Letters From Your Hairdresser Lies You've Believed: Shampoo & Conditioner Kate Allen

It happens all the time. A client in my chair or a friend at happy hour will mention something they’ve known to be “undeniably true” about their hair since they could listen to the words their mother spoke. I’ve been asked whether lemon can really be used to obtain highlights, whether shampoo is really necessary, and whether the new ombre box color option is a decent one. They saw it on a DIY website, the commercial was convincing and their mother has always done it and it seems okay.

My job is to bust these myths. Because that lemon is going to dry your hair out like you wouldn’t believe and at best, leave you with splotches of lighter color through your strands. And that shampoo? You are more than welcome to not use it, but anything you substitute it with won’t be cleansing your scalp strong enough. And oh-my-goodness that ombre box color? I’ve seen way too many mistakes and corrections from misuse. The kind of flawless application that Kim Kardashian sports on her tresses can’t be found inside a box at Ulta. And it’s time your hairdresser told you.

Over the next six weeks, I’ll be busting the biggest myths you’ve believed about your hair. This week, we’ll start with shampoo and conditioner use and work our way up to the big ticket items. And if you end up with any questions along the way, feel free to comment below and I’ll be sure to answer!

Myth 1: Store Bought Shampoos Are Just As Good As Salon Professional

I’ve heard it; you think it’s just a gimmick. Just another way for a hairdresser to make a dollar. The ironic thing about this is that ladies who tell me this sit and watch in awe as I grab my scissors, slide them down their hair strands, and literally shave off coats of wax. That’s what your Garnier Fructis and Herbal Essences does.

A big complaint I have with store bought shampoo is that it doesn’t work, to put it bluntly. I’ve seen it strip $100 color out of a client’s hair, dry a friend’s tresses out so much that her hair felt like straw, and I’ve seen it coat the hair so heavily of a particular friend of mine that her hair always looked greasy and limp. It’s absolutely crazy that your hair would feel or react this way, especially because of your shampoo. Let’s face it.. we’ve all been on a college girl’s budget. I know I certainly was and when I was, I could only afford store bought shampoo. I get it.

But for those ladies who spend a good amount on a good haircut, highlight or straightening treatment, the worst thing you can do is use generic shampoo. It’s the equivalent of buying a brand new Diane Von Furstenberg dress and never taking it to get dry-cleaned or hanging it up. Why spend the $300 when you’re going to just ruin it anyways trying to save a penny elsewhere?

The other huge reason that I can’t sign onto store bought shampoo comes down to science. Store bought shampoo is mostly comprised of water and sulfates. While different shampoos use different types of sulfates and some professional shampoos have to use a bit of sulfate (instead of being completely sulfate free) to create that suds effect, it is critically important which sulfate is listed in your ingredients and what that means to you.

Did you know there is a sulfate listed as an ingredient in a lot of generic shampoos that is known to have traces of 1.4 dioxane, an irritant and probable carcinogen? In fact, in California, 1.4 dioxane is classified as a known cancer-causing agent and any product with traces of it needs to be labeled with a warning by law. California seems to be making good on that promise, having sued several companies who weren’t properly labeling their products back in 2008. But California is just one state and still, this ingredient hasn’t been banned but simply unveiled for consumers to merely see.

This sulfate which contains dioxane- sodium lauryl ether sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate- is an ingredient in shampoos such as Tresemme, Herbal Essences and Pantene Pro-V. And it’s in the top three ingredients in most of these generic shampoos. Am I saying that grocery store brands of shampoo will give you cancer? Definitely not. And do all shampoos have chemicals or ingredients that could affect you? Probably. But the point I’m making is that exposing yourself to something that could hurt your health to any degree is absolutely not worth the few extra dollars saved for anyone. And there is a perfect balance to be achieved. Somewhere between the generic shampoos which do much more harm than good and are full of chemicals and the expensive, organic shampoos at Whole Foods which don’t give the hair any lift or hold, there are some really great options.
Myth 2: Shampoo From Roots To Ends

