If you’re on #HairTok, chances are good you’ve stopped scrolling to watch a slicked-back bun tutorial. It’s easy to see why the look has social media in a chokehold: The sleek style, which is often created on wet hair, exudes high-fashion vibes that elevate your whole look. But before perfecting a sleek bun, it's important to keep in mind that this style can cause damage if done incorrectly. We caught up with Hannah Nishimoto, Shu Uemura Art of Hair educator, to give us the inside scoop on how to slick back your bun—the right way. And, spoiler alert: It doesn’t involve styling sopping wet strands.
Is a slicked-back bun damaging?
In general, frequently working hair into tight hairstyles like buns, ponytails, braids, and locs may contribute to a form of temporary hair loss known as traction alopecia. While the occasional slicked-back bun likely won’t cause much damage, over-manipulating hair into one of these looks might—especially if you’re using lots of product on wet hair. Wet hair is weaker and more prone to damage than dry hair. Combined with the tension from tightly-wound elastics, hair pulled into these sleek styles can shed or break off. What’s more, the high-hold gels needed to keep the style intact don’t do anything to help improve hair’s look and feel; instead, they simply coat the hair’s surface to keep your strands from budging.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help keep your hair feeling its best, even if you love a slicked-back style. First, try to limit tight, slicked hairstyles to twice a week. When you do decide to rock the look, be sure to start with dry hair that’s been dampened with nourishing masks, oils, and serums. These hair care products can help give hair that sleek, wet effect while delivering hydrating, protecting, and strengthening benefits at the same time. It’s a win-win.
“If your hair is fine to medium, I recommend [Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s] Ashita Supreme Serum for its lightweight texture that also tackles frizz,” says Nishimoto. Meanwhile, those with thicker hair may want to reach for a richer and more luxurious oil, like the brand’s Essence Absolue. For a fine, brittle mane, skip the oils and serums and instead coat hair with a strengthening spray, like Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Izumi Tonic. The rice water-infused treatment can assist in creating “stronger, thicker hair fibers.”
How to Do a Slicked-Back Bun
Ahead, Nishimoto outlines her favorite way to do the trendy chignon using a few of her go-to tricks and products. You’re only five steps away from slaying a sleek bun of your own.
Step 1: Part your hair.
How you part your hair for your slicked-back bun is a matter of personal preference (are you team middle or side part?), but different placements can offer different results. A middle part lends a more traditional off-duty model vibe to your look, while a side part can help soften your features or conceal a cowlick. You can also take the playful route with a zigzag part to pay homage to the Y2K era.
Step 2: Use products to fake a wet look.
Although hair shouldn’t be wet-wet, you’ll still need to create the illusion that it is. Fake it by slightly moistening your hair with a spray bottle and then slathering on a serum, oil, or mask. You can also layer a few products together to reach your desired finish. Nishimoto loves combining an oil with an airy mousse. The former helps nourish the hair, while the water-based latter spreads easily over strands to help dampen them. By the end, hair should look wet and reflective—a trademark of sleek styles.
Nishimoto suggests separating your hair into sections as you apply your products for the most even distribution. Take care not to oversaturate your hair with products, though. Remember: Wet hair is more vulnerable to damage.
Step 3: Brush your hair into a ponytail.
The next step is creating a ponytail. Gather your hair about two inches above the nape of your neck and smooth down the front and sides with a brush. Boar bristles are best for this step, according to Nishimoto. Their smaller bristles effectively capture and sweep back every strand without causing too much friction against the hair fiber. Once you're satisfied with the shape and height of your hair, secure the pony with an elastic.
Pro Tip: To get a really flat, slicked-back look, brush your hair back in small sections “to ensure you're getting [hair] as close to your scalp as possible.”
Step 4: Wrap your bun.
Twist your ponytail with your fingers, then wind it around the elastic to form a donut shape, and secure it in place with a hair tie or bungee. If any strands are sticking out, tuck them into the bun using bobby pins.
Step 5: Smooth the sides.
Put the finishing touch on your look by smoothing down the sides of your hair with a strong-hold gel or pomade. Nishimoto recommends Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s Ishi Sculpt to “enhance the sleek wet look, eliminate frizz, and leave your hair with tons of shine.” Use a spoolie to rake a pea-sized amount of it through your hair.
After mastering the classic version of a sleek bun, you can move on to creating a snatched ponytail. Our guide, How to Do a Slicked-Back Ponytail, has you covered.
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