In shampoo land no one has normal hair anymore.
Hair care is sold in various sets (and sub-sets) of speciality products for dry, frizzy, curly, fine, damaged, coarse and oily hair - and combinations thereof. Throw in permutations for colour-treated, sensitised and stressed hair, ageing or thinning hair, and sensitive scalps and it's hard to know what to buy.
We rounded up some testers with the most common hair types to try out various professional salon ranges. One of the most obvious findings was that many people weren't sure of their hair condition.
One woman was convinced her hair was coarse; actually it was fine, but there was a lot of it and it was dry so she did have texture issues, but she didn't need the heavy duty shampoo she headed for. I can relate to this, having similar hair, and having been disillusioned by expensive shampoos and conditioners which weighed my hair down, rather than allowing its natural curl to spring into shape. One particular much-lauded shampoo brand I thought was rubbish, until I was later directed to the right, lighter formulation and became a convert.
So the first step is to get your hairdresser to assess your hair's condition regularly, because it can change due to sun damage, chemical treatments, product build-up, your health, ageing and natural hair cycles. Healthy hair will probably happily accept all but the harshest detergent-style shampoos. Coloured, and especially bleached, hair requires extra soothing attention and protection and as Viva has highlighted previously, colour protection shampoos and leave-in conditioners can get a longer life from your colour. If fade isn't a big problem, concentrate on picking your shampoo by hair type rather than its rating for colour retention; if it's brittle it may be in more need of nourishment.
If you're not happy with what you're using, but have established the type of shampoo your hair needs then check out a specialist shampoo shop for a wider range of brands than the handful most salons carry. That way you can also weigh up coconut, mint or mango perfumes or be subjectively swayed by bottle design.
Do get over that desire for squeaky clean hair; super frothy shampoos likely contain harsh sodium laurel sulphates which can cause scalp irritations in some people as can over-washing. But if you're happy with what you're using and your hair isn't suffering, feel free to stick with it. Unless the condition changes there's no need to rotate shampoo choice in the belief "you hair gets sick of it".
Once Viva found a suitable shampoo and conditioner for our testers, responses were mostly favourable across the leading brands, with fragrance and ease of pouring often being a decider. We've concentrated on the shampoos people felt most strongly about, but what swayed them might not matter to you.
A whole batch of organic shampoos and conditioners that Viva's testers tried weren't overly popular.
One reason may be that some don't froth much, giving people a psychological rather than real impression that their hair is not properly cleansed, but that's because they're free of harsh foaming agents. They may also lack surfectants to leave hair feeling as pleasantly smooth as some conditioners, but the addition of natural plant oils can take the place of synthetic smoothers.
Top international hairdresser Kevin Murphy recommends regularly substituting conditioner for a hair mask to give damaged hair a boost. If your hair is in OK nick, think of a mask as a spa treat and use less often. (Try his Born Again Masque).
Don't expect a shampoo and conditioner to solve all your woes. If you use heat tools, you need to use protective heat styling lotions as well.
Nigel Luty, education and development manager for Kerastase Paris, says that to choose the right shampoo the first priority should be sorting out any scalp balance issues (the premise being that a healthy garden will sprout a healthy crop). He then recommends selecting the correct product for the hair type and then worrying about hydration and nourishment (which conditioner can address anyway). Don't mix brands, he says, because each company's shampoos and conditioner will be formulated to work together, but by all means within a range you can mix shampoo and conditioner types.
Which brings us to one of the tester group's main bugbears: conditioner running out way before shampoo. There's probably not much you can do about that, annoying though it is. But do remember it's the ends not the roots that benefit from being bathed in conditioner.
L'Oreal Shine Curl Nutriplus Curl-enhancing shampoo $28
Why, our tester bemoaned, do they a) make tiny bottles of this stuff? It's just landfill and b) Why does the conditioner always run out long before the shampoo? Were my curls enhanced? Maybe a bit. Shinier? Maybe a bit. Did I suddenly look like a girl in a pre-Raphaelite painting? Don't be daft. This isn't some miracle potion. Would I buy it? If it came in bigger bottles.
* Another tester liked the small L'Oreal bottles saying they'd be good for the gym or travel, so take your pick.
