Professional Products vs. Drugstore Brands: What’s the Difference?

One of the most common questions stylists get is whether the professional products they recommend are actually better than the cheaper drugstore brands. No surprise—the answer definitely yes! Read on for the reasons why professional products are always going to be your best bet.


Let’s address the most obvious question first. Yes, salon products cost more than the same amount of product you’ll get at the drugstore. But that’s not the whole story. Professional products are concentrated, so you don’t need to use as much to get the same result. 

Drugstore products, on the other hand, use tiny amounts of the effective (and more expensive) ingredients and stuff the rest of the bottle with cheap fillers. Most people find that they spend the same amount on professional and drugstore products once you factor in how much you have to use each time.

But drugstore products make my hair so soft/shiny/etc.!

Oh boy, we roll our eyes when we hear this one. Those fillers mentioned above? Sure, they sometimes make your hair shiny or soft… by depositing ingredients like animal fat, wax, and silicone on your strands. And even worse, this buildup will prevent your hair from absorbing any higher-quality products that you try to use.

Check the ingredients

Looking at the ingredients will give you a good clue about whether the product will be effective, but only if you know what some key terms mean.

  • Alcohol: While this is necessary in many products, alcohol in high quantities dries out your hair. If you see alcohol high up on the list of ingredients, this is a sign that means it won’t give your hair the moisture it needs.
  • Sulfates: These substances make your shampoo lather well, but they can also strip color and dry out hair. Drugstore brands use the cheapest and most damaging type of sulfates, while salon products that have sulfates use the most gentle form that’s much easier on your hair. If you have color-treated or dry hair, you’ll want to look for sulfate-free shampoo formulas, which you’ll be much more likely to find in a salon.
  • Nutrients: A common drugstore brand trick is to include nutrients that can make a big difference for your hair, but in such small quantities that they won’t do anything. If the nutrients are listed at the very end of the ingredient list, don’t expect much from the product.

Commitment is required

If you’re using box color or no styling products, professional shampoo and conditioner isn’t going to do everything it can do. To get the best results, you should use a whole product line that’s designed to work together. Until you do this, it’s impossible to compare results with drugstore products.

Next time you go to the drugstore, think twice before you pick up that cheap bottle of shampoo or styling cream. If you don’t want to have to use tons of product each time or deal with icky buildup, you’ll definitely want to stick with professional products.