In a world where we're inundated with an ever-expanding arsenal of haircare products, it's easy to get lost in the sea of flashy labels, pretty bottles, and marketing promises. However, in this glittering maze, the discerning seeker of hair wisdom knows that the key to hair health often starts with the most fundamental player: the shampoo.
The world of shampoos is as diverse as the types of hair they cater to. From revitalizing your locks to addressing specific hair concerns, there's a shampoo for every hair type and need.
As a Certified Haircare Formulator, I can tell you some things that may surprise you about these varieties of shampoos, because many of them take advantage of the marketing pull to make you buy them, while others are actually excellent for your hair needs.
So let's take a closer look at what they each are defined as in the marketing world, and what they really mean for the care of your hair because this may sway your opinion on them and what you end up choosing:
1. Moisturizing Shampoo:
The sell: Perfect for dry and damaged hair, moisturizing shampoos are formulated to provide extra hydration and nourishment. They often contain ingredients like natural oils, shea butter, and aloe vera to help restore moisture and smoothness to your hair.
My view: Most shampoos today are formulated with these ingredients. Some have more or less of each, while some may just use the wording for marketing purposes. Many shampoos today are manufactured by the same company that resells them to others under their own custom name. All hair needs moisture and hydration. If you don't need anything special because your hair is "normal" (ie: no real issues of dryness or frizziness) then you can pretty much use any shampoo, and the simplest/cleanest one will be best.
2. Volumizing Shampoo:
The sell: If you're looking to add oomph and body to fine or limp hair, volumizing shampoos are your go-to. These shampoos usually contain ingredients that help lift the hair at the roots without weighing it down.
My view: It's true, although some of these volumizing ingredients can be better than others (like panthenol/vitamin B5 vs. Vinyl Caprolactam/VP/dimethylaminoethyl Methacrylate Copolymer), or better for your scalp than others (like Biotin/vitamin H vs. silicones), and some may not even be vegan (like collagen, often used for volume) and you wouldn't know just by reading the label – so buyer beware. Many shampoos use gums – like xanthan gum or anything with the word "maltodextrin" in it – to help coat the hair strands and give them volume. One of the most common ingredients in the natural world to help with hair volume is "beer extract" – which contains a high amount of maltodextrin. It's actually very effective for this purpose!
3. Clarifying Shampoo:
The sell: Designed for occasional use, clarifying shampoos deep-clean your hair by removing product buildup, excess oil, and impurities. They're ideal for those times when your hair needs a reset and a fresh start.
My view: I honestly would never use a shampoo that is labelled as "clarifying". Generally, any shampoo (especially those without silicone ingredients) should do a good enough job at cleansing your hair well enough to remove build-up. While many shampoos may still offer added hydration and moisturizing, they can remove product build-up without stripping the scalp and hair of its natural oils – super important in long-term hair health! Why would you want to strip it all off? This is often recommended for those with curly or coily hair, and it's advice I don't feel is neither necessary or healthy. A personal choice of course, as some people still feel the need to strip it all off and start over fresh. The choice is yours!
4. Colour-Protecting Shampoo:
The sell: For those with colour-treated hair, colour-protecting shampoos are a must. They're formulated to help preserve the vibrancy and longevity of your hair colour by minimizing colour fading.
My view: While some ingredients in shampoos and conditioners can indeed make hair fade faster than others, most hair products that are made using nature-derived ingredients are formulated to protect the hair from stripping it off so clean that it leaves the cuticle open to remove the hair colouring (see "clarifying shampoos"). You can also look for shampoos that are "pH balanced" (read more about what pH is for hair and why it matters [HERE]). It's like doing your laundry with an eco-friendly detergent vs. bleaching it ;) Many conditioners or shampoos that are high in conditioning agents – like 2-in-1s or co-washes, are very effective at protecting your hair colour, as they will seal the cuticle and avoid cleansers from penetrating it too deeply to remove the colour. This is also why many colouring dye kits come with a conditioner included, suggesting to use it once per week. Naturally, washing your hair less often (like only twice per week) will avoid hair colour dyes from being removed too quickly.
5. Anti-Dandruff Shampoo:
The sell: If you're dealing with pesky flakes and an itchy scalp, anti-dandruff shampoos are your allies. They often contain active ingredients like zinc pyrithione or ketoconazole to target and alleviate dandruff.
