When you have long hair, if you want to do anything useful with your life, you need something to keep your hair in control and out of your face. Women have found lots of ways to do this all through history, and some work better than others. Sometimes it's fun to play with all the braids, combs, caps, bonnets, ribbons, headbands and other stuff they came up with, especially if you want to put together a really authentic outfit for a costume party or a Renaissance Faire or something like that. When you get done playing dress-up and you just want something easy that works, most of the time you go for a hair elastic.
Fake hair elastics -- Warning!!
A lot of people just say "rubber band" when they really mean a hair elastic, but it's even worse when people say "hair elastic" when they really mean a plain rubber band! Most hair elastics have rubber bands in them somewhere, but if you care about your hair at all, you don't want to put a plain old rubber band in it. Bare rubber could seem to work fine when you first put it in, but when you try to take it off, it'll catch too many strands of hair and break them, or even pull them out by the roots (Ouch!).
Different people have different opinions about this but in my opinion there's only two situations where you should even THINK about putting plain rubber bands in anyone's hair:
- If you're going to cut off all the rubber bands, OR
- If you're going to cut off all the hair with rubber bands on it.
That's it. That's all. There's no other time.
Maybe you need a whole lot of rubber bands for some kind of super elaborate hairstyle, or a home perm or something. (Oops! Better not get me started on home perms!) Maybe you can't spend a whole lot of money. If you have to use the plain rubber bands because they're cheaper, at least make sure you cut them off (carefully!) when you're done with them. They can still damage your hair, but at least that way you're giving it a fighting chance.
If you're doing some kind of haircut, and you only put the rubber bands right at the end of sections you plan to cut, you might be able to get them off without doing too much harm. If you're very very careful.
Most of the time you just don't want to use plain rubber bands in anyone's hair. Just say no!
Real hair elastics
The kinds of hair elastics that are okay to use in hair are the ones some people call "covered rubber bands." They don't all have rubber bands in them, but many do.
The basic idea is a rubber band covered with a tight weave of fabric. The fabric is supposed to let it slide along the hair without catching the individual hairs, so it hopefully doesn't do any damage.
The cheapest kind of hair elastic will have a little piece of metal on it. That's because they're made from huge rolls of "covered rubber band" material. Those get cut into little pieces, and then they use a little metal clamp to make it into a circular elastic band so you can use it in your hair. Usually these are okay, but sometimes there can be rough spots on the metal part that can damage hair. Also the clamp might be loose, or it could work itself loose when it gets old, and hairs can get caught in the gaps. (If one of these gets old enough for the metal part to look rusty, you definitely shouldn't use it!)
The next step up is the hair elastic with no metal clamps. I'm not sure how they make these into circular bands, maybe they melt the ends of the rubber piece together, or maybe they sew it together with threads. However they make it, this kind is nicer for your hair because it's completely covered with fabric.
The "ultimate" in hair elastics is basically just a luxury version of the second kind, made with expensive fabrics like satin that are slippery and have the lowest chance of catching your hair. These can get pretty spendy compared to the basic cheap ones. If you're the kind of person that's already spending hundreds of dollars on professional stylists, and salon type shampoos and conditioners, and stuff like that, they might be worth it.
The biggest difference between a scrunchie and the basic hair elastics I've already talked about is that a scrunchie uses a lot more fabric. Instead of just barely enough to cover the rubber band, there's enough extra fabric to make it bunch up around the base of a ponytail. It makes the scrunchie into a nice fashion accessory instead of just a styling tool. Because of this, there's hundreds of different kinds of scrunchies, in lots of different colors and patterns of fabrics. You can even get high-end luxury scrunchies made with fabrics like satin, if you want to be really sure you're giving your hair the best money can buy.
I don't know if these satin scrunchies really make a big difference, but you probably do want to stay away from some of the homemade scrunchie styles, especially the crocheted ones. Some of these look really pretty, but that kind of fabric has too many holes in it, so they could be almost as bad for your hair as a plain old rubber band.
Some people call these ponytail holders. They're a little easier to use than most other hair elastics, so they're especially good for younger girls and early teens. They come in lots of cute "little girl" styles, but you can find them in styles for grown-up women too.
Most of these are made by taking the cheapest kind of hair elastic (the ones with the little metal clamps on them) and looping it around a couple of decorative pieces about the size of a marble. These can be glass or plastic globes, or little pieces of plastic that look like a butterfly, or lots of other fun and cute things like that. These little pieces act like fasteners, because they're just a little bit bigger than the loops of elastic.
Your basic ponytail holder looks kind of like this:
/ \ \ / / \
(( )) >-=====-< (( ))
|-> \_/ / ^ \ \_/ <-|
| -----/ (clamp) \----- |
| ^ ^ |
| (elastic loops) |
The usual way to use one of these is, you wrap it around the strand of hair you want it to hold, and then push one of the decorative pieces through the opposite loop of elastic. The elastic will make the two solid pieces press against each other and keep the whole thing from pulling loose.
You can also use a hair elastic to give your little brother a painful snap when he gets out of line. I'd never think of doing anything mean like that myself, so I can't give you any instructions for how to do it. Just remember, don't abuse the powers of the hair elastic! You might regret it later in life.