(Million-dollar) reader question: Is there a difference between salon and drugstore hair products?

hair model curly hair

Oh boy. Reader Kate really cut to the chase with this question, didn’t she:

[A]s far as using a good shampoo and conditioner for damage, do you find there is a big difference between drugstore and salon brands? Is it worth it to buy Kérastase over Pantene?

This is the kind of thing that keeps beauty editors up at night. (Okay, not really.) But ask any beauty editor on a magazine’s payroll and she’ll dance around it like the cast of Jersey Shore at Karma. (How do I know that’s the nightclub they go to? OF COURSE I don’t watch that show.)

But since I’m not beholden to any publishing house here (who are, as you know, not about to displease any advertisers), I can give my honest opinion on the whole Drugstore versus Salon Dilemma

And truthfully? It depends. I could make an argument for either side:

oribe shampooforbrilliance (Million dollar) reader question: Is there a difference between salon and drugstore hair products?If you ask any hair expert (a neutral one, not one who is affiliated with a certain company’s products), they will tell you there is DEFINITELY a difference between drugstore and salon brands. The brands that come up time and time again as popular with hairdressers are Kérastase, L’Oreal Professionel, Shu Uemura, Redken and Oribe.

But then you hear these rumours (not just about hair products, but ALL KINDS of beauty products) that they’re all made in the same factory, and therefore contain the same ingredients, etc.

And you know—there may be some truth to that. Not many people know that L’Oréal, for example, manufactures a truckload of different hair lines: Garnier, Matrix, Pureology, Biolage, Redken, Shu Uemura, and probably more that I can’t even remember right now.

So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that there’d be some R&D sharing between the high and low ends of their offerings. They certainly do it in skincare. (Pro-Xylane, anyone?)

Pantene Colour Preserve Conditioner (Million dollar) reader question: Is there a difference between salon and drugstore hair products?As for the case for drugstore products…

I visited the Pantene labs at P&G’s HQ in Cincinnati a couple months ago and there is no question that they put an INCREDIBLE amount of R&D time/money into creating products that perform. For serious. There are PhDs working there who come up with proprietary tests for EVERYTHING—stuff that right brain types like me would never dream up. (Like how fast a comb can get through your hair, or how it feels when you run your fingers on top of your hair versus through it.)

And you also have to think about the economies of scale—because Pantene is a mass brand, with sales in the bajillions, that means they’re able to invest that much more money into R&D… whereas a smaller-scale niche brand can’t. The niche types are the ones who have to rely on cult-brand positioning, cool packaging, unusual ingredients, etc. But in all likelihood they don’t test their products to the same extent.

SO. Taking all of that into account, I think it just comes down to personal preference and budget.

Even though I have access to both the most spendy, luxurious, beautifully-packaged hair products (now don’t be a hater…), I have love for drugstore things too. (Maybe not quite as MUCH. But it’s there.)

If I can generalize, though, I’ve found the higher-end brands to have richer moisturizing ingredients… but again, it depends if you want/need/like that kind of thing. If your hair is severely damaged and you’re desperate to nurse it back to health, then the answer is probably yes. On a daily basis? Maybe, maybe not.

So tell me what YOU think:

Are you a die-hard salon products lover?
Down with the drugstore?
Or are you like me, with about 78 random bottles in the shower, just using whatever’s there?


Lindsay Carreau
Tuesday, August 24/2010 at 1:13 pm

Good article! Certainly a heavy debate to be had here. I would tend to agree with you, Pantene (in particular) is particularly effective as a drug store brand! I know that I buy it myself as a regular salon brand junkie. Having said this, I would venture to say that it is different for every person. For me, certain salon products are worth every dime in terms of the result they provide for my hair! It is interesting to see how everyone experiments with their hai!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, August 24/2010 at 2:12 pm

My hair (long, straight, fine) doesn’t do too much but hang there, so what I use in the shower isn’t that big of a deal for the most part…. But I think many women—particularly ones with unruly, curly or damaged hair—are willing to pay almost ANY price for a product that gives them the results they want. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same!


Tuesday, August 24/2010 at 1:20 pm

I’d have to agree with you – it depends.
Personally my fine hair can’t handle all the buildup that has come with using many of the numerous drugstore products out there (garnier fructis, pantene, tressemme), but it can handle some of the styling products (tressemme dry shampoo, john frieda brilliant blonde products).