Shampoo is for one thing only: cleansing your scalp. Yes, that’s right. Billy Madison had it right. But seriously, the only place your shampoo should go is on your scalp. Basically, the idea is that your scalp produces oil that naturally cleanses and moisturizes your scalp and hair. The only reason to shampoo is to rinse those oils out when they have built up too much and give your scalp a reset. And the only reason to use conditioner is to then add moisture to your ends and close down the cuticle that comprises the outermost layer of the hair strand. Therefore, it would make perfect sense to only use the shampoo through the roots and the conditioner through the ends. Doing the opposite with either will leave your ends looking and feeling dry and dull and leave your roots looking and feeling greasy and heavy. Neither of which are a good look.

Myth 3: Dirty Hair Is For Dirty Girls

My name is Kate and I’m a dirty-hair-aholic. That’s right, I love it. I have trained my hair to go about 3-4 days between washings and still look great. And guess what? My hair is the thickest, healthiest, and shiniest it’s ever been. And I’m being completely truthful when I say that not washing my hair everyday is a big reason as to why.

I have to go back to science to explain exactly how it works. Long story short, you have hair follicles in your head that your hair strands grow out of. In those follicles are glands that produce a natural sebum or oil that naturally cleanses your hair. These oils cleanse your scalp, hydrate your roots, and travel all the way to your ends through hair-brushing to moisturize and add shine. When the sebaceous gland is allowed to secrete oils for a couple days at a time, it can properly do it’s job. But when it is washed out everyday (whether by store bought shampoo or salon professional), you’ll run into a couple problems. The first is that you will constantly be washing out these oils before they can effectively do their job, meaning you are never getting the natural benefits your body wants to produce. The second is that by replacing your “natural cleanser” with your shampoo, you are creating the perfect formula for greasy roots. You should be allowing your sebaceous gland to build up and only using your shampoo to wash out that particular build up. By not doing so, you are not allowing your sebaceous gland to secrete anything at any point and relying on your shampoo to do the deep cleaning, which it isn’t made to do. So you walk around with greasy roots, dull ends that never see natural moisture, and a huge bummer of a problem.

I recommend to all of my clients that they wash their hair about every other day. And be sure to note that when switching your routine in this way, it will take anywhere from 6 weeks to 2 months to fully adjust. I invest in a good dry shampoo (and recommend them to my clients as well) and use that on the days when my hair is just a bit too greasy to handle because I worked out that morning or the climate is a bit more humid. But on a typical day, I can just get up, add some curls, straighten my ends or do a quick blowout and I’m all set. And it’s also important to note that different hair types take to this routine differently. Ladies with curly, coarse hair can go longer than those of us with finer, wispier strands. But the important thing is that you are giving your locks enough time in between washing to naturally cleanse and hydrate, whatever that timing ends up being for you.

Myth 4: I Can’t Afford Salon Professional Shampoo

I truly believe that there is such a range in the cost of buying salon professional shampoo that it’s affordable for a lot of people. It’s your choice whether you want to buy Kevin.Murphy from me for $25 or Redken from Ulta for $12, but chances are you can afford it if you keep an eye out for good deals. Besides the benefit of salon professional shampoo being so highly concentrated that you can use about half of what you would use otherwise, you can also feel good about buying directly from your hairdresser and supporting small business. And also for splurging in a good investment, similar to how we all do with fashion.

I always recommend my favorite product lines to my clients. However, with the belief that any salon professional shampoo is better than generic, I refer them to places like Ulta or Beauty Brands if my shampoo just isn’t in their price range. And after I’ve completely run out of samples to give away. Especially during the holidays, you can often find liters of shampoo and conditioner sets for around $20 and stocking up then can save you a ton of money. But the bottom line is that when it comes to finances, the range for professional grade shampoo fits a large range of budgets.

Be sure to check in next Thursday for our next segment on Lies You’ve Believed: Wearing Your Hair. It will be all about your face shape, styles that flatter you and how to ask for what you know works for you. And until then, have a great week!

