Shampoo me!
April 14, 2011 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a better shampoo.

I've traditionally bought shampoo and conditioner based on what I can get for cheapest (often free) with sales and coupons, and that worked well up until the last few years. Now my hair feels gross and looks dull no matter what shampoo/conditioner I use. When I get my hair cut, they always ask what I'm using, and point out that my hair feels gummy or waxy (which is true) and recommend whatever product they sell. I've tried both moisturizing products and clarifying products, and everything in between, but I haven't found anything that helps.

I have mostly straight (slightly wavy underneath) hair. It's very fine, but there's a whole lot of it, so I don't need to build body. It's slightly dry and the ends tend to get a little frizzy, but it gets greasy near the scalp pretty quickly. I don't shower daily - usually 3-4 times a week. It's not color-treated and I don't use a whole lot of heat-styling. I'm not interested in going no-poo. I recognize that I may have to spend more money than I'm used to, and I may need to go somewhere other than the grocery store to get it, but I'm pretty broke and not a pamperer by nature, so I'm not looking for something terribly expensive (I can't bring myself to spend $30 on a month's worth of shampoo).

Somebody, please make my hair pretty again!
posted by Dojie to Shopping (37 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I don't shower daily - usually 3-4 times a week.

I think this is your problem right here. If you can start showering daily I bet anything your hair will improve. I also recommend tea tree shampoos, they're good for your scalp and they smell nice. :-)
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 12:49 PM on April 14, 2011

Buy a single bottle of Neutrogena T-Gel in addition to whatever cheap crap you currently buy. Use it once every 2 weeks or so. Your stylists will then, hopefully, tell you what they tell me every time: "My god, your hair is so healthy! What do you use, some expensive Parisian product we constantly try to push on our customers with little success?"

(FWIW, my hair is long and coarse, and like yours there's a whole lot of it and it gets greasy quickly. I do not go more than 2 days without washing it.)
posted by AugieAugustus at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I find that Lush's bar shampoos, while more expensive than most drugstore shampoos, leave my hair (which is thick, but very fine and straight) quite shiny and not feeling gummy or waxy. A bar lasts at least 6 months, especially if you keep the bar dry and don't wash your hair every day. The ones I've used (godiva and ultimate shine) don't have the overpowering odor that Lush products often do. Be forewarned, they don't actually fit in the tins sold for the shampoos. I keep meaning to see if they'll fit in the massage bar tin or the body butter tin.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:51 PM on April 14, 2011

My sister used to get hair like this from the water when she lived down in the states. She'd go to the hairdressers' and they put a shampoo with citric acid in it as a cleaning agent. It'll clear out whatever gunge is in your hair. Only do it once in a few months, though, as your hair gets gummed up again.
posted by LN at 12:52 PM on April 14, 2011

Alright here's the secret. Don't shampoo or conditioners that contain sodium lauryl sulfate. It's a detergent that cuts through grease and oil. This is great if you're washing pots and pans, but not so great for your hair. Burts Bees has a few options you can try. You'll need to stay with this for at least a few weeks, though, since your hair has already been stripped and gummed up.
posted by odinsdream at 12:53 PM on April 14, 2011 [11 favorites]

Neutrogena sells a product a lot like what my sister used.
posted by LN at 12:54 PM on April 14, 2011

Seconding odinsdream.

I shower daily but I only wash my hair with soap a one or two times a week. Even then, I only use Dr. Bronner's. I use diluted apple cider vinegar on occasion, also. My hair has never been better.
posted by Loto at 12:55 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yep, very little shampoo from me, either -- the occasional (once or twice a month) use of Neutrogena's T-Gel to keep my scalp in shape, then otherwise it's a diluted apple cider vinegar rinse and, most days. the "no shampoo" method in which I use cheap conditioner (e.g., Suave) to cleanse the roots and a good conditioner on the ends. My hair's never been better.
posted by scody at 12:59 PM on April 14, 2011

