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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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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?

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