No, salon shampoos are not better for your hair than store bought shampoos as the shampoos your hairdresser uses likely contain the same ingredients and have similar pH levels (most of the time).
The reason it may seem that a salon shampoo works better than the one you have at home is because your hairdresser is able to diagnose any hair or scalp issues you have then match the shampoo and conditioner to your needs. The one at home may not do this, and that is why your scalp and hair feels and looks healthier after a salon shampooing.
A shampoo’s purpose is to clean your scalp, not your hair (although it does that as a secondary effect). As you go about your day, your body produces a natural lubricant called sebum that keeps your scalp and hair from drying out. Dirty scalps happen as debris and dead skin cells get mixed with sebum throughout your week. And if you don’t wash it out then fungus and bacteria can grow leading to scalp irritation. This is where choosing the right shampoo comes in.
Choosing the right shampoo depends on your specific hair needs and also on how frequently you need to wash. The right shampoo will ensure you wash all the sebum and other buildup out, and how much conditioning is needed to balance out the cleaning agents like sulfates. Don’t be scared, sulfate shampoos can be good for your hair. If you have oily hair, use lots of hair products, and play sports daily, you’ll need more cleansing power than someone with dry fine hair that sits inside all day.
But that doesn’t mean the shampoo a hairdresser recommends is better than an equivalent at the store. Whether you’re looking at a $50 salon brand or a $5 store brand, you’ll find many of the same ingredients across bottles, two of the most common being sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, both of which are used to clean your hair. And with few exceptions, you’ll find that most shampoos fall within the same range of pH levels.
The “right” shampoo will have the right ingredients to meet your hair care needs. For example, if you need lots of cleaning power, you’ll likely want a clarifying shampoo with sodium lauryl sulfate. But if you have brittle, color treated hair, you’ll want a shampoo with a different surfactant for cleaning along with more conditioning agents like dimethicone.
But given how many different brands and sub-brands there are, you’ll find differences from bottle to bottle when it comes to the list of ingredients. Larger lists and smaller lists can both seem appealing, but more or less does not mean better.
Just because a shampoo lists 7 different surfactants (cleaning agents), it doesn’t mean it's any better than a shampoo with just 2, or even 1 (e.g. sodium lauryl sulfate as the only cleaning agent works just fine).
Many of the ingredients have no effect on cleaning at all. Different shampoos will include stabilizers, foaming agents, dies, preservatives, and perfumes that are all important for the feel, stability, and smell of the shampoo, but make no difference in how effective it is (although the scent makes a big difference in personal enjoyment depending on your preferences).
Even within these supporting ingredients, the marketing machine has found a way of causing confusion. A great example is parabens. You’ve likely seen lots of “paraben free” shampoos, and this is a gimmick like the claims that silicones are bad for hair. Parabens are just preservatives that are perfectly safe for you and your hair, and they’re an ingredient you’ll find in both salon and store bought shampoos.
In addition to ingredients, the pH level of shampoos is important. According to this study, a pH that’s too high can lead to excess frizz and damage your hair by causing it to get water logged. And waterlogged hair can break up the keratin bonds leading to premature breakage
The study looked at the pH levels of numerous shampoos and found the vast majority had pH levels of 5.5-7, right around the neutral range (below 7 is acidic, above 7 is alkaline). This is also right around the natural pH range of your scalp at 5.5 according to the study.
Salon shampoos did have a tighter range of pH levels (5.0-6.0) vs commercial shampoos (3.5-8.0), so you could say that they are better in this regard, but only 6 of 96 commercial shampoos had a pH level over 7, so the vast majority of store bought shampoos were completely fine.
At the end of the day salon shampoos are not better than store bought, What matters most is getting the right shampoo for your hair and scalp needs, not paying an extra $30 for additional ingredients. If you don’t know what kind of shampoo you need, talk to your hairdresser at your next appointment and ask for a recommendation. You can go with theirs, or purchase one at the store with the same ingredients.
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