The Costly Mistakes You Make With Your Choice of Shampoo

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!

I’ve got the facts to prove it and truth to counteract lots of myths out there—plus some great tips to get you on the right path, too!





Fact:  When it comes to selecting the best shampoo, the price has nothing to do with it. Some of the best are super cheap.

Mostly H2O

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


Fact: There are basically two kinds of detergent found in shampoo: 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!



Myth: Shampoo builds up on hair so you need to change brands occasionally to counteract this.

Shampoo cannot build up on hair. However, conditioners, chemical processes, and other products do build-up so you may need to use a stronger type of shampoo from time to time. Or do this once a month: Mix a little baking soda with your shampoo in the palm of your hand. Shampoo as usual, rinse well. There you go. No need for an expensive “rid” product to wash away the build-up of hair spray and other products.

Salon brands

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.

Repair and nourish

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.

No tears

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.

RELATED: Stop Making These 5 Costly Hair Mistakes

Here’s the secret

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.

Good choices

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

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!

MORE: Solved: The Mystery of Hair Conditioners

Bottom line

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 a  dollar or two for shampoo again!

First published: 6-01-17; Updated 4-26-19


PREVIOUSLY: 26 Ways to Use Vinegar that Will Surprise You!

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon affiliated sites.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Caught yourself reading all the way 'til the end? Why not share with a friend.

27 replies
  1. Dylan Peterson says:

    I like what you said about cationic detergent in your shampoo being more gentle. My sister has been telling me about how she wants to take better care of her hair in the coming weeks, and I think that this information can help her with that. I’ll share this information with her so that she can look into her options for shampoos that can help her with this.

  2. Helen says:

    Totally disagree with you Mary, sorry. I invest a lot of money into my hair and if I’m spending over $200 on color or highlights and want to retain what my stylist did, a $3 shampoo is going to dull and fade the color. I know this first hand especially if you dye your hair blonde or red tones…not to mention if you do chemical straightening or perms, these procedures will need very specialised products in order to keep your healthy! Stay away from the drugstore stuff!!!Those cheapo shampoos will definitely make your hair look brassy and unless you use the right shampoo and conditioners to help extend the color you will be at the salon every few weeks to tone it out. If you use boxed color then go ahead and use whatever you find on sale. The difference in the detergents and chemicals you speak of vary from brand to brand and the amount and type of detergent could be compared to generic vs brand name, yes they all fundamentally have the same cleansing agents but the formulations and how they are used differ immensely. You can often find that a liter of a very good salon quality shampoo lasts longer and is much better for your hair than the drug store brands because yes, they contain more water whereas the salon quality ones are thicker, and you require much less product which will end up costing you about the same as the drugstore stuff. Also, many salons stand behind the products they sell and often let you use an item a couple of times and if it doesn’t agree with you they let you exchange it or as my salon does, they provide samples of products that are often best sellers. I notice that with salon quality shampoo and conditioners I can also go longer between washes and my blow-outs and roller sets last longer. Please do your own research on this and invest in your hair, its the crown you never take off. This coming from someone who used the drugstore stuff for years, I will never use it again after finding something that works wonders for my hair at my local salon.

  3. patriciagoff says:

    I so agree. I never pay more than a dollar for name brand shampoo sometimes I get it free at Kroger after coupons.

  4. George says:

    “Rinse and Repeat” can work if you do this. Rinse your hair, running your fingers through it to eliminate dirt (rather than just getting it wet), use a tiny bit of shampoo and wash, even though you get no lather. Lets assume you start with 1/6 of what you would normally use. Rinse and wash again, using perhaps 1/3 of what you normally use. You will be amazed at the rich lather achieved with the second wash, and you have used half of what you normally use. You may be able to get by with even less. Most people use way too much shampoo anyway.

  5. NJHope says:

    Suave Essentials Daily Clarifying is my fav! Used it for many years now. No itching scalp for me. I won’t even let the salon shampoo my hair any more because whatever they use makes my scalp itch, too. I just shampoo right before going in. There just seems to be no good reason to put extra “stuff” into a shampoo. Seems to me that the rinse agents are what we should pay more attention to, as per this article’s recommendation.

  6. Portia says:

    Great article! I’ll have to check my shampoo. My hairdresser friend also says to use baking soda rather than shampoo. Shampooing does not need to be done as often this way. Doing so may extend the life of your colored hair since you are not actually washing it. Also, who is the model in the picture?? I see stock photos of her absolutely everywhere!

