You're Buying Shampoo & Conditioner Completely Wrong

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
We get it — shopping for hair products isn't as fun as shopping for literally any other part of your beauty routine. That's why brands have made it a seemingly brainless process: You go to the store, find a brand you like and the hair "issue" you have, toss the matching shampoo and conditioner into your cart, and peace out. Easy-peasy, right?

But pairing the same brand's shampoo and conditioner may not actually be beneficial to your hair. In fact, you might be preventing your mane from reaching peak perfection. "Normally, companies pair shampoos and conditioners based on your hair texture, chemical process, and the styling result you want," says Matt Fugate, a hairstylist at Sally Hershberger Salon. The issue? Nobody's hair is just one thing.

Take me, for example. I have wavy, frizzy hair, but the strands themselves are pretty fine. "Shampoos for wavy hair are typically moisturizing, but a lot of moisture can weigh fine hair down," Fugate says. So by doubling up on a wavy formulation for my shampoo and conditioner, I could be adding extra, unwanted weight. Not surprisingly, Fugate is a big fan of shampoo and conditioner cocktailing — between brands, even — and he isn't the only one.

Susan Raffy
, a cosmetic chemist and president of Susan Raffy Consulting, is also an advocate for mix-and-matching. "[Brands] sell matching products because, well, they want to sell more product," she says. "By recommending that they work well together, they're able to sell an entire line. A lot of it is marketing." She says that the only issue that could arise if you stray from the prescriptive method is that different chemicals in the different brand formulations may not play well together — but the chances of that are incredibly slim. "The only way that brands could substantiate claims [that their products work better together] is if they tested their formulas against other brands," she explains. "That's expensive. It rarely happens."

So, you've been given a license to cocktail. Where do you start? Fugate says to keep in mind the fact that your shampoo should address "the chemical nature of your hair," e.g., fine, wavy, thin, color-treated, etc. "The conditioner should be based upon the styling that you want to do," he says. "And what people don't realize is that can change from day-to-day." So if you've got that wavy, frizzy hair (ahem) and you want to wear your hair natural that day, go for a volumizing conditioner. But if you want to blow it sleek and straight, reach for a smoothing formula.

Raffy stresses the fact that your thought process shouldn't end with your hair type — you should also take your scalp into consideration. "If your biggest 'issue' is an itchy scalp and dandruff, a shampoo tailored to that concern would be most beneficial," she says. Raffy also reminds us that our hair texture changes as we age. So the products that work for you today likely won't in five years.

The moral of the story? While we don't advocate cheating IRL, when it comes to your hair products and brands, go on and start seeing other people. You may wind up with the best strands of your life.

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