Sources: The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment

              The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics

              OrganicConsumers.org

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  1. I just wanted to say thank you so much for posting the information about sulfates. I thankfully have a very carcinogen concious family so I already was aware of sodium laureth sulfate being “dangerous.” So many others I have spoken to however know nothing about it and unless you read an article like you have posted above the information is not, as you said, on the shampoo bottles (and many other foaming products including body wash, toothpaste… etc) except I guess in California (I live in NY). Your article was very informative and user friendly thanks a bunch!!!

  2. Okay….okay, seriously, I love you, Kate Allen!! You saved my life, and made it better with beautiful hair. After reading your article, I was SO terrified to use the shampoo I had that I ran out the next day and bought some of the real deal (not too high end, but something that was still good for my hair and my wallet). I will never again return to the world of grocery store shampoo. This article confirmed my worst fears about my shampoo. I used to use garnier but always felt like my hair was heavy, and kind of tacky to the touch after. My Mom thought I was nuts. I just recently used a shampoo that COMPLETELY stripped the brand new dye job right out, just like you had mentioned. So needless to say, I jumped right on board the real-deal shampoo bandwagon after I read your words of wisdom (and subsequently proved to my mother that I was NOT, infact, crazy). THANK. YOU. <3

  3. I must be saving a tonne! I use Lush solid shampoo in my hair, cut my own hair, and don’t use any conditioner. Plus I only wash my hair twice a week, so one shampoo bar ends up lasting ages. I can’t imagine how much I would be spending if I went to a salon.

  4. Once I’m done my shampoo, I’m going back to mane and tail. And I’ll swap between that and B&B. They’re they only ones who seem to have any weight to anything.

  5. i love my organix, i use the coconut milk shampoo and conditioner, my hair smells good and is so soft and manageable. i combine that with an argan oil based masque whenever i need a little boost or for the next week after my stylist touches up my blonde ombre, then i use an argan intensive oil, just the size of a dime, though my hair is around the middle of my back, thick, and medium-coarse. whenever i blowdry, i swear by my T3 featherweight luxe and chi titanium straightener.

  6. I have the luxury of not having to leave my house very often. A few months ago I read a blog post by a woman who doesn’t wash her hair at all. I assumed that might be a bit of an exageration but I decided to give it a try. On my first attempt I made it a week before my husband made me wash it. As time has gone by now he can’t tell how long it has been since my hair has been washed because it has adjusted. I can go about 8 days without washing and my hair still looks clean but that is as far as I can go before it strikes my husbands gross factor. I still use shampoo bought from the grocery store since I don’t do the shopping but I did notice when I had my hair washed by my stylist last week that not only did it stay clean for 5 days in Florida heat and humidity it also maintained it’s natural wave and bounce so there must be something to using salon shampoos. I will definitely give it a try once I finish what I have (I hate to waste anything) Thanks for letting me know I wasn’t the only person in the world who went days without washing my hair.

    • Love that story, Michelle! My fiance was pretty freaked out when I confessed my dirty hair-aholic ways! :) But after explaining the science to him, he actually thought it made a lot of sense and he now goes about three days between washing. His hair is so incredibly beautiful and shiny now! lol I’m jealous! I’m glad that I can let you know you aren’t the only one rocking days old locks! :)

  7. After reading this article on the Crunchy Betty blog http://www.crunchybetty.com/no-poo-to-you-too

    I finished up my last bottle of shampoo then replaced it with baking soda.
    It’s simple, inexpensive, and I feel so much better knowing those chemical additives aren’t on my body anymore.
    My hair is super healthy because the baking soda doesn’t strip the natural oils, and I only need to wash it 2 or 3 times a week.

  8. I have naturally thin poker straight easily knotted hair. I have the greasiest hair on the planet and I have all of my life, All my family have it too. Its a family curse. I have got sick to death of people telling me that I shouldnt wash it everyday…until they see me in the morning with unwashed hair! At the end of the day everyones hair is different so its not going to be the same for everyone! I am now able to go ONE day without washing thanks to the marvelousness of dry shampoo (I used to use baby powder before sometimes) but my ends get dry and knotty and without the wonder of conditioner in one sleep (I fidget). If I tie it up I get bad kinks. I might try a fancy shampoo and see if it makes any difference but it never has before, so generally I cant buy into this idea. People always tell me Im lucky to have straight hair but they dont know my pain of trying to make it bouncy!

