Corinne asks: I have a very sensitive scalp with fine hair and suffer from hair loss and dandruff. Dermatologists have advised me to use a clear gel shampoo that is clarifying or deep cleansing. So I've tried Suave Daily Clarifying Shampoo, Suave for Men Deep Cleaning Shampoo, Neutrogena Anti-residue Shampoo and Prell Classic Shampoo (original formula). I'm not happy with those choices and would like you to set me straight What shampoo is going to work for me?
While we hate to disagree with dermatologists, we don't understand why they recommended a deep-cleansing shampoo when you have dandruff. Deep-cleansing-type shampoos will remove the surface flakes, but only a dandruff shampoo can address the cause of flaking and itching. So we'd recommend finding a good dandruff shampoo instead of chasing deep-cleansing, clarifying and antiresidue products. This may seem confusing to you because the beauty companies tell you there are so many different kinds of shampoo. But in reality, every shampoo on the market falls into one of a few basic categories.
There are only four main shapoo types in the world
All shampoo can be categorized by their basic function. So why are there what seem like thousands of products on the market, you ask? Because companies that sell shampoo need new ways to talk about their products to keep them sounding new and exciting. There's nothing wrong with companies being creative about their names and claims as long as they are honestly depicting what their products can do. But you can be a smarter consumer if you can see beyond the marketing hype and understand the functionality of these four basic shampoo types.
1. Deep cleansing shampoos (aka volumizing, clarifying, balancing, oil control and thickening). These shampoos are designed to get gunk off your hair and scalp. They typically contain slightly higher levels of detergents so they foam and clean better. They include the examples above as well as salon products like Paul Mitchell Shampoo and Frederic Fekkai's Full Volume Shampoo.
2. Conditioning shampoos (aka moisturizing, 2-in-l, smoothing, antifrizz, strengthening, color care, straightening and hydrating). These kinds of formulas are all about leaving a moisturizing agent, like silicone or polyquaternium-lO, on the hair to smooth it. They are very good for dry hair, especially if you color-treat or heat-style, but they can weigh down fine hair. Good examples of this type include most of the Pantene formulas and some products from the L'Oreal Vive collection and Dove Advanced Care.
3. Baby shampoos (aka kids shampoo and tear-free). These are milder, lower-foaming surfactant formulas that are designed not to sting or burn your eyes. They're better for babies but they don't clean hair as well. Johnson's Baby Shampoo is the classic example, but this category also includes Touch of an Angel and The Little Bath.
4. Antidandruff shampoos (aka anti-itch, flake control and dry scalp). These are medicated shampoos that contain a drug ingredient that controls itching and flaking. In the United States these are considered to be over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Head & Shoulders is the leading dandruff product; other examples include Nizoral Dandruff Shampoo and Redken Dandruff Control Shampoo.
The Bottom Line
We hope this helps you better understand the marketing hype surrounding shampoo names. We're not saying that all shampoos are the same, or even that all shampoos in a given category type are the same. There are real performance differences so it's important for you to shop around and find a product that performs the way you like at a price that you can afford. Just don't get too hung up on the names the companies use to describe their products. That's the marketing part of the industry, not the science part.