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If Pantene is so good why isn’t it sold in salons? Episode 108

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Question of the week: Why isn’t Pantene in salons?05dc98d24d0e8507e7e34903fa9bf1fe-d5kgmjf

Tyler asks…I would just like to say if Pantene is sooo amazing and works so well them why isn’t it sold in a salon when the company could make way more money if they sold it in a salon. I’m a hairdresser and every time someone uses pantene I can feel a build up on there hair and there hair is in terrible shape. But everyone is different so if you like Pantene then fine. But ask yourself if this product line is suppose to be so good why isn’t it in a salon?

Now that you’ve heard the question let me give you a little bit of background information. The Pantene brand is the source of a long standing controversy, not only on our website but across the internet. Essentially the debate is over whether or not Pantene is good for your hair. There are those who say it makes your hair fall out, others say that it coats your hair with plastic and suffocates it, others (and this is my favorite) is that it makes your hair FEEL healthy but it’s actually making it worse/break, etc.

People are so passionate about this. We even had one fan of ours who is a hairdresser volunteer to do a blind test to see if she really could tell if hair had been treated with Pantene or not. We washed hair tresses with two different sets of shampoo and conditioner when was Pantene and another was a salon brand selected by her. The tresses were washed and dried in multiple cycles and then I even masked the scent by putting a little fragrance on the tresses so she couldn’t smell which one was which and then I sent her the tresses and had her record her guesses. The results were… she scored less than chance but unfortunately the exact details were lost in our server crash of 2013.

So despite our best attempts to refute these rumors the controversy rages on. But before we explain exactly why Pantene is not used in salons, let’s review the history of this iconic beauty brand.

By the way before somebody accuses us of being shills for Pantene, that’s not the case. They have not sponsored us in anyway we have not even received any free product samples for them. The only reason we’re taking this is because the evidence is in its favor.

The history of Pantene

1945: We tend to think of Pantene as a modern beauty brand but, surprisingly, it’s been around almost as long as modern liquid shampoo formulations have been. The brand was created in 1945 and it was based on the vitamin panthenol which is where it gets its name. It was owned by the Swiss drug company, Hoffman LaRoche. Today Pantene is as vilified as a “big beauty drugstore brand” but ironically back at its inception it was an exclusive high-end department store brand that sold for a lot of money ) in glass bottles no less.)

1960s: Being a Swiss brand it was originally only available in Europe but in the early 1960s it made the leap to the United States. It was imported exclusively by a few New York retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue. At some point along the way, I’m not exactly sure what year, Hoffman Laroche sold or licensed of the brand to the cosmetic company Richardson Vicks, makers of Vicks Vapor Rub, among other things.

1975: Of course overtime people came to realize that glass was not necessarily the ideal packaging for a product that is used in the shower and which tends to become very slippery. So, packaging shifted to plastic and in the mid-1970s it gained its signature gold cap. That’s what it looked like when I first became aware of the brand.

1985: Now here’s where things get really interesting. In 1985 the Richardson Vicks company was purchased by Procter & Gamble who really trying to make it big in hair care and they began aggressively marketing Pantene. By the way this is the same deal that gave them Oil of Olay which is turned out to be a major win in the skin care category for them. So it was a pretty sweet deal.

1987: The next pivotal moment in the brand for the brand came as a result of something happened within a completely different Procter & Gamble hair care line: Pert Plus shampoo was launched with a with revolutionary 2-1 formula. Why is this important for Pantene? Because right around the same time or shortly there after Pantene begin using a version of the Pert Plus two in one formula which means Pantene was the first brand to ingeniously give you a robustly conditioning shampoo which was really a 2 in 1 but which was not marketed as a two and one.

This is one of the true breakthroughs in hair care in the last 50 years. The use of this technology gave Pantene and edge with consumers and also allow them to push the envelope in terms of claims about healthy hair. I think this is when they went from being just Pantene to Pantene Pro V. It was also the beginning of a new marketing era remember all those beautiful hair shots in the 1980s? It included tag lines like:

“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” and “Hair so healthy it shines.”

1990s and beyond: Since then Pantene his grown to be a super block buster brand. It became one of P&G’s first billion dollar hair care brands in 1995. Since then it kind of peaked a couple of years ago but still certainly in the top two or three biggest hair care brands of the world. As of 2014 their tagline is “healthier hair with every wash” and now they talk about having antioxidant damage blocking technology. Still one of the best selling hair care brands in the world and that success is certainly based to some degree, on their conditioning technology. Let’s talk briefly about the science behind Pantene.

