I just read with interest a post by A Beauty Junkie in London who was pondering whether it is worth paying for high end hair care.  One of my favourite topics!

I really believe that the price or brand of a shampoo or conditioner makes no difference to the efficacy of the product.  As with many other products, people often end up paying for the “brand” with shampoo and then being disappointed with results which don’t reflect the price they paid.

I’ve been critiquing shampoo and conditioner with eagle eyes since about 8 years ago when I was silly enough to use a home pre-lightener on my dark brown hair, which then turned it into a big bush of bright orange hay.  It took four years to grow out completely… along with a multitude of hair dyes to get it back to a presentable colour.  As you can imagine, my hair and scalp were not in good condition!  My hair was so porous!  At one point, I was finding hairs which were split into three or more “ends” <shudder>.

During those four years and more, I was desperate to get my hair back to its former healthy, glossy state.  I went through so many products, from Superdrug’s own-brand to salon brands.  And I spent far too much time seeking out niche SLS-free and silicone-free products.  What I learnt is that there is no difference between amount of money spent and results.  It just depends on the product itself and the right balance of ingredients for your hair type.

Only in the last two years have I found my perfect shampoo and conditioner, which are humbly from The Body Shop.  The first time my boyfriend came home with the Ginger Anti Dandruff Shampoo, I turned up my nose: “I can’t use that – it has SLS!”  And I don’t even have dandruff, just a dry, sensitive scalp which reacts to most products.  But I used it out of interest, and it felt so refreshing to be using a shampoo that actually lathered properly (I know foam is not indicative of a good clean, but no-one can deny that it feels good!).  And it rinses clean too.  I was worried that I’d be left with an ultra dry scalp like with all other products containing SLS (and particularly anti-dandruff shampoos), but to my surprise, my scalp was fine – and doesn’t itch anymore – not even when I’ve left it three days before washing (rare – honest).

So that was the end of the 6-year reign of the SLS-free shampoos.  I guess my scalp can cope with a little of it…

However, I’m still a major advocate of low-silicone or silicone-free shampoos and conditioners.  If you find the right ones, your hair will look good for longer, and you won’t need to constantly switch products to get the same “first time” result.  The problem with silicone-based products is that they leave build-up on the hair shaft, which makes your hair lank and dull after a few uses.  And if you’re using the same products over and over again, your hair never gets a chance to shift that build-up.  To counter this, shampoos end up having too strong a detergent action, in an attempt to strip the old, dull silicone before a new, shiny layer goes on.  So over time, the hair becomes more dry underneath the superficial shine.

Other downsides I’ve found of silicone-based products are: hair becomes limp quicker and thus requires more frequent washing, build-up on scalp turns into grease and flakes (gross!), and little spots develop on sides of face and back where hair touches.

The Honey Moisturising Conditioner from The Body Shop is the conditioner I’ve been looking for my whole life.  It contains some silicones (Quaternium-80 and Amodimethicone) but they’re relatively far down the list of ingredients compared to brands like Pantene, Fructis, Redken, Kerastase etc.  The Honey Moisturising Conditioner has been life-changing.  Every wash, it leaves my hair glossy and tangle-free and miraculously stops those frizzy, sticky-up hairs around my parting.  But most importantly, my hair still has bounce.  There’s no point me having shiny hair if it’s just hanging there.

So after that, I decided a little silicone in the conditioner is fine – although I still recommend avoiding it in shampoos to prevent build-up.

But anyway, here’s the lowdown on the many other shampoos and conditioners I tried and discarded during my obsessed years (well, the ones I remember and in no particular order!):

The Body Shop Honey Moisturising shampoo

I used a few bottles of this (before discovering the Ginger shampoo) because it was SLS-free but still quite foamy.  However, it left my hair dull and heavy after a while, and my scalp would itch if I went more than two days of not washing my hair.

TIGI Catwalk Oatmeal & Honey Treatment shampoo and conditioner

Ahh… the early days!  Smelt divine.  The conditioner was low-silicone and packed with moisturising ingredients like avocado oil.  It felt nourishing but would stop “working” after a while.  The shampoo was horrible – too siliconey and left my hair greasy and my scalp itchy.

Mastey shampoo and conditioner (“moisturising” and “repairing” ranges)

A niche SLS-free and silicone-free haircare brand (rare at the time) which was soooooo difficult to get hold of in the UK, but I managed it for a couple of years.  The shampoos were great, but there’s so little lather that I got through those expensive bottles too quickly for my liking.  The conditioners were effective too… but I eventually got fed up with how difficult it was to buy.  Amazing quality stuff though.

Redken All Soft shampoo and conditioner

A proper “salon” silicone-laden product!  Left my hair incredibly shiny and swingy the first wash, but would stop “working” after the first go.

KMS Silker Reconstructor and shampoo

Shampoo was rubbish – greasy and itchy.  But I had a long term relationship with the low-silicone Reconstructor which claimed to reduce the porosity of hair.  It really did make my hair silky and less porous… and smelt of cherries yum.  But the dreaded itchy scalp soon returned.

