Come on … ‘fess up. You feel guilty using $.99 shampoo because it’s really bad for your hair. And anybody knows the $24 salon variety is so much better especially for chemically treated hair, right? Wrong!

Price has nothing to do with it (and I tell you this at the risk of getting angry letters from professional hairdressers and salon owners).

Fact: All shampoos are 80 to 90 percent water.  The rest is detergent with a few drops of fragrance, additives and preservatives. (Agua and eau are water in Spanish and French, respectively.)

Fact: There are basically two kinds of detergent: Anionic (harsh) and cationic (gentle).

Fact: The only part of the shampoo bottle that’s regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the list of ingredients. Manufacturers can make any claim they like on the unregulated portions of the label. Sometimes the hype has some merit, often it has none. Manufacturers can make just about any claim they can think up!

The secret to shampoo intelligence is to know your detergents. Pay little if any attention to anything on that bottle or packaging except for the list of ingredients. Water (or some fancy name for good old H2O) will always be the first ingredient. Next comes the detergent. Examples that you might find:

Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate – very harsh

Ammonium Laureth Sulfate – harsh

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) – still harsh

Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) – mild, great choice

TEA Lauryl Sulfate – gentle, good choice

TEA Laureth Sulfate – gentle, also a good choice.

Myth: Shampoo builds up on hair so you need to change brands occasionally to counteract this. Shampoo cannot build up on hair, however conditioners and other products and chemical processes do and you may need to use a stronger type of shampoo from time to time.

Myth: Salon-brand shampoos outperform inexpensive store brands. Not true. Salon brands may have more fragrance, foam more or have more ingredients, but all of it goes right down the drain with the detergent.

Myth: High quality shampoo can repair and nourish damaged hair. Hair is dead and cannot be repaired. Any hair product can only provide temporary benefits to the look and feel of hair.

Myth: Baby shampoo (no-tears) is great for adults because it is so gentle. The detergent in baby shampoo is way too gentle and not designed for cleaning adult hair especially when a lot of styling products have been used.

When purchasing shampoo, consider just two things:

  1. Price
  2. Type of detergent

Interestingly, the “rinse and repeat” instruction you will read on every shampoo bottle goes back to a marketing campaign one manufacturer created to increase sales. It does that all right, and you can make your shampoo last twice as long if you skip “repeat.”

Rinse thoroughly. If your hair turns out dull and lackluster the problem may be inadequate rinsing. Tip: Pour 1/2 cup white vinegar through hair during the rinsing process. This will remove all traces of the shampoo and leave your hair sleek and shiny.

If you clip shampoo coupons and match them with shampoo sales in your grocery store, you may never pay more than $1 for shampoo again.

Hint: Many in the Herbal Essences and Suave lineup of shampoos—found in most supermarkets and drug stores—contain the gentle option Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). Just don’t assume—read the label.

With the money you save on the shampoo, buy a quality conditioner. Unlike shampoo that washes down the drain, the quality of conditioner does make a difference.