What's the difference between salon and supermarket shampoo?

Clara V.
Clara V.Published on 16 July 2021

Between shampoos, conditioners, hair oils, serums, and every other hair care impulse buy, the cost of caring for our mane can quickly add up - and that’s all before you consider the cost of getting a professional cut and colour.

Supermarket shampoos may mean an immediate bargain, but how do they stack up against salon products in the long run? And are these differences worth forking out the extra cash for?

Bottles of hair care products lined up in a bathroom

First things first, why do we use shampoo?

Shampoos are primarily designed to remove the oil, called sebum, from our scalp and hair. Too much of it can leave the hair looking and feeling greasy, and because of its fat content, in excess it can cause your hair to smell a bit funky.

However, if shampoo gets rid of too much sebum, your hair will likely be left looking and feeling dry and frizzy - not a look anyone wants to sport. Different shampoos clean hair in different ways, which is where the supermarket vs salon debate comes in.

Supermarket vs salon formulas

Essentially, shampoos have three main types of ingredients. There are surfactants that cleanse the hair, actives that deliver the results that a specific shampoo promises (such as smoothing, repairing, or hydrating), and fragrances that give a shampoo a pleasant scent - or mask less savoury ones.

More often than not, supermarket shampoos contain more water and fillers (such as wax or animal fat) than salon haircare. These aren’t active ingredients that nourish the hair, and they don’t make your shampoo perform better - they’re simply there to bulk up the product and improve its colour, texture and consistency.

In the absence of fillers, salon products often contain a higher concentration of hair-nourishing oils and vitamins. This means these shampoos will likely have a shorter ingredient list, and most or all of their ingredients will actually be beneficial for your hair.

Shampoos you buy at the supermarket or chemist also often contain silicone, and not the good kind either. Silicone encases your hair and leaves it feeling soft and looking shiny, but some types can build up over time and leave your hair feeling heavy.

Conditioning agents, and naturally derived and certified organic ingredients are also more commonly found in salon shampoo brands - all of which hike up their price.

What is the healthiest drugstore shampoo?

Just because finding a cheaper shampoo that's as good for your hair as salon brands is more difficult, it doesn't mean that it's impossible.

You can still find drugstore shampoos that offer some of the benefits that their more luxurious counterparts do. These products may use natural or organic ingredients, and be free from sulphates (which can strip your hair of its natural oils) and parabens (a preservative that can irritate the scalp).

Shopping for your hair concern

If you have a very specific hair concern, you may have less luck with a supermarket brand that offers pretty generic hair results - most people want their hair to feel “smooth”, “nourished”, and “hydrated”, so there’s not much that sets these shampoos apart.

For example, if you have coarse, chemically treated, straight blonde hair, you’re more likely to find a shampoo that’s formulated for your exact situation from a salon. These professional brands can make more personalised products as they can rely on hairdressers to recommend the right product for their clients.

What's "worth it" often depends on personal preference

Different hair behaves differently - yours might just like the cheaper stuff more, and that’s okay.

Take fragrance. Everyone has different taste, and some noses may just prefer the synthetic fruity smells of cheaper shampoos over the natural scents in more expensive bottles.

Adding up the costs

If you’re trying to keep a tighter rein on the purse strings, then you should also consider how much shampoo you need to wash your hair. There are plenty of supermarket brands that, while inexpensive, require you to squirt out a lot of product to get your hair feeling clean, meaning you may find yourself in a race to the bottom of the bottle.

“Professional” products, on the other hand, tend to be more concentrated, so a little goes a long way, which can make these formulas more cost-effective.

But while you shouldn’t assume that a product is decent just because it comes at a hefty price, you also shouldn’t discount a product just because it’s considered “cheap”. Regardless of what you choose to spend, looking past the marketing and seeing exactly which ingredients are in a shampoo should help you decide what’s quality, and what’s not.

Ask your stylist for a sample if you're unsure.

If you’re still umming and ahhing over whether or not to splurge, ask your hairdresser if they have shampoo samples for you to take home. Considering they’re often touting the benefits of what they use on you when you’re in their chair, they might be happy to let you try before you buy.

The bottom line

Are supermarket shampoos bad for your hair? Not necessarily, but generally speaking, there is a reason behind the higher price tags on certain shampoos.

Higher quality ingredients (in higher concentrations) and more effective cleansing power - that is, actually cleaning your hair rather than giving the appearance of clean hair - are just a few of the differences between what you’ll find at the chemist and what you’ll find at the salon.

So do you really need a salon shampoo? Again, not necessarily. High-end shampoos can definitely be worth the cost, but you can still achieve clean, healthy hair without blowing the budget.

Ultimately, how much you decide to spend on hair care is up to you, and largely depends on how you like your hair to feel. If you like what a shampoo does to your hair, then regardless of whether it was picked from a supermarket or salon shelf, you may have found a winner.