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Why You Shouldn't Use Drugstore Shampoos

One of the things I most passionately educate my clients on is the base of everyone’s haircare regime. What’s the one thing that everyone uses? Shampoo. It’s the first thing you do to your hair before anything else, and a quality shampoo is one of the most important things you should have on your haircare shopping list. My reasoning includes the science behind the hair and the product, the cosmetic point of view, and of course the financial decision of the shopper. Drugstore brands may seem appealing, but they’re simply not the way to go.

If you look at a single strand of hair, it doesn’t look like much; you’d be surprised to learn about what’s inside. For this article, I want to focus on the outer layer of the hair: the cuticle. Picture the cuticle to look like roof shingles. The individual shingles are brick-laid to lay perfectly to protect the inside of the house. If you run your fingers down a single strand of healthy hair, you’ll feel smoothness. Now run your fingers up the strand…feel the snags? That’s your roof shingles raising up. All products you put on your hair should protect your “roof shingles” and maintain a strong and healthy cuticle. This insures that the inside layers of your hair are secured, and the integrity of the hair is maintained.

Now, bear with me while I explain the pH scale, and throw potentially boring numbers at you, but I think that sometimes numbers put things into perspective. The pH scale in cosmetology ranges 1-14. Level 7 is considered neutral. Anything less than 7 is considered acidic, and anything more than 7 is considered alkaline. Lemon juice averages at a level 2. Natural levels of hair and skin range 4.5-5.5 (we are naturally acidic). Water is neutral at a level 7. Permanent wave solution ranges 9.0-9.6, and worst of all a chemical straightening solution ranges 12-13. We all know that haircolor and perm solution damage your hair, and one reason is because our hair is acidic; those products are alkaline, which dries out the hair. In fact, usually those processes go hand in hand with other products that bring the pH level back down closer to the natural level. After rinsing out the perm solution, the next step is to apply the neutralizer. After I give someone highlights, I tone them with an acidic toner.

Drugstore brands of shampoo and conditioner seem to have pH levels that are all over the place, ranging between levels 4.0-9.0. There are at-home pH test strips that you can purchase to test the level of your shampoo. However, there are plenty of YouTubers that have already done that job for you.

The pH scale is the root of all my hatred towards drugstore shampoo. There’s no way to tell what you’re getting in that bottle, and it’s going to lead to nothing but damage. Applying a product to your hair that’s high in alkaline raises those roof shingles we talked about, shreds your hair strands, and overall dries out your hair into a straw-like mess. That’s exactly what your drugstore shampoo does. Then you apply conditioner, which simply coats it with a little bandaid (even though your hair needs stitches) and you run your fingers through your hair thinking it feels/looks great…for now. But the damage is there. If you’re already starting to notice any damage or dryness, you may want to try a pH balancing shampoo. These are shampoos with a pH level ranging 4.5-5.5, and will help bring your hair back to the normal level. At the salon, we use all Enjoy products. Their entire shampoo line is pH balancing.

A 2017 study done by, found that 69% of women say they feel more attractive right after having their hair colored. In that same study, it was said that 79% of women claim professional products keep their color from fading. What you wash your hair with has a major effect on your haircolor. You may have noticed that a lot of salon brands have started making sulfate-free shampoos.* Sulfates are detergents made of sulfur-containing mineral salts; they’re very aggressive, and can be destructive. Sulfates are not only bad for your hair, but they are way too aggressive for colored hair. It makes your color fade more quickly by stripping/shredding the top layer of the hair, which causes it to open up and let the color molecules out of the inner layer of the hair. If you want to maintain your haircolor, you need to invest in a salon brand, sulfate-free shampoo, and conditioner. Shopper’s Note: Looking over the options at my local drugstore, I don’t see any sulfate free options that aren’t technically a salon brand. Redken and It’s a 10 are actually available at Walmart, but in my opinion, are overpriced here.

The reason sulfates are sometimes added to shampoo is so that it can create suds more easily and can really lather the hair. You can still achieve this with sulfate-free shampoo, but you just need a little extra water. So, instead of ringing out your hair before grabbing the shampoo, leave your hair dripping wet —the extra water will help your shampoo to lather.

I hope I’ve sold you on the quality, now let’s chat quantity. Drugstore shampoos contain harsh detergents mixed with perfumes and other fillers. The fillers dilute the product, which prevent it from really cleaning the hair, and the perfumes mask that. Drugstore conditioners contain heavy oils and more fillers, which don’t penetrate or nourish the hair, but cause an oily build up over just a few washes. The combination of these two things will make your hair feel dirty, and cause you to wash your hair more often. So, while you think you’re saving money by purchasing a less expensive option at the drugstore, you’ll more than likely end up using it more often, and in turn need to refill your purchase more often. This will rack up to spending more in the end.

Going back to sulfate-free shampoos, this is another way to get more bang for your buck. Since they suds more with a little extra water, you only need a minimal amount of shampoo with every wash. On top of that, because it’s a quality product, your hair will continue to feel clean for a longer period of time. Therefore, you’ll use it less often, and it will last much longer than any drugstore shampoo.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the most important thing you buy for your hair is a quality shampoo. You can’t build a beautiful house on a terrible foundation. You can’t have beautiful hair without a quality shampoo.

I hope you enjoyed this article! Keep a look out for future features, or check out for immediate access to all pieces of writing and more!


Please Note: All facts I’ve stated about the structure, health, and maintenance of hair are facts I learned during my studies at Shasta School of Cosmetology (using the Milady’s Cosmetology textbook for our course work), and during my experience as a licensed Cosmetologist.

*Eleven, Matrix, Amika, and Loriel Professional are some of my favorite brands that offer sulfate-free shampoos.


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