Drug Store Products vs Salon Grade Products – is there really a difference?

Drug Store Products vs Salon Grade Products – is there really a difference?

Jennifer Helder
May 14, 2024

What is the difference between drugstore hair products and salon grade hair products? Why is there such a price difference and is it really worth the switch? Let’s dive into the dirty secrets and expose the harsh truth.

This idea for a post started when I first made the leap into running a hair extension studio, I wanted to offer products to my customers and started doing some research into which products were the best. Not only did I do a light Google search for “the best —- hair product for extensions”, but I also had to read the ingredient list on each product to ensure nothing would harm hair extensions and the results shocked me.

Before We Start

This is all my opinion and of course, I encourage you to read the label and do your own research on each product you use. What I use to help me start my research is finding the answers to these questions:

  • What are the ingredients?
  • What are the bad reviewers saying and are they consistent?
  • Are any of these ingredients known to harm my hair or scalp?
  • Do all these ingredients benefit my hair, or are they just filler?
  • Are the ingredients safe for hair extensions or treated hair?

My Findings: Drugstore Vs. Salon Brands

These are a general classification for shampoos and conditioners, it really comes down to product-by-product. Some brands that genuinely care about your hair health are available in drugstores or more commonly only available in small online shops, while some brands that should care about your hair are actually just soulless corporations hiding behind their salon-brand status. Please do your research before purchasing any product.

The Big Misconceptions

I discovered two factors that really changed my way of thinking about overly priced salon products vs cheap crappy drugstore products. These are the misconceptions that more lathering means a better, deeper clean and the amount of product you should be using.

You see most, if not all, shampoos contain some form of foaming agent, which allows the product to produce suds and typically feels like it’s doing a better job cleaning. Most drugstore shampoos opt to use the more powerful sulfates which produce more suds but actually strip your hair of its natural oils and can be harsh on your scalp in high concentrations. Whereas a lot of salon-grade shampoos choose to use the less powerful sulfate, or even sulfate-free foaming agents which do not produce as much suds but still clean just as effectively.

As for the amount of product you should use, I think we all fall into the boat where we think more is always better. That may be true in a lot of cases, but when it comes to our hair products it’s simply not. It’s the whole “Quality over Quantity”, once I started using the appropriate amount of hair product in the shower I quickly realized my over-priced salon products weren’t as overpriced as I thought. Expensive yes, but instead of using them like my cheap products where I could use a handful without thinking twice, I started using just enough, and I noticed I was getting the same clean plus my hair health sky-rocketed once I left the cheap stuff behind.

Drugstore Products

The shampoos and conditioners we find at the drugstore are appealing for obvious reasons. They’re affordable, convenient, and we love all of their different scents (I mean, who can resist vanilla & shea butter?). But how can hair-rejuvenating, grapefruit-scented surems be so affordable? Yes, drugstore shampoos often do contain the same high-grade ingredients found in salon products, yet they contain much smaller amounts, seemingly just enough to have them on the ingredients list. They typically contain chemicals such as sulfates, which can strip your hair of its natural oils, essentially drying it out, but gives a feeling and appearance of clean hair. They’re also known for including additives to their products that tend to make your hair feel super soft but only by leaving behind a film. Basically, your hair feels soft because it is coated, not hydrated. Some examples of these additives are silicones, polymers, mineral oil and petrolatum, and formulations of glycerin that do not help with hydration.

Here is a list of popular drugstore brands on my personal “Do Not Buy List”. I add them when I find consistent reviews that indicate harsh chemicals, if I personally have found a lot of their products do more harm than good, or if there are lawsuits against them for causing hair/scalp damage.

  • Pantene
  • Aussie
  • Herbal Essences
  • TRESemmé
  • Garnier
  • Head & Shoulders
  • Suave
  • L’Oreal
  • John Frieda
  • Monat (a multi-level-marketing brand that found its way on this list)

Salon Grade Products

The reason salon shampoos tend to be on the pricier side is because they contain high-grade ingredients, little to no fillers, less-harsh foaming agents, and use additives that are actually beneficial. The additives they use are often vitamins, natural oils & minerals, extracts, fatty acids, and proteins that truly nourish your hair. Because these premium products are more concentrated with just the good stuff, you don’t need to use as much to get real and lasting results.

Here is my quick list of salon brands I support the most. Either from glowing reviews or personal use.

  • Kevin Murphy
  • Joico
  • Malibu C
  • Matrix
  • Olaplex
  • Kerastase
  • Amika

Final Conclusion:

So if you can’t already tell, I am a big believer in salon-grade products now. Knowing what I do now, I think it would be hard for me to go back to using common non-salon brands for my everyday needs. It was truly eye-opening reading all the negative experiences people have had using products I myself owned and used. I’m not an expert on chemicals and don’t pretend to be, but simply reading what each chemical is and why products are using it was enough for me to understand most of the drugstore products are merely giving you instant results by faking them, and in direct results they are damaging your hair and scalp health. I use my salon products and they last me just as long as the big bottles I used to buy, the only difference is that my hair doesn’t look healthy, it is healthy.

I strongly advise everyone to look into each product before you buy it, don’t just settle for their generic claims and read the labels. Drugstore and salon-grade alike, do your research.

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