In generalI stick to higher-end products like the Body Shop, as well as Aveda, because they are more natural and quite frankly i just like them better!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, August 24/2010 at 1:50 pm

Great point Elaine – I’ve heard talk (although maybe it’s an urban myth) about some brands, like Pantene, leaving a build-up that’s very hard to get rid of. Not sure if that’s true but so many drugstore brands contain a LOT of silicones so it wouldn’t surprise me. However, I find the new Pantene (the fine, coloured hair version) a HUGE improvement over what I remembered from before, so I think they’ve toned the ‘cones down a bit…

Which TRESemme were you using? I find the 24 Hour Body and the new organic volumizing lines both excellent – haven’t found they weighed my hair down at all. (In fact – closer to the opposite… I don’t like to use them everyday as they feel a bit drying.)

I know what you mean about higher-end products though… the natural aspect is very compelling, as are the packaging and scents. I could live in an Aveda store!


Tuesday, August 24/2010 at 5:30 pm

The worst product for buildup for me was garnier fructis hands down… i wanted to use up the bottle until one day i got out of the shower, dried my hair, and my hair looked like it hadnt even been washed! ick!

and i tried what i remember to be the tresseme natural line – it was about 8ish years ago though so the formulas might have changed. glad that you have had luck with it!

I haven’t tried the new pantene stuff but i’ve heard great things from around the blogosphere… maybe i’ll have to try it out again and see if i have better luck!

and the aveda store… smells so good and i LOVE the free tea! one day i went in there and the tea was the only thing i ended up buying ha ha ha


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 11:09 am

Oh no the TRESemme line I’m thinking of is very new – launched in March of this year. It’s silicone-free and lower in sulfates. Talked about it here: http://beautyeditor.ca/2010/03/29/editors-picks-march/

PS – Aveda tea ROCKS! I used to have it at work.


Tuesday, August 24/2010 at 2:23 pm

This is an interesting debate. I been using Joico K-Pak for years (a salon brand which has actually become available in drugstores in recent years) but am always open to being lured away by competing brands.
I’ve tried samples of Sheer Blonde and Straight Forward which work because of their high percentage of silicones. These silicones leave my hair heavenly, but my face broken out with vicious pimples (I think some people are sensitive to the occlusive property of silicones.)
I’ve received samples of the new Pantene but can’t get past the cheap scent to try them.
So, I keep returning to the Joico K-pak. But I’m still open to trying new products (too curious to resist!)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 11:16 am

Yes some people are really sensitive to the silicones. That’s too bad… but at least there seem to be more and more brands available these days without them. (So the K-Pak doesn’t have them? That’s been around forever, so if so then they were ahead of the trend…)

At drugstores – Live Clean has a new silicone-free line you might want to try:

Also look into LaCoupe’s Orgnx line – I *think* it may also be silicone-free.


Tuesday, August 24/2010 at 10:03 pm

I am a fan of the EverPure line from L’Oreal (that came out right after L’Oreal bought PureOlogy…) and find that I like it better than PureOlogy! It is the most moisturizing drugstore-price formula that I’ve found, although it’s still not enough for my hair.

I’ve been through Herbal, Aussie, Pantene, Head & Shoulders, John Frieda (Brunette), and Suave and feel like I’ve found a brand/product that I can commit to for at least another few years. I’m not in looove with the EverPure hydrating shampoo though..I think the mintiness makes my scalp get itchy :-( Do you have any suggestions on fab drugstore shampoos?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 11:27 am

I really like that line too! Although I use the volume stuff not hydrating.

So not sure if my fave drugstore brands will be yours too! Probably my favourite is TRESemme’s 24 Hour Body collection – however it’s not hydrating at all.

You might like Aveeno’s new hair line: http://beautyeditor.ca/2010/02/09/product-review-aveeno-positively-nourishing-hair-care-collection/
Everything is pretty moisturizing.

LaCoupe’s Orgnx line is also pretty good.

Just some thoughts off the top of my head!


Wednesday, August 25/2010 at 12:48 am

So far I luv head and shoulders conditioner it leaves my hair soft shiny and tangle free, i’ve also tried mane and tail shampoo and conditioner its pretty good but the shampoos a bit drying.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 11:29 am

Mane and Tail? Wow I need to try that – never seen it before in Canada…

Yes Head & Shoulders has a whole new positioning that it’s great for your hair even if you don’t have dandruff. Could just be marketing talk to grow their market share outside the dandruff category though…


Monday, August 30/2010 at 1:20 pm

You can find Mane and Tail in the pet department at Walmart. It was originally created for horses, but I once read that Jennifer Aniston and SJP used it to make their hair thick and shiny, and I fell for it. However I was having a problem with my hair falling out and getting really thin-looking (at least to me) and I started using it and noticed an incredible difference!