    • Great thoughts, Helen! I feel your pain, too because that was exactly how my hair was about ten years ago. I asked EVERYONE what I was doing wrong with my hair and everyone told me to now wash it as often. I literally thought that was the worst idea ever because I’d wake up to grease the next morning. I totally feel your pain.

      One thing I do just want to touch on is that transitioning to not washing your hair everyday is completely a process.. It takes about one to two months of sticking to the routine to get there, which most ladies aren’t willing to stick out. But I can tell you it works because I have fine, thin, tangled hair that can get really greasy at the roots and dry at the ends and these days, I can go about three to four days without washing and only using dry shampoo. Did those couple months of transitioning about 6 years ago royally suck? Yes! But after lots of ponytails and hats and topknots and honestly a relatively short time-frame in the scheme of things, I’m loving the results. As I said in the article, my hair is actually the thickest and healthiest it’s ever been.

      Also, there are other factors to consider that can make you greasier than you want. Washing your pillow case more often can help out quite a bit. People don’t realize how much that can affect how quickly your hair gets greasy. Also making sure not to run your fingers through your hair at all can help a ton. It sounds like this is something you’ve struggled with your whole life, but I just wanted to give you some more ideas on what could help! And remember that most importantly, it’s a process! Your hair has been used to getting washed every day for most of your life, so after one day of not washing, of course it would be greasy. You’ve got to give your scalp and sebaceous glands time to wake up and regulate the oil production.

      Thank you so much for your story and input! Everyone has such different situations, for sure!

    • I feel you. I have such thin, fine, oily hair. When I don’t wash, my hair gets so greasy, it’s like I could peel the buildup off with my fingernails. It looks *awful*. I’ve tried it but I haven’t been able to make the no-washing thing work for me.

      • I’m the same, people say ‘don’t wash it every day’, but I can’t bear not to wash it! It’s not as horribly greasy as it used to be, whether that’s down to age or the products I use, I have no idea, but I wouldn’t dream of going out without washing my hair. I do think salon products are very good as I used to buy a volumising spray from my hairdresser, but since swapping expensive salons for having my boyfriend’s sister do my hair (she is a qualified hairdresser who works from home), I don’t get salon products any more and I do notice a difference in the quality of other, non-salon volumising products. A lot of them don’t work. Some make my hair super knotty, especially those texturizing powders. I like a salt spray for texture but again, they can make my hair knotty. It’s really hard when trying to decide what to buy, as I find a lot of products don’t agree with my hair type at all!

  9. I have naturally thin poker straight hair. I have the greasiest hair on the planet and I have all of my life, All my family have it too. Its a family curse. I have got sick to death of people telling me that I shouldnt wash it everyday…until they see me in the morning with unwashed hair! At the end of the day everyones hair is different so its not going to be the same for everyone! I am now able to go ONE day without washing thanks to the marvelousness of dry shampoo (I used to use baby powder before sometimes) but my ends get dry and knotty and without the wonder of conditioner in one sleep (I fidget). If I tie it up I get bad kinks. I might try a fancy shampoo and see if it makes any difference but it never has before, so generally I cant buy into this idea. People always tell me Im lucky to have straight hair but they dont know my pain of trying to make it bouncy!

  10. According to Paula Begoun aka the Cosmetics Cop: “When seeking out all of these hair products, you should know one very important fact: most expensive shampoos, conditioners, and styling agents are waste of money! The similarity of the formulas from all price ranges is shocking, and we’re including salon and department store brands, too. We have never seen an expensive shampoo or conditioner whose formula warranted the extra cost. There are more unique, pricier styling products that don’t have a drugstore equivalent, but even then we encourage you to try less expensive options first.”

    http://www.paulaschoice.com/expert-advice/hair-care-problems-and-solutions/_/find-the-best-products-for-your-hair-type#salon

  11. My hairdresser told me that as long as a shampoo is gentle and sulfate free, it doesn’t need to be a salon brand. She recommends the natural ones or semi-natural ones, and then spending more on a conditioner. I started using a sulfate free shampoo by Organix (drugstore brand) and a conditioner by Wella (salon brand) and my hair has never been healthier, bouncier, and fuller. Not absolutely every drugstore or natural shampoo is subpar, although I’m sure most of them are.

