Pantene or Suave, KMS or Ouidad, Salon Selectives or Aveda? Is there or isn't there a difference between designer hair care formulas and products you can find at the local drugstore?
This topic is almost as hotly debated as religion, politics and the opinions change depending on a variety of perspectives.
Are all hair care formulas treated equally? Some say yes, some no. What do I think? Definitely not.
While most consumer hair care advisors might tell you to get the biggest bang for your buck and shop for value, hair care stylists and experts may tell you to find the products that work best for your hair type and stick with them. I agree.
For many years I worked my way up and down the shampoo section of the local Drug Emporium. I used Clairol Herbal Essence for the wonderful aroma until I noticed my hair became extremely dry and crunchy. I used Flex, Vidal Sassoon and eventually graduated to Pantene.
Along the way I continued to damage my hair in all the classic ways, excessive blow drying, hot curling and coloring. My hair was a horrible mess of knots and tangles. I could not shampoo without finishing up with a leave in conditioner, a good detangler and 25 minutes of hard core knot removal.
I loyally defended by drugstore blends until finally my stylist enticed me to try a salon formula by giving me a bag full of samples. It was love at first shampoo.
I slowly started exploring my way from Aveda to Bain de Terre to Framesi and found hair nirvana with Phyto and Rene Furterer. Along the way I tried multitudes of designer formulas. Some great and some not so great.
Is There A Difference Between Salon & Drugstore Brands?
Is there a difference between salon quality products and drugstore blends? Absolutely. My hair is witness to that fact.
While you may hear there is no significant difference between the salon formulas and the mass-market brands, buyers must beware.
While all shampoos have very similar ingredients, not all shampoos are created equally. Most drug store brands contain a common detergent that is known in the shampoo world as "sulfates". Are sulfates required? No.
Some more natural brands will not contain sulfates since they can be harsh on the hair cuticle for the majority of people. The key purpose of sulfates is to generate a lot of lather.
Many people are so used to getting great suds when they shampoo, if they don't get a good lather they assume the product is faulty or is not cleaning their hair properly.
Not All Sulfates Are Created Equally
Not all sulfates are created equally. While most shampoos will use the most common sodium-lauryl sulfate others lines by use other sulfates such as sodium-laureth and ammonium-lauryl sulfates.
How do you find the best hair care products for you?
Ask your stylist. They can advise you about the products that work best for your type of hair. While I personally do best with salon quality products, I recognize that they tend to be pricey compared to drugstore brands.
Not everyone can include the higher priced hair care products in their budgets. Explain to your stylist what is acceptable price wise within your limits and ask them to give you suggestions based on what you can afford.
Shampoos also include ingredients that provide other specific benefits such as adding moisture, volume or body. Some shampoos are designed to help dandruff or other scalp related problems.
The "special ingredients" designed to provide custom hair care are what differentiates the shampoos.
Aveda was one of the pioneers in the current field of using natural botanicals to accomplish special hair care goals such as moisturizing (Aveda Shampure) or adding temporary color (Aveda color shampoos).
Do you want to see what shampoos share in common? Put a bottle of Aveda shampoo next to a bottle of Clairol's Herbal Essence.
Are natural ingredients really natural? Again it depends on whom you talk to.
Some experts will tell you that most of the natural ingredients that are boasted by hair care companies are actually chemical compounds that are derived from those original natural ingredients. It is hard to really figure out what is going on from the label since there is usually no information on the quantity, quality or true source of the botanical information.
Shampoos With Special Claims
Do shampoos claiming to add special volume, shine and manageability really work? Good Housekeeping (GH) Institute's famous testing facility actually tested a bunch of shampoos with special claims.
Good Housekeeping Institute selected Suave Protein and Balsam Shampoo for Normal Hair as a control shampoo. GH selected the Suave because its only claim to fame if to clean your hair.
GH tested both salon and drugstore brands and pitted them against the Suave. What did they find?
Rapid Dry Shampoos
Rapid drying shampoos tout faster drying times for time pressured people. They are designed to coat the hair cuticle with a variety of chemical substances (think scotch guard for your hair) that will help shorten drying times whether blow drying or air drying the hair.
GH tested the following two fast drying shampoos:
J.F. Lazartique's Rapid Drying Shampoo at $16 - $18 USD for 5.1 fluid ounces.
Redken's Active Express Flash Wash $7.50 USD for 10.1 fluid ounces.
GH found that the rapid-dry shampoos really do work and they really do cut the drying time for your hair.
According to GH, Redken worked the best clocking in at 27.5 minutes compared to the J.F. Lazartizue at 35 minutes and the Suave at 55 minutes.
Shampoos designed to add volume to the hair claim they can plump up fine or thin hair and add body.
The old version of volumizing shampoos worked by depositing ingredients right on top of the hair shaft to thicken and fatten.
The newer versions of the volume shampoos claim to open and penetrate the hair cuticle and work from the inside out.
GH tested the following two volume shampoos:
The Products: L'Oreal's Bodyvive contains Ceramide-R, which strengthens and seals the hair's cuticle, reinforcing body and texture.
Amplify Volumizing Shampoo from Matrix has cleansers which open the cuticle, then deposit tiny moisturizing polymer beads to increase the diameter of hair, according to a Matrix researcher.
The Results: Both of the volumizing products increased hair volume slightly (Bodyvive by 9.6 percent, Amplify by 15 percent).
Shampoos designed to deep-clean the hair by removing buildup from styling products claim they can plump up fine or thin hair and add lots of lush body.
The Products: Good Housekeeping tested Clairol Herbal Essences Clarifying Shampoo. Herbal Essences contains gentle ingredients that remove buildup on the hair shaft, leaving the hair soft and manageable. GH also tested Paul Mitchell Shampoo. It contains two conditioners with lemon extracts to deep-clean hair.
The Results: The two different clarifying shampoos appeared to remove gel buildup equally well. But the control shampoo, which didn't claim to do anything beyond cleaning, did just as good a job as the clarifier.
What the true answer? Is there or isn't there a difference between designer hair care formulas and products you can find at the local drugstore?
Your best bet is to work with your hairstylist and get a list of recommended shampoos that's best for you and your hair type. All shampoos basically contain the same ingredients and generally achieve similar results.
Does that mean you should ditch your salon or professional brands for the mass market options? While sometimes cheaper may be better, but not always. While a hair consumer with super healthy, virgin hair might fare just fine with mass market shampoo products, someone with chemically treated hair might experience a less than positive response.
Remember to select products that work best for your hair type, texture and condition. Also, remember that shampoos that work for one person might not work for others.