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How to Buy the Right Shampoo for Your Hair

By Lisa Cohen LeeSHOP.COM Beauty Editor

Ok, so shampoo isn't the most exciting beauty product in your routine. It's basically the hair equivalent to a bar of soap-it washes away the dirt to make your hair squeaky clean. But choosing the right shampoo can do so much more; it can make your hair smell good, protect it from harsh environmental assaults (take that uv rays!) and keep your strands looking gorgeous, shiny and conditioned. Study our suds primer, then hone in on the best shampoo for you; tress success guaranteed.

The Basics

Step 1WHAT'S YOUR HAIR TYPE?: The first priority is that your shampoo should complement your hair needs. Shampoo is categorized according to hair type, ie dry, normal, oily. That's because certain ingredients improve your hair's condition, like humectants that hydrate dry strands or cleansing ingredients that absorb oil. Specialized shampoos go a step further, with specific ingredients relating to you style your hair. For instance, if your hair is thin and flat, a volumizing shampoo can temporarily give it a lift, or if you color your hair, a protective color-safe shampoo has UV filters to prevent fading. Dandruff shampoos remove the sebum and oil on your scalp that causes itching and flaking.
Step 2INGREDIENTS: Pay close attention to the ingredients that are in the shampoo formula. Look at the surfactant, or cleanser closely, since it varies from mild to strong. Decide what your hair needs--for instance, do you have an oily buildup that requires a stronger cleanser or do you have color-treated hair that needs a very gentle wash?-and then based on the ingredient list, choose the right shampoo for your strands. Also look to see the position of the other ingredients on the label (ie an extract or conditioner); if they're close to the beginning, that means there's a significant amount of it in there to help make a difference. If it's near the bottom, the ingredient isn't doing as much.
Step 3FREQUENCY: Depending if you are a daily shampooer or doing it every other day (which most hair experts recommend if you've got dry, rough strands which can get drier from frequent shampoos), your formula should reflect that. Stick with a gentle daily formula, or very moisturizing one that leaves behind conditioning ingredients if you don't shampoo as regularly.

The Lingo

Surfactant: The chemical agent that gets hair clean.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate: A surfactant ingredient that's gentle on hair, best for normal to drier types.
Ammonia Lauryl Sulfate: A stronger surfactant that removes oil and dirt, especially for normal to oily hair types.
Cocamidopropyl Betaine: A non-irritating, conditioning cleanser that's gentle on the scalp.
Clarifying: This super-strong cleansing formula (stylists suggests swapping out your regular shampoo and using this one day a week) is meant to wash away styling product or oil build-up.
Dry Shampoo: A powder cleanser that is applied to dry hair to soak up oil and dirt.
Conditioning: Usually this formula type contains extra moisturizers that stay on hair after the suds are rinsed away.
Smoothing: For a straight look; it has ingredients like silicone to smooth down unruly strands.
Color-Protecting: Contains UV filters and gentle ingredients that protect color-treated hair from fading and damage.
Dandruff: Contains an active ingredient, such as salicylic acid or zinc pytherone, which soothes the scalp to prevent flaking and itching.
Volumizing: Has root-lifting ingredients, like panthenol, that give flat hair an extra boost.

The Experts

The beauty editors at Instyle Magazine, named David Babaii for Wildaid the Best Green Hair Care Line in their annual Best Beauty Buys of 2009: "Created by Babaii, an L.A. stylist, in collaboration with Kate Hudson, his longtime friend and client, this collection is free of harsh detergents, artificial fragrances and parabens. Instead, the team turned to natural ingredients from the South Pacific, including hydrating kiwifruit and mineral-rich volcanic ash, to produce rich lathers and luxurious textures."
Kiehl's Amino Acid Shampoo is an Allure Magazine beauty editor favorite because "it leaves our hair feeling ultra-clean. (And the delicious coconut scent reminds us of summer in the dead of winter.)"

The Brands

Pantene features cutting edge technology and healthy hair ingredients that are included in every one of its hair care collections.
Clairol Herbal Essences is known for their fabulous scents and luscious results. They recently reformulated their tried-and-true products with more natural botanicals and extracts.
TIGI is found in top salons around the world, and is recognized for its clever packaging and sexy results.
John Frieda, the king of frizz, not only has frizz-fighting shampoos in his eponymous line, but also color and volume boosting ones too.
Kerastase is a favorite of pros and beauty editors because of its top-notch ingredients and personalized hair care three-step systems.

The Price

$: Less expensive shampoos are basic cleansers with stronger surfactants and often trace or tiny amounts of other conditioning ingredients. Try Suave Shampoo Professionals Humectant .
$$: This price range has shampoos with milder cleansers and larger amounts of active ingredients for different hair types. Try Korres Natural Products Shampoo
$$$: Very pricey shampoos have extremely gentle cleansers, rare ingredients and are often the same formulas used in salons. Oribe Shampoo for Beautiful Color