This spring, I took a less-than-revolutionary plunge and got the haircut I’d been lusting after since freshman year of college—the long bob. I guess it really started out as a short bob, or as industry experts call it, a bob, but within a month or two it grew out to my desired length. Then there was a hitch I hadn’t foreseen: The natural shape my lob assumed was neat and bowl-like—a reality that worsened when I brushed it. As someone who has never been far from her Mason Pearson brush, I was unprepared for the topsy-turvy notion that my new hair looked better when it was a mess.
But how to manufacture that? I’d never ventured into hair product use beyond the occasional spritz of a thermal dry conditioner, both because I loathe the feeling of stickiness and crunchiness when I run my fingers through my hair, and because I’ve never really needed it: With thick hair that falls so straight it won’t hold a curl, I’ve been able to coast with minimal hairstyling. The new cut changed that, but I was at a loss for how to adapt. So when a friend recommended I try salt spray, I was intrigued. Seemingly unintimidating and user-friendly, it felt like a good place to begin my foray into product.
Below are the results of my test-drive with five of the most highly rated salt sprays I could find. My questions with this experiment were twofold: Would testing sea sprays convert me into someone who can stand the feeling of product in her hair? And would it get my head of hair closer to where it was trying to go (a Babba Canales Rivera or Maya Hawke sans bangs, a 2013 Leandra Medine, all of my friends in college)? I tested for three variables: the salinity (how saturated with salt the spray is, and how closely it mimics the feeling of having just emerged from the ocean, determined by the metric of granularity), the crunch factor (the hand-feel of my hair post-application, a.k.a. how much it seemed like it was coated in hard-shell chocolate sauce), and how the spray performs in terms of 360° lob transformation.
(A quick disclaimer: By the time this story and I met face-to-face at the saloon doors of the publishing calendar, my hair had grown out to a shoulder-grazing length. In the event that this concerns you, know that my next trim is imminent.)
Salinity: Smooth and gradual, like Jeni’s Salted Caramel Ice Cream.
Crunch factor: Medium crunch, like a bell pepper.
Overall transformation: Rahua is a clean, green beauty brand I learned about via Into The Gloss, where I also read that Antoni Porowski tried to bottle his own DIY sea spray with ocean water, only to find out through olfactory detection that natural salt water goes bad after a few days. Regardless—Rahua’s vegan spray is formulated with pink sea salt, evidenced in the spray’s blushy color. Rahua’s Enchanted Island Spray spurred nothing dramatic, but worked agreeably as an enhancement: it was effective in creating wavy shape and volume.
Salinity: Like a potato chip, this spray is crisp and light, while packing a lot of punch.
Crunch factor: Minimal, on a crunchy peanut butter level.
Overall transformation: The before and after doesn’t do it justice—I had just woken up and it looked better in person. Some latent salt remained in my hair after a shower, which actually produced the most desirable effect: a slight wave and added body without the impediment of gobs of salt in my hair. I’ve liked Davines’ dense conditioners in the past, so I was glad that their spray met the same high standards.
Salinity: Like Rick’s Picks Classic Sours, there is only a (welcome) tingle of salty residue.
Crunch factor: Ranked very low, like the softest sweet potato fry in a basket.
Overall transformation: My first ever foray into the goop universe! The difference here was subtle, though French Girl was a workhorse in terms of horizontally lateral, full-bodied oomph. The faint, wafting scent of jasmine didn’t hurt, either. 10/10 would come again.
Salinity: Salty, like truffle fries.
Crunch factor: A Dorito-ian crunch that softened over time.
Overall transformation: This organic spray had a gradual effect, expanding my wet hair from its resting state, which was flat like a sun-baked soda. With a healthy you’ll-get-what-you-paid-for dose of salt, a rosy aroma care of two essential oils (rose geranium and palmarosa), and a glimpse of glitter from the responsibly sourced mica, this one was the multi-tasker of the bunch. It’s also available in a blonde-friendly sheen that looks like liquified gold, and in a sterling metallic formula for the silver foxes among us.
My Appointed Crown Jewel of Salt Sprays:
Herbivore Sea Mist, Coconut
Salinity: Light and muted, akin to that of black olives or edamame beans.
Crunch factor: A non-factor, like a maki roll.
Overall transformation: This spray’s effect was as minimal as Herbivore’s packaging, and in this context of this experiment, that’s the highest prize a product could win. It functions as a slight boost that doesn’t throw a wrench into an everyday routine. I had seen Herbivore’s various products all over Instagram for years and, as is rarely the case in instances of overexposure, the brand lived up to its hype. At the risk of sounding cliché, I will admit that the Herbivore spray was my favorite.