  7. Susan4cats says:

    I started using Castile soap on my hair about 6 months ago because all the shampoos made my head itch badly. I use a vinegar or lemon rinse with it. Works like a charm & inexpensive also. Use the soap for body wash also.

  8. Carol Mulligan says:

    I buy all of my shampoo at the dollar stores. I have found that they have the brand names there — and everything’s a dollar! Some of the stores even accept manufacturer’s coupons.

  9. sarah240 says:

    I have color treated hair, and regular shampoo strips the color out quickly. The only kind I can use are sulfate-free shampoos. They are more expensive, but my color lasts WAY longer.

  10. Kate Steigauf says:

    I am a curly girl, so I don’t shampoo very often, just once in awhile.
    A friend introduced me to MONAT hair products. The shampoo I am looking at purchasing has “Lauramidopropyl Betaine” as the second ingredient. Have you heard of that?

  11. Sheila Wood says:

    The problem with shampoo is that it strips oils from your hair and scalp, which, in turn tells your scalp to produce more oil….which makes your hair oily, which tells you to go ahead and switch shampoos. You are better off trying to find natural “soap” shampoos and knock off the detergent ones. If you really want to get wild, stop using shampoo and use baking soda with an apple cider vinegar rinse after. It works on a lot of people (the vinegar smell does not stay). Another thing to try is Lush shampoo bars. Or do some research and make your own….some oil, some lye, some essential oil (rosemary is good for hair growth), some time and boom! Shampoo which you probably won’t need to use conditioner with. I say this for any Canadian readers because there is nowhere up here that has shampoo for $.49 – not even with coupons. Pantene is at least $5 per bottle, as is Loreal, Head & Shoulders is about $7, I believe, and salon shampoo… for a sale because that stuff is $15 per bottle & up!

    • Kimberley Hunter says:

      Baking soda as a shampoo and vinegar as a rinse won’t work for everyone. But it’s so cheap, it’s worth trying.

  12. Jeannie says:

    Not long ago, I bought a bottle of Suave with a coconut scent. The first time I use it in the shower; I towel dried off and the skin around my eyes was very red and burned so bad! I am very careful what I wash my face with and the face creams I use but I had never considered how shampoo effected the skin on my face! I now use Free and Clear and have no reaction whatsoever. It is pricier than many; but I use a very small amount.

  13. Pigoff says:

    I so agree. I never pay more than 49 cents for name brand shampoo and most of the time I get it for free after the ibotta and checkout 51 app. I stock up when they are on sale and use coupons. I donate a lot of them to tornado and flood relief victims and the food banks of course. I share with my neighbors too. I use pantene and Loreal mostly but do have some suave too. Kroger has suave this week for 39 cents after coupons I think. Time to stock up some more for the food bank. I love sharing and I can’t afford to share but at those prices I can do it occasionally. It isn’t that I have to have name brand but it is cheaper than generic when you combine a sale and a coupon. I haven’t paid for toothpaste in years. I don’t care if we use crest or colgate so I just buy what is on sale when I need it.

  14. Julie Higginson says:

    I have a very dry, itchy scalp so I buy the generic version of Head & Shoulders which really does seem to help the itchy symptom. Do you have any advice about these types of shampoos?

  15. Ann says:

    I have to disagree. Quite a few people are sensitive to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate and their derivatives. If you have itchy scalp, rashes or frequent break-outs in your hair, you may want to try a shampoo with out these ingredients. Same with toothpaste. Once I switched to shampoo and toothpaste with no SLS, my scalp improved significantly, and I no longer get canker sores in my mouth. Unfortunately, all of the cheap brands use SLS. They key to saving money is to use the smallest amount needed to get good results. Especially with toothpaste, I only use a very small pea-sized amount.

    • Kimberley Hunter says:

      Mary did write that Sodium Lauryl Sulfate is harsh. If someone if sensitive to that and Sodium Laureth Sulfate, they may need to stick to the two gentler detergents. Posting this because I think you’re agreeing with Mary more than you think you are.

      • Ann says:

        To the many people who are sensitive, Sodium Laureth Sulfate is just as bad and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate. So, no, I’m not agreeing.

  16. Luisa says:

    This is helpful information. I just checked the three shampoos I have in the shower. The Matrix one contains Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, one of the harsher ingredients you mentioned, while both the Redken and the Suave contain the gentler Sodium Laureth Sulfate. I was surprised, but glad to know. Thanks!

  17. Gina says:

    That may all be true for store bought but when looking for non toxic ingredients in hair care you will be paying a lot more for healthier ingredients. It’s just the way it is because of supply and demand.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *