Are salon shampoo/conditioner better than shop ones?
August 2, 2017 7:22 AM   Subscribe

I spent a lot on the shampoo/conditioner my hairstylist recommended. I'm not sure it's making any particular difference (lots of split ends, tangly, hard to comb, despite doing pretty much all the things that people recommend for looking after hair). Are salon products really, genuinely, better than supermarket products?
posted by tangerine_poppies to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Are salon products really, genuinely, better than supermarket products?

Not according to my father in law, who is a distinguished chemist of hair products, and has consulted with most of the big brands.

He says all the basic ingredients are the same, what changes is the scents and the feel of the foam.

I'd say save your money, especially on the shampoo. You may also be interested in the no-poo methods, but that's potentially a whole different discussion.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:38 AM on August 2, 2017 [18 favorites]

Short answer: yes.
Slightly longer answer: There are some store products that are good, but about 9/10 they are still less concentrated than the products at the salon. You can fix this by just using more product and washing for longer. Like, a lot longer. Leave that shit in your hair a long time.
posted by FirstMateKate at 7:39 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Stylists always say yes but as a long time hair owner I say no, just check out labels. I have curly dyed hair so I stay away from sulfates and dimethicone. It's just as difficult to find what I need in a salon as it is at the store.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 7:57 AM on August 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yes, totally, unless you have unusually easy to care for hair. If it's curly, dyed, dry, limp, sparse, very thick (or if you swim) - go with salon stuff.

Drugstore hair products might have some of the same ingredients as higher end ones (e.g. L'Oreal d/s vs L'Oreal higher end). But the fillers etc make a difference in how they behave and in the finish.

I agree that if you have to save somewhere, save on shampoo (& spend on conditioner) - I often do that. But a nice shampoo can make a big difference (esp if you have dry hair).

(I think drugstore makeup mimics fancier makeup much more successfully than is the case with hair products, no idea why.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:17 AM on August 2, 2017 [4 favorites]

Personally, I have found that for my hair, it really depends on the product. I do not notice any difference between salon and supermarket shampoo and conditioner, but I do find the fancier curl cream works a lot better than cheapo supermarket hair gel stuff. That said, I never buy it at the salon because you can almost always find the exact same product cheaper on Amazon or at a discount beauty supply store.

I tend to think it's really varies by each person and their particular hair, so I would just do a test. Switch out for a cheap shampoo for a couple of weeks and see if you notice a difference, then do the same with other products. If you find you're not liking the results, it's very easy to go back! And if you don't really notice any change, hooray!
posted by rainbowbrite at 8:21 AM on August 2, 2017

I will say that generally salons, even high-end ones, have no idea what's in their products and it's impossible to avoid allergens or scents.

The salon industry has lost about 20 years' worth of business from me, so far, because of this.

(I tried bringing my own products to one earlier this year; they wouldn't allow it because they "didn't know what was in them". They didn't know what was in their own stuff, either. Argh.)
posted by amtho at 8:25 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are salon products really, genuinely, better than supermarket products?

I've worked with a couple of dozen hair product companies whose products range from inexpensive drugstore and supermarket brands to high-end professional lines.

Generally speaking, salon-quality lines give better results if your needs surpass simply 'wash and go.' If you have color-treated hair in particular, professional lines are usually worth the extra outlay. Look for products with formulations specifically designed to help artificial color last longer.

Everyone's hair texture and type is different, as are their scalps. rainbowbrite's suggestion of trying and comparing is the best way to find products that are right for you.

I have curly/wavy hair and find that higher-end shampoos and conditioners are far better at providing the hydration my hair needs to stay soft and pliable. Drugstore brands leave my hair feeling like straw. My daughter's hair is prone to knots, and salon-quality conditioners and masks are always much more effective at helping her hair be more manageable than drugstore brands. Hairsprays, mousses, creams and gels vary greatly from brand to brand, so it's harder to say which kind is best, really. In those categories, (in all of them, really,) your best bet is to experiment and explore which works best for you. Don't restrict yourself to a particular brand's products, either. One product line may make a shampoo you love. Another may make a gel or spray you prefer.
posted by zarq at 8:37 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I will say that generally salons, even high-end ones, have no idea what's in their products and it's impossible to avoid allergens or scents.

I just want to note that if you're buying a professional line (not a salon-branded line, but products put out by a company for professional stylists and colorists,) you can always contact the company for a list of potential allergens. They're usually happy to answer specific questions, or will refer you to an R&D person who can.

