Regardless of the price, experts say most shampoos do an excellent job of cleaning hair and contain the same basic ingredients: water, cleansing agents, foaming agents and a few preservatives. Because shampoos are so similar, experts say there really is no need to pay for pricey products. In the same way, shampoos designed for color-treated hair, for instance, are nearly identical in ingredients to those designed for dry/damaged and permed hair. That's because all of these hair types are similar in their need for added moisture.
If you have sensitive skin, it's important to know that some shampoos contain harsh ingredients. Paula Begoun, beauty expert and author of "Don't Go Shopping For Hair-Care Products Without Me," for instance, says some cleansing detergents, namely sodium lauryl sulfate and TEA-lauryl sulfate, are more irritating than others but are not harmful. Experts say the best shampoos use milder detergents, such as sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate. (Note: there's a myth surrounding sodium lauryl sulfate that it causes cancer, an assertion that's refuted by the American Cancer Society and many other agencies. Read more in our blog post on the topic.)
So, what makes one shampoo better than another? Essentially, it comes down to your hair type and how much moisture your hair needs. We found many user recommendations for Kerastase, a salon product line owned by L'Oreal. Kerastase Nutritive Bain Satin 1 (*Est. $30 for 8.5 oz.) is marketed for normal to slightly dry hair. Reviewers say it's gentle and leaves hair feeling and looking healthy. Users at MakeupAlley.com agree. Many say the shampoo creates soft, shiny and silky hair that is easy to manage. Others, however, say Kerastase left their hair feeling oily and greasy. This may be due to the high levels of silicone it contains. Paula Begoun thinks that Bain Satin 1 may be too heavy for those with fine hair. She also says that normal, non-color-treated hair that hasn't been damaged by the use of styling tools doesn't need as many conditioning agents as this shampoo contains. Still, many users love the thick texture and smell of the shampoo.
Rather than paying big bucks for fancy shampoo, however, we found just as much praise in reviews for Garnier Fructis Fortifying Daily Care (*Est. $4 for 13 oz.), which experts and users say works just as well and has nearly identical ingredients. In fact, both Garnier and Kerastase are made by L'Oreal. Garnier also does well in several professional reviews, where it beats Kerastase. One reviewer at Amazon.com notices a similarity in ingredients as well as how both shampoos feel. She says, "Try the cheap one and see if it doesn't have the same effect on your hair." However, several users at MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com give Garnier Fructis lower ratings. Some say it leaves their hair feeling dry. Aside from these lower ratings though, many users think that Garnier does an excellent job of cleaning hair, leaving it shiny and smelling great -- and users appreciate its pleasant apple scent and lower price tag.
Those with fine hair might prefer a lightweight shampoo (shampoos with a lot of moisturizing agents can sometimes leave fine hair feeling heavy). Neutrogena Clean Replenishing (*Est. $4 for 10.1 oz.) provides light moisture, which is perfect for those with minimal hair damage or fine hair. Users at Amazon.com say Clean Replenishing is gentle but lightweight and lathers well.
Overall, experts say most shampoos fall into the moisturizing category, meaning they contain some degree of silicone and other conditioning agents like protein, panthenol and triglycerides. Unfortunately, these same ingredients that make your hair feel and look nice can build up over time, leaving hair limp. The use of styling products like gels and mousses can also add to the problem. For this reason, experts suggest using a deep-cleansing shampoo, also known as clarifying shampoo, once a week to remove buildup caused by various shampoos, conditioners and styling products. Clarifying shampoos contain the same basic ingredients as other shampoos, except they have slightly higher dosages of cleansing detergents and no conditioning additives.
The most popular clarifying shampoos include Neutrogena Anti-Residue (*Est. $6 for 6 oz.) and Suave Daily Clarifying (*Est. $3 for 22.5 oz.). Although Neutrogena does slightly better in user reviews, the two shampoos are very similar. Some users at MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com say these shampoos strip the hair and damage color, but experts say neither contains any ingredients known to do this. One thing to know about this class of shampoos: Hair may feel drier than usual after washing because these products don't contain any conditioning agents. And users point out that Anti-Residue doesn't lather very well. This shampoo also contains glycerin, an ingredient that attracts water to the hair shaft creating a fuller, softer appearance. Suave Daily Clarifying doesn't have glycerin or any other humectants, but we chose to list it in our Best Reviewed section because it ultimately costs a lot less and offers excellent results.
Good Housekeeping editors also recommend using Suave Daily Clarifying shampoo. Paula Begoun says Daily Clarifying is a "great inexpensive option for all hair types." Users at MakeupAlley.com and TotalBeauty.com agree, praising its budget-friendly price tag. Although a few users complain that Suave leaves their hair overly dry, several others say using a good conditioner can solve this problem.
Individuals with fine hair may be interested in volumizing shampoos. These products contain acrylates and copolymers, compounds that coat the hair to make it appear fuller and thicker. Some users complain, however, that the results of these products can be negligible. Plus, some say these shampoos leave hair feeling dry because they don't contain conditioning agents. Still, if you're looking to add volume or body to hair, these shampoos may be worth a try.
One noteworthy (though expensive) product, Bumble and Bumble Thickening (*Est. $21 for 8 oz.) does well in both professional and user reviews. Testers at Good Housekeeping gave Bumble and Bumble Thickening the highest ratings for making hair more manageable. Editors say the shampoo thickens blonde hair well but doesn't have the same affect on gray hair, although they don't explain why. Testers say Bumble and Bumble also increases smoothness and softness. Reviewers at MakeupAlley.com have mixed opinions, though. Some say it increased volume and left hair shiny and smooth, while others say it didn't have any effect on their hair or left it greasy and limp. However, there is no way to know whether users' results were affected by other products being used, such as conditioner. Equally critical, Paula Begoun says the film-forming ingredients in Bumble and Bumble can build up on the hair shaft quickly, leaving it limp and lifeless.