Are Salon Shampoos Really Only Sold At Salons?
June 27, 2010 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Are the salon hair care products sold online and at drug and grocery stores the same products that are sold in salons? Has anyone checked this out in a lab?

These brands -- Paul Mitchell, American Crew, Redken, etc. -- contend that they can only guarantee products sold via a licensed salon. They suggest that the products sold elsewhere are counterfeit, adulterated, or diversions from licensed vendors. While I am sure counterfeit shampoos exist, it seems much more likely to me that the salon brands sold online and elsewhere are purchased by the same distributors who sell to the salons. (And exactly what the heck does "licensed salon" mean? I've never seen a license on the wall at one.) For example, if a distributor buys 10,000 units of a Redken product, is Redken going to police him to ensure that he doesn't place 5000 of those units in Target and at

It seems to me those manufacturers have an strong incentive to create a mystique about "Salon only" products, while winking and nodding at distributors who place the products into mainstream retail channels: Profit.
posted by justcorbly to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well, from the products I've seen I know that there are a couple of different explanations. Paul Mitchell, for example, used to be the kind of thing that you really would see only in salons, kind of like Aveda is right now. However, I've noticed that a lot of drugstores got into selling higher-end products several years ago for whatever reason. The Walgreens downtown, for example, is near an area where a lot of wealthy students live, so they started carrying things like Sebastian and John Frieda before I ever saw them in other large grocery-type store. And now I never see Paul Mitchell in a salon, so I'm guessing that some products have just gotten less exclusive. American Crew, too, seems to be popular in barber shops and lower-end salons like Cost Cutters, so it's probably some sort of licensing thing that has gotten weaker and less exclusive over time.

On the other hand, some products do have salon versions. I had never thought of L'Oreal, for example, as a salon product, but one of the larger and better salons here in town is a "L'Oreal Exclusive Salon" and uses a whole bunch of L'Oreal salon products that I'd never seen. Some might just be concentrated or differently fragranced versions of the stuff they sell in the store, while others probably have different formulations or come in a different form so the stylist can mix and customize on the spot (like hair color).

And yes: profit.
posted by Madamina at 2:32 PM on June 27, 2010

I end up not buying diverted products most of the time because they always seem more expensive in the drugstore than they do at the salon. I'm a little concerned about products being old, but have a hard time believing that this is something people would want to pirate (maybe I'm naive). Pureology makes a strong statement on their website and vows to track people down:

Why Diversion is Bad
Diverted products can be counterfeit, diluted formulas, or old, expired formulas that may not be safe to use.

Pureology states on all its collateral and print material, "Genuine Products Guaranteed Only In Salons." This means if you buy our products in a supermarket, drugstore, or any other outlet other than a salon or spa, we cannot guarantee that it is an authentic Pureology product that will perform as tested.

Are You in Danger?
You could be. Contaminated or counterfeit products could cause irritation or even infection.

Who is Diverting Products?
Products are diverted by unauthorized distributors and salons or their employees, plus other dishonest individuals who see profit in piracy.

Exclusive product coding is used to track the movement of Pureology products. This is the method for tracing products to industry diverters. Pureology representatives undertake regular shelf sweeps at unauthorized retail outlets in the U.S. These products are subsequently decoded in an effort to identify diverters. Ongoing intelligence procedures uncover diversion schemes, including those involving stores and misuse of the Internet.

Diversion information can be communicated to Pureology by calling the Pureology Hotline at 1-800-503-3997 or by e-mailing us at
posted by analog at 2:43 PM on June 27, 2010

See what analog wrote? Nth this to the 1000th degree.

You would seriously be amazed how much counterfeit/pirated product ends up on shelves. If you buy anything that is an "exclusive" brand and didn't always buy it from an authorized seller, then you've probably have a fake or two on your shelves.

Every time I see Avon/Pampered Chef etc stuff at a yard sale, I shudder. I also would never buy "salon only" products anywhere but from a salon - fakers don't have to pass their product through the FDA & who knows what is in those bottles.

I've heard some real horror stories about fake products and the harm done so yeah, I'm maybe overly cautious. I like having eyes, fingers and toes, thanks.
posted by jaimystery at 3:01 PM on June 27, 2010

I like having eyes, fingers and toes, thanks.

Is this a serious concern? That Pureology statement sounds like the same kind of paranoid missive the FDA put out about the evils of Canadian prescription drugs. I'm not being snarky here, but I've never, ever heard of a raft of counterfeit shampoo blindness cases.
posted by 6550 at 3:30 PM on June 27, 2010

The Beauty Brains blog had a good article about this: "Are Salon Products in Regular Stores the Same as Those in Salons?"

In a nutshell, your suspicions are correct.
posted by Houstonian at 3:44 PM on June 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

I used to walk past a store that sold salon products but the sign on the door said that you had to have your cosmetologist license with you just to go inside.
posted by bentley at 5:48 PM on June 27, 2010

If Pureology is worried about diversion by "unauthorized distributors" why is Pureology selling to those distributors?

If a company only wants its products sold at authorized salons, wouldn't it be prudent for that company to sell directly to those salons, rather than risking diversion by distributors?

In addition, the notion that shampoo companies would run intelligence operations that swoop into grocery stores to check for diverted products beggars belief. What could it do when it found a naughty distributor? I do think it's likely that they pull this stunt once or twice a year or PR purposes and to lend credibility to their claims.

It's all a bit like Proctor & Gamble saying Tide shouldn't be sold at Kroger or Safeway.

My salon stocks some products, but has never tried to sell me anything and I've never seen anyone buying any of the stuff.

Finally, why aren't these people selling online? It's not like it's difficult. Everyone and his brother is selling something online, but I haven't found a single salon shampoo company that is.
posted by justcorbly at 12:42 PM on June 28, 2010

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