Professional-Products-Drugstore-BrandsEveryone wants to know what the difference is between professional products and drugstore brands. Maybe we can’t see the difference….but it’s there!

I used products from Wal-Mart until after college and I knew I liked the expensive stuff, but it was more of a luxury.

Now that I only use professional brands I couldn’t imagine going back!


I cringe at the thought of using Suave or Pantene. Unless you over-do it with massive amounts of leave-in conditioner…you’re left with a rats nest to tame! The difference in my hair is unbelievable and I spend less time on it than I used to. Growing up, I had difficult hair…cowlicks/frizz/unwanted waves….I wasn’t doing anything to help the situation either!

From time to time I have clients say they don’t see the difference, they get shampoo with their groceries and call it a day.

I don’t argue with them, it’s a personal choice and it’s not my head of hair. All I can do is educate and it’s up to you to decide what’s best for your hair and your lifestyle.

There is one thing that pro drugstore brand clients probably don’t do, and that’s making a complete switch to professional brands.

For example…

If you are using box color, blow-drying/flat-ironing without products to protect the hair, etc., the professional shampoo will not work miracles for you!

That’s what most people don’t understand…

If you want to really test it out to see if there’s a difference you need to pick a line and use the shampoo, conditioner, and styling product together.

Cost…Is It Really THAT Much More?

Products…A girls best friend! We love them! We’re addicted and love to collect them! Is it worth it if they’re not the best?

I’m always hearing people talk about how expensive salon products are compared to drugstore brands.

The difference is how often you have to buy the products and the quality you get for your money.

If you are paying less you are probably buying more often.

I buy shampoo every few months (keep in mind I have a lot of hair!). I may be paying more, but it is lasting much longer than a bottle of Pantene would last.

Here are a few tips for finding deals on pro products:

  • Check sites like– I have lots of clients that buy some of their products online because it’s cheaper and they get free shipping.  Sometimes it turns out to be less expensive than drugstore brands!
  • Buy around the holidays– Most salons have tons of great deals around Christmas or Valentine’s Day for example. You can find packaged sets and lots of extra sales like 20% off your product purchase!
  • Take advantage of stores like ULTA– They have a great store rewards program and carry everything from pro products, makeup, fragrances, and even drugstore brands. You’ll receive frequent coupons in the mail and get rewards like $10 off for every so many dollars you spend!
  • Outlet Malls– I buy all of my bare minerals makeup from the outlet store. It’s the same thing except the prices are around 50% off! The only drawback is that they don’t always carry every color option, but they have so many products that you won’t care. The other outlet store that I go to is the Cosmetics Company. I get really cheap sets, mascara, lotion, shampoo, etc. They carry all of the major brands and have great deals on those gift bags you get at the makeup counter(not really a gift because you have to spend $50+ to get it…the bags are around $10 at the outlet store).

Ingredients….What Matters?

Unless you have allergy issues you probably don’t check out the ingredients very often. Over the last year or so everyone has been going crazy about sulfates. All I hear is oh does it have sulfates, and “I can’t use shampoo with sulfates!”.

I’m willing to bet that at least 95% of these ingredient crazies

don’t even know what sulfates are.

It’s a good idea to know what’s in your products and why you need it or don’t. If you’re nuts about organics then that’s another subject, but for most of my clients all natural is the last thing on their minds.

Always remember…

When reading product ingredients on ANY label….the first ingredient is the strongest and the last ingredient is the weakest in the product!


Ingredients to pay attention to:


Is H20 the first ingredient listed on your shampoo bottle? If so, that only means that it is more diluted than others. You may be paying less than salon brands, but you are also getting less product.

For example:

Pureology is a salon product that is highly concentrated. It has much less water than other brands, giving you much higher quality for what you pay.

It is to be used in small amounts because when combined with water(in your hair) it is activated and will lather beyond belief.

When a product is made cheaply with high amounts of water you probably have to use more to get the same effect.


We all know what alcohol does! Talk about a one way ticket to dry and more dry hair strands! Alcohol is found in a lot of products and is necessary for the make-up of some of them.

BUT, when found in high amounts it’s not doing anything good for your hair. I find that a lot of styling products sold in grocery & drug stores are high in alcohol content.

The product may be making your hair feel smooth….but it’s not getting the moisture and protein it needs to stay strong and healthy.


Sulfates are a salt of sulfuric acid. There are several different types of sulfates so don’t get it confused with those used to make batteries or producing plaster!

Sulfates play a huge part in making products get sudsy and later well….but they do have a tendency to dry out hair and strip out color.

If you are using products without sulfates you may think your hair doesn’t feel as clean or it may take a little more work to get that lathering effect.

In my opinion, if you use sulfate free shampoo, use a good clarifying shampoo about once a month to really get your hair clean. I have several clients that do a clarifying treatment before a color, it gives a more clean strand to help your new color last!