    I do totally agree with everything else though!!

  12. What do you think about the WEN line of products by Chaz Dean?
    BTW, my friend and I joke with each other about how long we can go without washing!

    • I’m obsessed with Wen! I’ve used it for about 2 years now, washing every other day or so (my hair is really thick) and I love it.

  13. I normally love only washing my hair (which is long, fine yet thick–if that makes sense–and has a slight natural wave) every 2-3 days, but for the past year I’ve been working out almost every day and I get REALLY SWEATY. So I always wash my hair when I work out, because if I don’t it just feels gross. I relish the days I skip working out and get to skip washing my hair. Occasionally if I don’t sweat as much I just rinse my hair and apply conditioner really lightly to the ends, but my hair still feels pretty gross by the next day. I do use dry shampoo sometimes to extend the time between washings and for texture…

    Any advice? (I’ve been using mostly LUSH shampoo/conditioner on my hair, and salon-brand styling products, and am really happy with all the products I use but am open to changes.)

    • Interesting take, Bethany! It sounds like you are doing a great job at your routine! I totally understand the working out thing and unfortunately, there’s not a great answer for that one. I honestly just dry shampoo it until I can’t handle the feel of the hair. One thing to realize about wearing your hair is that sometimes you have to sacrifice the FEEL of the hair for the LOOK of the hair, so you have to decided which one is more important to you on a daily basis. It sounds like the feeling of having clean hair is more important, so I would say keep going with what you’ve been doing! It sucks to feel dirty when you start your day, so if washing every other day and using dry shampoo every other day is your answer to feel your best, then I think that’s your answer!

  14. i love the term “dirty-hair-aholic” same hereee! i just recently got it cut on friday and i have washed and dryed it only once since!

  15. Reading this makes me feel better about how I treat my hair sometimes! (Especially only washing it a few times a week vs. everyday. I’ve been trying to tell people this for years and they never believe me!) I just have a question about shampoo and conditioner. I’ve stopped using products like Pantene Pro V and such, and right now I’m using Organix. I tend to use the Moroccan Argan Oil. Is this an okay brand to use? If not, what do you recommend? My hairstylist does home visits, so she doesn’t sell her own products.

  16. Hi there – great article, look forward to more! I have curly hair and a mild case of psoriasis that drives me crazy if I don’t wash my hair at least every 2 days. How do you feel about the “No ‘Poo” methods out there, basically consisting of washing the scalp with baking soda/water solution and conditioning with Apple Cider Vinegar? I’ve been wanting to try it, but haven’t yet. I’ve been waiting for cooler weather.

    • hey Robyn, My mom used to wash with baking soda about once a week and do oil treatments and such and she really loved what it did with her usually pin straight, thin, limp looking hair. It made it more voluminous and it looked more healthy and lovely but it was a lot of work for her and involved a lot of time in the shower and trying to go about her day with plastic wrapped around her head and jojoba oil in her hair. Plus her hair is extremely long and so it just added to the work. So after a lot of research we now use dessert essence shampoo and she uses a vitamin c based Doctor Bronners conditioner. I use a “yes to carrots” leave in conditioner, because i cannot use anything that has a lot of citrus as i break out in hives. SO I guess it works for some people but i wouldn’t recommend using baking soda in extra thick or long hair.