Hairstylists typically do not have that knowledge, and it's possible that they will have had very little education about a specific product line beyond the basics. Colorists are typically a little more knowledgeable about what's in an artificial hair color line since they need to know about possible chemical interactions between that color and other hair products. But salon professionals shouldn't be relied on for answers about allergens.

It's always a good idea to go to the people who actually make/formulate a product to ask about health risks. Hair products are no exception.
posted by zarq at 8:45 AM on August 2, 2017

Nope. They are a relatively expensive add-on.
posted by theora55 at 9:04 AM on August 2, 2017

I have found that there are brands you can't find in drugstores that are more expensive, and are significantly better and have noticeably better results. However, it's very hit or miss when it comes to the products they often try to upsell you on in the salon. It is also unrealistic to try products out that way. I have found a lot of great products via birchbox, they have great samples for a subscription, or you can buy a specific box of samples focused on a type of product. I recently got a sample box called the hair damage repair kit, it had a ton of higher end conditioners and some were great and some were turkeys. :)
posted by pazazygeek at 9:04 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I find my ridiculously hard water does horrible things to my hair no matter how expensive the products, could that be part of it? I have to use a vinegar rinse every week or so to get rid of the buildup, I'm looking at getting a filter because it's so bad.
posted by lemonade at 9:21 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have never been able to tell any difference. I buy the less expensive drug store supermarket brands. I have difficult hair that is curly wavy frizzy and if the salon brands made a difference I would pay the extra money.
posted by Melsky at 9:38 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I first started wearing my hair down and needing it to look professional, using a salon brand that my local Curly Hair Expert recommended was a really useful shortcut. I've since been able to find drugstore shampoo and conditioner that do what my (curly, frizzy, jewish-y) hair needs, but it took a lot of trial and error.

I also see a lot more curly-hair-centric products in drugstores than I did ten years ago — stores in more neighborhoods have an "ethnic hair" section, Shea Moisture went all mainstream, no-poo became A Thing, even stores that are plainly just stocking their hair care stuff with white people in mind have hydrating and non-drying stuff. It could be there was a time when with my hair, living and shopping in my neighborhood, I wouldn't have found anything at the drugstore that worked for me.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:28 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have wavy hair that gets super frizzy in humid weather. It's also color treated. I can say I have noticed precisely zero difference in my hair when I use drugstore shampoo/conditioner versus salon shampoo/conditioner, including in how it fades the color. However, I agree with pazazygeek that there are certain salon products that are fantastic that don't seem to have any drug store analog. For example, Bumble + Bumble Invisible Oil is basically a miracle product to tame frizziness. Similarly, R + Co (what is it with the plus signs in all these brands, I just noticed) makes a particular very good dry shampoo that I've never found a dupe for in the drugstore. But shampoo -- I've never seen that the expensive stuff makes it look better.
posted by holborne at 10:32 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

The biggest difference I've found with salon vs cheap brands is that salon brands tend to rinse out better, smell better, and don't leave my hair feeling like it's coated in stuff after. I noticed a slight improvement in the texture and quality of my hair when I switched to higher end brands, but I think that was mostly because the cheap stuff was building up in my hair.

I have very thick, coarse, curly hair. If have found the best hair care for me is the no shampoo methods as recommended above. I just give my scalp a good rub down and comb my hair in the shower with a wide-tooth comb. I'll sometimes use Argon oil as a styling product. Turns out what my hair needed was just my natural scalp oils and sometimes a boost of other oils.
posted by mayonnaises at 10:47 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

One benefit of more expensive hair-care products is that they can smell better than the ones at the drugstore. This is more pronounced at far ends of the spectrum, like an Oribe product (which I essentially use as hair perfume) vs. a V05 product.

There are also some wild variations in formulas and ingredients, and it seems to get wilder the farther away from a drugstore aisle you are. Like the Mario Badescu Egg Shampoo does a good job making my hair shiny and soft, and soothes my scalp, and the ingredients are Aqua (Water, Eau), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Albumen, Sodium Chloride, Parfum (Fragrance), CI 19140 (Yellow 5), CI 15985 (Yellow 6).

