You’d think that something as commonplace as hair would be easier to maintain. But the reality is, despite generations of (sometimes questionable) hand-me-down beauty insights inherited from our ancestors—like liberally applying oil to your scalp or brushing your hair 100 strokes per day—it often takes years upon years of personal trial and error to master our own hair. And what’s more? The issue can get even more complex with hair extensions in place. So how should you be taking care of your precious mane? We’re here to help you figure it out.

Step 1: Parse out your hair type.
There are lots of things that go into the makeup of your particular strands: curl pattern, hair thickness, hair density, porosity, and even terminal length, to name a few. And you can bet that a lot of these things stem from the one hand-me-down your ancestors successfully transferred to you: your genes. Whether you believe it or not, you and your biological family probably share at least a few hair traits, which means that they should be the first stop on your journey to hair care-enlightenment. Exchange tips and strategies that have worked to tame your natural frizz, or to spruce up your mutually limp locks. Even if your strands are markedly different (like, one sister has curly hair, the other stick-straight hair), you can probably help each other figure out your respective hair profiles. NaturallyCurly.com has some great resources to aid in your evaluations (yes, even for you straight-haired ladies).

Step 2. Determine your haircare objectives.
Your haircare routine will have a lot to do with your natural hair type, but it will also have a lot to do with the way that you like to wear and style your hair. Ask yourself, “What am I aiming for with my hair care routine?” and “What products/ingredients will help me arrive at that goal?” If you like to routinely curl, straighten, or color your hair, one of your objectives should definitely be to minimize/repair damage to your strands, because who doesn’t want healthy-looking hair? If your hair was recently dyed, color-maintenance will likely be one of your objectives. Similarly, if you wear hair extensions, well-blended and well-moisturized hair is a MUST! But keep in mind: hair products aren’t superheroes. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a product that enhances your curls, adds volume, prevents frizz, prevents color bleed, solves all of your problems, and matches perfectly with your hair type. In addition to mixing-and-matching products with different emphases, you’re going to have to prioritize your haircare objectives.

Step 3. Match yourself with compatible products.
If you’re not going about your beauty shopping like you would online dating, then you’re doing it wrong. You should be reading all the descriptions, looking out for relevant keywords (especially the sexy ones like “sulfate-free”), and gauging the compatibility between the product’s intentions and your haircare needs. You should be prepared to try out a few different options with a degree of regularity before making final judgments. And you should be looking for the best possible fit (within reason—see above). Remember: while a one-size-fits-all product may do the trick, it’s basically the equivalent of settling for John from next door. You can probably do better.

Step 4. Fill in the gaps.
Like they always say, what over-the-counter products can’t do for you, do for yourself. And by that we mean, you’re inevitably going to need to do more with your hair than just washing and brushing it if you’re serious about shaping up your routine. We don’t care how amazing your products are—you’re still going to wake up with bed-head now and then. Prepare for it now with the proper tools and recipes to get the job done. Again, the tactics you use will have a lot to do with your haircare objectives—the way you want your hair to turn out. While we’d be more than happy to pry those heating tools out of your fingers for good, we know that many of you value your perfectly-tailored locks above all else (including hair integrity). That’s fine, and that’s your choice (just remember to stock up on heat protectant, too!). For those of you who are a little more squeamish about hair damage, consider playing around with some new styling methods. The internet is chock full of heatless styling tutorials and DIY recipes—all you have to do is test them out and see what works for you! (Pro tip: YouTube is a great place to start looking.)

What’s your haircare story? How long did it take you to arrive at a routine that works for you? Let us know in the comments below, and check in again next week for a complete hair extension care guide!