When you speak with a fan of The Ordinary, the refreshingly no-frills skincare line that won customers over with effective formulas and accessible price points, their love of the products can take on a near-religious zeal. "Do you like that?" I casually asked a friend recently, pointing up at a vial in her medicine cabinet. 15 minutes later, she was still going on about its benefit while trying to decant a sample for me. Eventually, she just pressed the whole bottle into my hand with a hushed reverence, like it was going to do more for my soul than my eye bags. Basically, The Ordinary fans are more like disciples, but it's not hard to see why.
The brand's approach to marketing is frank, eschewing often-deceptive terms for more honest ingredient explanations, coupled with a minimalist aesthetic and legitimately powerful formulations. And as of this week, The Ordinary is giving its devoted following a whole new category to obsess over with the launch of the brand's first haircare line, which includes a shampoo, conditioner, and scalp serum. Together, the launches fill out the core of a highly functional haircare routine—and you can score all three for less than $30.
The three new launches form a hydrating hair system that aims to balance that delicate blend of moisture for both scalp and strands. And unlike many hair products on the market, these aren't at all specific. Safe for all hair types, lengths, and colors (both natural and salon-given), The Ordinary's Sulphate 4% Shampoo Cleanser For Body & Hair ($8) and Behentrimonium Chloride 2% Conditioner ($8) might have names that sound like science experiments, but they translate to a virtually universal experience. Prudvi Kaka, Chief Science Officer at The Ordinary's parent brand, explains that nailing ideal, maximally healthy hair boils down to a scalp issue.
"Typically, haircare products have multiple ingredients that are subsequently washed off during the hair wash process," Kaka explains. "We acknowledge the effect of adequate cleansing with minimal and effective ingredients to bring our hair to its baseline for optimal results." Because this regimen starts with two wash-off products that hydrate and cleanse on their own as well as clear the way for the leave-in Natural Moisturizing Factors + Hyaluronic Acid Scalp Serum ($13), the routine manages to be effective without requiring a cavalcade of products and steps.
Over the past decade or so, you might have noticed an influx of haircare products, especially cleansing agents like shampoos, all proudly proclaiming themselves "sulfate-free." Sulfates are something like chemically-formed salt that makes soap lather up and delivers that "squeaky-clean" hair feeling, and its synthetic derivatives like sodium laureth sulfate are popular lead ingredients in beauty products, oral hygiene goods, and household cleaners. Somewhere amid the clean beauty revolution, some brands started marketing sulfates as an ingredient that should be avoided, claiming they were stripping at best and potentially harmful at worst—but a close inspection of many studies shows that fear is probably unfounded.
To put a myth to rest, there is no evidence that sulfates are carcinogenic or that they strip hair color—no more than any other cleansing shampoo, anyway. While it's likely still an ingredient to avoid if you have especially sensitive skin that deals with a condition like rosacea or eczema, there's nothing disadvantageous about a shampoo with sulfates when used correctly. And in the case of The Ordinary, the new shampoo uses a careful balance of sulfate percentage with a slew of other hydrating ingredients.
"Instead of disregarding sulfates completely, we researched them as a very effective cleansing ingredient and reduced the concentration down to only essential and effective levels in our Sulphates 4% Cleanser for Body and Hair to create a formula that is mild yet produces effective, gentle cleansing of body and hair," Kaka says. He explains that because the shampoo's true purpose is the clear the scalp of product buildup, daily grime, dirt, sebum, and debris, a robust cleanser (like sulfates) is key. "Most of this dirt, including sebum, is water-insoluble and cannot be effectively removed by water alone," Kaka tells Byrdie, and The Ordinary's sulfate of choice is a very mild one to boot.
With the Behentrimonium Chloride 2% Conditioner, its streamlined ingredient list is all killer, no filler—as in, there are no unnecessarily heavy ingredients posing as especially hydrating only to leave hair weighed-down and lifeless. There are only seven ingredients total in the conditioner (including water!), with just a single conditioning agent: the behentrimonium chloride that's right in the product's name. Behentrimonium chloride sounds complex, but it's actually just a well-calibrated seed oil derivative put to excellent effect. Kaka says this is what lends the product its smoothing, softening, can't-stop-petting-your-own-ponytail properties so coveted in a conditioner.
Finally, there's the scalp serum which features plenty of familiar favorites on its own ingredient list. The product is designed to mimic hair's own natural moisturizing effects to hydrate the scalp, supported by appearances from hyaluronic acid and squalane. Kaka notes that it's important to keep the serum concentrated exclusively at the scalp—this isn't one to rub through mids and ends. "The combination of these ingredients will help provide skin hydration and scalp barrier function support," he says. "Think of this product as our most-loved moisturizer, now formulated for the scalp."
How to Use Them
If you have yet to establish a powerhouse wash day routine, consider this your perfect opportunity. While these products are gentle enough for daily use, you might not want to shampoo your hair every day anyway unless it's outstandingly oily. After cleansing hair with The Ordinary shampoo, thoroughly rinse it from hair before following up with a dollop of conditioner worked into hair from the ears down—that'll keep the conditioner concentrated where it's needed the most. After thoroughly rinsing, dry hair as usual.
For the serum, Kaka advises massaging a few drops into a clean, dry scalp once per day, ideally at bedtime. Because it is a leave-in treatment, you won't want to wash the hair or scalp after application. From there, all that's left to do is enjoy the results. Kaka says in clinical trials conducted by the brand, "our Sulphate 4% Cleanser for Hair and Body maintained the skin barrier on the skin and scalp and increased the moisturization on the skin." Especially towards the tail-end of winter in which you might see a brutal combination of wind-ravaged ends and buildup-covered scalps, a deep cleaning might be just what your hair needs. And probably your room, too.
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