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Price Tag Cage Match: Drugstore vs. Salon Shampoos

By Amalah

“I can’t spend $20 on shampoo. I just can’t.”

I get this a lot. And I understand! I do! And yet…I kind of don’t. I mean, have you ever spent $20 on a shirt? That you maybe wear once or twice a month?

You wear your hair everyday. And you will wear your hair for the rest of your life. Take care of it. Cheap out on t-shirts and eyeshadow and skip the grande nonfat lattes, but invest in the long-term health of your hair and skin.

All that said, I am NOT saying you should buy expensive products just because they are expensive. And I am NOT saying that all expensive products are worth the money, or that anything inexpensive is automatically garbage.

I used drugstore shampoos for years. And for awhile, they worked. Of course, that was when I was 1) 13 years old, 2) not coloring my hair, and 3) had not discovered blow-dryers, curling irons, hot rollers or straightening irons.

I was in college when my hair stylist finally sat me down for a little come-to-Jesus moment about my Pantene usage. I’d been seeing her for years (she did my hair for my wedding and then attended as a guest). She always politely ignored my sloppy, at-home dye jobs because she knew I simply couldn’t afford salon highlights, but shampoo and conditioner was another thing.

She told me to stop buying the stuff for oily hair. She told me it was stripping my hair of the oil it needed and thus making my scalp produce more to overcompensate. (Sadly, it was still YEARS before I realized the same concept worked for skincare too.) She told me to stop using the 2-in-1 garbage because my ends were parched and split. She told me to stop using the cheap shampoos that contained harsh ingredients like alcohol and salts because they were turning my blond hair orange and brassy. She handed me a Matrix shampoo and conditioner for dry colored hair, which I balked at, because OMG, my oily roots! Gross! And OMG, they cost over $12 a bottle.

I bought them because I trusted her. And they changed my life. I loved my hair for the first time in years. My color lasted longer, my roots stayed clean and my hair felt softer and healthier. I also realized that a little bit of the Matrix stuff went a long way, and that I actually didn’t need to buy shampoo as often as I used to.

(Then Matrix discontinued that particular line of shampoo, thus sending me on a never-ending quest to find something just as good, or even better.)

ANYWAY. That’s my personal shampoo testimony. I do believe the stuff sold in your salon — the stuff your hairstylist recommends — is usually better than anything you’ll find on the shelves at CVS. (Provided you trust your stylist, of course, which is why I say never buy products on your first visit to a salon, but wait until you have a bit of a relationship with a stylist and they’ve got an established interest in keeping you happy and coming back). For me, it’s a worthwhile purchase.

Then again, I might just have extra-assy hair that needs way more help than yours.
bbshampoo.jpgSome of you may remember the $100-for-everything Target Challenge I did here a few weeks ago. For shampoo and conditioner, I chose Burt’s Bees Very Volumizing with Pomegranate and Soy.

I had actually never used this particular shampoo. I once used another shampoo by Burt’s at a hotel and liked it, plus Burt’s does avoid a lot of the things I generally loathe about other drugstore brands. You can pronounce everything on the label, they use quality ingredients and they don’t test on animals. And I like the company. I like their reasonable price points and I like that they are making organic, natural products more readily available. No, I don’t believe everything they make is awesome and the absolute best version out there, but mostly everything I’ve tried is pretty darn good for the price.

(I also adore the Baby Bees line and how well it cares for Noah’s skin and hair, so perhaps that’s why I have such a deep affection for the company. It’s like how mothers all tend to develop crushes on their children’s pediatricians and Steve from Blue’s Clues..)

So now that summer is here and it’s hot and humid and awwwwwful, I decided that my Pureology shampoo and conditioner might be a little too heavy for my hair. I’ve noticed a little oily build-up. They are ultra-rich and moisturizing, but I’ve been using them non-stop for awhile and figured it might be time to switch things up. So I put my money where my advice is and bought the Burt’s Bees Very Volumizing shampoo and conditioner for $8 each. ..that’s a full $24 less than the same combination by Pureology. (Pureology is 100% vegan, but I’ll admit, there’s a load of stuff on the label I’ve never heard of, so hey, I’m all for simplifying.)

Okay. Cage Match time.

The Burt’s shampoo is watery. It’ll drip right through your fingers if you’re not careful. It eventually works up to a nice lather but it’s still…thin. I’ve also found that I need to rinse and then shampoo again to ensure that I’ve gotten all my roots really clean.

I use about a dime-sized squirt of Pureology. I need about five times that amount of the Burt’s.

The same goes for the conditioner. I need a ton of it and it doesn’t seem to cling to my hair very well. (I generally let conditioner sit on my roots for a few minutes before rinsing.) To give you an idea of the consistency…you can usually use conditioner in lieu of shaving gel if you’re in a pinch. We ran out this morning so I used the Burt’s to shave my legs…and got out of the shower with four bleeding gashes around my knees.

But! It smells (really, REALLY) good and it rinses clean and easily.

But! My hair is a knotted mess afterwards. Since using Pureology, I’ve eliminated the need for a detangler. Now I need it again.

Once I get the knots out, things look better for Burt’s. My hair is really shiny (am guessing it’s the fruit extracts…like the Garnier Fructis line) and very soft and manageable. I definitely notice improved volume around the roots.

But in the interest of full disclosure…Jason used the shampoo once and declared it “terrible.” His hair was still dirty and full of product residue (he uses a light styling wax) after shampooing it twice.

prod_pureology.gifPersonally, I don’t think the Burt’s is terrible. It’s a very nice shampoo that does what it promises. But I don’t think it’s worth the hassle of repeated washings, especially since the upfront savings of $24 are pretty much destroyed by how very quickly you’ll go through these bottles. The Pureology shampoo and conditioner last me about four or five months. I’ll be lucky if the Burt’s last me two. Plus I’d need to buy a leave-in conditioner or detangler AND probably a deep conditioning treatment (another thing I no longer need with Pureology). These two product purchases alone will cost $24, at least.

I’m sticking with Pureology. I’ll probably use the Burt’s shampoo once a week or so to help with the oily buildup problem, and the conditioner has been permanently transferred to Noah’s bathroom, since an ultra-light conditioner is perfect for his hair.

I buy all my shirts at Target anyway.

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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