The science of Pantene

The key here is related to suspending silicone in such a way that it will deposit on hair from a shampoo while it’s being rinsed. This is called dilution deposition. As we said this technology first came to market in Pert where it was popular as a two and one but the same technology can be used to make what is known as a moisturizing or conditioning shampoo.

It’s not just the silicone there’s some work showing that the Guar helps with silicone deposition and provides some additional feel on that here. In addition to that conditioning functionality Pantene has a very finely tuned surfactant system that gives it a very creamy small bubble leather.

For years the conditioner relied on a combination of dimethicone and cyclomethicone. Talk about why this is so good. In more recent years they have moved away from the volatile silicones and more towards amino functional silicones.

Why we think Pantene is so good

So why do we think Pantene is so good? We know this technology is effective and we know that it sells really well. But we’ve also done blind testing on thousands if not tens of thousands of people across the US. Tested mass-market brands and salon brands and without fail Pantene would score at the top of the list every time. Keep in mind this was a blind test meaning we didn’t identify the name of the product and it was provided in a generic bottle and in some cases we even tried to disguise the fragrance of the product.

So that’s why we think Pantene is so good and that brings us back to her question: if it’s so good why is it not sold in salons?

Why isn’t Pantene sold in salons?

First of all, the Pantene formula has been sold in salons already. At least sort of. But it’s certainly been used in products that are sold as a salon brand – do you know which one I’m talking about? Vidal Sassoon. (That brand has since been sold.)

Why isn’t Pantene sold in a salon so they could make a lot more money? First, would they really make a lot more money? Let’s break it down and see how much more they MIGHT make IF they sold Pantene in salons.

Pantene sells 70-80 MILLION bottles of shampoo each year. Salon products sell on a fraction of that – about 14 or 15%. (Remember, a single bottle of salon shampoo sells for more money than a single bottle of mass market shampoo BUT mass market shampoos sell a LOT more units than salons do. So overall the sales of mass market products generate more money.)

Historically, the shampoo market has been somewhere around $1.5B -$1.7B per year. Pantene is somewhere around $240MM. If the salon market is about 15% of $1.5B then salons sell about $225MM.

So if Pantene was sold into salons and COMPLETELY replaced every salon shampoo in the country, then it would almost double it sales. That’s impressive.

But, it’s NOT going to replace every single other shampoo. So what’s a reasonable guesstimate? It could become one of the top selling salon brands. If it did that, it could capture about 10% of the salon market which is about $22MM. That’s a nice little bump in sales but it’s certainly not a dramatic shift for the brand. So let’s say Pantene said, yeah, I’ll take a 10% increase in sales. How would that even work?

Would they just go to Paul Mitchel and say hey Paul, will you take our Pantene formula which, people can buy for about $6 and put it in your best selling shampoo that costs about $25? What do you think Paul Mitchell or any professional stylist is going to say? “That’s mass market drug store crap, that’s not what my clients want.” Even if he DID make the change, it’s probably going to upset his loyal users.

Okay, so replacing an existing brand is not that easy. Could they start their own salon brand? Yes, but again how would that work? To be a salon shampoo you really need a celebrity stylist and, again, you have the problem of a stylist who wants to sign up for selling a drug store formula. They’re going to want to have some creative input into the product but they can’t because that would change it.

Lastly, I suppose Procter & Gamble could choose to license their formula to some salon brands so they could use it and bypass some of these issues. However, why would they bother to do this because the amount of money they would make from such a licensing agreement would be very small. Secondly, they wouldn’t want to do this because that would disclose their exact formula and may cause leaks and some of their trade secrets.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

So what’s the bottom line here? Why isn’t Pantene trying to sell itself as a salon brand? I think the answer lies in their basic corporate philosophy which is, and I’m paraphrasing here, if it’s not at least a billion-dollar business we don’t want to f*#& with it.

iTunes reviews

Neepa from Canada says…As a human biology student and skincare enthusiast, I find myself really appreciating Randy’s and Perry’s comments on the industry and the science behind it. I constantly have to explain to my girlfriends why certain ingredients are only marketing claims and why the word “natural” isn’t always what it seems! Finally we’ve got Randy and Perry to rely on. It’s almost as if this podcast was made especially for someone like me! Thank you guys!

