How to Choose the Right Shampoo for You

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Shampoo is something that everyone has in their bathroom, but if you’re similar to a lot of people, you really don’t think much about it. For one thing, all it does is clean and soften your hair, right?

While cleaning your hair is shampoo’s main function, it still matters what type you buy because there are so many types on the market today. Before helping you decide which shampoo is best for you, let’s go over a few basics of this very versatile product.

What Is Shampoo?


Your hair has natural oils in it called sebum, and it is shampoo’s job to remove excess sebum without removing too much. If too much sebum is removed, your hair will become too dry and simply won’t look good because everyone needs a certain amount of oils in their hair for it to be healthy.

While some shampoos also contain conditioner to soften the hair, a shampoo’s main job is to clean the hair by removing oils, dirt, and any type of debris sometimes found in people’s hair and scalp.

Shampoo is a viscous liquid, which means that it is thick, is sticky, and has a consistency that is somewhere between a liquid and a solid. It is essentially a liquid soap that you put in wet hair, massage into the scalp, and rinse out so that the hair is clean.

Shampoo is an emulsifier that traps dirt, oils, and product residue so that it can be removed from the hair and scalp. Different shampoos have different ingredients, and most shampoos are made for a specific type of hair, such as oily, dry, color-treated, etc.

The Main Ingredients of Shampoo


While each shampoo has its own unique ingredients, depending on its main purpose, there are six ingredients that are commonly found in most shampoos, and they are as follows:

  • Detergent laurel glucoside. This ingredient is there to generate foam and to cleanse the hair, and it is much less harsh than sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is a slightly different chemical combination. Detergent laurel glucoside has no side effects and works great for most people.
  • Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES). SLES is lower in harsh chemicals than other ingredients used in shampoos, which means that you’ll suffer less with scalp irritation and dryness. Your hair will look better and your scalp will feel better when your shampoo contains this ingredient.
  • Zinc pyrithione. This ingredient is there to help your scalp. It reduces irritation, restrains hair loss, reduces redness, and even cools down the scalp so that it feels much better. If your scalp has been giving you problems lately, this is the ingredient to look for in your shampoo.
  • Citric acid. Citric acid helps your shampoo keep a low pH balance, which means that it’s less harsh on the hair strands and scalp. While it does contain the word “acid,” this ingredient is in fact a great ingredient for people who have sensitive hair and scalp.
  • Panthenol. Panthenol doesn’t clean the hair, but it hydrates, softens, and moisturizes it. This isn’t to say that you won’t need a conditioner just because you’re using a shampoo with this ingredient in it, but it does help a lot when you want soft hair.
  • Cocamidopropyl betaine. This ingredient is similar to SLES and SES, but it is much milder. It consists of a mild cleansing agent that both cleans and softens the hair strands.

While shampoos can certainly contain more ingredients than these six, and usually do, these six ingredients, or a form of these ingredients, are almost always found in typical shampoos that you find in the stores or in salons.

What Are the Harmful Ingredients in Shampoo?


As you can imagine, there are some shampoos that have harmful ingredients in them. While more and more shampoo companies are choosing to remove these ingredients from their products and use other more-natural ingredients, you can still find some of them found in other shampoos.

Below is a list of ingredients to look for when you want to use a “clean” shampoo with fewer harmful ingredients:

  • Preservatives. The most common preservatives are parabens, which will be described in more detail below, but there are others as well. If you want to avoid shampoos with preservatives in them, look for ingredients with names such as DMDM hydantoin, imidazolidinyl, and formaldehyde.
  • Harmful ingredients that might sneak into your shampoo. While not preservatives, other harmful ingredients include triethanolamine (TEA), detergents of any kind, and coal tar dye, all of which are thought to be carcinogenic.
  • Parabens. Both SLS and SLES are considered parabens, and parabens are simply chemicals that are used as a preservative. While they do make a good preservative because they are both antifungal and antibacterial, they are also linked to certain cancers, in particular breast cancer.
  • Parabens are found in small amounts in tumors and mimic estrogen, which is why they are linked specifically to breast cancer. The reason why they were once used in shampoos is because they lather well and remove dirt and oils from the skin and hair, but more and more companies are making their shampoos without these ingredients.
  • Phthalates. Phthalates are ingredients that are thought to be carcinogenic. Some of the problem areas they’ve been linked to include early puberty in girls, increased asthma irritation in children, and the disruption of the endocrine system. Phthalates were once used frequently as a way to make shampoos smell better.
  • Even today, if you see an ingredient that simply says “fragrance,” the company may have used phthalates as an ingredient. Instead, look for essential oils that might be used to make the shampoo smell good. While some essential oils can irritate certain people, they are still much less dangerous than phthalates.
  • Polyethylene glycol (PEG). While not a lot of studies have been done on this ingredient, it is thought that it may interfere with human development. It is also believed to contain dioxane, which is thought to be a carcinogenic.
  • Triclosan. Triclosan has antibacterial capabilities but is thought to be an endocrine disruptor. It has been documented to have negative side effects such as weight loss, problems with the immune system, and uncontrolled cellular reproduction.

