Dan Thompson: Beauty Busted


Salon Hair Care Myths: BUSTED!

Separating Fact and Fiction About Salon Products


I read a blog post recently written by the staff of a well-known salon in Chicago. The post was entitled:

"Top Reasons Why You Should Purchase Hair Care From Your Stylist And Not The Drugstore"

Over my many years in the cosmetics industry, I have worked in various levels of the trade—department stores, salons, spas, colleges, and even off-price retailers. All of them are looking to help consumers shop, and each of the various retail channels has a different approach. One thing is certain, howeverthe products being sold vary little between retail channels and there are great products available at every price point.

The points of difference, listed in the blog, are actually some really old sales pitches I have heard for decades.

Let's break it down:

"Salon Products Are Better: Professional products use gentler surfactants (cleansers), are more concentrated, and have higher levels of ingredients that produce true results."

This is untrue! 

Ninety-nine percent of shampoo on the market uses the same surfactantSodium Laureth Sulfate. This cleanser is highly effective at removing oils and debris from the hair and scalp, and the effective concentration of the SLS is between 5% and 30% of the formula. The difference  in concentration only indicates the degree of clean the hair will be with a single wash. Shampoo designed for oily hair often has a higher concentration of SLS than shampoo designed for dry hair. Direct comparison of similar hair type formulas have the same concentrations of SLS regardless of whether or not the product is purchased in a salon or not. That being said, there is SLS-free shampoo on the market, which is often more gentle cleansers, but these non SLS formulas are available at all retail channels. Salon shampoo contains as much SLS as drugstore products.

"Cheap brands are watered down: Drug store brands can make a big bottle seem cheap, when in actuality it’s diluted too much to give you the results you’re seeking."

This is untrue.

The main ingredient in shampoos, conditioners, and most styling aids is water. All shampoo, regardless of brand or other ingredients in the formula, is a minimum of 70% water. In some cases, this can be as high as 80% (usually in the shampoos for sensitive skin). This is critical in the performance of a shampoo, because if the key active ingredients are not dissolved in a high level of water, they cannot easily be dispersed through the hair. Additionally, without this dilution the formula could be incredibly irritating.  

"Environmental concerns: Cheaply made products result in harm to the environment due to higher energy wasting and excess landfill waste."

A claim that cannot be substantiated.  

Most of the brands that are sold in salons are owned by large cosmetics corporationsBumble and Bumble, Aveda, and Ojon are owned by the Estee Lauder Group. L'Oreal Professional, Kerastase, Redken, Matrix, and Pureology are owned by the L'Oreal Group. Many of these high-end brands are made in the exact same factories as their mass market cousins. By default, the same environmental concerns are addressed simply because the factories are the same, with the same materials and the same shipping and distribution channels.

"No guarantee: Your stylist is the only one who is knowledgeable enough to know which shampoo, conditioner and styling products are right for your hair texture, density, life style and desired result."

This one always makes me laugh.

It is often easier to return a product that does not work to a large retailer than to a salon. In fact, most salons have a no-refund policy in effect. Large scale retailers offer full money back guarantees all the time. Also, I actually think I know my hair better than anyone else, so the idea that only my stylist is qualified to tell me what I should use on my hair is a little offensive. Today the vast majority of beauty consultants, at mass retailers, are highly trained professionals with many of the same credentials as beauty professionals in salons. Been to a Shoppers Drug Mart Beauty Boutique? The staff there must all be certified makeup artists or aestheticians.

"Invest in your local hair salon: If you love your stylist and your salon, you’ll be happy to hear that purchasing your home care items from them is actually how they stay in business."

I could easily make this same argument for my local, family-owned, independent drug store or corner store, which all sell hair care.

"You don’t know what’s REALLY in that bottle: Retailers that are not hair salons are not legally allowed to sell salon brand products. This means they often obtain these brands from wholesalers who go out of business or have shady business practices (notice how they never have an entire product line in stock, only bits and pieces)."

This myth takes some explaining:

1. There is no legal restriction on which brands retail channels can sell. Any brand can be sold at any store. Period. There are laws prohibiting the sale of certain items with certain label claims, but this prohibition is true for any business selling cosmetics.  

2. Large scale retailers (drugstores, off-price retailers, club warehouses) actually have much more iron-clad vendor contracts than most private salons. In fact, a supplier cannot furnish products to most large retailers without signing both a vendor agreement (which outlines things, such as trademarks, brand safety, marketing claims, proof of authorized distribution, advertising, label claims, returns and destruction remedies for faulty products, warranties of claim, and formula compliance with legislation) and a sworn affidavit stating they are an authorized distributor for the brand they are supplying. In fact, the suppliers, which supply salons, are the exact same suppliers that supply large scale retailers. Large scale retailers leave nothing to chance because of the huge liability they could face. The buyers for these types of stores do a lot of homework before stocking a product.

3. The reason large scale retailers only sell certain items is because they have extremely limited shelf space and only stock quick selling items. They negotiate large scale purchases from the suppliers and in turn the suppliers give them a preferred price, which allows the retailer to sell at a lower retail price than a salon.

So, the question begswhen should you buy from a salon and when should you buy from a mass retailer?

My answer is very straight forward—I buy products I like. Some of my hair care is mass market and some is salon bought. The reason is that I like the way the products make my hair look, feel, and behave. For example, I use salon styling aids. My particular favourite is L'Oreal Professional Homme Mat. A great pomade with a true matte finish. Yet, I use a department store shampoo (Sisley Shampoo with Botanical Extracts), which I think makes my hair super clean, and the bottle lasts me about 10 months. And I have  a drugstore hair conditioner (L'Oreal Paris EverSleek Conditioner).

Like all cosmetics, I say if you find a product that works well for you and you can afford, then continue to buy itwhere you buy it is irrelevant to its quality.

For more beauty myths BUSTED, check out "Cosmopolitan Magazine: Beauty Myths," and "'Today's Parent' Sunscreen Myths: Did They Get It Right?"