Superdrug Naturals Henna & Sweet Chestnut Intensive Conditioner

Low-silicone, cheap as chips, and actually quite good!  Used for a year.  Gave good shine and bounce.  I would have continued but it wasn’t quite right for my sensitive scalp.

Superdrug Colour Enhance Intensive Brunette conditioner

Not quite as good as the Naturals Henna & Sweet Chestnut Intensive Conditioner (above) but ok for the price.  Horrible “chemical smell”.  My scalp didn’t like this at all.

Duchy Originals Rose & Mandarin shampoo

SLS-free and silicone-free.  Smelt of Turkish Delight (and old ladies).  Reasonably priced but nothing special.  Almost no lather, so I just ended up using loads each time.

Original Source Almond & Coconut conditioner

Silicone-free.  Really nourishing.  Left my hair in better and better condition with each use.  Used for a year.  Unfortunately, my hair took too long to blowdry after washing due to the high levels of natural oils in the conditioner.  Apart from that, a fantastic high street conditioner.  Shampoo not worth talking about.

L’Oréal Elvive Nutri-Gloss Intensive Shine Masque (pink pot)

Low-silicone (unusual for a L’Oréal product!).  Fairly moisturising but there’s something not quite right with the texture of my hair after using it… like heavy-feeling.  And like the Original Source conditioner (above), the balance of oils is not quite there.  There’s too much palm oil, meaning that it takes longer to dry my hair.  Plus the texture and smell of the product are really cheap.

JASON Natural Sea Kelp Conditioner

Very low-silicone but nothing special.

Avalon Organics shampoo and conditioner (various)

SLS-free and silicone-free.  Nothing special.  Low lather (but more than Mastey and Duchy).  Didn’t really leave my hair feeling moisturised.  Still used for ages just for its SLS-free and silicone-free status and ease of purchase at the time.

Naked (from Boots) shampoo and conditioner (various shine-enhancing / moisturising / detoxing)

SLS-free and low-silicone.  But not great.  Leaves my hair tangly, limp and dull, and not great on the scalp despite seeming gentle.  Completely de-bounces too.  Doesn’t feel luxurious to use.

Australian Organics shampoo and conditioner (various)

SLS-free.  Meh nothing special.

Bumble & Bumble Seaweed conditioner

Low-silicone.  Texture is too “watery”… no shine or bounce.  Not really moisturising enough for me.  Maybe better for fine hair.  Smells nice though.  Shampoo leaves my scalp really itchy.

James Brown Dry Hair Conditioner and Intensive Mask

Similar to the Naked conditioners… leaves my hair tangly and dull.  The non-intensive conditioner is low-silicone (being more based on oils and butters).  The intensive mask is more siliconey.  Fragrance is too artificial and perfumey.

Aussie 3 Minute Miracle conditioner

Silicone-free (I think).  Bought it back in the day when everyone thought it was amazing.  Artificial bubblegum smell.  At the time, somehow managed to leave my hair more dry and hay-like.  Rubbish.

LUSH Retread conditioner

Silicone-free.  Urgh gross gross gross… feel sick just remembering using it all those years ago.  Smelt awful.  Horrible too-natural texture (like yoghurt).  Left my hair super lank and dull.  And it went mouldy in the pot quickly (but good excuse to throw it out).

26 comments on “Shampoo and conditioner: The difference between cheap and expensive?

  1. Hello! Glad my post ‘inspired’ – it is an interesting topic. I have been amazed by the number of comments it has generated! Really good to hear your reccomendations for shampoos based on what you have tried, especially that you dont like the Aussie 3-min miracle, I love that conditioner!

  2. Love the frankness of your run-down. Gemma got on well with Original Source too.. I think her husband brought it into the house originally. I am using Naked at the moment and I really rate the effect so far. Horses for courses I suppose.

  3. Maybe Aussie have changed the formula since I used the conditioner because I’m sure I remember it containing alcohol denat (and me thinking “no wonder my hair is *more* dry!”) but when I looked up the ingredients online when I wrote the post, I didn’t see alcohol listed. Hmm. Also I think people with fine-medium hair get on better with it. It just makes my hair look like a bush!

    The Naked range isn’t too bad to be fair – I think the shampoos are much better than the conditioners. I occasionally use the “detox” shampoo when I feel like a greaseball.

    It really is horses for courses!

  4. This was such an interesting read!

    Wow, you (or rather, your hair) has certainly been through a lot! I’m so intrigued that you’ve gone through so many hair products in the last eight years. Thanks for the low-down on the various hair products on the market. It’s very handy indeed! 🙂

  5. Thanks for the post,really interesting!

    It surprises me that more of the main stream brands aren’t developing SLS free, lower silcone formulations as more and more people are catching on to the long term negative effects xx

  6. thanks for the informative post! I’ve very long hair and i’m still hunting for the ‘right’ shampoo, after reading you post, i know what kinda shampoos i should avoid using on my hair! have a wonderful new year xoxo

  7. I read this the other day but didn’t comment on it. Anyway, you’ve made me weary about what goes into hair shampoos and conditioners. I have long hair and I’d like my hair to last me till as long as I live =D. I wanna use products leaning on the natural side =D.