    • Honestly, Robynn, to each their own in terms of what works for you. I personally have not had good experiences with those kinds of at home remedies. I tried the baking soda situation a few years ago when I was looking to be more green with my beauty routines. My hair never felt worse than when I tried that. It was way too harsh and sticky and really hard to work with. And most importantly, I just didn’t feel like it truly cleansed my hair how my professional shampoo could. So, I like to go towards lines that are more green like Kevin Murphy, who boasts being sulfate and paraben free and not tested on animals. But it does have ingredients that allow it to work. I think something like that is a fair compromise! However, I really like to experiment and try things for myself and if you are that way, too, then try out the natural shampoos and see what you think!

  17. Love this article! Can’t stop reading all of the comments.

    From what I’ve gathered we may have the same hair type (a lot of straight, fine and thin hair) What shampoo and conditioner do you use?

    I’ve been using Acure from Whole Foods but it doesn’t let me go more than one day without washing before I get too greasy. And I can’t really use dry shampoos because they seriously dry out my hair, which I don’t think should be the point if I’m not shampooing it in order to keep it healthy….. Help! :)

    • Great feedback, Erin! I wonder how you are using the dry shampoo? Are you only spraying it at your roots where the grease is living? That should be the only place you are putting it… spraying it on your ends will definitely dry out your hair! And yes, you’re right that is totally counterproductive, obviously! :)

      For my shampoo and conditioner, I use Kevin Murphy’s Angel Wash and Rinse. It’s incredibly cleansing and really does the job after I’ve had a few days of build up, but also is completely weightless so it doesn’t make my hair lay really flat after using it. For a line that’s even more eco-friendly, you could try Neuma. They have a great volumizing shampoo and the line is incredibly green. Sulfate free, paraben free, recyclable packaging, free of synthetic fragrance, completely vegan formulas, and of course, not tested on animals. Either one would be a great option for you!

  18. I have tried out so many different shampoos and always had really greasy roots and dry ends because of cheap shampoo, so I stopped believing the Garnier Fructis and Pantene Pro-V lies long ago. I have found that Kerastase works well for me, but it is really expensive. It was recommended by my hairdresser at the time and worked wonders though, so I would buy it again – when I have more of a budget. I’m trying out L’oreal EverPure at the moment, which is probably better than the other cheaper products, but not as free of sulfates as Kerastase or other salon products… I have very thin and not a lot of hair, which is awful because it also gets greasy quickly and is hard to manage. So finding the right shampoo that lets me leave my hair unwashed for A DAY between washes was a revelation. DryShampoo is also one of my biggest lifesavers.

    I love this column and can’t wait to read more! None of my friends seem to have the hair problems that I do, so I am glad to find that I am not paranoid; that it really DOES make a difference which shampoo you use.

    Looking forward to the next post! :)

    • Thanks for the love, Gwendolyn! I’m glad I can make you aware that there are others who have the same issue!

  19. So my scalp gets crazy dry patches, almost like plaque psoriasis, and it seems to get worse if I don’t wash my hair everyday. I’ve used everything from Paul Mitchell’s tea tree to Theraneem to Selson Blue. Everything seems to work at first, then after a few weeks it stops working. BUT, when I wash my hair every day, my hair gets dry. What do you suggest?

    • I have the same issue. Stick with the Paul Mitchell Tea Tree or go with another shampoo that works for you. However, after you towel-dry your hair (while it’s still damp), try applying pure tea tree oil on a cotton swab directly to the areas of your scalp that are try and itchy. Then dry and style as usual. You can also use Scalpicin for an itchy scalp.

  20. I have used WEN haircare products for the past several years and I really love them. They are very gentle on my scalp and hair and I find I only have to use them every two to three days. They also smell wonderful. Every week, I use a regular shampoo to do a super-cleanse, usually using a nice tee tree shampoo. I would be interested to know if anyone else has tried and/or uses WEN haircare products.

    • I use Hair One, which is a brand very similar to WEN (which I used in the past). It is cheaper and sold at Sally’s. I have found that it makes my hair very happy. I had really long hair until about a month ago, and it is really thick. It didn’t weigh it down and it made it shiny and manageable. But I used a large bottle in two weeks and I only wash every other day. The crazy amount of hair was the main reason I chopped it last month. So much easier. And still looks great with the Hair One.

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