Bespoke Shampoo Is Trending — But Is It Worth The Hype?

We have to account for the fact that there are people out there (large populations can be found in Calabasas) who choose to buy furniture-included McMansions in planned communities, but by and large, it's safe to say that most of us prefer things as personalized as possible. Bras, foundation, last meals in prison... everything is better when it's tailored to your specific preferences.

Function of Beauty, a haircare start-up founded in 2015 by two MIT engineering grads and a cosmetic chemist, believes that to be true when it comes to shampoo and conditioner, too. For the last three years, customers were able to fill out a questionnaire on the brand's website that asks their hair type, goals, color, scent, and product name preferences in order to develop their own custom shampoo and conditioner (prices start at $36). Just last week, though, Function of Beauty opened its NYC lab to the public by appointment only, so you can watch every single ingredient go into your special-snowflake formula. (If it matters to you, and it probably does, know that the whole thing is incredibly Instagrammable.)

The company insists the model is near-perfect and that less than 1% of customers are dissatisfied (those who are can get a full refund within 30 days or a reformulation until they're happy), and they're certainly not playing when it comes to the custom part — no two formulas have ever been the same. So we had four editors with different hair types and needs test-drive the shampoo and conditioner, ahead, and weigh in on how made-to-order compares to mass-market.

"My hair is really thick, curly, and long, with looser spiral curls and a coarse/dry texture. I haven't colored it in about two years, but there are still some lighter highlights at the bottom. My biggest hair needs are conditioning, moisturizing, and anti-frizz, so that's what I usually look for in a shampoo and conditioner, as well as anything that will make detangling my curls easier.

"From Function of Beauty, I picked the curly, coarse, and dry hair types, then selected deep conditioning, split end repair, hydrate, anti-frizz, and curl definition. The scent I picked was Feeling (F)ineapple, and it was nice, though not as bold or unique as I would have hoped — it leaned really heavy on the pineapple scent and less on the coconut, which I wanted more of. The colors I picked — pink and teal — were super fun, and I loved that the bottles had my name on them!

"I enjoyed the process of creating my own custom formula that felt unique to me, and I did find that my curls were soft and frizz-free the day after. My only hesitancy is the price — I have a lot of hair, so by the time I went through the shampoo and conditioner for one wash, my bottles were nearly halfway through. Still, I did enjoy the experience and felt like the formula worked really well with my hair! — Arianna Davis, senior features writer
"After months of teetering on the edge of getting a double process, I finally bit the bullet and dyed my hair pastel pink last month. As you can imagine, the bleaching process changed the texture of my smooth hair. It's drier now, but I love that it's wavier with more volume.

"Since my hair's bleached, I wash it less (about twice a week) and need a shampoo and conditioner that is not just color-safe, but will inject some much-needed moisture without weighing it down. Function of Beauty's website was easy to navigate, although I did wish there were more questions in the survey that would tailor the formula even more. I picked deep condition, volumize, color protection, soothe scalp, and oil control. I also opted for the lilac color to help tone down brassiness.

"Overall, the duo does the job, and I love the light, tropical scent (I chose Feeling (F)ineapple). The shampoo does control oil on my scalp and leaves my hair looking voluminous, but it's not the most conditioning; my hair actually felt a bit coarser than it does with other color-safe washes. Still, I'll keep using Function of Mi-Anne (hehe), especially because I do really like the conditioner. I've started mixing it with my Overtone Daily Pink Conditioner to create a custom blend of pinky-lilac color that re-colors my hair, tones down brassiness, and makes my strands soft." — Mi-Anne Chan, beauty writer
"I have 4c coils that I color, so my hair needs lots of moisture. My 'fro is like a sponge that can't stop absorbing water and product. I prefer my shampoo formulas thick and creamy with low suds, and an ingredient label that I can actually understand. On the website, I indicated that my hair was coily, coarse, and dry, and opted for no dye and the Peony Tail scent. My five goals were hydrate, color protection, deep condition, curl definition, soothe scalp.

"I really liked the scent — natural hair products tend to smell like coconut and tropical fruit, so the floral notes were a nice change of pace — but I knew I was in trouble when my personalized instructions directed me to shampoo four times a week. Natural hair needs a lot of moisture, and I only shampoo a few times a month; co-washing is my go-to. I also didn't like that there were a lot of alcohols, fragrances, and dyes listed in the ingredients. Still, I'm pretty game when it comes to trying new hair products, so I applied a healthy dollop onto my very dry hair.

"I know that shampoo is meant to clarify, but my natural oils felt stripped immediately, and it lathered way too much — usually a sign that there are surfactants in the formula. The conditioner wasn't much better. I like to use a formula that moisturizes and defines my curls at the same time, to take some of the work out of my styling process. After trying this one, I ended up having to overcompensate with my leave-in conditioner and curling cream because the wash depleted my moisture.

"It would've been nice to see client testimonies on the brand's Instagram and read reviews from consumers with my texture, even though I do appreciate that it was an option to choose from on the website." — Khalea Underwood, beauty writer
"My hair is pretty low-maintenance — straight with a few waves, medium-weight, not too oily, not too dry. I don’t color it, so the only damage comes from my Beachwaver addiction, which has led to a lot of breakage at the front of my hairline. I'm not too picky when it comes to shampoo and conditioner (and the only styling product I use is a heat-protectant spray); I just want shiny, soft hair that smells really, really good and isn't flat at the roots.

"Instead of ordering online, I went to Function of Beauty's new store for an appointment, which was — and I say this as a jaded beauty editor — a very impressive, unique experience that completely sold me on the brand in a way the website alone couldn't have. I selected hydrate, volumize, thermal protection, lengthen, and shine, plus the peony scent and pink and purple colors, then watched as one machine carefully syphoned my chosen ingredients from a wall full of colorful liquids, and another mixed them all together.

"I've been using my formula almost every day for the last month and have no complaints. It's incredibly gentle and lightweight (which is surprisingly hard to find), detangles all my knots, and leaves my hair looking healthy and glossy. The only thing I'd improve overall is the scent selection, which feels like a bit of an afterthought. Peony was the only one I liked of the five, and I'd still prefer something more sophisticated." — Alix Tunell, senior beauty editor
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