To start, I would try some different products. I only say this because your current product and routine is not working so it is time for a change.
It sounds like you are using a lot of inferior products. Try looking at the ingredients of the products. Some may not be good for your hair. To find out which ones are not good for your hair is through trial and error and paying attention to how your hair reacts to certain products.
For example, I recently found out that my hair hates most oils. Oils make my hair frizzy. Now I pay attention to where oils fall on the list of ingredients of products and what type of oils they are. Jojoba oil (which is really a liquid wax) equals dry frizzy hair. Coconut in small amounts in products is all right. For other people these products are perfect. It is all about listening to your hair. It goes for silicones, petrochemicals, sulfates, etc. Some hair likes those products, some hate them, and some can take them in small doses.
Also, note that it also depends on with what the ingredients are mixed. For example, sulfates such as SLS on their own may be harsh but mixed with Cocamidopropyl Betaine the sulfate is gentler. This goes for all ingredients.
Washing more than a few times a week is not good for most curly hair (especially if you have tighter curls) because it can strip your hair of its natural moisture. I would Deep Treat (DT) with heat more often to put the moisture back into your hair.
You may need a little trim to make your hair look healthier but you do not have to shave it off just because a stylists tells you so.
I have weird hair and the only products that have given me consistently good results are the Jazma Kerasoft Leave-in Conditioner and the Kerasoft Moisture spray. These products helped to put moisture in my hair without weighing it down with oils. I also use a dollop of Kinky-Curly’s Curling Custard on humid days.
Also, stimulate your scalp by daily or almost daily massages. This helps with growth and natural oil production.
But it sounds like your hair just needs moisture and a LOT of it. Find out what type of moisture your hair likes (i.e., oil or humectants) and then use a lot of it.
For example you could try vitamin E oil. Vitamin E oil or the oil gel (Good Earth and Fruit of the Earth are brands you can find in the drugstore) is not a real oil. It is a humectants emulsion which will give your hair much needed moisture. There are other humectants out there. If your hair does not like oil then the humectants are great.
And remember simplicity is better. Sometimes a good leave-in conditioner is all your hair needs. The other products are just "icing on the cake" and not necessary. Remember this when you are going out to buy products.
Ponytail may be causing some of your trouble too. Putting your hair in the same position everyday can cause breakage. Experiment with different updos and buns if you are not ready to wear your hair loose. Also get a good trim. You do not have to cut it short just get it shaped into a nice style and get the dry ends but off your hair. You would be surprised how manageable your hair will become.
Also, for us to help you better could you answer the following questions?
Can you let us know your exact routine of applying products and styling your hair?
Also, are you open to buying non-drugstore products? I am asking so that other posters have a better idea of what products to recommend.
I know many people would recommend Elucence as a daily conditioner/leave-in. It is a “Holy Grail” for many curlies of all curl sizes. I use it but it is not a HG conditioner for me and will not reorder it because although it is good it does nothing special for my hair. I have not found the best conditioner for me yet. I will probably buy the Jazma Kerasoft Reflex Moisturizing conditioner during my next Kerasoft order since my hair likes the other products in that line. In the mean time, I use Elucence and honey for DTs and Nature’s Gate Organic Chamomile and Lemon Verbena as a daily rinse out conditioner (very moisturizing for me and detangles well). Some people also have luck with Suave and VO5 conditioners. I have tried a few of them over the years and only the VO5 Strawberries and Cream worked and even that just coated and weighed down my hair.
Have you experimented with oils?
Does your hair like silicones? For example, my hair likes water-soluble silicones such as Amodimenthicone or Dimenthicone (not by themselves only when combined with something to make them water-soluble) other silicones such as Cyclomenthicone and Cyclopentasiloxane are too heavy and greasy (which strangely leads to dryness). These are not silicones but my hair also dislikes heavy butters and waxes such as jojoba oil and bees wax.
What are you looking for in a styling product and conditioner? For example do you need hold/control, weight, shine, moisture, etc.
Do you have a lot of volume? If not, do you want to have a lot of volume? If so, do you want to keep a lot of volume?
Is your hair fine, medium, or coarse? What is the texture like? When choosing products strand size and texture is probably more important than curl size. But when choosing an application or hair technique (e.g., raking, plopping, etc.) curl size matters.
This is a very long post but I hope you (or someone) were able to gain some information from it.