After being sick for so long I am grateful for the simple things in life, like being able to do the dishes, clean up my living room, and take a shower. Often we fall into robotic routines where we are not paying attention to the task at hand because we are so used to doing it. A good example is washing and conditioning your hair. When’s the last time you really paid attention to the ritual of washing your hair – starting with considering why you have chosen to use the products that you have in your shower? With so many colorful bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the stores, it’s impossible to resist the allure of a new one. Have you ever stopped to consider what these descriptions really mean for your hair or have you just been shopping by smell? It’s time you knew what the confusing terms on the packages mean so that you can find the best shampoo and conditioner for your needs.
First we need to start out with a basic lesson on shampoo and conditioner, and I’m not talking about rinse, lather, and repeat!
Shampoo is step one of the washing routine and it’s basic purpose is to clean your scalp. What!? Yes, it’s true! Keep this in mind when you’re in the shower scrubbing your head – you want to be sure to get the top, sides, and back very well, even if it means shampooing twice! Your hair will get clean as the shampoo is rinsed out and it never needs any friction to loosen dirt and oil, so if you’re grabbing the ends of your hair and scrubbing the heck out of them, STOP! Shampoo is more alkaline on the ph scale so that means it opens up the cuticle layer of the hair a bit as it’s cleaning it, which can leave the hair feeling a little rough and damaged. Conditioner is the second step in the hair washing regimen and it’s purpose is to leave the hair feeling soft and healthy. It’s ph level is more acidic, so it closes the cuticle layer down and seals in any repairing, smoothing, or hydrating properties that have been advertised on the outside of the bottle. Since your scalp already gets conditioned by its own natural oils there is no need to condition your scalp. For this reason I recommend focusing the conditioner on the middle and ends of the hair and leaving it on long enough to be able to run a wide toothed comb through it in the shower, then rinse it out well and you’re all set!
It’s not enough to find a brand of shampoo and conditioner that you like, then you must also chose the specific type that is best for your hair needs. Below is a list of some terms and an explanation of what that type of shampoo and conditioner will do for you. You can either read it and find the type that fits your needs or you can refer back to this as you’re shopping around looking for a good product line to use. I strongly urge you to bite the bullet and invest in a professional brand shampoo and conditioner and the main reason is quality of ingredients. Buying shampoo at the grocery store is like feeding your hair MacDonald’s: You can expect to get results fast and cheap, but in the long run you are not doing your hair any favors.
Moisturizing/Hydrating/Replenishing: These are best for dry, coarse, or curly hair. Typically these types of shampoos are heavier and may not be ideal for people with fine or oily hair. If you do a lot of heat styling on your hair and it feels damaged, you may need some type of a moisturizing shampoo or conditioner to help repair it and make it feel soft again.
Volumizing: As indicated by the name, these will help people with limp, oily, or fine hair achieve more volume. They are highly cleansing at the scalp so as to help remove excess oil that could weigh the hair down. The conditioner is also very light and wouldn’t work well for someone that had a lot of very thick, dry hair, or a dry scalp.
Reconstructing/Repairing/Fortifying: These are intended to repair chemical damage caused by color, bleaching, perming, or relaxing hair. They contain valuable protein that has been eaten away and they are best used for a period of time after your chemical service and until the hair is sufficiently repaired. Lots of these lines will carry an intensive conditioner in addition to a daily one that is going to have a power punch of proteins that your hair could use if it was severely damaged. If you haven’t done anything to your hair that involved chemicals, then these are not for you.
Smoothing/Straightening: These will help you to get your hair straighter as you style it. They are not intended to magically straighten your hair and you will still need to use other smoothing products and a blow dryer and/or a flat iron to get really smooth hair. They contain added oils, waxes, and silicone to help coat the hair, weigh it down, and protect it from all the heat and styling that it will go through on its way to becoming sleek and straight.
Curl Enhancing/Texturizing: These are used to tame the unruliness of hair that already has a natural texture or curl pattern. Like the smoothing products I mentioned above, this is not a magic potion that will give you curly hair. It will only deal with curl that already exists and it’s purpose is to manage frizz and help with curl formation.
Color Enhancing/Toning/Brightening: These are tinted shampoos and conditioners used to enhance the color of hair to be more blonde, red, brown, or black. Depending on the brand, they may contain a peroxide that will actually lighten the hair and dry it out, so I would encourage anyone using one to do a little leg work to see what the term “brightening” really means. Because this is such a broad range of products I recommend asking a professional for help in choosing the right one for you, especially since using the wrong one could turn your hair a funny color.
Clarifying/Detoxifying: These are products used to help remove build up of other products, excessive oil, or minerals, like chlorine, from your hair. They can be very harsh and are not recommended for daily use because they tend to leave the hair and scalp feeling dry and can even remove hair color. If you are a swimmer or you feel like your hair is suffering from hairspray build up, then this could be your answer to get a clean slate. Just be sure to get a very moisturizing conditioner to replenish the hair after you wash it so it doesn’t feel like straw.
Color Preserving and Color Safe: These two terms are actually slightly different but they are both important to look for if you have hair color on your hair. Most professional quality brands boast that their entire line of products are “color-safe”. This simply means that they are gentle enough formulations that they will not strip the hair of artificial color. If you want a shampoo and conditioner that will help keep you haircolor’s vibrancy or tonal quality then you better shop for one that claims it will help preserve your color and protect it. Hair color fades, it’s a fact. Using a color preserving shampoo and conditioner, especially the month after your color service, can help the color last longer.
The last thing I want to shed a little light on is a very popular buzz word out there and that is “Sulfate-Free“. You may be thinking, “What is a sulfate? Is it dangerous?” and “Why do I care?”. Sulfates are highly soluble salts found within sulfuric acid and they are widely used in products like shampoo, toothpaste, and mouthwash to cut through grease and produce lather. We have long associated suds and foam with clean, and the beauty companies know that, so they have added it to nearly everything to help produce bubbles. Rumors that sulfates are dangerous has attracted a lot of attention, causing the shampoo companies to start marketing products that are “sulfate free”. What I know for certain is that you can still get your hair clean without sulfates added to your shampoo, you just won’t get a lot of lather. The research I did told me that though some are concerned that it may cause cancer, the real issue is that it is a skin and eye irritant (probably the reason why shampoo stings your eyes) and there is some legitimate concern that it may be damaging and drying to your hair over a long period of time. I do want to point out that sulfates are not just in beauty products, they are found in water and air too and their fear factor is low as long as they do not remain on the skin long (meaning rinse that shampoo well) and they are not used in high amounts (there are laws about how much can be used in products). I found these two very informative articles to deliver the best and most relevant information about this topic so check them out and decide for yourself. http://www.jasoncosmetics.com/sodium_lauryl_sulfate.html http://www.snopes.com/inboxer/household/shampoo.asp
After reading all of these definitions you may have realized that you have multiple needs for your hair. If this is the case I recommend buying a system that will address your most crucial need. There’s no rule that says you can only use one line at a time so have fun looking around and don’t be afraid to switch it up from time to time. Good luck and happy hair washing!