Monday, August 30/2010 at 4:56 pm

I heard the same thing about Mane and Tail. One stylist told me to try it when I was growing out my hair. Once my hair gets healthy again I might give it a whirl … now that I know where to find it :)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 1/2010 at 2:16 pm

Oh, nice! Walmart – who knew? Definitely going to check this out – thanks J!


Wednesday, August 25/2010 at 1:44 pm

Great article! I have used high end salon brands to whatever you see on sale at Shoppers. I found the salon brands produced marginally better results, BUT the biggest difference I see is actually using shampoos and conditioners that have little/no sulfates and/or parabens. These are ingredients that are not actually necessary to clean or condition your hair. The brand Live Clean is a great example. They are not very expensive, and seem to be widely available almost everywhere. For more options, check your local health store for alternative shampoos and conditioners. I know Shoppers and Pharma Plus now have a section for organic/eco-friendly products. Also, it sounds gross, but it’s actually not good to wash hair often, especially those with wavy/curly or frizzy hair. Haven’t you ever noticed how great your hair looks when it’s not squeaky clean? I have wavy hair and I’ve been washing it only 2-3 times a week, and it’s produced great results. Little to no frizz, great waves and easy daily maintenance.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 11:33 am

Great point – for a lot of people not washing their hair all the time really helps. (Although for fine- and straight-haired people like me, you can only really get away with washing every other day… otherwise it’s just too flat/limp and greasy-looking. There’s only so much dry shampoo can do!)

What are the differences in your hair that you’ve noticed with sulfate-free products?


Friday, August 27/2010 at 11:00 am

Michelle – great blog, thank you for sharing with the world! You’re right – if you have fine/oily hair, washing hair infrequently may not be a good idea. For me the difference is twofold – not washing my hair often PLUS using paraben/sulfate free shampoos and conditioners have produced practically frizz free hair, greatly reduced dryness, and now have lots of body. I suspect the extra um….grit – for lack of a better word, lol – is responsible. I also rinse my hair daily (with water) and condition every other day. For example – I’ll wash my hair Sunday, rinse it Monday. Tuesday I’ll rinse and condition – ends only – then rinse only Wednesday. I’ll wash AND condition Thursday. I have coarse-ish, medium thick naturally wavy hair and this method has been very successful for me. Parabens and sulfates can be very harsh and drying on the scalp and hair…I think they are also known irritants. And no one needs that!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, August 29/2010 at 11:39 am

Oh that’s interesting – so you think the sulfates are causing the hair to dry out and therefore frizz. Makes sense since they’re the lathering agent. I’ll have to experiment and see if I can detect a difference as well!

I used to do the washing every other day / rinsing + conditioner routine as well… but then I got lazy and discovered dry shampoo :-)


Monday, August 30/2010 at 5:00 pm

With my damaged locks I try to wash my hair every 3 days … but with the fine/limp thing it IS hard to stretch it that far sometimes.

I’ve thought about trying the new Tresemme dry shampoo but I’ve never used one before so I’m not sure what to look for or how to use them. I also don’t want my hair to look like I just dumped a bunch of baby powder on it :)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 1/2010 at 2:21 pm

Gimped – I think it’s fine to wash hair every other day if you are using the right products. We don’t want you walking around like a greaseball even if your hair is damaged!

Wouldn’t recommend the Tresemme Dry Shampoo – it’s a “wet” shampoo and I found it did nothing except make my hair even greasier. You can’t go wrong with the Klorane one (at drugstores) or there is also Batiste (another cheapie but pretty good). Higher-end ones I like are the Clean one (at Sephora) as it’s a powder not a spray, Kevin Murphy’s, Oribe … there are so many!

Basically the key is to not spray (or sprinkle) directly on your part – you want to put it underneath so it doesn’t look like you have grey roots. Rub it in and then leave it for a few minutes before brushing out.

I’ll try and do a dry shampoo post with more deets soon! Great idea for a post.

Lipschtick Blog
Wednesday, August 25/2010 at 2:35 pm

Haha I don’t watch Jersey Shore either…

but I happened to go on a trip to Seaside Heights…and I happened to see Karma…and I took a lot of pictures.

who am i kidding jersey shore is my life


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 11:35 am

Haha – I feel guilty watching it, especially after Lainey posted about them getting paid $30,000 per episode… as much as REAL actors!

So basically I’m an enabler to this trainwreck. eeks!


Stephanie Daga
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 12:17 am


This was a great post and I truly believe hits the nail on the head (is that the saying?!). I think that drugstore brands are definitely upping their game not only with hair, but makeup and skincare too! So you’re right – it comes to personal preference and budget.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 26/2010 at 11:37 am

Yep – I often wonder what would happen if I had to make do without my own Sephora (built up over the years from all the stuff you get sent working at various magazines, and now with this website). As much as I ADORE the expensive stuff, I definitely could make do with all drugstore products… there is some amazing stuff available now.


