Shampoo and Conditioners: 10 Things to Consider Before You Buy

Sulfate-free, dandruff, no-poo & other shampoo trends to consider

young woman shopping for shampoo
What to look for when buying shampoo. 97 / E+ / Getty Images

There are literally 100s of shampoos and conditioners on the market. So how to pick the best ones for you? Here we break down the key points to consider....before you buy.

Do I Really Need That $60 Bottle of Shampoo?

Is there really a difference between a $8 shampoo from the grocery store and a $40 bottle from your salon? Well yes, and no. Some cheap shampoos contain foaming agents which can dry out the hair.

But there are some great drugstore shampoos and conditioners, including ones made by Neutrogena and Pantene.

I swear by my $60 bottle of Kerastase Resistance Bain Volumifique Thickening Shampoo, but on weekends when I'm away, I wash my hair with a $6 bottle of Pantene Classic Clean Shampoo.  

You can save yourself a lot of money over the years shampooing with quality drugstore brands. See this list of the Best Drugstore Buys: Hair Products.

Should I Read the Labels?

The many names of ingredients on bottles can be confusing. But it's true the right ingredients make all the difference. Rather than pay attention to the names on the bottles, pay more attention to the ingredients. Does the shampoo include a mild cleanser like sodium laureth sulfate or a stronger one like ammonium lauryl sulfate?

See my article, Best Shampoos and Conditioners for All Hair Types, for exactly what to look for in your products.

Why All the Fuss Over Sulfates in Shampoos?

If you are into an organic lifestyle no matter your hair type, you should be using sulfate-free shampoos. Sulfates are the ingredients in shampoo that cause the shampoo to lather. We've come to expect the better the shampoo lathers, the better the shampoo is, however many natural health experts recommend avoiding any shampoos with the foaming agents sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium laureth sulfate as main ingredients.

How to tell if a shampoo is sulfate-free? The bottle label will brag about it, trust me. If there's no wording about being sulfate-free, then you can be sure the shampoo contains sulfates and you'll see them in the ingredient list. 

See my list of the Best Sulfate-free Shampoos.

How Important is Picking a Shampoo for Your Hair Type?

If you've ever been in the shower with only one type of shampoo -- one that's formulated for an entirely different hair type than yours -- then you know how important the correct shampoo is when it comes to cleansing your hair.

I have exited a few showers feeling as if I'd just washed my fine, oily hair in bacon grease. You really don't want to use a creamy conditioning shampoo on fine hair. You just don't. I would have been better off foregoing the shampoo and spritzing on a dry shampoo instead.

Choosing the correct shampoo for your hair type can mean the difference between great hair and so-so hair.

Shampoo is meant to remove dirt, sebum (a.k.a. oils), and product buildup from your hair. But there are dozens of different brands to choose from, and even more types within those brands. If you have oily, dry, normal, frizzy or damaged hair, you should choose the right shampoos for that hair type.

  • Fine hair usually means oily hair. Avoid creamy shampoos. Gentle shampoos marked for volume and daily or frequent washing are good bets. The product should be clear, not thick and creamy.
  • Dry, coarse hair needs creamy shampoos and more importantly, conditioner.
  • If you have frizzy hair, your secret to softer hair is in the conditioning, not the shampoo. You should condition after every shampoo and do hot oil treatments weekly.

I describe this process in-depth in the following articles:

  • Best Shampoos and Conditioners for All Hair Types
  • How to Shampoo Fine Hair Correctly

Just What is the "No Shampoo" and "Lo Poo" Movements?

Believe it or not, some women with dry, curly, coarse and/or frizzy hair swear by the no-poo or lo-poo methods.

This means using very little to no shampoo (which can strip hair of its natural oils) and using conditioners instead (which softens hair).

Created by curly-haired women for curly hair, Deva Curl's No-Poo and Low-Poo shampoos, are sulfate-free, full of organic moisturizers and created for ultimate frizz protection.

My Trendy Friend Swears by Dry Shampoo. Is She Right?

If you want to buy a day between washing or you need to refresh your hair after working out, there is absolutely no better product than dry shampoo.

My favorite dry shampoo is Klorane with Oat Milk. See my list of the Best Dry Shampoos.

I Have a Baby. Do I Need to Go the Crunchy, Organic Route for His/Her Hair?

It's up to you what kind of product you want to use on your child. For me, I go the organic route when it comes to shampoo and laundry detergent. My number-one priority is that the product is tear-free because those suds will get in the eyes. 

I use both California Baby Calendula Shampoo and Body Wash and Burts Bees Baby Bee Tear Free Shampoo & Wash on my toddler son.

What Should I Look for in a Dandruff Shampoo?

The best remedy for dandruff is to rotate three over-the-counter dandruff shampoos -- one containing salicylic acid (to exfoliate), one containing selenium sulfide (to soothe) and a third containing pyrithione zinc (an anti-inflammatory) interspersing them with regular shampoo. A trio of treatments is most effects because if you use only one the fungus could adapt and become immune to it.

  • How to Control Dandruff
  • Dandruff Remedies: How to Treat Dandruff Naturally

I Have Colored Hair, Does My Shampoo Matter?

If your hair is colored, you really should consider a shampoo that is specially designed for colored hair. This is because the shampoos are made to be more gentle on your hair and will contain ingredients to deposit and preserve color.

Your goal is to reinforce weak areas in the hair shaft that naturally comes from coloring, straightening, relaxing or perming hair. Look for protein-based shampoos with ingredients such as wheat and soy extracts or silk amino acids, suggests Real Simple Magazine.

Unfortunately, overly processed hair can suffer from oily roots but a dry shaft and ends. Therefore, washing processed hair can be tricky business. You want to cleanse the roots while moisturizing the ends. We suggest washing hair every other day with a shampoo made for normal hair. Concentrate on cleaning the scalp. Then use a strong conditioner only on the mid-shaft to ends of hair. 

I explain further in my article, Best Shampoos and Conditioners for All Hair Types.

I Have Product Build-Up. How Do I Get Rid of It?

To combat build-up, wash hair once a week with a clarifying shampoo or rinse hair with a mixture of 1/3 apple cider vinegar and 2/3rds water.

Don't miss:

  • 13 Mistakes People Make When Blow-drying Their Hair
  • Shampooing Your Hair: 8 Biggest Questions Answered
  • 13 Mistakes People Make When Blow-drying Their Hair
  • The Pro Blow-Out: How to Dry Your Hair Like a Professional