There are other ingredients that can be considered harmful to humans, but this list contains a lot of them that you should look for when researching shampoos.

What Are the Types of Shampoo?


Researching shampoos proves one thing that becomes obvious quickly: there are tons of them to choose from. Even if you have hair that you consider hard to work with, you can still find a shampoo to accommodate you. Some of the main types of shampoos these days include the following:

  • Everyday shampoo. Everyday shampoo is a little milder than regular or specialized shampoos because it is made for everyday use. It is a simple shampoo that can be used by most people.
  • Regular shampoo. If you don’t have any specific hair needs, regular shampoo will work well for you. Regular shampoo can be made for oily, dry, or normal hair, and it usually doesn’t contain any special ingredients.
  • Clarifying shampoo. If you use a lot of products on your hair, you need to use a clarifying shampoo occasionally. The shampoo deep cleans and removes leftover products that may have been left behind. You should only use this shampoo when you need it, though, because it can still be harsh enough to dry out the hair over time.
  • Dry shampoo. This isn’t exactly a shampoo because it doesn’t clean the hair. Instead, it comes in liquid, spray, or powder form and soaks up the oils in your scalp so that the hair is drier. This product should only be used occasionally in between regular hair washings.
  • Purifying shampoo. This type of shampoo is made specifically for the scalp and has antimicrobial properties. It cleans and soothes the scalp and sometimes has certain botanicals in it, including dandelion, tea tree oil, etc.
  • Anti-breakage shampoo. If you have long or damaged hair, this type of shampoo is for you. It cleans gently, restores the pH balance of the hair, and restores the natural shine to your hair.
  • Curly hair shampoo. Not surprisingly, this shampoo is made just for the challenges of curly and wavy hair. The main difference between this shampoo and others is the extra moisturizers used. Curly hair is usually very thirsty, and shampoo made just for curly hair gives it the extra hydration it so desperately needs.
  • Moisturizing shampoo. If you’re noticing breaking hair and hair that is drying out, a good moisturizing shampoo will put that moisture right back in. Dry hair usually starts with a scalp that doesn’t get enough oil and this shampoo is recommended for anyone suffering with this problem, with the exception of people with oily hair.
  • Volumizing shampoo. If your hair is too thin and not full enough for your tastes, volumizing shampoo can take care of the problem. Made out of a lighter formula so it doesn’t weigh the hair down, it also opens the hair cuticle so that the hair strands can become thicker.
  • Color-treated hair shampoo. Shampoos for color-treated hair are made with specialized ingredients that won’t strip the hair of its natural color. It also keeps the hair hydrated and healthy, and can put softness back in that is sometimes stripped away when you get your hair dyed.

The Difference Between Shampoo and Conditioner


Shampoo and conditioner are almost always used together, yet they have two completely different purposes. Shampoo’s purpose is to cleanse the hair and strip it of oils without removing too much of the oil. Enough natural oils need to be left behind for the hair to be healthy, and this is what shampoo does for your hair. It is essentially a liquid soap made to cleanse the hair and scalp and remove dirt and product residue so the hair is clean once again.

On the other hand, conditioner is made to hydrate and moisturize the hair, and in order to get the best results, you have to use it on hair that is already clean. Conditioner is usually a little thicker than shampoo and is made to remain on the hair much longer before rinsing it out of the hair. Conditioners moisturize and shampoos clean your hair and scalp.

[Recommended Reading:How to Choose a Hair Conditioner: Is it Really Useful for Your Hair?]

