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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!


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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!

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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 the conditioner does make a difference!

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


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  1. 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…..search 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. 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.

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

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