Washing your hair with baking soda every so often can help to clear build-up. You can apply baking soda and water paste directly to wet hair, or mix it into a shampoo, and work it through your hair thoroughly. After you rinse it out, your hair will feel super clean.
posted by illenion at 1:03 PM on April 14, 2011

I'm no health and beauty hippie, but ditching SLS from my shampoo really made my hair a damned sight better. I use ShiKai shampoo - you can get it at Wegman's or Whole Foods, and it's free of most harsh, damaging stuff.
posted by julthumbscrew at 1:04 PM on April 14, 2011

Sulfate-free shampoo, silicone-free conditioner. When you shampoo, focus on the roots; when you condition, focus on the ends. You shouldn't have to wash your hair every day, but every other day might be necessary.

For shampoo, I alternate between Dr. Bronner's liquid soap (strong strong stuff, a little goes a long way) and Suave Naturals conditioner as a co-wash, depending on how dry or greasy my hair is. Conditioner is either Suave or Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition. I hear a lot of good things about Trader Joe's conditioners, too.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:06 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Very fine, very straight, never-coloured, naturally dark blonde hair here. Sadly I need to shampoo it daily otherwise you can see it getting greasy. Like yours the ends can be a bit dry.

Over the years I've tried stupidly expensive shampoos (like $20 a bottle back in the 80s) and cheap shampoos.

My personal experience is anything that has a pearl-like shimmer in it is no good. Ditto Pantene or anything with panthenol. Conditioning shampoos are a big no-no.

Even though I hate to admit it, the best shampoo for me is one that is, around here, sold in dollar stores (in the States it's a K-Mart type find): Alberta V05 Balsam extra body. The company has changed the name and the formula a few times (at one point it was green, now it's a golden colour), but it's still the thing that works best on my particular hair.

As odinsdream said, sodium lauryl sulfate is supposed to be bad for you. I've tried products without it, as I really prefer not to use really nasty chemicals, but sadly I've given up. The shampoo I mentioned has it as an ingredient, but honestly, it's about the only product I can find that even somewhat works on my hair.
posted by sardonyx at 1:07 PM on April 14, 2011

I too have a lot of basically straight, fine hair and my scalp gets greasy and my ends are dry. I know people with normal/thick hair can get away with showering, but I NEVER can. And I really scrub my scalp. I would try showering everyday before switching up your shampoo. Some people say your hair/scalp will eventually adjust to being washed less often, but I've tried and it has never happened. I don't think it works if you have fine hair. There is nothing to absorb all the grease.

My hair is highlighted, so I use more expensive shampoos and conditioners as a result, but I generally go to a salon or beauty supply store and see what major brands are on sale in the big container. You can usually get the jumbo 2 packs of shampoo and conditioner for $20 or $30 and that will probably last you 3 or 4 months or longer.
posted by whoaali at 1:07 PM on April 14, 2011

As odinsdream said, sodium lauryl sulfate is supposed to be bad for you.

As I learned in some googling just a few minutes ago, there is a "DANGER! CANCER!!" segment of the population with regard to this chemical. Please don't count me in that group. I just think it's unproductive for cleaning hair.
posted by odinsdream at 1:09 PM on April 14, 2011

I have fine, mostly straight hair. The Trader Joe's shampoos and conditioners I've tried have made my hair feel gummy. SLS-free shampoos are the WORST for feeling waxy/gummy. Maybe we all, um, have really different hair? With my fine hair, I can sometimes skip a day of shampooing, but not really more than that, and not in the summer at all.

Your question does strike me as odd, though. Always feeling waxy/gummy? I can't help but think that there's something that's gone wrong with your technique. Are you taking much shorter showers? Rinsing less? Rinsing your hair in bathwater? Can you be more specific about what brands of drugstore shampoo you're using? How long do you leave conditioner on?
posted by purpleclover at 1:12 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Target has a private-label version of T-Gel, FWIW. I use it for regular old dandruff control, and the Target brand works as well as T-Gel at a significantly lower price.
posted by chazlarson at 1:14 PM on April 14, 2011

I use and like Burt's Bees shampoo (SLS free) & and Trader Joe's conditioner.

One thing that makes a big difference for my hair is only washing the scalp, then using LOTS of conditioner on all my hair.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:14 PM on April 14, 2011

I have hair likes yours (mostly straight, fine, lots of it, frizz on the ends + oily on the scalp) and I MUST wash my hair every day or else it gets that gummy/sticky/coated feeling.

For what it's worth, I use el cheapo Suave smoothing shampoo and conditioner (it comes in an orange/silver bottle) and find that it does a perfectly good job of removing that coated feeling as well as making my ends unfrizzy.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:22 PM on April 14, 2011

Putting conditioner on my hair every day would be the end of it. It's just too heavy and weighs it down. There is a very, very thin line between fine and limp and conditioner would just pull it right over the edge. Heavy products (either shampoo or conditioner) are the enemies of fine hair.

I do keep a bottle of conditioner around, though, for those odd times when I've had a complicated, back-combed to heaven, sprayed up the whazoo, up-do in my hair. Then I usually need a tiny bit of conditioner just to get a comb through before and after washing.
posted by sardonyx at 1:25 PM on April 14, 2011

Suave makes a clarifying shampoo that does a good job for me. I use it daily when I swim along with a deep conditioner (L'Oreal natural something-or-other) and alternate with Suave green apple shampoo & conditioner on off days.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:35 PM on April 14, 2011

You may have to do a shampoo version of an elimination diet to figure out exactly what your hair wants. Stick to one thing for 2-3 weeks, then switch to another routine. Take notes.

I am also confused by the "waxy/gummy" description. If my hair felt gummy, I think the first thing I'd do is make sure the shampoo was getting out of my hair entirely, which can be difficult in some water. You might start using a quick vinegar rinse after you shampoo but before you condition, and/or leave your conditioner on for 3 minutes or longer (I wash my hair first, get the conditioner in, and then deal with the rest of me while that soaks. I rinse the conditioner out and then put in another very small amount to leave in at the end to control frizz.) My secondary suspicion would be an incompatible styling product, but it doesn't sound like you use much of any product at all.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:36 PM on April 14, 2011

I've been recently having the same waxy/gummy problem as well (although I've been moving a lot, so it might be the water). I've tried a whole bunch of products from Suave and other discount brands right through drugstore "luxury" products and even salon products (Aveda and one other I can't recall). My hair is straight and varies in texture from baby-fine through to those crazy thick black strands. There is quite a bit of it. I don't use any products, because I hate the feel.

Oh, and re: Lyn Never's comment just above - I do rinse very thoroughly, although I haven't tried vinegar. (Vinegar is like the Frank's Red Hot of home & hygiene products - MeFi puts that shit on everything!)

I've also been on a 2-year quest for a great 2-in-1 replacement for my beloved (discontinued, dammit!) L'Oreal Kids FastDry 2-in-1 because I am exceptionally lazy and anything 2-in-1 is right up my alley.

I thought I might have to give up convenience to banish the stickies, but it turns out my solution for both is the same product: Pert Plus 2-in-1 Light. The MSDS sheet (pdf).

I know, right? It's supposed to be horrible cheap crap, toxic chemical sludge good only for making salon workers shriek in horror, but it's the only one that doesn't make me feel like I've shampooed with marmalade. Go figure.

Hey, at least I can steal borrow my dad's shampoo when I go home.
posted by clerestory at 1:51 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have fine straight hair that I have just let grow past my shoulders for the first time in years and have this problem too. Two things have helped me: a shower head filter and using conditioner first and then shampoo. Sounds strange, but it let's the conditioner do it's job without weighing down the hair, and I don't use conditioner every day.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 2:34 PM on April 14, 2011

I have eliminated shampoos that contain SLS too. Now, my scalp doesn't get very itchy or flaky, because that stuff irritates my skin terribly. I also had to find toothpaste without it.

My two favorite shampoos to use are Giovanni's 50-50 balanced hydrating clarifying shampoo, (about $7 for 8.5 ounces), and Trader Joe's Tea tree Oil shampoo (about twice the shampoo for less, but I don't know the exact price).
posted by annsunny at 3:05 PM on April 14, 2011

I have long, fine hair that tends to get oily at the roots and dry at the ends, and for me, switching to silicone-free products has made a HUGE difference. I struggled with my hair constantly when I was using the Pantene-type stuff - the silicone (listed as dimethicone in most products) seemed to "coat" my hair, leaving it somehow both brittle and waxy (and I could totally see calling it "gummy" at the scalp). Clarifying shampoos helped, but that left my ends way too dry (and the problem just came right back anyway).

As soon as I switched to silicone-free shampoo/conditioner, it got way more soft and manageable, and it dries twice as fast now. I still have to contend with frizziness, but I'd much rather deal with flyaways than brittle, waxy-coated hair.
posted by dialetheia at 3:44 PM on April 14, 2011

I use Giovanni's tea tree triple treat, because of dandruff. The Mrs. had great success with a shampoo from My Honey Child (careful for the annoying auto-play). She's got very thin hair, so it's important to have something that rinses clean. I've tried it too, and it's very gentle and very light on your hair.
posted by Gilbert at 3:50 PM on April 14, 2011

FWIW, I tried Burt's Bees shampoo over a similar problem and it turned my hair into *straw.*

Your choice of shampoo may not be the entire problem; it might be water quality/rinsing technique. It might even be, er, scrubbing technique. Be sure to really methodically scrub your whole scalp with the pads of your fingers.

Baking soda might be a great quick-fix. Mix up a big cup of warm water, stir in a couple of spoonfuls of baking soda. Get in the shower, get your hair wet, and then pour the baking soda solution over your head. You'll feel the grease/buildup *slide off.* (But don't do it too often!)

(I'm using a color-safe shampoo, or I would also recommend something more specific, sorry!)
posted by Andrhia at 4:02 PM on April 14, 2011

Brush your hair vigorously, especially at the scalp, before you shower to loosen up and distribute any accumulated oils.
posted by judith at 4:26 PM on April 14, 2011


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posted by Salamandrous at 4:56 PM on April 14, 2011

I have massive amounts of soft, fine, somewhat wavy hair (there's a lot of it, AND it's very long). My hair has never been happier than when I give it Pantene. I have tried the whole gamut from really expensive to "whatever's on sale" and also "alternative, " because I really like my hair, and I wanted to see what would work best. It feels cleaner and detangles better and doesn't get limp and dry and splitty when I feed it Pantene.

I do a lot outside and my hair ends up grungy and sweaty pretty much on a daily basis during the summer, and here summer lasts for about 9 months. I never feel like my hair is getting stripped from the frequent thorough washings.
posted by galadriel at 5:47 PM on April 14, 2011

I'm surprised that no one had mentioned this before, but dry shampoo is a life saver for me. I wash my hair once or twice a week, and I use dry shampoo on the night after I shampoo, and it's good for at least a week. I usually wash it before, though. I think I have pretty beautiful hair, too, and I can go a long, long time (6+ months) without getting a hair cut. I never get split ends. A bottle like the one above usually lasts me several months. If you have dark hair, make sure you use it at night and NOT at your part to avoid having white roots.
posted by two lights above the sea at 7:28 PM on April 14, 2011

Yes, silicones! Yes, sulfates!

I have similar hair to yours: straight with a slight wave, very fine. Silicones make my hair limp and waxy. Sulfates dry it out and make my scalp flake. Switching to silicone- and sulfate-free products has been the best thing I've ever done for my hair.

