Staring at an aisle of shampoo bottles is enough to get anyone
into a lather. But the words on the labels are backed up by science. The
bottom line is that “most shampoos are basically cleansing agents,
thickeners, preservatives, and humectants,” says Ni’Kita Wilson. She’s
the CEO of Catalyst Cosmetic Development in Union, N.J.
You need the right combination to make a formula that’s precisely right for your hair. We asked shampoo chemists for a guide to the best options depending on your hair type.
Some people have the Goldilocks of locks — a just-right
balance of oiliness and dryness that isn’t too fine or frizzy. If that’s
you, you need a fairly even ratio of conditioning agents and
detergents, Wilson says.
You may have to hunt a bit. “You won’t find a lot of ‘normal’
shampoos these days, because brands create versions for specific hair
types,” says Perry Romanowski, an independent cosmetic chemist in
An excess of sebum or heavy, waxy styling products can leave a greasy residue that requires a clarifying formula to remove.
“These tend to have salicylic acid to break down gunk left on the hair and scalp,” Wilson says.
The ingredients list should be shorter (because you don’t want
to deposit anything else on your hair), and you want detergents like
sulfates to remove dirt and oils.
The key to fattening up skinny strands is to look for polymers
like the “quats” (polyquaternium 7 or 10), which can make hair look and
feel thicker, Romanowski says.
Wilson says fine hair will feel bulkier with shampoos that have
film-formers, such as hydrolyzed wheat protein and PG-propyl
silanetriol. These increase the diameter of the hair shaft.
“You also want to avoid silicones, which can feel heavy on fine textures,” Romanowski says.
Frizzy or Curly
To tame an unruly mane, you need high levels of conditioning
agents for smoothness and moisture. In this case, new products called
cleansing conditioners offer that blend of benefits.
“A cleansing conditioner is basically a conditioner with a
little bit of mild surfactants to help lift dirt,” Wilson says. These
offer high levels of moisture and gently cleanse to keep the hair
cuticle smooth and fight fly-aways.
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