THE TALK: Salon Products vs. Store Brands

Victoria Wurdinger | November 4, 2013 | 12:26 PM


“What’s the difference between salon products and cheaper store brands?”


Salon and mass market products generally use the same ingredients; the difference tends to be in amount and quality. For instance, most Argan-type oils contain high percentages of silicones, but there are many grades, and professional products usually rely on pharmaceutical grade silicones. Don’t trash-talk store brands—explore and uptalk yours. Read the label first; it lists ingredients in descending order of predominance. Get the lowdown on benefits from your supplier.



Newer, Better

Salon ingredients are usually on the cutting edge of technology and high-performance, which means they cost more. For example, salon shampoos tend to use gentler lathering agents like TEA lauryl, or are sulfate-free. Salon conditioners aim for an ideal moisture/protein balance via the newest renewable oils, such as higher-quality natural oils that penetrate better (Rainforest Pequi Oil, apricot), as well as surface coating oils, like jojoba and sunflower. When it comes to proteins like hydrolyzed wheat, ones with lower molecular weight penetrate better, and the range can be vast, from 1,800 to 150. Theresa McGaha, co-owner of Moutons, in Grapevine, TX, says low-molecular-weight ingredients in her professional conditioner translate into strong penetration, without weighing hair down.


Salon products are developed faster around current trends (dry shampoo, powdered volumizers) or the newest eco and science-based ingredients. Notes Ginger King, an Englewood Cliffs, NJ-based chemist who has formulated both types of products, “Salon products go through more testings by stylists, since the customers are really discerning pros who transfer their passion to consumers.”

pH Matters

The ideal pH for shampoo is 4.5 to 5.5; you can test products with a pH strip. When pH leans acidic, the cuticle is closed, moisture is sealed in and color-fade is inhibited. Here’s where comparatively small salon brands may shine; mass-market products have tested inconsistently from batch to batch, and many have a high enough pH to fade color, according to pros who tested with a calibrated pH meter.



1. Many professional products offer a money back guarantee, if sold in a salon. Drugstores can’t and won’t do this.

2. Professional products are recommended for an individual. “That’s why we’re licensed, take continuing education, and understand hair textures and types,” says Xena Parsons of Xena’s Beauty Co., NYC. Tell your client, “If you trust your hair to me, why not trust my advice on products…and support a local business?”

3. Say, “I can show you how much to use and how to use it to get a certain look. You can’t get customized advice or a styling lesson in a store.”

4. Add, “I can determine if your hair has mineral build-up that is preventing products from working at optimum level. I can also assess if a certain product is working for you or not.”

5. Many salon products are formulated with a full understanding of salon color and other chemicals in mind. Store products can depend on your hair being healthy, and usually address just a few issues, like dryness or fragility.


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