Thursday, August 26/2010 at 10:59 pm

i’ve gone back and forth with both very high end products and cheap drug store products. you name it, i’ve probably used it at some point. imo, whether a particular product is going to be a success for your hair depends on the qualities of your hair generally, and what shape it’s in at that moment. if it’s fried out from coloring or styling, it’ll need more TLC than if you let it go au natural. so, a particular shampoo may work for a while and then suddenly not so much.
that having been said, my hair is in the best shape ever right now, which is ironic because it’s also super long and colored. i love love love kevin murphy products ($$$) which are not only super for my easily tangled locks, but also smell wonderful.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, August 29/2010 at 11:41 am

Yes, exactly! It really does depend on your hair type and condition.

Looooove Kevin Murphy’s line – every single thing I’ve tried is amazing. I think he’s coming to Toronto again soon so hopefully I can pick his brain again :-)


Friday, August 27/2010 at 2:00 pm

I have always mainly stuck to salon brand products but I would love to here recommendations of your favorite drugstore products (makeup & hair).



Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 1/2010 at 2:22 pm

Ahhh there are so many! Ok, marked this down as a post idea so stay tuned. I’ll need to dig through my stash and make a list for this!


Monday, August 30/2010 at 9:58 pm

My Hair gets oily very quickly and i found the best product i bought online http://www.adorebeauty.com.au/adorebeauty/index.asp
It’s an Australian brand Original & Mineral. I use the Original Detox shamp/conditioner which is deep cleansing. It has the most amazing smell and their products are free of many nasty chemicals. I had a look at their website (http://www.originalmineral.com/) they don’t contain Phthalates, sulfates, parabens, ammonia, propylene glycol, M.I.T and triclosan.

It’s such a great concept, they launch in the States next year. I think this brand will take off


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 1/2010 at 2:24 pm

So it’s a clarifying shampoo? That’s actually one thing you don’t really ever see (or at least I haven’t) at the drugstore level. And they are excellent to have in your rotation – maybe to use once every couple of weeks or once a month – to get rid of any build-up from styling products. They’re also a great idea before you colour your hair.


Wednesday, September 1/2010 at 8:09 pm

Yeah its great, it works as a detox on your hair. Iv’e noticed that it’s really brightened the colour in my hair too.
I colour my hair to a lighter shade of blonde and the deep cleansing
removes those brassy and yellow shades. I use it weekly!
Yeah i love their entire product range it places so much emphasis on stress free hair without the chemical overload.
I haven’t seen any drugstore/big brands on the market like it.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, September 2/2010 at 10:27 am

Hey – great tip – didn’t realize they would also help with brassiness. Thanks!
Really hope this line comes here!


Monday, September 6/2010 at 9:05 pm

Great post! This is a constant struggle for me and I too can make an argument for both…lately I have decided to banish (as much as possible) silicones and sulphates from my shampoo/condition/style routine. I have long, very thick, wavy highlighted hair and the build up was weighing it down, and using clarifying shampoos all the time was drying it out. I decided after squinting at labels in the drugstore to try the Live Free line. LOVE!!! I’ve tried the Argan and Moisturizing formulas of the shampoo and conditioner and they are simply fantastic. My hair is noticeably softer- and I have used IT ALL from the highest of high end to the low. I still rely on my Terax Crema (silicone free!!!) shampoo as a conditioner AND leave in treatment and my hair is softer than when I used Moroccan Oil/Silk Therapy/ Insert-latest-silky-hair-treatment-here :)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, September 8/2010 at 3:30 pm

Live Clean is getting a lot of love here – that’s great! And I had no idea Terax was silicone-free… I’ve loved that conditioner for years, long before I ever got into this biz. I must dig it out of the archives (hopefully it’s not gone off).

I also need to do a post on this whole no-silicones thing… seems to be a whole underground movement about it!


Monday, September 6/2010 at 9:07 pm

*oops that is Terax Conditioner


Wednesday, July 13/2011 at 2:57 am

I only use the brands bumble and bumble and bedhead I absoulutely love salon brand and absolutely hate drugstore brands


Thursday, August 8/2013 at 11:37 am

My boyfriend is a stylist and insists I use the high end stuff he sells but to be honest my hair never feels clean with the shampoo or soft after conditioning. I actually find myself having to use twice as much after the salon brand because I can’t get a comb through it.

I love my store type brands, like panteen, and will never spend the extra money. The boyfriend can hype his products ask he likes. I don’t have to pay for them. Let him take his clients extra cash.


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