My view: Well okay, okay... let's talk about dandruff a little bit: If you have an itchy scalp, sore scalp, or flaky white dots on your black shirt, then the issue may just arise from more than "it just happened on its own." Dandruff can happen for many reasons, including a hair fungus growth due to going to be with wet hair or leaving product in your hair for too long without rinsing it out. And a so-called "dandruff shampoo" can certainly offer temporary relief, but it's not the be-all that it's said to be – as you stop using said dandruff shampoo, the issue may return. There are also many natural or nature-derived ingredients that work wonderfully to relieve itchiness and dermatitis that dandruff causes. One such ingredients is Schinus Terebinthifolius extract from the Brazilian peppertree. It has grown in popularity and many of the most popular anti-dandruff shampoos use it for this reason. Needless to say, if you have persistent dandruff and itchiness, it's best to consult with a healthcare professional to make sure there isn't a more serious fungus that may require medicated protocols.
Just like with any health-related issue, you must look at the big picture and figure out WHY you have dandruff in the first place. It may be that:
your shampoo is too harsh,
your conditioner is irritating your scalp (hey duh, conditioners aren't meant to go on the scalp in the first place!)
your scalp microbiome desperately needs to be restored so the issue will NOT COME BACK darnit!
you need to switch to more natural products, keep it simpler, and cleaner.
6. Sulfate-Free Shampoo:
The sell: Sulfate-free shampoos are a boon for those seeking gentler cleansing options. They skip harsh sulfates that can strip the hair of natural oils and are often suitable for people with sensitive scalps.
My view: Agreed. Sulfate-derived ingredients may be mild, but their manufacturing process is some of the environmentally dirtiest. They have also been associated with reactions to the skin (scalp). Why use them when there are sulfate-free, biodegradable options available? We like using Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate which is a biodegradable option that is mild to the skin and requires a very low quantity in order to cleanse without stripping the hair of its natural oily protection. This ingredient is coconut-derived, super mild, biodegradable, and a little goes a long way!
7. Shampoo for Oily Hair:
The sell: Designed to control excess oil production, these shampoos help keep your scalp feeling fresh and clean for longer periods. They often balance oil production without over-drying the scalp.
My view: Although yes, there are nature-derived extracts that can help rebalance the scalp's overproduction of sebum (oil), we recommend revisiting the hair products you are currently using as some may be too stripping for the hair, giving you the impression they will rebalance this natural oil production. More often than not, if your shampoo is too harsh and cleanses your hair too deeply, the scalp will respond by producing more oils. This habit of washing daily due to an oily scalp, using a shampoo that is more drying, can damage your scalp microbiome in the long run. We recommend changing up your routine – and your shampoo – to a milder one, and allowing your scalp to rebalance itself.
8. Shampoo for Dry Hair:
The sell: Just as the name suggests, these shampoos are formulated to infuse moisture and hydration into dry and brittle hair, leaving it softer and more manageable.
My view: Goodness where do we begin? Yes, shampoos specially formulated specifically for "dry hair" will typically contain more ingredients that provide moisture and hydration, however much like moisturizing shampoos and clarifying shampoos, they can be a 'quick fix' to a bigger issue: Your current shampoo. There is also the issue of the hair vs. scalp: The scalp needs a very gentle cleanse, while the hair itself does not, and will need a lot more moisture and hydration in order to be healthy. Hair is similar to a piece of wood: It can dry, crack, split, or it can absorb moisture; it can expand or shrink without moisture; it needs protection. You don't protect your hair, it will dry – as simple as that. If your hair is dry, you need a good conditioner and a leave-in conditioner daily in order to see results, not just a shampoo for dry hair.
9. Shampoo for Curly Hair:
The sell: Curly hair requires special attention, and curly hair shampoos are formulated to enhance curl definition, manage frizz, and promote healthy bounce in your curls.
My view: mmmmyes, and no. I don't think there is such a thing as "curly hair needs THIS specific shampoo" because there are so many variations of curly hair and curly hair health, just like any other hair type. Some need more protein, some need more conditioning action, and some need to be lighter than others... Some curls may be longer, or thicker, or more porous, while some curls are thin, or shorter, or wavier. With curly hair, the conditioner and stylers are more important than the shampoo – especially if your shampoo is more on the gentle, natural side.
There are so many different types of curly hair, and not everyone has the exact same type of curl all over their hair, so the needs for a specific shampoo can vary, making this type of shampoo very general again!
10. Specialty Shampoos (Keratin, Smoothing, Strengthening, etc.):
The sell: There are shampoos tailored for specific needs, such as keratin-infused shampoos for smoothing and strengthening, as well as shampoos formulated to combat hair loss or promote hair growth.