The Pantene counterpart, for "smooth and sleek" hair, is made of: Water (Eau), Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Glycol Distearate, Sodium Xylenesulfonate, Fragrance, Dimethiconol, Dimethicone, Citric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Chloride, TEA-Dodecylbenzenesulfonate, Tetrasodium EDTA, Trideceth-10, Trisodium Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Panthenol, Panthenyl Ethylenediamine Disuccinate, Argania Spinosa Kernel Oil, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, and Methylisothiazolinone.

Both have SLS, but only one has albumen. And the list of Pantene ingredients does a lot to explain why I always feel like I've got wax in my hair after I use it.

So yeah, there is a lot of marketing and trying to get you to spend extra money on add-ons at the salon, but there are also some real differences in formula that might be worth the extra money if you're on the fence.
posted by witchen at 10:55 AM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I buy salon-quality shampoo and conditioner like . . .once every nine to 12 months. The larger bottles last me a long time, clearly - and that works out to $3-4/month for shampoo and conditioner each.

So yes, it's expensive *up front* like a lot of things but if you can do the $80 at one drop for both shampoo and conditioner, it's cheaper in the long run most likely (you use less, and now I'm told to only shampoo my hair every other day if I can, so).

Like witchen, I find that drugstore stuff weights my hair down a lot. The Salon quality stuff I use (EVO) does not.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:49 AM on August 2, 2017

I think it really depends. There are some terrible drugstore shampoos that are much worse than anything you'd find in a salon, but there are some good drugstore shampoos that are as good or better than mediocre salon shampoos that definitely exist.

I have found other factors affect my hair more than what kind of shampoo I'm using:

-hard vs. soft water
-whether my hair is colour treated
-aging--I think a lot of times people get older and their hair texture changes, and it gets blamed on the shampoo.

I use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners because I colour my hair, and I do find some of them (drugstore or salon) coat my hair. The only cure for it is a dose of clarifying shampoo. I have tried a bunch, and honestly the Pantene once-a-week clarifying shampoo works as well as any salon clarifying shampoo I have tried.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:23 PM on August 2, 2017

I came on to say what lemonade said. Hard water has given me hair misery and it's much better than it was now I use a vinegar rinse. I used Biolage in my previous home and thought it was great, was a completely different experience when using hard water.
posted by catspajammies at 12:26 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

I will second rainbowbrite's comment about the salon styling products being better, though. That's where I'll spend the money; I find even though they're expensive, they work far better than drugstore brands, last a long time, and are really worth it.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 12:30 PM on August 2, 2017

I do not notice any difference between salon and supermarket shampoo and conditioner, but I do find the fancier curl cream works a lot better than cheapo supermarket hair gel stuff.

Yeah, if you'd told me a few years ago that at some point I'd pay $30 for a tube of hair styling product I would have laughed in your face. Every time I've upgraded, I've gotten better results, and believe me, I'm pretty sure I've tried every single hair product CVS sells.

But shampoo and conditioner? Almost no difference. With quite short hair and good styling product, I don't even USE conditioner anymore, although it at least used to make a difference when my hair was longer. But even there, price didn't seem to matter at all. The stuff you're just going to rinse back out again matters a lot less than the stuff that's going to be there all day.
posted by Sequence at 1:56 PM on August 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

If there's a salon product you like, take it to the drug store and look for a product with the same or nearly identical ingredients.

Chemicals are chemicals. Paying more for them doesn't make them magical.
posted by she's not there at 5:36 PM on August 2, 2017

One time I had a mobile hairdresser, not beholden to any particular brand, come to my house to do my hair and I asked her a similar question. She told me that expensive salon brand companies do put an extraordinary amount of money into researching and developing new products, and then cheaper supermarket brands mimic those products with cheaper ingredients/slightly more fillers (and their own expensive research too I am sure) so you end up with pretty decent dupes. Obviously I have no way of knowing how correct this is, but this is what one hairdresser shared with me.
posted by BeeJiddy at 7:13 PM on August 2, 2017

I have found that salon-quality products work much better for my fine, straight hair than drugstore products, which tend to weigh my hair down and create build-up more quickly. More importantly, salon products seem to be much more concentrated, so I require less product per use and a bottle lasts longer than drugstore brands. Still, the brand I use (Living Proof) definitely costs more per use than drugstore brands, and I could probably spend half as much on Redken All Soft and get results that are almost as good (though not sulfate free). It's definitely a luxury item, but worth it to me.
posted by Autumnheart at 7:46 PM on August 2, 2017

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