Dear Lifehacker, I buy a cheap shampoo and conditioner combo, and it seems to work just fine, but I see higher-priced options all the time. Why do they cost so much? Are they better? Should shampoo and conditioner stay separated? What’s the best option to buy? Please help! Sincerely, Hairbrained
We spoke to a few hair care professionals to find out the answer. And, yes, it does matter which shampoo and conditioner you buy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t purchase a cheap option and still get a good product. Looking for shampoos and conditioners that avoid harsh chemicals will make most people happy, but there is something to be gained from premium brands. You’ll have to decide whether or not that extra benefit is worth the cost for you.
What You Should Avoid in Shampoos and Conditioners
Although it shouldn’t come as a surprise, harsh cleaning agents can damage your hair. The following chemicals are believed to be harsh and potentially damaging, but no definitive evidence has surfaced to prove it:
- Sodium Lauryl Sulphate
- TEA Lauryl Sulphate
- Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate
- Ammonium Laureth Sulphate
- Ammonium Xylene Sulphonate
If you’re purchasing dandruff-eliminating shampoos, you’ll also want to consider avoiding selenium sulphide and sulphur. Either way, you should notice a trend: types of ammonium and and sulphur show up a lot in the “bad stuff” list. Sodium Laureth Sulphate sounds just as bad, however, but is a supposed to be a gentler alternative to the chemicals in the list above. Some argue you should avoid it as well, but, again, there is no definitive evidence. If you want to be extra careful, however, you should steer clear of these chemicals.
What You Should Look for in Shampoos and Conditioners
As we’ll discuss in the next section, the application of your shampoo and conditioner can help yield better results more so than the type you’re using. If you’re looking for a place to put your money, put it towards styling product (if you use any). While certain brands may or may not be more effective than others, their advertised purpose actually tells you something about what they do and certain products will work better for you than others. That will require a bit of trial and error.
When You Should Avoid Shampoo/Conditioner Combos
The Benefits of Paying More
Most shampoos and conditioners will do the job they were intended to do: clean your hair and help keep it soft. The benefit of paying more is pretty minor in that pricier products generally include higher-quality ingredients. Pricier brands also tend to include essential oils, plant or fruit extracts, and botanicals (where cheaper brands do not).
The hair care professionals we spoke to don’t believe that these ingredients may only play a small role in the health of you hair. Instead, you’ll likely find more personal benefit in the texture and scent they provide. For example, a shampoo might use mint, which smells nice and can help perk you up a little in the morning. It won’t do much for your hair, but you might appreciate it because of how it makes you feel when you use that shampoo in the shower. Whether that feeling is worth a price hike to you or not is a personal decision.
To sum it all up, it does matter what you buy, but why it matters will be mostly up to you. You probably want to avoid harsher shampoos just in case they do cause problems, and shampoo and conditioner combos aren’t ideal. Overall, however, you can be served just as well by a cheaper brand as you can with an expensive one.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.