YourFace says… Two dudes, beauty related topics, and science. Sounds like an odd mix, but like a peanut butter, Fluff, and banana sandwich, it’s an explosion of awesomeness – but calorie free! These two dudes make me LOL, and they keep me interested the entire time they’re talking. They’ve saved me time and money trying products that won’t work, and finding the one’s that will.

{ 32 comments… add one }

  • Paula November 17, 2015, 7:13 am

    Can I ask how these shampoo blind tests are done? Are they shampooed once and then give an opinion? Because I can see how Pantene could get good feedback off of one or two washes. Full disclosure, I loathe Pantene…but don’t get heated about it because no one is forcing me to use it. My complaint is the same as others, after using it for awhile it does leave an ungodly buildup. I remember one time having to wash my hair several times in one sitting (clarifying) to get the gunk out. Anywho, the Pantene saga continues!

    • Randy Schueller November 17, 2015, 8:05 am

      The test design varies with the objective but they typically run for a minimum of 2 weeks.

      • Cat May 4, 2016, 7:42 pm

        When people with active subacious glands use Shampoos with cheap silicones they smell like hamsters. I hate it. Especially if they are also experiencing hormonal changes. Gross. Scalp health matters. You don’t want clogged hair follicles that stink and shrink the diameter of your hair shaft

        • Randy Schueller May 5, 2016, 7:52 am

          Cat: I’m curious what you consider to be a “cheap silicone.” Also, do you have any evidence that they clog hair follicles? If that’s true I’d like to share the data with our readers. Thanks.

  • Eileen November 17, 2015, 2:56 pm

    This was very interesting as I remember very well when Pantene was considered an exotic Swiss beauty product that could only be purchased in department stores. It was quite a splurge for me the first time I purchased it. It’s claim to fame was that it gave the hair body and shine and, yes, it certainly did. Unfortunately, it also resulted in a lot of product build up which ultimately caused the hair to look heavy and limp. Clarifying shampoos to the rescue! The wisdom of the time to combat that problem was to use a special clarifying shampoo for a week every month or so. The cycle would then begin all over again: Pantene for three-four weeks with a gradual build up, remove the gunk with a clarifying shampoo over the course of a week, then go back to Pantene. I couldn’t help but notice how much better my hair looked after removing the buildup and so the next time I needed to buy shampoo, I switched brands. Since those early years, the Pantene formula has evolved into dozens of different variations to fit the concerns of the time. There are so many iterations of Pantene, it makes me dizzy just to think about all of them 😛

    • Randy Schueller November 18, 2015, 8:12 am

      Yes, they seem to have proliferated the brand to the point of confusion. (In the beauty biz each of those different products is called a “SKU” which is short for “Stock Keeping Unit.”)

  • Ami November 17, 2015, 5:27 pm

    I used Pantene pretty extensively for 4 or 5 years about 10 years ago. It was great while I was regularly using heat to style. I got a lot of compliments on the scent of my hair as well. But I reached a point where I wasn’t using heat to style my hair more than twice a year. And that’s when the buildup happened. The thing I found was that Pantene was good at protecting hair, but if you didn’t need the protection, it could actively prevent itself from cleaning your hair. I literally had to do the apple cider vinegar wash twice and use expensive, properly PH balanced shampoo for a few months.

    • Randy Schueller November 18, 2015, 8:13 am

      Pantene may cause buildup due to the use of silicones and other cationic conditioning agents but the problem is NOT caused by an improper pH balance. ALL modern shampoos are in the correct pH range.

  • Alessandra November 18, 2015, 7:33 pm

    Hi,
    Besides the issue with sticky residue/buildup, I also noticed that many Pantene shampoos have the more aggressive sulfates (lauryl, as opposed to just laureth) in them. This is not unique to inexpensive shampoo, because I have the same issues with expensive brands like Kerastase. In any case, is Pantene ever going to make gentler shampoo? My Suave volumizing shampoo or Baby Johnsons baby shampoo

    • Randy Schueller November 19, 2015, 8:31 am

      As we’ve pointed out before, sulfates are fine for more people even though they can cause dryness/irritation/itching in others. Considering all the different versions of Pantene it is surprising that they don’t have a sulfate free one, even if it’s just to appease those consumers.

