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Because It Pays to be a Shampoo Snob

By Amalah

Dear Amalah,

Lately, I have been having serious issues with my hair. It’s always been the main thing I spend my time on, beauty-wise, and that time used to pay off. For most of my life, I’ve taken great care of my hair, and subsequently it’s been beautiful and soft and shiny, even when I don’t blow-dry it.

In the past few months, though, my hair has apparently developed a strong hatred of shampoo. I know, I know, I shouldn’t shampoo every day, but here’s the thing. My scalp gets incredibly greasy and oily if I skip a day of washing my hair. I also have pretty fine hair -a fair amount of it, and it has some body and wave to it, but it’s still pretty fine. Also, it’s straightest above my ears. Which means that when it’s dirty, it’s just laying directly on my oily, greasy scalp and progressively looking more and more nasty. Where I work, I have to look pretty nice every day, and even pulling my hair into a ponytail when it’s dirty looks very…unkempt. So that’s not an option.

I was using Pantene shampoo for quite some time – the Smooth & Sleek shampoo and the Daily Moisture Renewal conditioner. This worked pretty well for me for several years. I’d use loads and loads of conditioner, but it still left my hair really soft (if a bit weighed down). A few months ago, though, my hair suddenly started getting EXTREMELY dry and brittle after shampooing (the ends AND the roots), which meant that I had to use even more conditioner just to keep my hair from breaking off IN the shower. And even then, I have a hard time getting a comb through it. It’s ridiculous. My hair isn’t even coarse or curly! And there never used to be any trouble with it
‘accepting’ conditioner.

So I decided to switch conditioners. I’ve been slowly making my way through various drugstore brands’ moisturizing conditioners (so far Sunsilk, Dove, John Frieda Brilliant Brunette, and Herbal Essences). I know, gasp, the horror – but my husband is in grad school, so we’re on a TIGHT budget.

BUT. Thanks to my birthday, I have a little bit of money to spare right now. The actual point to this question is: what brand should I try? I really want something that will WORK, to the point that I don’t have to use a whole palmful of conditioner to soften my hair out and enable a comb to actually get through. I’ll try a new shampoo, too, if, again, a little bit will go a long way. I don’t want to spend $20 on something that will be gone after a week. So anything goes – salon brands, good drugstore brands, everything in between!

I just want my normal, soft, shiny hair back! The other question is – why did it suddenly start getting so brittle and dry? I haven’t had any major changes in my diet or exercise or other habits, and I’m not pregnant or undergoing any other hormonal changes. What is the deal??

Thanks for any ideas!

Hey! You totally have my hair! Super fine with oily roots and brittle ends. Aren’t you just a lucky little duck.

Lots of things can cause changes in hair — the factors you mentioned, seasonal changes, the quality of your water supply (extra chlorine, installing a water softener, etc.) or just normal hormonal changes that happen as we get older (like say, we stop getting acne but start getting wrinkles instead).

Before I start listing all the shampoos and conditioners I’ve used and loved (and there are so many, because I am bizarrely compulsive about trying! new! products! even when the stuff I’m using is working just fine), let me tell you a few general tips for caring for hair like ours:

1) Do. Not. Shampoo. Your ends. I have to shampoo every day too, but I ONLY shampoo my roots and scalp.
2) Do. Not. Condition. Your roots. I use conditioner on the bottom half of my hair, with extra care to coat the roots. A good conditioner doesn’t require tons of goopage, so believe me: the good stuff DOES go a long way.
3) Use a deep-conditioning treatment at least once a week, and every other day at first. Preferably one you can leave in for 10 minutes or more.
4) Wash and rinse your hair using cold water instead of hot. This helps preserve your hair and scalp’s natural oils and helps keep that over-production of oil in check. Also: shiny hair!
5) Use hair clips instead of rubber bands to put your hair up. Rubber bands — even the “ouchless” ones — cause breakage and are incredibly hard on dry hair.
6) Use a leave-in conditioner or hair tonic before you blow-dry.
7) Consider getting highlights. I know this seems counter-intuitive for dry hair, but I actually know when I’m overdue for highlights when I notice my roots are getting greasy and oily by bedtime. Hair color controls excess oil production like nobody’s business.

Okay, now for shampoo and conditioner recommendations. I don’t have many drugstore brands here, because…I just don’t. No likey. However, if you follow my advice about the shampooing roots/conditioning ends thing, you won’t be using that much product every day and the more expensive-ish bottles should last you a long time. Once you get your hair back into good health, you could try swapping your Pantene back in a couple times a week to further stretch your supply of the salon-quality stuff. (Even when opened, shampoos and conditioners have a very long shelf life.)

