with the brand's hair and scalp roller to encourage new hair growth.
5. René Furterer Astera Tonic
Dr. Graf also recommends this soothing scalp tonic. "This product is another botanic[al]-based tonic that's aimed to soothe and calm irritated scalps," she says. "This one is great to use before shampooing."