Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Drugstore Shampoo vs. Salon Shampoo - What's the difference?

I've seen my clients' eyes glaze over in record speed when I begin to tell them why their $6 drugstore shampoo is awful for their hair. Like I had mentioned in my first post, if they are fairly new and are still getting to know me, why should they trust what I have to say? Unfortunately until you build a relationship with your stylist, you might not truly trust what they have to say when it comes to product. This is completely unbiased research done by myself. Besides water, which is used as a base, here are the important ingredients in shampoo:
Surfactants are the single most important ingredient in shampoos. Surfactants, such as anionic, clean the natural oils off of the hair. Some surfactants irritate the scalp, while others are gentle (like the kind in baby shampoo). They can add lather to the wash or not lather at all. The biggest difference between the good and the bad surfactants is the size of the molecule. Small molecule ingredients can penetrate the skin, causing irritation. Large molecule ingredients are considered to be mild, gentle, and non-irritating, as they cannot penetrate the skin.

Ingredients to avoid: Triethanolammonium Lauryl Sulfate · Sodium Lauryl Sulfate · Sodium Laureth Sulfate · Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate · Ammonium Laureth Sulfate · Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate · Sodium Cocoyl Sarcosinate · Potassium Coco Hydrolysed Collagen · TEA (Triethanolamine) Lauryl Sulfate · TEA (Triethanolamine) Laureth Sulfate · Lauryl or Cocoyl Sarcosine · Disodium Oleamide Sulfosuccinate · Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate  
How confusing. Some of the these ingredients have just a few letters separating the differences between them. These small molecule ingredients are capable of penetrating the skin, increasing the occurrence of skin irritation and dermatitis. AKA: harsh, drying, and irritating. They also add a ton of other ingredients to add moisture back into the hair. Totally unnecessary, not to mention CHEAP. Sorry, I know I said I'd be unbiased. They are inexpensive to make, therefore sell for less money. These surfactants are also used in car washers, floor cleaners, and engine degreasers....makes you think of what you are really putting on your hair.

Ingredients to look for: Sodium Lauroyl Sulfoacetate · Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate · Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate · Cocamidopropyl Betaine · Disodium Dioctyl Sulfosuccinate · Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate
Again, some of these ingredients look very similar to the harsh ingredients, but they are much different. These contain large molecule ingredients. Large molecule ingredients are considered to be mild, gentle, and non-irritating, as they cannot penetrate the skin.Write down the names of the "good" ingredients and the "bad" ones so you know what to look for without being confused. If you find your scalp is irritated easily by most shampoos, try looking for these ingredients on the bottle.
Here is a comparison of the first 8 ingredients in Pureology Pure Volume Shampoo ($19) to Pantene Pro-V Sheer Volume ($7) The first 8 ingredients are a higher comparative volume than many of the other chemicals in this products.

Pureology Pure Volume
*Water · The base ingredient in most shampoos
*Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate · a large molecule surfactant, derived from coconut oil. 
*Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate · a large molecule surfactant derived from coconut and palm oils. Helps keep a rich luxurious lather
*Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate · a large molecule, mild surfactant found in gentle formula shampoos such as baby shampoo.
*Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine · derived from coconut, a mild cleanser used to thicken shampoo and reduce irritation
*Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate · A direct substitution for sodium lauryl sulfate (floor cleaner). Effectively cleanses the hair without stripping or drying the hair and skin
*Cocamidopropylamine Oxide · Another ingredient derived from coconut oil, a thickener and a foam booster
*Decyl glucoside · Derived from sugar, a mild cleanser and foaming agent

Pantene Sheer Volume
*Water · The base ingredient in most shampoos
*Ammonium Laureth Sulfate · an effective cleansing agent that remove oils and dirt from hair and skin. A slightly larger molecule structure than Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, but still quite harsh on the skin and eyes
*Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate · a small molecule surfacant, one of the harshest detergents out there next to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. Both are irritants to the skin and eyes, and strips the hair of it's oils more than it needs to.
*Ammonium Xylenesulfonate · a surfactant usually added to thicken a mixture like shampoo, and to help keep some other ingredients in solution, including perfumes.
*Cocamide MEA · acts as a lathering agent increasing the viscosity or thickness of the lather, and of the hair. Can cause skin, eye and lung irritation...sorry guys, I am not making these up!!
*Fragrance · blends with unique combinations including essential oils and natural perfumes.
*Sodium Citrate and Citric Acid I'm adding these two together because they go hand in hand. Both act as a buffering agent to keep the shampoo at the proper pH level. They allow dirt and oil to wash off and helps cuticles lie flat so hair looks smooth and shiny.

So the harsh surfactants clean very well, but you don't need to clean your hair with the same ingredient used to clean a car. All you need to do is strip your natural oils without damaging the cuticle. A helpful website I found along the way is The Alba Botanicals Glossary. I myself learned quite a lot writing this article, and I hope your eyes were opened to what actually is used on your body. In this war, the more milder, more expensive shampoo wins by a long shot. The next time you drop $150 on your beautiful color service, spring for the better shampoo. It will make it last much longer.


  1. This information was very helpful and was exactly what I was looking for. I tried a new shampoo recently and it caused a lot of irritation to my scalp and since using this product I now have alopecia according to my dermatologist. I've been very interested now in creating homemade shampoos and soap using all natural ingredients etc to control what I am putting onto my body and hair.

    1. Oh no.....I am having the same problem....I have not yet been to a dermatologist, but I have noticed hair thinning.... I have been using Lush products, specifically Roots. Roots is a hair treatment you rub directly on scalp to stimulate hair follicles! Lush is a natural cosmetics store that I have trusted for years....then I looked into the ingredients more carefully when things were not improving and the third, fourth, fifth and sixth listed ingredients are cetearyl alcohol, sodium laurel sulfate... you can guess the others. The remainder of the ingredients are great (honey, orange oil...). How can a company like that be cheap and downright deceiving on the last step of the product-making process? Let the buyer beware. Do not let your guard down for even one minute....What did your dermatologist say about the alopecia? Will it right itself or do you need to take more drastic steps?

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  3. Thank you for the information. I found nothing harmful in my shampoo from ACURE company. I just began to use it, but results aren't impressive.

  4. Hepz has a new volume shampoo with honey/melon/pineapple on Ulta it has the Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate. It is low lather and very gentle

  5. I am allergic to all laurylth sulfates- molecule large or small. I cannot find a shampoo without these ingredients. I really don't need a great experience shampooing my hair! This is a marketing gimmic...! These chemicals are Hormone interrupters. These chemicals, many of them, are banned in Europe. I may have to import my shampoo.