Kiehl’s Amino Acid
Wella Color Preserve Volume
Rusk Sensories
Bed Head Self Absorbed
Pureology Volume
Bumble & Bumble Thickening

Alterna Caviar
Pureology Hydrate
Wella Color Preserve Hydrating
Bed Head Dumb Blonde

Leave-in Conditioners:
Cat Walk Fast Fixx (no longer available)
Bed Head Ego Boost
Bumble & Bumble Tonic Lotion
Infusium 23

Deep Conditioning Treatments:
VO5 Hot Oil
Wella Deep Treatment
Kiehl’s Olive Fruit Oil Deeply Repairative Hair Pak

You can also make your own treatment with half of an avocado and an egg yolk.
I really don’t know if it’s better to layer products from the same line or if mixing and matching works just as well. My top recommendations for you (based on how well they worked for me) would probably to use the Pureology or Wella shampoos and conditioners as a pair and follow-up with the Fast Fixx or Infusium 23 (get the spray-on bottle type to avoid treating your roots).

As for the deep treatment,VO5 is cheap and old school and great for frizz and split ends. It’s not super great for oily roots though, so use it on the weekend when some possible greasiness won’t bother you so much. The Kiehl’s Hair Pak is amazing, amazing stuff. Now that the weather is colder and I’m dealing with extra-dry ends and flyaways, I’ve actually been using this in place of a regular conditioner. It’s $25 but it’s a big-ass tub of conditioner that will last forever.
Actual photo of actual big-assness of tub. I’ve been using it on my loooooong hair regularly for about a month and a half now and still have a ton left.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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I have similar hair, except more curly. After daily blowdrying and straightening, my ends were always fried and my hair was dry. I hate having to pay a lot for hair products because they run out so quickly, and I especially hate having to find non-grocery store brands. I’ve been using Dove Intense Therapy (~$10 for shampoo and conditioner) and Loreal Studio Line Leave-In Conditioner ($4). They’ve saved my hair and my wallet from being bone dry.


Oh my goodness, I have the same hair. How is that possible? Can we start a club?
I love the bumble and bumble shampoo, it works wonders.

Melissa B.

I also recommend Lush’s Big Shampoo. It’s great for controlling oil and grease without any weight. My head actually feels uh, cooler(?) when I’m using it.
It’s a salt and lime based mixture and you use very little actually. I only need a teeny bit of conditioner with this.

robin m
robin m

I’ve been using the “no shampoo” method for about 6-8 months. My hair is a lot less oily (and the roots are less dry) now that I don’t shampoo. My hair is plenty clean and feels a lot better.
See, some thinner conditioners foam up and cleanse as good as shampoo. I use V05’s kiwi lime squeeze, and use a ton of it. I really lather up my hair and let it soak, then rinse, rinse, rinse.
I realize this might not apply in this case as usually it’s suggested for curly/wavy hair, but thought I’d chime in.


Something else you might want to try is to put conditioner on the bottom half of your hair (about ears down) *before* you shampoo. Then just shampoo roots and scalp as Amalah suggests. The conditioner protects the drier ends. You may not need to condition again after you rinse, although you might want to do just the ends until your hair recovers. A drugstore conditioner that I like is Garnier Fructis Fortifying Cream Conditioner for Fine Hair. I find it’s not too heavy, but still does a good job of detangling and de-frizzing my hair. It’s fairly inexpensive, so may… Read more »


Thank you, thank you, thank you. *Muah! I am printing off your list so I can have it available for further reference. I also am cursed with a massive amount of fine/dry/oily/frizzy hair (to be referred to hereafter as “suck-ass hair”) I have tried the same products as the asker, with mediocre results. I couldn’t ever bring myself to spend all the money on the more expensive shampoos. But dammit, I deserve pretty hair! So, when I run out of my Herbal Essences…I’m going to suck it up and shell out the extra money. Good Bye, Suck-Ass Hair! *crosses fingers*


Wow. THANKS for all the suggestions! (This is Sarah, the asker.) I cannot wait to try all this stuff. I also love the idea that Linda posted of putting conditioner on my ends BEFORE shampooing…I’m going to try that, too, as well as deep-conditioning, getting a better everyday conditioner and a better shampoo. We’ll see what happens!


In terms of more affordable (gasp!) drugstore deep conditioners, the Garnier one is fantastic! I also really LOVE Redken Body Full shampoo. Dove used to make a really great mousse/foam type of conditioner that was great for fine hair, but I can’t find it anymore. If anyone has seen some, I will pay premium prices.


I have the same exact kind of hair! For when you may have to go back to the drug store collection – I use Infusium Maximum Body collection – the shampoo (I only shampoo my roots), conditioner (I lightly condition my roots and heavily condition my ends), and the leave in spray conditioner. The leave in is really key for me. If I didn’t use, there’d be no hope of getting a brush through my hair without ripping half of it out. Good luck!


Dry shampoo is brillinat for oily roots, Toni & Guy do a brillinat one and it;s also really good as a styling aid just after you’ve blow dried your hair becuase it makes it all thicker and matt and texturised.


This is a late post, so I’m guessing the asker won’t see this – but in case they do I just wanted to mention it’s worth thinking about hypothyroidism, as changes in skin and hair are sometimes the first things people notice.
Fatigue, weight gain and depression would be other things to look out for.
I am hypothyroid, and use pantene smooth w/ the pantene intensive conditioner. When my thyroid is screwed up it doesn’t do the trick, but when it’s fine, so is the shampoo (and I have very similar hair to yours it sounds like).