Everything you need to know about shampoos
hair shampoos and hair types

Everything you need to know about shampoos

What does every hair care starts with? What it doesn’t exist without? What do you do regardless of your hair needs? … You most likely wash your hair, don’t you ;-). I hope you do 😉

Choosing the right shampoo or cleansing product is vital to your hair care. It prepares your hair for a conditioner or a hair mask so let’s talk about shampoos today.

What should you expect from a shampoo?

A shampoo should only cleanse your hair and yet we expect so much from it. We want it to refresh our hair, condition it, give it shine and smoothness. If a producer promises any of these things, it is quite often just a marketing gimmick. Have you ever used 2 in 1 shampoo and conditioner? …. yes? …. you probably didn’t get the expected result? or did you? So, make sure you will get a good, suitable for your scalp and hair shampoo and a conditioner for your hair.

Everything you need to know about a shampoo can be found in the ingredient list

More and more people go over ingredient lists of just about anything that they buy, as the ingredients used and the amounts of each ingredients decide whether the product is good quality or not, or is suitable for us or not.

No matter how tempted you are, do not buy anything, not even a shampoo without at least glancing at the ingredient list. You do not need to be an expert to weed out products where marketing labels and ingredients do not match. Once you know the basics, you will be able to find great products with ease without asking anyone for help. It is always best to do your own research and to know what you are applying to your skin and hair. It will pay off in the long run and most likely your health and your wallet will thank you.

Shampoo labels and descriptions

Reading a shampoo description and producer’s promises is often a waste of time (not trying to sound dramatic here), it can be quite entertaining though 😉 These are written by a marketing team and are designed to sell a product. It is better to figure out what the product does looking at ingredients!

Does the order on the ingredient list (INCI) matter?

What is INCI, you might ask?

It sounds like it could be a new TV show that is part of NCIS, CSI or a new Law & Order 😉 But no, it is none of those. It stands for the International Nomenclature of Cosmetic Ingredients. INCI is a system of names for ingredients based on the scientific names and other English and Latin words and it is how ingredients are listed on labels as required by the Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act (FD&C) and Cosmetics Regulations.

The ingredient list is preceded by the term “ingredients”. Ingredients have to be listed according to their INCI denomination, in a descending order of weight of the ingredients at the time when they are added to the cosmetic product (by concentration). Ingredients in concentration of less than 1% may be listed in any order after those in concentrations of more than 1%. Colorants other than colorants intended to colour the hair may be listed in any order after the other cosmetic ingredients.

Now to simplify it. Let’s have a look at ingredients you most likely will find in your shampoo.


It will be always the first ingredient on any shampoo bottle INCI list. It gives your shampoo a liquid consistency.

Detergent/ Surfactants

Substance that will foam up in contact with water.

  • Strong detergents (can cause skin irritation and make coloured hair fade faster, they can dry out hair too) Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Sodium Coco/Cococeth Sulfate (SCS)
  • Medium strength detergents: Sodium Myreth Sulfate (SMS), Sodium Phosphate Sulfate (SPS)
  • Mild Detergents: (might be to gentle to remove ll styling product built up) CocoGlucoside, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Cocoamphocetate, Coco-betaine

Sodium chloride

You might wonder why you might need salt in your shampoo, well it is not the best ingredient but it is safer than many other preservatives. It is commonly used together with Lactic Acid, to balance out alkaline salt.

Plant Extracts

Rosemary, nettle, thyme or burdock extract are great for oily scalp but can dry out your hair.


Emollients have occlusive and regenerating properties and minimise if not stop your hair from drying out effects of detergents. Here are most common emollients:

  • oils,
  • Cetearyl Alcohol, Cetyl Alcohol – Cetyl alcohol along with stearyl alcohol and cetostearyl alcohol, this “alcohol” is used as an oily additive for allowing conditioner/ shampoo to more easily spread throughout your hair.
  • Glycerin, Glyceryl Oleate – Glycerin is a carbon compound and humectant which means it attracts the water from the surroundings. In the chemistry it is often called as the glycerol.
  • Propylene Glycol, (I avoid it in any hair or skin care products I use) is widely used because of its relatively low cost and versatile nature. Its inclusion in a formula can fulfil a variety of purposes, which makes it a popular choice by the cosmetics manufacturers. However, some manufacturers have recently made the decision to no longer include propylene glycol in their products.


Humectants serve a number of functions in a shampoo formulation. From a consumer benefit perspective they are intended to help “moisturise” the hair, countering the “drying” effect of the surfactants. The lover the pH of a shampoo, the soften the hair. Without a good conditioner used afterwards it can make your hair frizzy. Common humectants:

  • Aloe Vera,
  • Algae,
  • flax,
  • honey

Although the above do look like amazing, natural ingredients, the higher you can find them on INCI list the more damage they can potentially cause. I suppose all in moderation.


