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  • Brittany Thomas

The Great Debate: Salon Vs. Drugstore Shampoo

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

girl getting a shampoo at a salon

It seems like it should be so simple, right? A shampoo is going to do what a shampoo does no matter where we purchase it from. So what could really make them so different?

It all comes down to the ingredients. Sure, there are other important things you need to consider before buying a shampoo, such as if you have highlighted hair or oily hair, but these factors all tie into the ingredients of what you’re using.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to start picking up every bottle on the shelf and comparing the ingredient list. Instead, I’m going to help you understand what key ingredients you should be aware of to help demystify the difference in products.


What’s in a shampoo anyway?

The key ingredients that we’ll focus on are sulfates, silicone, preservatives and fillers. These are found in almost every shampoo regardless of quality.

If you want to dive a little bit deeper into shampoo ingredients, you can find a great article by Healthline here.

shampoo ingredient chart


Sulfates are a surfactant (a.k.a what makes shampoo sudsy) that strip product buildup and oil. It’s a controversial ingredient because it can cause scalp irritation, dry hair, and also strip color faster; however, it is not necessarily a “bad” ingredient for everyone. Most drugstore shampoos will include harsh chemical sulfates in all of their shampoos, even if it is marketed for daily use or color treated hair. Typically, if a salon quality shampoo has sulfates they are a naturally derived alternative or contain a gentler sulfate and is clearly marketed as a detox shampoo that is not meant for daily use.


Silicone is added to products for shine and its anti-frizz effect. The main difference in most drugstore silicones vs. professional grade silicones is that they are water insoluble (meaning they can’t be dissolved by water). Why is this bad? Well, if you use this type of silicone daily it’s building up with each use. The buildup creates a coating on the hair that can weaken and dry out the hair strands (causing breakage and split ends), and it can even make it resistant to color treatment (hello, blorange highlights).

Quick tips if you are going to use silicone products:

· Course, dry and/or frizzy hair would benefit from silicone use

· Fine and/or oily hair may want to avoid silicone as it can weigh hair down

You can find more information and even a list of water soluble and insoluble silicones from this article by the hair company Odele.


A preservative is added to a shampoo to give it a longer shelf life. In drugstore shampoos, the main preservative used is paraben because of how inexpensive it is to produce. Some people have no reaction to paraben, but it can cause dermatitis (irritation, itching and flaking of the scalp). In a salon quality shampoo, there is typically a blend of higher quality ingredients (like essential oils, antioxidants, and a chemical) to create a preservative best for the shampoo formula.


Fillers. There’s actually no benefit to them being in a shampoo formula. They’re simply there to take up space. Every shampoo, even salon quality, will have at least one filler in them because it helps cut production costs. Drugstore shampoos are known to be packed with fillers though; this is what makes them so cheap. Because they’re so packed with filler, you have to use a lot more of the product to see its benefit which causes you to run out faster.

A popular drugstore filler ingredient is sodium chloride. If you use a shampoo with this filler, you can kiss your beautiful color goodbye, and might as well light the hundreds of dollars you spend on a keratin treatment on fire. It will completely strip both of these from your hair.


So which is better?

Even after listing all those ingredients and their effects, the answer still isn’t always so straightforward. Drugstore shampoos have come a long way, and a lot of them are now free of the controversial ingredients. Here I compared the product the salon carries to 2 different drugstore brands.

shampoo comparison chart

It’s obvious Pantene is the brand to avoid. Kristin Ess is great except for containing sodium chloride. So does that make salon shampoo the answer? If you don’t have color or keratin treated hair, you can use Kristin Ess and be perfectly happy with the results. If you do have color or keratin treated hair, you’ll want to grab the Kevin Murphy in this scenario.

When deciding what’s best for you the answer isn’t one size fits all. You need to consider:

· Your hair type (fine, thick, curly, straight)

· Your hair needs (dry, oily, sensitive scalp)

· What you do to your hair (color, smoothing treatments, extensions, etc.)

· What ingredients you need to avoid based on all the above

Alright, get to your point.

I don’t want you to read this thinking that I’m saying all drugstore shampoos are bad, because I definitely don’t feel that way!

Shiny, beautiful hair

The products I carry in the salon were chosen because I’m confident in their performance and know they are compatible with the services I offer to my clients. I want you to feel that same confidence about what products you’re choosing, whether that is a drugstore or salon brand!

The goal, as always, is happy and healthy hair!



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