My view: Well okay, yes, there are marketing angles that feature ingredients as their main focus, but not all are true! While a shampoo's main focus and goal is to cleanse the hair, as long as a shampoo is gentle on the scalp and the hair, it can be a multi-tasker too. Take our OBLOOM Nourishing Greens Shampoo Bar as an example: It cleanses, yet it's so mild that it can also protect the hair, nourish it, condition it, and all this can make the hair stronger, softer, and smoother over time because it's not stripping it of the natural oils that protect it. All this, over time, helps to prevent hair loss and promote hair growth because it rebalances the scalp's microbiome, yes? So it's good marketing, but as long as you focus on using a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo, you're good to support your hair goals. And once again, much of your hair strength and protection will come from the conditioner and the leave-in or stylers you use, since they will be the ones staying on your hair itself.
11. The 2-in-1 Shampoo and Conditioner:
The sell: For those who prefer a streamlined routine, 2-in-1 shampoos and conditioners combine cleansing and conditioning in one product, making it a time-saving choice.
My view: Sure! 2-in-1 can be wonderful products. I would recommend them as a more temporary choice because the conditioning ingredients can often promote product build-up. Conditioners are more challenging to remove from the scalp and can be irritating to skin and scalp as well, but in a pinch they're fine. These are usually pearlized (opaque, not clear) and creamy.
12. Shampoo Bars:
The sell: A more sustainable alternative, shampoo bars are solid formulations that can be lathered and applied like traditional liquid shampoos. They come in various formulations catering to different hair types and concerns.
My view: YEAH!! We love a good shampoo bar! Shampoo bars are concentrated shampoos in a puck format, but when properly made and diluted before use, they can be excellent for both hair and scalp. Plus, they are excellently sustainable because they are often sold in zero-waste packaging, as ours are. Check out our OBLOOM shampoo bars [HERE], which are the best shampoo bars in the cosmetic industry! Plus, if you haven't tried the king of all shampoo bars, our Bi-Phase shampoo bar is the "IT" bar! It's just gorgeous and the best shampoo bar on the market today.
NOTE: BUYER BEWARE!
One thing to watch for when it comes to shampoo bars is that they are sometimes made in the same method that soaps are: Using lye as a reactor to saponifying oils and butter combinations. This creates a shampoo bar that is very high in pH, which is damaging to the scalp and hair long-term. These soap-type bars will require a vinegar rinse, which can again be harsh long-term for both hair and scalp. Always buy a shampoo bar that is pH balanced.
13. Organic & Natural Shampoo:
The sell: For those who prioritize natural and eco-friendly products, organic and natural shampoos are the way to go. These shampoos often contain plant-derived ingredients and exclude synthetic chemicals.
My view: The intention of this paragraph is good, yet not 100% true: Many shampoos may have achieved the organic designation, but they can still include synthetic ingredients that are nature-derived, such as panthenol (vitamin B5). An organic shampoo may still contain 5% non-organic ingredients, some of which may be synthetic ingredients from various sources (like Allantoin, a humectant that can be derived from comfrey root, from animal sources, or it may be a nature-identical synthetic) therefore naming them "natural" is not all truthful. At OBLOOM we view "natural" as an ingredient you would pick from the earth and use directly on your head: Something that has not undergone any processing whatsoever, and in the haircare shampoo industry, this is nearly impossible. Read more about how we view "what is natural" in cosmetics [HERE].
BONUS: #14: The Co-wash. This is meant to be a method where you're washing your hair with a conditioner, for a very mild cleanse that protects your hair and makes it shiny. The gimmick and marketing ploy for this type of shampoo is REAL baby!
So many co-washes in the market are really just 2-in-1 shampoos that lather mildly and conditioner the hair at the same time (a true co-wash will not lather AT ALL). While the thought of a very gentle cleanse can be appealing, a co-wash is really just meant to extend the cleansing of hair too often, and really just meant to be used once in a blue moon – very occasionally. Why is that, you ask? Because you cannot effectively cleanse your scalp with a conditioner, and the ingredients that are used to condition the hair are too harsh for the scalp. Conditioners work best in a pH that is much lower (more acidic) than what your scalp can handle, and they have preservation active properties that can, over time, work much like a harsh exfoliating factor on the scalp: like an acid.
How do you pick THE BEST SHAMPOO?
There are just so many varieties of shampoo in the market today, and so many hair types, textures and health levels – so how do you know which one is best for your hair? The quick answer is, you don't know until you try.
The best advice for optimal hair and scalp health is this:
Look for the mildest, most gentle shampoo you can possibly find, and try it.
Preferably, a biodegradable shampoo, since sustainability matters long-term, and in more ways than one.