The way occlusives work is that they produce a protective film on the hair. common occlusives:

  • silicones – Silicones are water insoluble, meaning they are very tricky to wash out. Used to give your hair added shine and smoothness, silicones form a layer around the hair shaft, smothering the hair and preventing moisture from penetrating, which can lead to dryness and brittleness. Silicones create the temporary illusion of healthy hair, but as they continue to build up layer by layer, your hair gets weighed down, can appear greasy, dull and lacking the smoothness and shine that the silicones are meant to provide in the first place. Silicones coat the hair shafts giving a synthetic shine, but they mask the true condition of your hair. The most common, dimethicone, build up, is hard to remove and prevents moisture and essential oils from getting to the hair shaft. In addition it can cause rashes, burning, itching and irritation to the hair follicles, which can initiate hair shedding. I avoid silicones in my hair and skin care.
  • PEGs – What are PEGs? PEGs or polyethylene glycols are synthetic petrochemicals found in a range of cosmetics, care and hair color products. They’re commonly used as emollients (softeners) and emulsifiers (aids in the mixing of oil and water-based products). The higher the number next to PEG the higher occlusive property. It is another ingredient I try to avoid in my products.
  • paraffin – Paraffin are derived from petroleum – another ingredient I avoid

Parfum/ Fragrance

I tend to go for fragrance free shampoos or shampoos containing only natural fragrance compositions. Fragrance is one of the most irritating and allergenic ingredients in your lotions and potions. Fragrance is the only ingredient listed on a beauty product label that’s allowed to hide under a cloud of rose petals and doesn’t have to say what it really is.

Best Shampoo Categorisation

The easiest way to categorise shampoos and pick the best one for your needs is by its detergent strength. I wish that categorisation of shampoos was commonly used, but it isn’t.

First grade your hair 1 to 6 based on the below scale:

  1. perfect hair – you can use just about any product and your hair is always silky smooth and shiny
  2. slightly dry hair, especially ends, you can still use any shampoo you would like and you can sort out any dryness with a conditioner.
  3. dry hair – frizzy, dry looking hair prone to damage
  4. dry and damaged hair – dry hair prone to breakage and split ends
  5. very dry hair air – your hair is frizzy, brittle and unless you coat it in silicones it just looks bad
  6. a haystack – no comment required here

Once you figure out which hair type you have, you can pick a shampoo from the below 3 categories:

  • strong shampoo – suitable for hair type 1 and 2, although I suggest using it sparingly
  • medium shampoo – suitable for hair type 3 and 4 and everyday use if you do not have sensitive scalp
  • mild shampoo – suitable for hair type 5 and 6 great for sensitive scalp unless you are allergic to any ingredients it contains

How to choose best shampoo for your hair, scalp and needs

Check out the below table, circle relevant to you answers and column with most circled answers will tell you which shampoo is best for you. if you marked answers from more than once column, both shampoos might suit you and you can use them alternatively. The more sensitive your scalp is and the dryer your hair is the milder shampoo you should go for.

Strong Shampoo Medium Shampoo  Mild Shampoo
 How often you wash your hair? I need to wash my hair everyday Every other day is enough for  my hair. I can last more that 3 days without washing my hair.
 Hair type thick or normal hair thick/ normal/ thin hair thin or normal hair
 Scalp Oily scalp,  normal to slightly oily scalp dry scalp, sensitive scalp, oily scalp
 Is your hair prone to fall out no yes/no yes/no
 Chemical hair treatmentsI don’t dye my hair I dye my hair dark only Have highlighs or bleached hair
 Hair strenghth strong, shiny hair average hair can get a little bit frizzy from time to time My hair is dry or damaged

Shampoo types

 Shampoo characteristics Strong shampooMedium shampoo  Mild Shampoo
 Ingredients Simple and short ingredient list, usually contains strong detergents, glycerin and low PEGsingredient list can be long, contains medium strength detergents, plant extracts and oils ingredient list can be short, or long.  contains only mild detergents, contains plant extracts, oils, protein and sometimes paraffin.
 Detergetn SLES, SCS, SMSSLES, Cocamidopropyl Betaine  Cocoglucoside, Cocamcepthate, Betaine
 Additional characteristics does not contain oils, or butters, can contain salicylic acid, nettle extract, or other herbal extracts suitable for oily scalpcontains small amount of oils, butters, humectants, alantoin, aloe vera juice or algae can contain a few different oils, silicones, proteins 
 Common shampoo typea anti-dandruff shampoos, shampoos for oily hair/scalp, cheapest shampoos available on the marketshampoos for all hair types, shampoos for normal hair, shampoos for oily scalp and normal hair,  regenerating shampoo, shampoo for dry hair, kids shampoos, shampoos for coloured hair

Do not trust anyone especially labels 😉

No matter what hair type, scalp condition a shampoo is recommended for always check ingredients. You can find kids shampoos and shampoos for coloured hair containing SLES which will make your coloured hair fade faster and can make your scalp dry and in turn oily over time due to harsh, oil stripping detergent.

You should not stick to just one shampoo type. If you decide to use only mild shampoos, make sure you use a strong or medium strength shampoo every now and then to minimise product build up.

In my experience using only strong shampoos leads to very oily scalp and dry frizzy hair when used regularly over time. On the other hand when I used only mild shampoos my hair started looking dull and greasy even after shampooing. So again have all 3 shampoo types on the go and alternate between them 🙂

This is my longest post to date. Hope I helped you make your next shampoo purchase just that little bit easier.

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