  • Eraser November 18, 2015, 7:44 pm

    I’m also old enough to remember when Pantene was sold in department stores. So were Revlon cosmetics and a slew of other “cheap” mass market brands. The snobbery that people exhibit makes me shake my head, but I guess that’s how the beauty business makes those billions. Plenty of people who believe that shampoo with some celebrity stylist’s name on it is worth $20+ when it probably has the same formula as a $5 one from the drugstore.

    • Randy Schueller November 19, 2015, 8:29 am

      There certainly is an aspirational component to the beauty business that drives the sale of those celebrity products.

  • Deb November 18, 2015, 8:16 pm

    SERIOUSLY EVERYONE.??!!! PANTENE!!?? Is this really an issue anywhere but here?

    • Randy Schueller November 19, 2015, 8:29 am

      The same topic comes up in other hair care forums so I don’t think it’s just here.

  • ana November 18, 2015, 8:32 pm

    Are you serious ? you guys tell us all the time to look at the ingrident list . now tell me where your pro v b5 vitamin is at on the list ?… The pantene sold in europe and US is different i was born in europe i know .the difference this is not the real pantene this is just washed out poor quality product .i can understand your science explanation but clearly if it was that good it would have such a bad rep .it makes my head itch dry hair i have naturally very curly hair and does nothing for me . im also a hairdresser and i like other ones see the difference in clients hair after you cleanse it out . im sorry some people who have fine hair it works for them but again the hair feels like barbie doll hair.. If your going to test it then test it on all types of hair not just your fine hair that does us no good … What vitamins does it contain ? and what good argan oil does it have ? Not concentrated certaintly not high quality … Consumers are buying thinking its going to look like the commercial its all a marketing tool that is it … And its not healthy to have dry hair itchy scalp! You want to test it then invite a bigger panel .. Not just a one time use.. That doesnt tell you its good ,over time will see what it does to the hair

    • Randy Schueller November 19, 2015, 8:28 am

      If Pantene makes your head itch you may be sensitive to the sulfates they use or perhaps even their fragrance.

      • Theresa November 19, 2015, 3:10 pm

        I just want to add that most (if not all) the Pantene shampoos and conditioners contain the preservatives Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone. So for anyone experiencing itching or a rash from the Pantene products an allergy to these preservatives is something to consider.

        • Randy Schueller November 19, 2015, 5:43 pm

          Good point, Theresa. Most of the complaints I’ve seen are about the feel on their hair but this is good to keep in mind for those people who have a skin reaction. Thanks!

      • Ana September 3, 2016, 3:38 pm

        Thank you for responding but you still didnt acknowledge what i said about the ingredients and their order because for sure you can test it for teo weeks and not see the results that people who complain about the brand see… Thats not enough time in my opinion
        I love the smell of the product but pantene doesnt have the same quality as redken as biolage or other professional brands … If your buying a product that claims all this stuff why so much build up? Dryness ,itchy scalp…… So mant people cant have the same complaint about the same brand because its so great and has “vitamins” in it

        • Randy Schueller September 3, 2016, 4:30 pm

          Hi Ana. It’s true that a 2 week test period may not be long enough to reveal certain types of problems, like those related to build up.

          To be honest, I’m confused about the rest of your question related to the order of ingredients. If you’d care to rephrase it, I’ll try to respond.

    • Eileen November 19, 2015, 9:46 am

      Hi Ana,

      B5 is listed on the ingredient label as Panthenol; hence the name Pantene. Hope that helps.

      • ana September 3, 2016, 3:28 pm

        True B5 is in the product but y point is that it should be a top of the list
        As a hairdresser i dont try to gear clients to buy salon quality unless it works for them i like my clients to have good results with watever product they use but theres no question that salon brand has ingridients that are more concentrated i was a user of pantene but there is a difference in my hair after i stopped using it .. And dont get me wrong i love the smell of pantene amd would like to spend 5 dollars a bottle insteadof what i pay for DevaCurl but i dont have dry itchy scalp or dry hair

        • Randy Schueller September 3, 2016, 4:28 pm

          “theres no question that salon brand has ingridients that are more concentrated.”

          This is a popular misconception but it’s simply not true. I have formulated products for salons (and I have worked with other chemists who have formulated for salon brands.) There is, of course, some variation in the concentration of ingredients used from brand to brand but salon brands in general are NOT more concentrated. If you can prove your point by referring formula sheets or test data showing ingredient concentrations, then I’d be happy to change my mind. Otherwise, let’s be clear and state that you’re stating your opinion.

