Shampoo is made up of water, cleansing agents, foaming agents, preservatives and other ingredients designed for specific types of hair. Most formulas, regardless of brand or price, are remarkably similar, and all do a decent job of cleaning hair. Moisturizing shampoos add conditioning agents -- such as silicone, panthenol and triglycerides -- to give hair a soft, silky texture.

Deep-cleaning shampoos, on the other hand, use higher levels of detergents to wash away oil and product buildup. Experts recommend using these shampoos whenever hair looks dull or isn't responding to your regular hair care products. They should be followed with a good conditioner, however, to replenish any moisture that was washed away. Dry shampoos contain ingredients designed to soak up excess oil. They can be used in between regular washings, to keep hair looking and smelling fresh. Dandruff shampoos contain anti-fungal ingredients to reduce the fungi that cause dandruff. They should be rotated with a regular shampoo to keep hair from becoming too dry. Baby shampoos are generally not strong enough to cleanse adult hair, but they contain gentle detergents that won't sting a baby's eyes or irritate his/her sensitive skin. Here are some other things to know before you buy a shampoo:

  • Good technique is key. For an optimal cleaning experience, experts suggest starting with a quarter-sized (or dime-sized if you have short hair) amount of shampoo and slowly lathering and massaging the product into your roots.
  • You probably don't need to wash your hair every day. Experts say oily hair needs to be cleaned more frequently, but people with dry and damaged hair can and should prolong the time between washings. That's because shampoo washes out the natural oils that protect hair. Although conditioners can replace some of that moisture, experts say water alone can cause damage to hair and can also cause hair color treatments to fade.
  • Don't be fooled by product claims. The only part of the shampoo label that's regulated by the Food and Drug Administration is the list of ingredients. That means manufacturers can claim their shampoos "add volume" or "moisturize," even if they really don't do either of those things.
  • Pricy salon-brand shampoos don't necessarily outperform inexpensive store brands. The same ingredients are often used for products in different price ranges. What's more, there are good and bad products in every price point. The only things that separate pricey salon-brand shampoos from drugstore formulas are fancy packaging and endorsements by celebrity hairstylists, who may or may not have any expertise when it comes to a product's ingredients.  
  • Be wary of shampoos that claim to repair, restructure or nourish damaged hair. Hair is not alive in the way that skin is and thus cannot be repaired. Shampoo products can only temporarily improve hair's look and feel. Experts say the only thing that can get rid of split ends is a haircut. Hair care products are not capable of reversing such damage.  
  • Don't buy into the lather-rinse-repeat myth. Unless you use an unusually large amount of styling products, experts say it's only necessary to lather your hair once. Also, the amount of lather and foam generated by a shampoo does not affect its ability to clean hair.

Back to top