How to Buy the Right Shampoo for You


Shampoos are good for both your hair and your scalp, so the first tip for determining the best type of shampoo to use is to figure out what type of scalp you have. Without a healthy scalp, you cannot have healthy hair, and there are three basic types of scalps: dry, oily, and combination.

If you finish washing your hair and your scalp feels tight, you likely have a dry scalp. Sometimes, the scalp gets so dry that you develop dandruff, although you can have a dry scalp without having dandruff. If you finish washing your hair and your scalp feels a little on the greasy side, or if you have dandruff that falls out in clumps instead of regular flakes, you likely have an oily scalp.

Finally, there is combination scalp, and here’s the main characteristic of this type of scalp: your scalp doesn’t start to feel dry until two to three days after you wash your hair. If you have a combination scalp, the best thing to do is choose a shampoo for oily hair and put moisturizer or conditioner only on the tips of the hair strands.

If you have a dry scalp, look for shampoos with descriptions such as “moisturizing,” “smoothing,” or “hydrating,” as well as shampoos that are specifically made for curly hair. These types of shampoo add moisture back into the scalp and hair strands, eliminating dry scalp and hair after you’ve used it long enough.

Always avoid shampoos that are “fortifying,” “strengthening,” and “volumizing” because these can actually make things worse. In addition, never use shampoos with any sulfates in them when you have dry hair and scalp.

Keep in mind that when your hair and scalp are dry, certain botanicals and essential oils can quickly add moisture right back in. Menthol and tea tree oil are two ingredients that do a great job on dry hair.

If you have oily hair, you’ll want to avoid shampoos that have descriptions such as “moisturizing,” “hydrating,” or “smoothing.” You’ll also want to stay away from any shampoo that is made for curly hair, since those always contain a lot of moisturizing and conditioning ingredients. Instead, look for shampoos whose descriptions include words such as “volumizing,” “strengthening,” and “balancing.” If your hair is super oily, try to look for a clarifying shampoo.

In addition to these tips, you can also use what some people call the “double shampooing” method, which consists of using two different shampoos on the same day. With oily or super-oily hair, you’ll want to rinse your hair very well and only use a conditioner from mid-shaft to the ends of your hair. The crown of your head and the scalp do not need additional moisture, so do not use a moisturizer or conditioner on the top part of your head.

The Correct Way to Use Shampoo


Shampoo is easy to use, but many people still miss a few important steps in the process. To start, you’ll need to make sure the hair is completely saturated by rinsing it thoroughly with warm water. Do not use cold or hot water; only use warm water.

Then, squirt a small amount of shampoo in your hand and begin rubbing it into your head, concentrating on your scalp. Remember that your scalp has to be healthy before your hair is, so while you’re rubbing the shampoo into your scalp, massage it in circular motions so that the scalp itself gets a lot of TLC.

You do not have to leave shampoo in your hair a certain amount of time before you rinse it out, nor do you have to wash your hair a certain number of times. While most people wash their hair twice, there’s nothing wrong with washing it only once. Be careful, though, with washing your hair more than twice. Only people with oily hair can get away with that.

After your shampoo is thoroughly rinsed out of your hair, you can start the conditioning process. The process is roughly the same as the shampooing process, only you have to leave the conditioner in for three minutes.

You also don’t have to massage the scalp quite as much. After three minutes, rinse out the conditioner thoroughly. Rinsing out both shampoo and conditioner completely is crucial because if either shampoo or conditioner is left in your hair, it can build up over time and weigh down your hair, making it look dull and lifeless.

Notes for Pregnant Women Choosing Shampoo


Because so few studies have been conducted on pregnant women and the products they use to clean, condition, and color their hair, different doctors will give you different opinions. Some doctors will tell you not to dye your hair while you’re pregnant, while others will tell you to avoid dyeing only in the first trimester. Still other doctors will tell you not to change your routine at all. To be sure that you do the right thing, talk to your own doctor and follow their advice and recommendations.

While deciding on shampoo and conditioner while you’re pregnant might be a bit of a mystery, two things are certain. The first thing is that, unlike non-pregnant people, the hair does not shed when you’re pregnant. Hair goes through three continuous phases: active growth, resting, and shedding, but when you’re pregnant, the latter doesn’t occur.

The second thing to remember about pregnancy and shampoos is that the hair strands actually thicken in diameter while you’re pregnant. Thanks to these two things, most pregnant women enjoy thicker, fuller, and more beautiful hair for those nine months.