Matrix Essentials Sleek Look Multi-Mend Technology $27.50
Hooray! Big bottles. I would buy this stuff, said our frizzy, curly-haired tester. "For those of us who wash their hair every day, it's a perfectly good everyday shampoo/conditioner combo. It smells nice and fresh without being over-whelming. And if it didn't quite achieve the effect of making me look like a seal, it does seem to reduce the dreaded frizz factor."
L'Oreal Professional Volume Expand shampoo $28
For fine hair. This was said to have a nice thick consistency so not too much was needed by our tester. Worked up into a rich lather and rinsed out to leave hair feeling light and not loaded with product. The companion Nutritex Volumising cream conditioner left hair feeling light and soft, and - with a bit of styling product - fuller.
Schwarzkopf Seah Ocean Mineral Bath Shampoo $35.90
Our fine-haired tester liked the smell and thought the shampoo reduced flyaways, but did not like the "faffing about" of the leave-in conditioner.
C}4U Curl Care shampoo $26.90
Feels nourishing without weighing hair down. Before I switched to Pureology for its superior colour control, I'd been using Curl Care happily for a while. Another tested said she loved C}4U's beeswax and apricot oil which left her long hair "smelling amazing and feeling thick and healthy," The conditioner felt like putting a treatment or masque on.
Sebastian Penetrait Daily Strength shampoo $38
Promises to restore health, shine, and condition to damaged hair. Contains wheat and soy proteins. Innocuous smell and didn't seem as rich to our tester as some formulations, with condition afterwards so-so. (A related protein treatment did do what it promised in terms of strength, and increasing elasticity, but left hair feeling rougher). The more nourishing Sebastian products rated well.
Matrix Biolage Rejuvatherapie Age Rejuvenating Shampoo $29.50
When used with matching conditioner and masque, this was one of the most effective hair treatment systems our older tester said she had tried. "The shampoo smells green and clean, and the pink intensive mask in particular leaves hair with a shiny healthy texture. My hair feels much more moisturised and smooth."
Fudge Daily Mint shampoo for detoxing hair and scalp $22
With a nice fresh smell of mint and a soothing feel on the scalp, our tester found she didn't need much shampoo to get a good lather but best of all a relatively small amount of the conditioner went a long way even with long hair, and was a brilliant detangler. Both suited her oily scalp and drier ends. (She also liked the refreshing qualities of Matrix Biolage's Scalptherapie's more subtle cooling mint shampoo and conditioner.)
Kerastase Nutritive Bain Satin 2 $36
Kerastase has a vast range of options for all hair types in what I've found to be particularly good formulations. This one nourishes dry and sensitised hair from roots to end and adds softness and suppleness. Recommended in combination with Nutritive Nutridefence anti-dryness masque.
Joico Moisture Recovery Shampoo $29
One of the most effective moisturising/taming ranges available, said our tester. It comes with marine-derived amino acids and shea butter and is recommended for very dry or coarse hair. The conditioner is so thick that the small amount required needs to be massaged through your hair, the next best thing to a head massage in the salon. Pleasant fragrance.
Redken All Soft Shampoo $31
For dry or brittle hair, a gentle, replenishing option, formulated with gold cemelina, avocado and olive oils and silk amino acid to restore softness and strength. Our tester loved the feel of her hair, but didn't like the smell of the shampoo.
L'Oreal Professionnel Serie Expert Force Vector Shampoo $28
Contains royal jelly to help strengthen and care for for fragile, brittle hair. A nice rich shampoo that immediately makes hair feel more comfortable, and seems to work against brush breakage. There is an accompanying conditioner and more heavy-duty masque.
Wella System Professional Curl Saver Shampoo $31
Our tester said the combination of this nice shampoo for curly or permed hair and the recommended mousse instead of conditioner seemed odd, but gave noticeable bounce to her fine, tightly curled hair: "And think of the time saved."
"The last time I used mousse must have been in the 80s when it was like putting liquid spider web in your mop. Ghastly stuff. This is light and, well, moussey, and it does seem to work although it's harder to work out just what you're supposed to be saving curls from or for. What nothing can save curls from is humidity, but this stuff gives them a reasonable chance."
Stockists: Affiliated professional salons and selected shampoo specialty shops. Stockist details for L'Oreal Professionnel, Kerastase, Matrix, Redken Ph 0800 657666. Wella Ph 0800 800128. Fudge and Joico Ph 0800 456426. Sebastian 0800 800 128. Schwarzkopf 0800 500 515.
In shampoo land no one has normal hair anymore.