A Hairdresser’s Simple Shampoo Experiment Revealed A Big Beauty Mistake You’ve Probably Been Making

A beauty guru grabs two cups of water and two bottles of shampoo and then lets the cameras roll. The salon owner wants to settle an argument once and for all: is there really a difference between cheap and expensive hair products? Within seconds, the results of her experiment are clear – and they have subsequently blown the minds of millions of viewers who have since watched Rachel Trach’s 2017 Facebook video.

Many people believe that all soap is the same – and there are plenty of reasons to believe that this may indeed be the case. For one thing, the ingredients in cheap shampoo tend to mirror those that you get from a more expensive blend. An article on the website of British newspaper the Daily Mail found that the six main ingredients in a salon-quality L’Oréal shampoo were the same as their drug-store version.

John Hamilton spoke to the news outlet at the time. As the owner of an organic beauty company, Essentially Yours, he had some expertise to back up his claim that “we’re all being ripped off” by the wildly differing prices that accompany hair-cleaning products. He alleged, “People are led up the wrong alley with advertising and ­marketing, and don’t realize the basic ingredients in shampoo are the same.”

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In the same piece, though, other experts argued that luxury shampoo was worth the cost – and there were reasons why it carried a heftier price tag. Scientist Beccy Peevers countered, “Consumers place increasing demands on their shampoo. They want multifunctional shampoos that offer UV protection, anti-frizz ­benefits, heat protection and thickening properties. Ingredients that offer these benefits are more expensive due to the research and development that has to go into them.”

In the end, experts do agree on one thing: finding the right shampoo is about confidence and feeling good. Hair expert Philip Kingsley said that people fly from around the world to seek his hair advice because well-coiffed tresses make us feel good about ourselves. The trichologist said, “You can’t flaunt your primary [sexual characteristics] in public, but you can flaunt your hair.”

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While all of this is true – and you probably have a favorite shampoo sitting in your shower right now – the question remains. Is there a difference between costly and budget shampoo, or is everything the same in the end? Well, Trach’s experiment put a new piece of evidence out there: one that you’ll be shocked to see in action.

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It has taken hundreds of years for shampoo to evolve into the hair hygiene must-have that everyone has in their shower. The word “shampoo” traces back to India where, about 300 years ago, it described a different service – there was neither water nor lather anywhere in sight.

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Instead, a shampoo consisted of a scalp massage with sweet-smelling oils. Meanwhile, other people cleaned their tresses with a vegetable starch or wood ash. The dry material would soak up all the oil in a person’s mane; in some cases, the ingredient used could even leave strands feeling lustrous and cleansed.

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Advances in the field of chemistry brought about the base ingredients for the shampoos we use today. Namely, scientists invented particles called surfactants that lowered surface tensions between molecules, whether they were liquid or solid. What this meant in practice was that the magic molecules could strip dirt from strands, but then washed away themselves to leave hair feeling soft. Cosmetic companies loved the idea: they just had to pitch it in a way that spoke to their audience.

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Dr. John H. Breck – the founder of Breck Shampoo – stoked interest in the new cleansing product, thanks to a pitch-perfect ad campaign. He placed ads in all of the popular women’s magazines, reiterating what readers already knew: everyone is a unique individual, and that principle applies to their hair type and texture, too.

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Breck’s campaign promised that, with the right shampoo, women would wash-and-dry to reveal the perfect coif every single time. Let’s face it: such a slogan would get customers out and buying in modern times, too. In the 1930s, though, it sparked an enduring interest in – and need for – shampoo.

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Within two decades, buyers could get shampoo everywhere. Not only that, but the hair products created a new expectation among Americans. They felt as though they had to frequently wash their hair in order to keep it clean and orderly. Some people continue to feel this way nearly a century after Breck Shampoo ads first hit the press.

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Of course, not everyone’s on board with shampoo anymore. The “no poo” movement has gained a strong following, and its advocates believe that we should return to the days when people didn’t lather and wash their hair. They argue that it’s a relatively modern addition to our routines, which is, of course, true.

