A blog chronicling the adventures of a Chicago-based hairstylist and makeup artist!

May 3, 2010

What's the difference between drugstore and salon shampoos/conditioners? A lot. Read more.

The Difference Between Drugstore and Salon Brand Shampoos and Conditioners

As a hairstylist one of the most common questions I am asked is, "are salon quality and drugstore shampoos/conditioners really that different?"  The answer: yes.  In fact, not only are salon brands better, drugstore brands can really be hurting more than just your hair.  So please, don't automatically feel as if you are "being sold" when your hairstylist recommends a shampoo and conditioner.  It is their job to make your hair look great and that continues after you leave the salon as well.  Note: While reading this please keep in mind that though ingredients names might sound similar, they can be quite different. 

It is commonly thought that a shampoo has to have a lot of lather to actually be working but lather is sometimes an indicator of harmful ingredients that are present in your shampoo.  Shampoos can still effectively clean your hair without producing a lot of lather.
Shampoos contain agents/surfactants that cause lather and the most commonly found is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) followed closely by Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (ALS) and Ammonium Laureth Sulfate (ALES).  These are very common because they are very inexpensive to use.  SLS will ruin colored hair, is pretty irritating, often used in industrial cleansers and there is a lot of evidence that suggests it is CARCINOGENIC (cancer causing).  ALS and ALES are slightly less irritating than SLS but they still can often be found in clothing detergents and other household chemicals.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is much less irritating/harsh than SLS and is usually found in higher end, salon quality products.  Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate is even less irritating because it has larger molecules that are not as easily absorbed into the skin. 
Also, check ingredients on everything you buy, even salon brands.
My philosophy: If you are going to spend the money to have your hair colored, spend the money to keep the color molecules in tact by buying shampoos that have been formulated specifically for salon-colored hair.

Brands containing SLS, ALS, ALES:
Pantene, Herbal Essence, Dove, Pert, Head and Shoulders, VO5, Suave, White Rain, etc

Brands containing SLES:
Bumble and Bumble, Davines, Aveda

Conditioners are traditionally used post-shampooing to restore oils to the hair that have been lost during cleaning.  Typically, silicones are used to mimic the Sebum (natural hair oil) that has been lost but there are different types of silicones that can be used to do this and they have different effects.  Dimethicone, which is found in very high concentrations in Pantene, forms a film on the cuticle of your hair which makes the hair feel great.  However, too much Dimethicone creates a barrier that your natural oils (Sebum) cannot penetrate and your hair becomes dry and ends begin splitting.  Don't get me wrong, Dimethicone isn't always bad.  Some great conditioners contain very small amounts of Dimethicone, intended to smooth out rough cuticles and when used in styling products it can help reduce frizz and protect hair from humidity.   Cheaper deep conditioners contain a ton of Dimethicone which coats the hair, making it feel fantastic but in the end, it really isn't doing anything for the interior of the hair shaft.  If you have curly hair, avoid Humectants.  They grab moisture from the air which will then lead to added frizz.  If you have colored hair avoid Cetrimonium Chloride.  It is antiseptic which is great for people with scalp conditions but bad for colored hair.  Conditioners are all so different and that is why it is very important you talk to a professional stylist about what type of conditioner is right for your hair type.

Buying professional brand shampoos/conditioners at the drugstore--
This is called Diversion.  Professional brands that can be found at drugstores are there illegally.  When a professional line sells their products to a salon there is a contract involved that states that the salon will not sell their products to a third party distributor.  However, sometimes when salons change product lines or close they still sell off their lot of hair goods to the third party distributors who then do who knows what with the products before they show up at Target, Walgreens and CVS.  Be weary.  Often times they are just as expensive, if not more, when you buy from a retail store and they are not guaranteed by the company.  Products can be tampered with, diluted or counterfeit and you will never know the difference until you get home and you break out in a rash or it doesn't deliver the expected results.  Also, even if it is cheaper, the difference is miniscule.  Especially, if you have a relationship with your stylist, respect and trust them enough to buy from them.