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The Real Difference Between a Luxury and Drugstore Shampoo

Hand holding bottle of shampoo above a white flower

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We all want flawless, commercial-ready hair, but on the quest to achieve it comes mass confusion: Should you splurge on a luxury formula or opt for whatever is on sale at your local drugstore? While there are certainly beauty products that are worth the splurge, we also know that affordable picks can deliver quality results. So when it comes to hair products, which side are you on? Is a drugstore shampoo going to revitalize, protect color, and reverse damage as good as one with a $25-plus price tag?

On our hunt for answers, we picked the brains of two experts: Laura Luciani, education and technical marketer at Davines cosmetics laboratory and Kristina Barricelli, professional hairstylist. Read on to find out what makes a pricier shampoo so costly, and if it's worth the splurge.

Meet the Expert

  • Laura Luciani is the education and technical marketing manager at Davines. She is based in Parma, Italy.
  • Kristina Barricelli is a professional stylist and former Hairdo brand ambassador.

Ingredients

Let's get the obvious out of the way: ingredients. In the most simplified of categories, there are surfactants that cleanse the hair, actives that provide the results a shampoo promises (like repairing, volumizing, or smoothing), and fragrances that give a product its signature scent. More often than not, drugstore shampoos contain more water and fillers versus more hair-nourishing ingredients like oils and vitamins.

Barricelli says that the selection of ingredients plays a big role in the outcome of your hair's results, noting that "it's the more expensive ingredients that target the real issues on the inside." Luciani adds to this, explaining that in the case of the Italian brand Davines, they choose natural and safe ingredients when formulating, hence their heftier price tag. "Lipids and oils that nourish the hair are always naturally derived, and the preservatives we use to protect the safety of our consumers are Ecocert approved."

Davines Minu Shampoo
Davines Minu Shampoo $29
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Cleansing Power

Surfactants are what cleanse hair of buildup and oil, but sometimes too much of a good thing can lead to damage in the end. Don't get us wrong, we love a rich lather and soft-to-the-touch strands post-conditioner, but how clean is our hair really getting?

According to Barricelli, that dry feeling after shampooing is actually okay because hair is thoroughly washed and ready to soak up the nutrients from the conditioner that's applied afterward. Luciani echoes this sentiment by noting that two-in-one shampoo-conditioner hybrids aren't a good idea because shampoo and conditioner each serve a different purpose.

Molecule Size Matters

Barricelli notes that molecule size also plays a role in how much of a clean feeling you'll get with a shampoo. The smaller the molecule, the deeper it'll be able to get into the hair. Because many of the more inexpensive shampoos on the market utilize larger molecules, there can be issues with the product's efficacy. "Pricier shampoos use smaller silicone molecules while the less expensive ones use larger ones that sit on top of the hair versus actually penetrating it," she says.

And when it comes to silicones—you know, those things that make your hair feel soft and sleek—Barricelli says to be wary of the "bad" kinds. "Those who use inexpensive shampoos end up having to wash their hair more often," she notes. "The shampoo and conditioner create layer upon layer on top of the hair, and you start to think, 'My hair is greasy' or 'I produce so much oil,' but in actuality, it’s just product buildup due to large molecules of silicone being used." A clarifying shampoo is a good fix for product buildup, as long as it's used sparingly. (PS: Not all silicones are bad—look out for the "good" ones to add to your routine.)

Morrocanoil Clarifying Shampoo
Morrocanoil Clarifying Shampoo $26
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The Bottom Line

Both Luciani and Barricelli agree that luxury shampoos can be worth the price. "You're paying for the quality ingredients and the technology and research that went into developing these good ingredients," says Barricelli. Luciani adds, "A professional shampoo is formulated with high-quality ingredients and with a perfect calibration of everything is needed for the hair." Regardless of how much you spend, it's safe to say that the higher price tag on some shampoos has a reason behind it.

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