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What’s more, many dermatologists have backed the opinion of the “no poo” movement, although they don’t say we should skip washing our hair altogether. Instead, they say most people don’t need to cleanse their tresses daily, as the Breck ads once suggested – and as people have done for decades.

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Still, according to the LiveScience website, those in the “no poo” movement do flag up a few justifiable complaints. For one thing, they dislike the ingredients found in some shampoo formulas. They believe that certain commonly-used additives can soak up into the skin, among them isopropyl alcohol, coal tar, sodium laureth sulfate, butylene glycol, propylene and sodium lauryl sulfate.

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So far, health experts generally agree that these ingredients are, indeed, safe against the skin. But animal studies have shown that, if the body absorbs too much of some of these chemical additives, they can damage the skin or organs. Of course, these findings are based on experiments conducted on animals, not on humans.

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There are a few good alternatives to bottled shampoo if you want to try skipping the store-bought formulas. Some swear by this process: they coat their strands in baking soda first, then rinse it out with vinegar. According to LiveScience, this works “fine, but you’ll smell like pickles.”

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Even with ample recipes available online for homemade, all-natural shampoo, most people find that their hair flourishes when they use commercial formulas instead. The experts at LiveScience concede that if you do decide to whip up your own bottle of the stuff, you should be prepared for the fact that you might end up with a hairstyle that exudes the aroma of one of your favorite meals.

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What they can say, for sure, is that straight hair usually needs more regular shampooing than locks with natural waves. Either way, you might want to shampoo every few days or make it every other day, should your head get sweaty, or if you swim, etc. No matter what, skipping a wash won’t hurt: it’s just your natural oils that build up on your scalp, in the end.

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Clearly, there’s lots of debate surrounding hair care – we’ve already touched on the discussions for how often you should shampoo and what products you should use. There’s also the issue of haircuts. Namely, consumers often wonder if it’s worth paying the big bucks for a high-end styling session.

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Experts have delved into this topic, too. Hairstylist Benjamin Mohapi – who charges $500 a session for first-time clients – spoke to TV channel ABC News in 2016 on the subject. He said, no matter where you go, there are hallmarks of a good cut. Firstly, if the stylist doesn’t consult with you so that together you select something to suit your face shape, then you probably won’t get a good ’do.

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Mohapi also said, regardless of cost, you should be able to re-style your tresses easily at home in the way the hairdresser did. And your chosen cut should remain looking good for at least four weeks after the salon visit. It doesn’t matter how much you pay – any haircut should fulfill those requirements.

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In the end, what you tend to pay for is the skill, reputation and taste that comes with a top-tier stylist. An upscale salon usually looks and feels as luxurious as the price tag you have to pay to go there. So, if that’s the kind of experience you want, then it’s worth paying more for your haircut.

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So in summary, now we know that shampoo’s worth your time, although you can decide how often to cleanse your strands. And experts say that, if you want a pricey haircut, by all means go ahead and get one. But what about the products you use to wash your hair? Specifically, does the quality of shampoo you use matter?

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That was precisely the question that salon owner Trach set out to answer in a March 2017 video post on Facebook. She wrote in the caption that she “did [her] own little experiment” testing the difference between a “professional salon product” and a “drug-store product.” On her table, she has two bottles of shampoo and two glasses of water.

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Trach’s experiment pits Unite 7 Seconds shampoo against TRESemmé’s 24-Hour Body formula. At the time of her test, the latter cost about a quarter of what you’d pay to get the former. So it’s arguably a good comparison of an affordable formula brand against one that costs more, although you’d have to look at the shampoo’s ingredients for a fuller picture – more on that later.

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In the case of her experiment, though, Trach begins by squirting an equal amount of each shampoo into separate cups of water. After that, she uses a spoon to swirl around each detergent until it dissolves into the water. And then comes the actual experimental part: the salon owner grabs a strand of hair.

