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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!
Sarah

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.)

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

Conditioners:
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.
IMG_6396.JPG
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.

Published November 27, 2006. Last updated September 14, 2015.
Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

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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