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The shampoo secret beauty companies don’t want you to know

Conny tells The Beauty Brains she has a very sensitive scalp with fine hair and suffers from hair loss and dandruff. Dermatologists have advised her to use a clear gel shampoo that has to be clarifying or deep cleansing. So, she’s tried Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo, Suave for Men Deep Cleansing shampoo, Neutrogena Anti-residue shampoo, and Prell Classic original formula. She’s not happy with those choices and is asking us to set her straight.

The Right Brain responds:

While we hate to disagree with dermatologists, we don’t understand why they recommended a deep cleansing shampoo when you have dandruff. Deep cleansing type shampoos will remove the surface flakes, but only a dandruff shampoo can control the cause of flaking and itching. So we’d recommend finding a good dandruff shampoo instead of chasing deep cleaning, clarifying and anti-residue products. This may seem confusing to you because the beauty companies tell you there are SO many different kinds of shampoo. But in reality, every shampoo on the market falls into a few basic categories.

There Are Only 4 Different Shampoo Types In the World

All shampoo can be categorized by their basic functional category. So then why are there eleventy million products on the market, you ask? Because the companies that sell shampoo need to find new ways to talk about their products to keep them sounding new and exciting. There’s nothing wrong with them being creative about their names and claims as long as the companies are honestly depicting what their products can do. But you can be a smarter consumer if you can see beyond the marketing hype and understand the functionality of these 4 basic shampoo types.

1) Deep Cleansing Shampoos

(Also known as Volumizing, Clarifying, Balancing, Oil Control, and Thickening.)

These shampoos are designed to get gunk off your hair and scalp. They typically contain slightly higher levels of detergents so they foam and clean better. They include the examples above as well as salon products like Paul Mitchell Shampoo 2. and Frederic Fekkai’s Full Volume.

2) Conditioning Shampoos

(Aka Moisturizing, 2 in 1, Smoothing, Anti-frizz, Strengthening, Color Care, Straightening, and Hydrating)

This kind of formula is all about leaving a moisturizing agent, like a silicone or Polyquaternium 10, on the hair to smooth it and help straighten hair. It’s very good for dry hair, especially if you color treat or heat style but it can weigh down fine hair. Good examples of this type includes most of the Pantene formulas and some products from the L’Oreal Vive collection and Dove ProCare.

3) Baby Shampoos

(Aka Kids shampoo, and Tear-free)

Johnson’s Baby Shampoo is the classic example but this category also includes Touch Of An Angel and The Little Bath. These are milder, lower foaming surfactant formulas that are designed not to sting or burn your eyes. They’re better for babies but they don’t clean hair as well.

4) Anti-Dandruff Shampoos

(Aka Anti-itch, Flake Control, and Dry Scalp)

Head and Shoulders is the leading dandruff product; other examples include Nizoral and Redken Dandruff Control . These are medicated shampoos that contain a drug ingredient that controls itching and flaking. In the United States these are considered to be Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs.

The Brains Bottom Line:

Hopefully, this helps you better understand the marketing hype around shampoo names. We’re not saying that all shampoos are the same, or even that all shampoos in a given category type are the same. There are real performance differences, so it’s important that you shop around and find a product that performs the way you like at a price that you can afford. But just don’t get too hung up on the names the companies use to describe the products. That’s the marketing part of the industry, not the science part.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Becci June 28, 2014, 9:37 am

    I am a hairdresser and love the benefit of selling salon type products that I’ve been told are better than store brand yet I hate not knowing if I’m being honest by telling my clients salon products are better than store brand. I find it hard to believe that they are better but would love to know why.

    Have a great hair day!

    • Randy Schueller June 28, 2014, 11:12 am

      Hi Becci. If you search our site you’ll find several articles about salon hair care. If you ever have questions about specific products we’d be happy to help.

  • Chrissie September 6, 2014, 11:27 pm

    What about chelating shampoos? And does Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo count as a chelating shampoo because of the EDTA?

    • Randy Schueller September 7, 2014, 10:11 am

      You certainly could add chelating shampoos to the list. I suspect that J&J only uses enough EDTA to boost their preservative system and that there’s not enough there for chelation, but I’ve never tested it.

      • karishma February 7, 2015, 6:03 am

        Hi. Can you suggest me which type of shampoo I should use as I have long wavy,dry,thin and naturally light black hair
        I want shine and volume in my hair

  • Melissa October 23, 2016, 7:41 pm

    You forgot about toning shampoos! Those meant to adjust the undertones in your hair. Although, I suppose they fall under one of these types.

  • Lynn March 30, 2018, 9:55 am

    I think the “real” secret they don’t want you to know is that they (certain beauty companies) are in cahootz with hair salons and use and expensive, great smelling formula that works great on hair and sell it exclusively to the salon owners to use on clients. And the bottles of the “same” shampoo/conditioner you see sitting on the shelves with $20=$30 stickers on a tiny 8 oz bottle are not the same formula. I can’t count the times I’ve fallen for this trick. The stylist is washing my hair and the shampoo and conditioner smell wonderful and my hair looks great so I splurge and extra $50-60 and buy the tiny 8oz bottles only to find out later at home that the scent is not quite the same (close enough for plausible deniability) and my hair looks just like I used a 90 cent bottle of Suave from the dollar store. THIS is the REAL SECRET they don’t want you to know! I remember when Pureology Shampoo and Conditioner worked beautifully on my hair, at the salon and even when I bought it from the salon. Then, Loreal bought them out and the customer purchased products became junk, just like everything else on the drug store shelf but I suspect the salon owners still get the original formula to use on clients because it seems the same when they shampoo and condition my hair as the old formula. These snakes are very greedy and sneaky people. Nothing is as it seems, believe me.

  • Amanda January 14, 2020, 11:09 pm

    I’m a licensed Cosmetologist.

    I believe that there are still good products on the shelf at Walmart & other stores that are good enough to use in salon. Regardless what other professionals will advise you.

    Head & Shoulders.. is the most sold shampoo in the WORLD & most affordable for Dandruff & its actually color safe too!

    Aussie.. shampoo/conditioner smells amazing & works great for chemically damaged & overprocessed hair.

    John Frieda.. has a great system that slowly lightens your hair overtime if you wanna keep up with your blonde hair.

    Garnier Fructis.. has a REALLY good leave in conditioner & serum for curly hair. That i absolutely LOVE.

    Thats just my opinion though. Ive had experience with all of them. Just because its not sold in salons doesn’t mean it isn’t a good product.