    Thanks for this post. It’s fabby!


  8. I quite agree with you. High/ higher end hair care products, esp shampoos sometime do not worth the money. I tried lots of brand which you can get it from a chemist and those from salons, the only significant difference is on the conditioner. So I normally get cheap shampoo, but get decent conditioner to balance out.

  9. Loved reading your article! Explains what every woman goes through looking for that holygrail shampoo and conditioner. I’ve used some of these and like you said found the KMS condr the best. I will try the bodyshop ones. Meanwhile, I think you should also try Aubrey’s organic range if you haven’t. Atleast for their conditioners.

  10. I have the same problem with my scalp a nightmare,I never found the right shampoo, because after using them for a while my scalp flakes,didn’t know about silicons and all that,could you make us an update on this post?I would love how you it is going,x

  11. great article! thank you! i myself literally tried every product there is until I found the Phyto range(sold in most french pharmacies), which is doing wonders with my dry hair. Have no idea about the composition though…gonna check the label now…

  12. @Olga: Hi! Not much new to report – I’m still using The Body Shop Ginger Anti-dandruff Shampoo and Honey Moisturising Conditioner after 2-3 years, or however long it’s been!

    @Anonymous: I’m glad you found the post helpful! And I’m glad you found a range that suits your hair!

  13. Hi there! I use lush shampoos myself and was wondering if you ever tried anything else from there? Retread is a triple strenght conditioner anad if it is not right for your hair type it may well leave the results you encountered.:-)

  14. Have you tried Aveda’s madder root shampoo and conditioner ? I’m a middle of the road Brunette and it gives a little lively red note to my hair (or a Toya Wilcox effect if I leave the conditioner on too long). Not sure about its SLS status though…

  15. @Anonymous – Nope I haven’t tried that range! Ah, red is a colour I’m always trying to *remove* in my hair! It’s naturally very dark brown so it gets a red tinge easily whenever it’s highlighted or coloured.

  16. Ever tried Phyto? I love using their super moisturizing formula Phytonectar to keep away the itchies! I use their Phyto 7 daily cream after I’m out of the shower, as I have a bad experience with conditioners leaving my scalp itchy the next day. Their actual shampoo for dandruff isn’t worth it..although it is formulated with Salycilic Acid, interesting!

  17. @Anonymous – No I’ve never tried Phyto! If my scalp is playing up, I still reach for the Body Shop Ginger Shampoo. But otherwise my shampoo now is Liz Earle Botanical Shine Shampoo – I love it!

  18. what is the best shampoo and conditioner that you would recommend?

  19. Hi, Just found your blog…it’s brill! Good to know it’s not just me imagining the flakiness and irritation from all these shampoos & conditioners I’ve been buying. Well, I’ve decided to still stick to natural (as much as possible) and SLS-free shampoos. I think it suits my dark brown SE Asian hair and sensitive scalp. I switch between some trusted brands: Liz Earle Botanical Shine Shampoo and conditioner (I agree with you, it smells luscious), Weleda Ginger shampoo and cond, and my current favourite is the Daniel Galvin Jr Organic Hair range…specifically the Hangover Hair shampoo and conditioner. It has natural lavender oil and smells so revitalizing. Great results on my hair, weightless and shiny.

  20. I’ve been ‘no-poo’ for the last 10 months and my hair has loved it. It’s thicker, fuller, shiny and can last a few days between washes now and my scalp is not itchy at all. However I’m starting to get a bit fed up of having to mix the bicarb solution and vinegar solution. It’s also a right pain to take these ‘ingredients’ with me on holidays etc. I miss nice shampoo smells also (though not too fussed about having no lather).

    I am thinking of switching back to shampoo and conditioner but -cone and SLS free so this post has given me some great ideas where to start! Thanks

  21. Hi. Thanks for all the information. I have starts using Liz Earle’s SLS/SLES free shampoo in a bid to solve my itchy scalp/adverse reaction to shampoo issues. How long does it take to notice a difference to your scalp after switching to SLS free?

    1. For me it’s one or two washes before I start to notice a difference. Actually one product that gets rid of an itchy scalp immediate is The Body Shop Ginger Anti-Dandruff Shampoo. It’s not SLS-free but it works so well. In the US, I have to buy it in bulk online because it’s always sold out in the stores as soon as it comes back… it’s renowned for being amazing for a itchy scalp.

  22. Thanks for a balanced piece on silicones and SLS!

    I can’t seem to find the honey conditioner on body shop’s page. If it has been discontinued, do you have a new favorite? If not, where can I get it 🙂


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