The Difference Between Professional Shampoo And Supermarket Shampoo

Happy young woman with hair conditioner in bathtub
Alliance via Getty Images
Happy young woman with hair conditioner in bathtub

Caring for your hair can be an expensive and tiresome exercise. Forget the cost of cuts and colour, the hundreds of shampoo varieties alone (dry ends, oily roots, volumising etc.) and the conflicting information over whether your regular supermarket brand is sufficient, it’s enough to get anybody er, all tangled up.

Selecting the right shampoo and conditioner is as much about personal preference as the actual hairstyle you choose, but few people lie in the realm of having found The One -- that is, a shampoo and conditioner combination so good they wouldn’t dream of trying another type.

“Shampoos were introduced in the 1930s. Prior to that, most people used bar soap,” Rod Sinclair, professor of medicine, The University of Melbourne and director of Sinclair Dermatology told The Huffington Post Australia.

So what’s so special about shampoo?

“Shampoos are specifically designed to remove sebum from the scalp and hair,” Sinclair said.

Sebum is the natural oil produced by the scalp. Too much sebum makes the hair greasy and dirt sticks to the sebum.

If a shampoo removes too much of the sebum from the hair and scalp however, it will leave the hair frizzy and dry. Enter conditioner -- which can partly correct this very problem.

“The challenge for shampoo manufacturers is to remove just enough sebum to allow the hair to appear clean and leave behind enough conditioning agents, actually representing synthetic sebum, to beautify the clean hair,” Sinclair said.

In general there are two types of shampoos, therapeutic and non-therapeutic. The latter is what makes up the majority of supermarket and salon varieties and is used to simultaneously clean the scalp and the hair and to beautify it (make it shinier).

Therapeutic shampoos are used to treat specific diseases and conditions of the scalp and hair such as dandruff or inflammation associated with psoriasis, and some of these will require a prescription.

Supermarket bought brands differ from the more expensive professional lines that are offered in hairdressing salons mostly in price, though some use natural or organic ingredients and usually will not contain sulphates.

“[Salon brands] aim for superior fragrance, shine and usability and sometimes have fewer ingredients,” Sinclair said.

Sinclair agrees while some consumers are worried about their shampoo and conditioner containing sulphates, he said it is not something he is concerned about.

“Cosmetics companies do market research to identify what consumers want. If there is consumer demand they will remove these ingredients from their products,” Sinclair said.

This can be explained by how many of the bigger players like L’Oreal Paris and Ecostore now offer supermarket lines made with natural ingredients or without sulphates.

While the question of whether you should be spending big on hair care products is personal preference (after all, many of the professional and supermarket brands are made by the same companies), Sinclair emphasises the importance of conditioner for long hair.

"Ideal non-therapeutic [supermarket] shampoos should feel nice in the hand, lather well and rinse off well. They should have sufficient conditioning agents to leave the hair tangle-free, shiny and smelling nice after the shower," Sinclair said.

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