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It's a Slicked-Back Bun Summer

Here's how to get this season's sleekest style without damaging your hairline.

It's a Slicked-Back Bun Summer
Photo: Jeremy Moeller/Getty Images

There’s much ado about the slicked-back bun. It’s particularly buzzy as the official hairstyle of the #CleanGirlAesthetic, which is anchored by minimalist makeup looks, effortless hairstyles, and outfits that can only be described as Nancy Meyers-esque. But for a large faction of people (ahem, myself included) it’s a top-tier protective style that’s been in heavy rotation for decades. For as long as I can remember, my baseline beauty look has been a center-parted, slicked-back bun with swooped baby hairs. I wax and wane on the products I reach for to smooth and hold—in high school I would douse my bun in hairspray so that it felt helmet-like—but continuously keep a boar bristle brush, rat tail comb, and toothbrush (for edge styling) on-hand to keep my slicked-back buns on-point. Though there’s been some pushback on the #CleanGirlAesthetic and who gets left out of that hashtag, that aside, I do understand the appeal of the slicked-back bun. It’s a simple, sleek, elegant style that’s easy to execute and completely resistant to frizz—what more could one want in a style?

The only caveat for the slicked-back bun is that it might be harder on your hairline than you’d assume. The dull ache and instant fox eyes that you get when you secure your bun? That’s from the excessive tension on your hairline. “While you may find yourself wanting to wear this style on a daily basis, it's important to know that it can be damaging to your hair,” hairstylist and Authetic Beauty Concept ambassador Justin Toves-Vincillone tells Coveteur. “The mid-lengths of your hair become susceptible to breakage due to tension of the hairstyle. Also, tugging on your hairline to achieve ultimate sleekness can cause stress to your hairline where the strands are often finer and weaker than the rest of your hair.” Ahead, Toves-Vincillone and celebrity stylist Graham Nation share tips to achieve buns that are super sleek with minimal damage.

How Can Slicked-Back Buns Be Damaging?

If you’re anything like me, you prefer your buns to be as tight as humanly possible. This looks sleek, yes, however it pulls on your hairline in a way that can create long-term damage if you’re opting for the style on a regular basis. “Tugging on your hairline to achieve ultimate sleekness can cause stress to your hairline where the strands are often finer and weaker than the rest of your hair,” Toves-Vincillone explains.

Sleeping with your hair in a slicked-back bun can also be hard on your hairline, Nation adds. The same can be said for using too many pins to secure the style or using harsh products on your edges a la Gorilla Glue Girl.

Does the Hair Tie Make a Difference?

According to Nation and Toves-Vincillone, the hair tie can make or break the damage that your hair takes on when styled in a slicked-back bun. “Choosing the right hair tie for this style is the first step in saving your hair from repetitive tension that leads to breakage,” Toves-Vincillone says. With that, it’s best to avoid anything with a high-grip, rubber band texture. “This kind of hair tie will stay put in your hair for hours, which seems convenient, but actually puts too much strain on your strands and can be damaging,” he explains.

For thicker hair, Toves-Vincillone recommends Utiles Beauty hair ties to keep the style on-point and keep damage at bay. “These are meant to effectively secure your hair into a ponytail or bun without an intense grip,” he explains. “They’re soft and stretchy and can be double or triple-tied based on your comfort level.” Overall, he says that opting for hair ties with a "no damage" label is key. “This means they're designed for long-wear and are made of materials that won't tug on the hair,” he explains. “Scunci No-Slip Grip Hair Ties are a great place to start.” Meanwhile, Nation has been using P.S. x Danielle hair ties designed by celebrity hairstylist Danielle Priano. “They are gentle on the hair, but will hold your ponytail tight and in place all day,” he raves.

How Can I Minimize Damage on My Slicked-Back Bun?

Separate the Edges

Nation says to keep hairline-tugging at a minimum, you should take a two-step approach to your slicked-back bun. “Section off your hairline, about one inch all around your face, and pull your hair back into a ponytail," he suggests. "Then, after, go back and use a light hairspray and a soft boar bristle brush to marry the hairline into the ponytail.” To hold the roots back, he uses UNITE's ELEVATE Mousse. "Remember, a little goes a long way and you’ll want to brush everything into place before the product dries into your hair.”

To give the bun some shine, he uses a styling cream instead of a traditional gel or pomade. "It provides a light hold and glossy finish without using a gel, which can be harsh on the hair," he adds. To finish things off, he spritzes the bun with a flexible, lightweight hairspray to hold things in place. "Le:Play Hairspray is great for putting the finishing touches on your slicked-back bun," he says. "You never want to over-apply product in your hair, so this is a great way to achieve a sleek and smooth finish with enough hold and without gluing the hair to your head."

Elevate Mousse


Start on Damp Hair

“To achieve a super-sleek look without pulling too tightly, start by lightly dampening your hair with either water or your favorite leave-in conditioner—this will help with control," Toves-Vincillone says. Next, he suggests brushing your hair back into place using a brush catered to your hair type and applying gentle, firm pressure. "Secure your hair using a no-damage hair tie and wrap your ends into a bun. Now, use a clear pomade and a clean edge taming brush to gently direct any flyaways or stray hairs back." This, he says, is the step where the highly-coveted slicked-back finish really takes shape. To finish things off, he says to "press firmly in areas that are more resistant, and finish off with a high gloss hairspray or any medium hold shine spray.”

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