Burt's Bees, as recommended several times in this thread, is a good brand to try. Their shampoos are excellent. Their conditioners aren't quite heavy enough for my hair, which needs a lot of moisture but not a lot of weight, but YMMV.

For conditioner, I like Trilogy, though I don't know how easily you can find that in the US. Any large chemist or health food store should have a range of brands you can try.

Btw, you may find find sulfate-free shampoo a little weird at first. It doesn't foam up in the same way as regular shampoo, and you typically need a little more product to get the same coverage for your scalp. Totally worth it, though.
posted by Georgina at 7:35 PM on April 14, 2011

Garnier Fructis always works for me.
posted by CorduroyCorset at 10:54 PM on April 14, 2011

Do you live in a hard water area? My hair is generally very flat and lifeless, but washing it in hard water doesn't help.

Knocking off SLS is a good idea to try. The Body Shop do an SLS free shampoo, and there are a couple of brands you can get in supermarkets and drugstores in the UK, so I'd try your local big supermarket. Aveda are SLS free but I can't bring myself to spend £15 on shampoo.

Lush shampoo bars do contain SLS - I looked into getting one as I go away from home a lot - but if you find that this doesn't affect you then it's worth trying.
posted by mippy at 4:09 AM on April 15, 2011

I use shampoo with SLS (my hair doesn't feel clean to me otherwise) but I never use conditioners that contain silicones. I know a lot of people feel that the whole point of cutting out silicones is so that you don't have to use sulfates, but for me cutting the 'cones works. Possibly because it doesn't build up which means I'm comfortable only washing my hair every two or three days. I use VO5 conditioner which is literally the cheapest stuff in the store, and silicone-free (there might be some silicone-containing versions - check the label).
posted by mskyle at 6:52 AM on April 15, 2011

Thank you all for the help. Lots of possibilities. I think I'll be trying the 'elimination diet' recommended by Lyn Never to see what works. I'll start with the T-Gel (my husband used it for a little while, so we have half a bottle left over), and move on to a vinegar rinse and the sulfate/silicone free stuff. I've got some Dr. Bronner's I use for housecleaning, so I'll give that a shot. I've marked lots of 'best answers' that gave me something to try even though I have no idea what 'The Answer' for me will be.

I'll try to answer some of your questions. I don't think I can explain the waxy/gummy thing any better. It's subtle - it isn't as if my hair sticks to my pillow at night. It just feels like it's not very smooth or clean, and it's dull and brittle and hard to work with. Several people recognized the description, so it's obviously a thing.

Washing my hair every day isn't likely to happen any time soon. Small kids and odd/busy schedules make showers too difficult to fit in. I can go a day or sometimes two in between before my hair looks greasy, so that's not a problem. My hair is bleh right after I wash it, so it isn't just getting dirty.

I only shampoo the roots and I only condition the length. I scrub my scalp pretty vigorously. I usually only leave the conditioner in long enough to work it through, but if my hair is getting really tangly or frizzy or brittle I'll sometimes leave it in for a few minutes first. think I have tried all the drugstore brands that have been recommended. I'm not sure about V05.

Water hardness is a possibility. I moved a few years ago, and while I haven't noticed a difference in the water, there may be one. I'm not rinsing any less than in the past, but maybe the water is working against me now. I'll pay more attention to rinsing and see if I can get any more stuff out of my hair.
posted by Dojie at 7:28 AM on April 15, 2011

Just a quick note on your follow-up: scrubbing your scalp vigorously can stimulate oil production, which is the opposite of what you want to do. Gently massage the shampoo in with your fingertips and then rinse well.

I think you may be caught up in a vicious cycle of harsh products and harsh techniques. I had the same problem with my flakey scalp: I thought the solution was to scrub it clean with really strong products, but all I was doing was irritating it even more. When I switched to sulfate-free products and a gentle cleaning technique, the problem I'd had most of my adult life went away.

Good luck with finding something that works for you.
posted by Georgina at 7:56 AM on April 16, 2011

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