The best piece of advice if you’re pregnant is this: the fewer chemicals, the better. While it’s unlikely, it’s still possible for chemicals to seep into the skin through your scalp if your scalp is dry or is experiencing any type of abrasions or irritation. Most pregnant women simply use some common sense when it comes to the hair products they use, eliminating chemicals whenever possible. Talking to your doctor is recommended because each woman is different.

How Should Baby Shampoo Be Selected?


The first thing to remember when buying shampoo for babies or small children is to never use a shampoo made for adults on these little people. Always buy them their own products, and if it doesn’t specifically say that it’s a baby or kids’ shampoo, don’t buy it. First, let’s start with a list of ingredients that you should avoid at all costs when picking out a baby shampoo. They include the following:

  • Sulfates, especially sodium lauryl sulfate or SLS
  • Any type of dyes
  • Parabens
  • Phthalates
  • Any added fragrances or perfume

Instead, look for baby shampoos that use plant-based natural ingredients, which include chamomile extract, sunflower seed oil, and fruit oils such as avocado or raspberry oil. Also, you should always look for a baby shampoo that says “tear-free,” because this means that the product was made without any harsh chemicals that can irritate the baby’s skin and eyes.

Simply put, you want your baby’s shampoo to be as natural as possible, which means that choosing an organic shampoo is always a smart thing to do. You should also choose one that is hypoallergenic, has no alcohol in it, is fragrance-free, and is appropriate for the baby’s skin type. Checking the expiration date is also wise because out-of-date baby shampoos may not work and may even be harmful to baby’s sensitive skin.

If you’re using a certain baby shampoo and your baby develops a rash, it is likely they’re allergic to something in the shampoo, which means that you should try another one. Lastly, you can use one of those combination shampoo and baby wash products if you like, but you still have to check out the ingredients and follow the recommendations mentioned above to make sure that it is safe.

Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs)


Q: Do I need to change my shampoo often?

A: The only time that you “need” to change your shampoo is when your hair tells you to. Hair can change due to medications, hormones, and even stress, so if your hair all of a sudden gets drier or oilier than it usually is, you’d be wise to change your shampoo and conditioner and begin using another brand or type.

That being said, there is nothing that says that you have to change your shampoo at any given time. You can change it or continue using the shampoo and conditioner you’re using now. It’s really up to you, but you should definitely change your shampoo if your hair changes with time.

Q: Can I use anti-dandruff shampoo often?

A: The frequency that you use dandruff shampoo depends on the person. If your hair is normal or oily, you can certainly feel free to use this type of shampoo daily. If your hair is dry, however, using dandruff shampoo two or three times a week usually works best, especially if you use the shampoo in addition to a dandruff conditioner.

Dandruff shampoo can dry out your hair, so if your hair is already dry, the last thing you want is to make it even drier than it already is. Try out your dandruff shampoo and see what works best for you.

Q: Can washing my hair every day cause hair loss?

A: This is actually a common myth that many people still believe. As long as you are using a shampoo and conditioner that is the right type for your particular hair, your hair should not start to fall out. Rather, the things that do cause hair to start shedding quickly include washing with a shampoo that is too harsh, drying your hair too aggressively or by using heat that is too hot, and frequently using products such as curling irons, straighteners, and heated rollers.

In other words, the care that you give your hair on a regular basis is going to determine how much, if any, hair loss you will experience, not the fact that you wash your hair every day.

[Recommended Reading 1:Hair Loss in Women: 10 Common Causes]

[Recommended Reading 2:How to Prevent Hair Loss: 10 Ways to Prevent Female Hair Loss]



While shampooing and conditioning your hair is a must, you still have to know what type of shampoo to use, how often to shampoo, and how to take care of your hair in between washings. If you want to have thick, beautiful hair for a lifetime, it is certainly possible, but you have to know how to wash your hair properly and how to determine your hair type so that the right products can be purchased.

Special hair care products, such as shampoos for babies and pregnant women, are also easy to find once you know what you’re looking for, and the process starts by learning what ingredients to avoid. Hair care is not exactly complex, but you still have to do the right things if you expect your hair to last and look good for the rest of your life.

Other Recommended Reading

1.Essential Hairdressing Tools: Hair Dryer Knowledge Guide

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