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What Shampoo Type Do You Need?

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Reviewed by Victoria Barbosa, MD

WebMD Feature

Walking down the shampoo aisle in the drugstore or grocery store can give you sensory overload. Hundreds of brands and specialized types of shampoo boast that they can give you the perfect bouncy, curly, wavy, shiny, or smooth tresses that you dream of. But how different are they really? And how do you know which one is right for you?

Here, two top stylists explain some of the most common buzzwords you see on shampoo bottles and what they mean for your hair.

What Makes a Shampoo?

All shampoos contain two things: a cleanser and a conditioner, says Cary O'Brien, owner of Cary O'Brien's Design and Color Spa in St. Charles, Mo. (Even shampoos that aren't billed as combination shampoo-conditioners have somekind of conditioner in them.)

How much of each is in the shampoo depends on what kind of hair it's made for.

"If your hair is lightweight, fine, or fragile, you want to clean it very well because any kind of oil or buildup will be heavy on it," O'Brien says. "You don't want too much conditioner, because that will weigh it down."

Very thick and coarse hair might need even stronger cleansers to keep it clean, because it can be oilier and hold in dirt more. "For this kind of hair, you probably want to beef up the conditioning agent, because that hair can handle it and probably needs it," O'Brien says.

Shampoos for Oily or Dry Hair

Oily hair is due to an overactive oil-making gland, says Vaughn Acord, owner of mizu salon, with locations in New York and Boston. "You want a shampoo that removes the oils and hydrates both the hair and scalp," he says.

Dry hair, on the other hand, usually results from damage to the hair itself. "The central part of the hair shaft is where we find all the proteins that give hair its strength,” says dermatologist Michelle Hanjani Galant, MD, of Columbia University Medical Center. "Surrounding the hair shaft is something called the cuticle, made up of flattened cells like shingles on a roof. If their edges aren't lined up perfectly, then hair is dull, brittle, and has no shine," says Hanjani Galant, who specializes in hair and hair disorders.

That can result from using shampoos with a strong detergent, chemically processing hair (such as getting a perm, relaxer, or coloring it), and using heat to style it. Even wind and other kinds of friction can damage the cuticle, Hanjani Galant says. "The more of this damage it sustains, the more dry and lusterless it becomes."

"When this damage happens, there is a loss of the keratin protein that makes up the hair, and we try to replace this using shampoos that contain keratin, as well as other keratin treatments," Acord says.

But there's only so much a shampoo can do to repair that damage, especially the kind that results from perms and coloring. "That process starts by opening the cuticle to allow the chemical in to the central part of the hair, and then another part of the process closes the cuticle," Hanjani Galant says. "But every time you do that, the 'shingles' don't line up exactly the way they were, and the damage keeps building."

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