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Trach first dips a strand of hair extensions into the cup filled with water and a bit of salon-quality shampoo. She agitates the strands, lifting them up and down and rubbing them with her hands. As she does, the water maintains its original gray color – it seems like a normal wash.

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Next, Trach repeats the same process with the drug-store shampoo. As soon as she dips the extension in the water and starts cleaning it, though, something happens. The dye from the strands starts to bleed into the water, changing the color of the liquid from misty gray to bright purple.

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Trach’s video quickly went viral on Facebook, racking up tens of thousands of shares and comments. Those who saw the results were shocked by how seemingly rough the drug-store shampoo had been on the dyed hair. One person wrote, “No wonder my hair is like it is.”

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Others chimed in with a similar sentiment – one person summed it all up perfectly, writing, “Oh, that’s bad.” But then there were many who were unconvinced by Trach’s demonstration. Someone commented, “I have used TRESemmé a lot and never my color faded like that.” Another person echoed that sentiment, writing, “I use TRESemmé regularly and it never looks like that nor brings any color out of my hair.”

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For people with dyed hair, stylists often recommend that their clients invest in color-safe shampoo. They say that the special formula protects treated hair because it’s gentler – kind enough to wash hair without stripping the tint that has been deposited on each strand. Trach’s experiment didn’t test a color-safe variety of TRESemmé, but Unite’s 7 Seconds is designed to protect a dye job. It’s important to keep this in mind when comparing the experiment’s results.

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Sabina Wizemann, the senior chemist at the Good Housekeeping Institute’s Beauty Lab, explained how color-safe cleaning products work to the magazine in November 2020. She said, “Shampoos for colored hair usually have lower concentrations of cleansing surfactants. The formulas also use special conditioning agents that coat your hair’s surface to prevent dye molecules from escaping.”

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This combination not only preserves the hair color for as long as possible, but it keeps hair feeling glossy and velvety, as well. If you’ve ever had your hair dyed, you know that the process can damage your strands. So, a specialty shampoo is formulated to reverse the traumatizing effects that a colorization can have.

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Even if a shampoo isn’t necessarily designed to protect a dye job, you can still check the label of the brand you use to see if it’ll be gentle on your hair or not. Your best bet is to use a formula that’s sulfate-free. Many shampoos contain sulfates, cleaning agents that can dissolve and wash away greasiness and create that plethora of bubbles that makes you feel like your strands are getting deep-cleaned.

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Yet sulfates can strip away the shininess and color post-dye-job. A heavy cleaning agent can attack the outer layer of each hair strand, causing some of the color to leach away. On the other hand, a gentler, sulfate-free formula generally keeps the cuticle layer sealed, which extends the life of your treatment.

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So, scan the back of your shampoo bottle to make sure it doesn’t contain sulfates. The most common types you’ll find in hair care products include sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate. You’re likely to find them in “clarifying” varieties of shampoos – and these particular formulas have been known to wash away dye-jobs in just a handful of cleansing sessions.

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Keep in mind that a sulfate-free variety of shampoo won’t bubble up like a detergent-inclusive formula. But there will still be some suds, and they’ll be more than enough to keep your strands clean. At the same time, you will be protecting your mane and its new color from damage, too.

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It’s not just sulfates that can cause a dye-job to fade away, though. Experts suggest you scan your shampoo’s ingredients list to see if it contains artificially added odors, salt, alcohol or parabens – with this last term being a fancy name for chemical preservatives. None of these additives should feature in a color-safe formula, so check before you cleanse your treated tresses.

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At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide which products to add to your hair-care arsenal. But Trach’s experiment does raise a thought-worthy point. If you’re going to pay to dye your hair, you might as well use shampoos and other products that will protect your investment – and your look. So, do your research, choose the right brand for your unique style, and don’t be afraid to splash out on a shampoo that makes you feel your best.

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