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Your Guide to Shampoo and Conditioners

WebMD Feature

Washing your hair is one of those practices, like brushing your teeth and washing your face, that most of us do automatically. Lather, rinse, condition, towel off, blow dry, and get on with your day.

For anyone lucky enough to be born with a lustrous, shining mane, that quick routine is fine. The rest of us need to put more effort into caring for our hair.

"If you have gorgeous hair and it looks gorgeous no matter what you do to it, then it doesn't really matter. But the unfortunate fact is most of us don't have that," says dermatology professor Amy McMichael, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

With so many options in those bottles, the first step is to figure out what suits your hair.

What’s Your Hair Type?

Is your hair texture curly or straight? Does it frizz or fall flat? Do you color it?  

For each hair type there's a shampoo made for it.

"Different shampoos have different features and benefits, so in order to maintain the most vitality and luster, it's important to match what your hair needs to the features and benefits that are right for you," says Nick Arrojo, owner and founder of ARROJO NYC and author of Great Hair: Secrets to Looking Fabulous and Feeling Beautiful Every Day.  

The easiest way to find the right shampoo is to look for words on the label that match your hair type, such as "dry," "oily," "fine," or "frizzy."

  • Fine hair: Wash your hair with a ‘volumizing’ shampoo to add body.
  • Curly hair: To tame flyaway hair and prevent dry, damaged-looking tresses, McMichael suggests a shampoo specifically for dry or chemically treated hair. 
  • Dry hair: "Look for shampoos with intensive moisture replenishment," Arrojo suggests. He recommends scanning the ingredient list for natural oils, which are absorbed by hair. Coconut oil is "one of the best emollients in hair care," he says. Others are avocado oil, grapeseed oil, and argan oil.
  • Oily hair: Arrojo suggests buying a shampoo specifically formulated for oily hair. Stay away from shampoo that bills itself as moisturizing or conditioning. You don’t want to add more moisture to oily hair. If dandruff is also a problem -- which it often is with oily hair -- treat it with an anti-dandruff shampoo containing ingredients like ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, or selenium sulfide. "People think of dandruff as a dry scalp issue, but really your scalp is oil-producing and certain people make more oils than others," McMichael says. Yeast that live on the scalp feast on those oils and produce irritating byproducts that make the scalp flake.
  • Color-treated hair: Choose a color-preserving shampoo that won't strip out the highlights you just spent a fortune on at the salon, Arrojo says.  

Once you've found the right type of shampoo for your hair, try different brands until you find one you like, McMichael says.   

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