  • Merin November 19, 2015, 6:33 am

    I found this very interesting, especially the bit about the formula change back in the late 80’s. When I was in university way back then, I’d buy Pantene when I was a bit more flush with cash. It really worked great on my hair and I needed less conditioner when I used it. I always used to say that it was more like a 2-in-1 and it turns out it was! My other go-to in those days was Suave, which was incredibly cheap and worked incredibly well, so, of course, they stopped selling it in Canada not long afterwards 🙂

    • Randy Schueller November 19, 2015, 8:27 am

      I didn’t know they stopped selling Suave in Canada. Do they still have VO5? That’s another low cost product that works very well.

      • Barbara November 19, 2015, 10:42 am

        I haven’t seen VO5 shampoo for years in Canada. We are stuck with limited brands. I buy salon shampoo and I notice that I use significantly less product than Pantene. I no longer use Pantene shampoo but will use the conditioner on my ends.

  • Danny Curlin February 10, 2016, 11:46 am

    I remember buying Pantene Shampoo in the late 70’s at Bullocks when I worked there right out of high school and it was kinda pricey back then , the shampoo was green and had a very cool scent that I liked and it didn’t smell like any other shampoo out at that time , also I used this conditioner by Pantene that was concentrated and it was white looking and it had to be diluted in a glass of water , I kid you not it was like this ridiculous ritual I did every time I washed my hair and blow dryed it , ofcourse I had longer hair this was 79 and 80 and I was like 18 . I think it was like $5.50 to $6.00 , per bottle but back then shampoo was at least half that in the drug store . I got tons of compliments on my hair from girls and even guys back then , but I realized u was going way out of my way by spending this money that all my friends thought I was crazy . But my point in writing is more about the change when it was sold in the grocery store , I bought it thinking it would be the same , it was completely different in every way , the scent was completely gone , it was like a completely different product , I think it was still sold at dept stores for a brief time after that . I enjoyed this article and tome it’s a no brainier on why Pantene is no longer sold in salons , but they could have at least kept the original scent , after a that was one of the selling points for me back then . Also I had another product similar to this back in 81 , I had a good friend who lived in Copenhagen and he had this bar of soap that was bought just at any grocery store in Denmark and this bar soap I am not joking had the most incredible scent , very unique and different , I brought it home in my suitcase , it was not sold here in the USA ofcourse , it Turns out to be Nivea , well by the time Nivea introduces there line , same thing – totally different scent , never saw this soap again . Thanks for the great article
    Danny

  • Sarah March 24, 2016, 7:40 pm

    I think it’s hilarious to hear from the hair stylists on forums like these. Every time I go to a stylist the third or fourth sentence is along the lines of “so what product do use”. Whatever answer I give (unless it happens to be the products on the shelf lining the walls) is the WRONG answer. Then I get the pitying wag of the head one gives to someone who just isn’t really very smart. Then they stroke their hands through my hair and say sadly , “I can tell” and start listing off the products that I need to have to have long flowing lustrous bouncy perfect locks.
    Then there’s the skin care advice. I did my undergraduate degree in biochemistry and try and keep up with cosmetic dermatology. I’m really appalled by what is asserted with such confidence and certainty. I don’t try and provide alternative information anymore. I mostly just smile a lot.

  • Angel April 26, 2016, 8:11 pm

    I’ve tried all the brands out there almost. Drugstore to salon. Pantene was one I started using and at times would see buildup but not unlike Kerastace. I would see shine, volume, ect. also by both brands. The most damaged my hair ever looked was from flat ironing it and bleaching. Not from a shampoo brand. If your hair is compromised there isn’t a brand in the world that can help. If you limit heat styling and don’t bleach Pantene, Kerastace, Pureology, Dove, whatever brand you are using your hair will look amazing.

  • Greg August 17, 2016, 8:40 pm

    I have light psoriasis and used to purchase expensive small bottles of shampoo in pharmacies to keep my dandruff in check. Then, some 30 years ago, I discovered Pantene Anti-Dandruff and all my problems were solved. But now it is impossible to find that type of shampoo in stores, and Pantene even stopped selling it online in the US. Where can I find it, short of going to Switzerland twice a year?

    • Randy Schueller August 17, 2016, 9:22 pm

      I believe that the Pantene Anti-dandruff shampoo was the same basic formula as Head and Shoulders. Do you have access to that product?

      • Greg August 19, 2016, 8:33 am

        yes I do. Thank you very much for the tip!

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