Shampoo 101: Choosing the Right Shampoo for Your Hair Type

Young Woman Looking At Product While Buying From Supermarket
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Buying shampoo can be a confusing endeavor. Moisturizing, hydrating, volumizing, strengthening, smoothing, curling, color-safe, thickening ... How do you match the lingo on the bottle with the hair on your head? It doesn't have to be a head game if you know what you're looking for.

Define Your Scalp Type

Before you choose shampoo, it's important to know what shampoo does, how to use it, and how that relates to your hair and scalp type.

Shampoo is meant to clean your hair and scalp of dirt, oil, and styling products. While you might think of shampoo strictly as a hair-cleansing agent, it's actually more important to consider your scalp when choosing a shampoo.

Think of it this way: Shampoo is for your scalp, and conditioner is for your hair. If your scalp is oily and your ends are dry (which is a common problem), then you should choose a shampoo that is best suited for an oily scalp, and a conditioner that's formulated to hydrate your dry ends. 

Shampoo Choices for Oily Scalps

If your scalp tends to be oily or greasy, you've likely been through dozens of shampoos with little luck. You've tried everything from washing daily (even twice daily) to putting days between shampoos in an effort to control that embarrassing excess oil and sebum production. Here's what to look for and what to avoid when choosing a shampoo for an oily scalp:

  • Avoid shampoos that are hydrating, moisturizing, smoothing, or good for curly hair. These tend to add too much moisture to your already oily scalp.
  • Look for labels that mention volumizing, strengthening, or balancing. These products are less moisturizing and more effective at removing excess oil.
  • A daily clarifying shampoo can be a big help for super-oily scalp conditions, but be careful that you're not overdrying your scalp. Overdrying can actually stimulate more oil and sebum production.
  • Try a super-clarifying treatment when your oily scalp is really out of control.
  • Spend extra time working the shampoo into your scalp to break up oil, and rinse your scalp very well.
  • After shampooing, avoid working your conditioner into your scalp. Rather, concentrate on the mid-shaft and ends of your hair. Rinse well.

Shampoo Choices for Dry Scalps

When your scalp is dry, itchy, or flaky, choosing the right shampoo can be your first line of defense against the uncomfortable, sometimes embarrassing conditions that can occur. It's important to choose a shampoo that doesn't add to the issue when you have a dry scalp. Try these tips:

  • Avoid strengthening, fortifying, and volumizing shampoos. These products can strip your scalp of necessary moisture.
  • For scalps that are only slightly dry with little to no itching or flaking, look for shampoo labels that promote moisture, hydration, smoothing, or curls. These products promote moisture retention and can be beneficial to your dry scalp.
  • If your scalp is very dry, itchy, or flaky, consider shampoos that are specifically formulated for dry scalps. Ingredients such as menthol and tea tree can help moisturize.
  • Nioxin shampoo can be an excellent investment for moderate to severe dry-scalp concerns.
  • Avoid shampoos that contain sulfates, which are very drying to the hair and scalp.
  • Even when your scalp is dry, it's important to properly shampoo your hair for best results.

Shampoo Glossary

When your scalp is neither excessively dry or oily (or maybe you just want to know what on earth all these shampoo types mean), you can choose whatever shampoo fits your desired results:

  • Hydrating/moisturizing shampoo: great for adding moisture, shine, and smoothness to hair. Good for thick, curly, or coarse hair. Biolage makes a great hydrating shampoo that will leave your hair silky-soft and is gentle enough to use every day.
  • Volumizing shampoo: excellent choice when your hair is fine or limp. If your hair or style needs a boost, a volumizing shampoo can be a great foundation. Nexxus Hydra Light Shampoo is formulated for fine hair and provides moisture without weighing hair down.
  • Strengthening/fortifying shampoo: good for damaged, overprocessed, highlighted, weak, or brittle hair. Usually contains extra protein to improve hair's condition. For a good strength-fortifying shampoo, try Klorane Shampoo With Quinine. It provides volume and is gentle enough to use on damaged and brittle hair. 
  • Balancing shampoo: typically a nice middle-of-the-road option. Not too moisturizing, but won't dry your hair out. American Crew makes a great balancing shampoo that effectively cleanses hair while maintaining moisture levels.
  • Smoothing/straight hair shampoo: typically rich with extra moisturizers and smoothing agents that help seal the cuticle and provide a great start for straight and smooth styles. Aveda's smoothing shampoo reduces unwanted frizz, creates a smooth surface, and protect hair from heat. 
  • Curly hair shampoo: very moisturizing, with ingredients that reduce frizz. Kerastase Curl Definition Shampoo is a good choice that gently cleanses hair without weighing down curls.