Shampoo Ingredients - What Really Works?

Ingredients in Shampoo That Will Improve Hair, and Those That Don't

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Which shampoo do you think you would buy? One boasting that it contains guar hydroxypro-pyltrimonium chloride or the one filled with botanical extracts, fruits, and natural proteins?

Most of us would probably choose the shampoo that contains ingredients that we recognized and appeal to our senses and desire to smell good, soften, and improve our hair. But do the lovely and natural sounding ingredients really make a difference?

The answer may surprise you, but first it helps to understand the laws governing shampoo products (classified as cosmetics) sold in the U.S.

Shampoo Marketing and Labeling Laws

The laws governing cosmetics (makeup, shampoo, bath products) in the U.S. do not require the makers to get approval of a product before it hits the store shelves.

Manufacturers do not have to provide the FDA with product performance tests or safety tests. Also, with the exception of color additives and few other restricted ingredients, shampoo makers can put what they want into their products in order to help market it, regardless of its benefits.

Regarding labeling, the ingredients in shampoo (and all other cosmetics) must be listed in the order of the highest proportion to the lowest proportion with some exceptions including color additives and ingredients present at one percent or less, which can be listed in whatever order the manufacturer decides on.

This means shampoo manufactures could take an orange and squeeze a drop in 2000 gallons of shampoo and advertise it as containing natural ingredients. Natural orange can be listed as the first ingredient (because it falls under the one percent exception)  when really water is the most dominant ingredient by about 95 percent.

They can also market the shampoo by suggesting that natural orange juice will result in glowing hair, when in fact it offers no benefit to hair.

There are a few laws shampoo makers do have to follow pertaining to adulterated or misbranded products.

"Adulteration refers to violations involving product composition, whether they result from ingredients, contaminants, processing, packaging, or shipping and handling." 

An example would be a product that is manufactured in a filthy environment or contains a poisonous substance.

Misbranded refers to violations involving improperly labeled or deceptively packaged products.

Unfortunately it takes a lot of consumer complaints to get the products that are adulterated or misbranded off the store shelves although in recent years manufacturers have used this law to report other manufacturers for violating it.

With all of that in mind, lets get back to which ingredients really work by  taking a look at some of the common ingredients in shampoo. Consumer Reports did a study and here are the results of it:

Digesting proteins will certainly improve your health but washing your hair with them won't change a thing.

Vitamins and provitamins
Offer no advantage to hair care or hair problems.

Botanical extracts
Make a product smell good but do not offer any other beneficial qualities to hair care.

UV protectant
Very minimal results were noted on the tested products.

Fruit acids, a.k.a. alpha-hydroxy acids
Offers no benefit to hair care.

Offers no benefit to hair care.

Designer water
Benefits derived from including designer water to hair products will be washed away with normal shower water.

Manufacturers use humectants in shampoo mainly to increase advertising verbiage. The shampoo detergents remove the humectants that attract moisture to hair.

Ingredients that Work

Ammonium lauryl sulfate
Also known as Ammonium dodecyl sulfate, this is basically a detergent type ingredient that cleans the hair.

Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride
Promotes smoothness and volume to hair.

Coats the hair adding to manageability and softness.

Many of the less expensive shampoo products contain the basic ingredients which will actually improve hair, while leaving out the fluff ingredients. Antioxidants and botanical extracts may make the product more appealing, but it can also run up the price, offering no real benefit to improving our hair.

Bottom Line: You can wash your hair with the most basic inexpensive shampoo to clean it and then use a good conditioner to help repair problems.