Drugstore vs Salon Hair Care Products

Is there really any difference between drugstore hair care products and those you buy at the salon? What about other "professional" or name-brand items you see advertised? Are they any better than similar products at you see at any number of retail stores?

Some things that you pay less for work just like the more expensive versions, so they're worth saving a few bucks on. But personal care items are a little different. When you are applying a product directly to your skin or hair, you want to know that it is good quality. But does good quality mean big bucks, or are the store brands just as good as the salon brands and name brand products?

Hair Care-Store or Salon?
Unless you work in the hair industry, you've probably wondered if salon brands are really worth the extra cost compared to store brands. Overall, the answer here is probably yes. The opinions are mixed, of course, but salon products have some definite advantages over store brands. Here's a quick look at the pros and cons of salon products versus store brands.

Pros
All shampoos have the same basic ingredients. Surfactants are the most important ingredients. Surfactants are the cleansing agents in a shampoo and help create the lather. Three kinds of surfactants are used in shampoos: ammonium laurel sulfate, sodium laurel sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. Sodium laureth sulfate is the most expensive of the three, but it is also the gentlest. Salon brands usually use sodium laureth sulfate, but, with a little tenacity, you can find drugstore brands that also use this gentle surfactant.

Ammonium laurel sulfate is the harshest surfactant. It strips your hair of vital oils and will strip chemically enhanced color from your hair much faster than other drugstore brands. It is also the least expensive surfactant, so most drugstore brands will have ammonium laurel sulfate in them. The key words in surfactants are "laureth" and "laurel"; laureth is good, laurel should be avoided.

Salon brands are typically satisfaction guaranteed. If you buy hair care products in a salon and find out after using them that they really aren't what you wanted or needed, you can take them back and get a refund or an exchange. You aren't likely to be able to do that with a store brand. Once you've used a product, you probably can't return it to the store. The manufacturer may allow you to send it back to them and get a refund, but it isn't very likely that you're going to pay postage to mail off a $4 bottle of shampoo.

Professional hair care products purchased in a salon are more concentrated than drugstore brands. You will use smaller amounts of the product, so a bottle will last much longer than drugstore brands. In the end, you aren't spending much more (if any) for a salon brand than for an drugstore brand.

Drugstore brands are more likely to cause product buildup on your hair than the more concentrated, higher quality salon brands. Product buildup is unhealthy for your hair-it won't style as nicely, and it won't have the same healthy look and shine that hair without product buildup has.

When you buy a salon-brand product, you are also purchasing the educational information of your stylist. Different types of hair and different problems with hair require different types of products for the best possible results. When you purchase in a salon, you have the added benefit of the advice you receive from your stylist so you can choose a product that best suits your hair and the problems your hair may be experiencing.

Cons
Most, if not all, manufacturers of salon-brand hair care products also make store brands. A little Web research will show you products produced by the same manufacturer. For example, L'Oreal makes the L'Oreal products you find in your discount store or supermarket, but they also make several salon products, including Lancôme, Redken, Matrix, Kiehl's and Kerastase. Check the ingredients list on the two products for comparisons. However, although they may contain the same ingredients, the concentrations can be different. Try them both, and see if your hair performs better with one than the other.

You may find "salon brands" sold in the mass market, such as discount stores and supermarkets. When products are intended for salon use, but are purchased by a distributor who re-routes them to the mass market, this is known as diversion. While you might be purchasing the same product as you find in a salon, some diverted products may be discontinued, tampered with or old. Typically, salon products are guaranteed only if purchased in a salon.

Beware of "new and improved" products at a higher price range. Oftentimes, when a label states "new and improved" the only things that have been changed are the color and/or fragrance and the packaging. The only way to know is to check products' labels to see if there is truly a difference.

Finally, don't underestimate the power of your brain to convince you that higher prices mean superior quality. When you believe that you are getting a superior product because you paid more for it, you are likely to perceive differences that may not actually exist. The mind has an incredible ability for self-fulfilling prophecy, and you can honestly believe that you see a difference that isn't measurable in any concrete way. Of course, if you truly believe a higher priced item is better-and your budget can handle the higher price-go ahead and use what you like the best.

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