Color Care

Think this color will last on Pantene?
Not a chance!

Are you a box color user or do you get your hair professionally colored?

If you use a box…go ahead, buy the Pantene. The way I look at it…if the color is crap…who cares if the shampoo is?

Your hair isn’t going to feel great anyways with those Wal-Mart boxed chemicals, so why pay more for shampoo when you’re okay with cheap color?

If you go to the salon for color…definitely get the good shampoo!

Why ruin a beautiful color that you paid good money for with cheap products?

A few things to remember if you color your hair:

  • Color treated hair is more sensitive to heat from styling tools because it is not as naturally healthy as hair that isn’t colored.
  • Your color will not last as long as you want it to if you’re not using color protecting products. It can be easily stripped if you use a shampoo that’s too strong.
  • Damage can come in many forms, chemical processing is only one of them. So if you take the necessary precautions you can have healthy colored hair!

In Conclusion…..

I’d like to remind everyone that what works best for one person may not be perfect for the other.

I used non-professional products through college and when I went to cosmetology school that completely changed! Just like generic mac & cheese you will get used to what you use on a regular basis and like it.

I am not “dissing” anything that my clients may use, but giving you the pros and cons to help you find what works.

I’ve had quite a bit of conflicting feedback on product posts…especially on 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Box Color. As a stylist, I am trained to educate you on what’s best for your hair. There are some stylists that will push products or color services only because they want to make money off of you.

My readers live in all states and even some other countries, and hopefully it’s obvious that my goal is not to get you in the salon to make money. There are few professional cosmetologists that are writing about the secrets to our profession, so enjoy….and remember that we aren’t all just trying to make a dollar.

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31 Responses to Professional Products vs. Drugstore Brands

  1. Rahul says:

    Please can u name some the professional brands ..The most expensive one’s …my hair has become very thin and i want to try the best product available ..Please reply ..Thank u :)

  2. Hi Erika, I’m so glad I found this post. I am so confused at this point about what hair care products to choose. I have naturally curly hair that I have straightened for most of my life and have tried off and on for the last few years to wear it curly. I have tried both salon and drugstore products and neither seem to help my dry frizzy hair. Do you have any personal thoughts on the DevaCurl products? I am willing to try almost anything at this point. I have been getting regular trims for the last year so my hair is pretty healthy overall, just dry and frizzy. Thanks so much for any advice you can give.

    • Erika says:

      DevaCurl products are very popular and I have tried some of their shampoos/conditioners/stylers. It depends on the type of curls you have, how dry your hair is, and they type of frizz you have. I always recommend using a mixture of products for hard-to-tame curly hair. You need something for moisture and something for curl control/anti-frizz.

      For example- You would use It’s a 10 Miracle Silk Styling Balm on towel-dried hair for moisture and frizz control. Then, you would use a good mousse(Alterna Bamboo Whipped Mousse) and/or texturizing spray(Wella Ocean Spritz). Let your hair air dry or use a diffuser.

      Those are just a few of my favorites to give you an idea of what you can try. Good luck!

  3. Jessica says:

    I can not find a shampoo that I love. I was my hair every other day but my hair is so oily by the end of the 1st day. My hair is also very fine and I need volume.

    • Erika says:

      Is your hair oily to the point that you probably should wash it everyday, but you can get by without it? Has your hair always been like this?

      What kind of shampoo are you using now, and do you use conditioner? What products to you use daily?

      If you reply to this comment with your answers I can help you figure out what you need. Besides shampoo….my first thought was dry shampoo. You would apply it in the evening(or the morning you don’t shampoo…I like sleeping on it because I feel that it works better) and your hair will be very fresh the second day…with extra volume!

      My all-time favorite is Alterna Caviar Dry Shampoo. It works better than anything else I’ve used(tried at least 15 brands/types). If your hair is dark then you may want to try using a translucent dry shampoo product(aerosols are better for even disbursement, but don’t work as well with extremely oily hair).

      Here’s some info on dry shampoo:
      Dry Shampoo-What Works?!

  4. Dina says:

    Hi Erika,

    i have curly hair and wanted to know if you could recommend me a regimen thats not too expensive that would get my hair healthy again.

    I usually dye my hair all the time with highlights and what not but i went back to black hair and havent really touched it since. I do sometimes straighten it as well.

    My hair feels very dry and gets tangled extremely easily. I have to wash my hair everyday (i only use conditioner and once a week shampoo it) because if i don’t it gets too tangled. I miss the days when i could just wash my hair sleep on it, refreshen it with a bit of water and its good to go. Now if i sleep on it i wake up with a disaster.

    I currently use Nexxus but i would prefer something sulfate free and of course something that will get my hair healthy again as i am trying to grow it out as well.

  5. Animesh says:

    Hey Erika, i am a 18 yrs old boy nd i hv very smooth and really fine hair…i apply coconut oil once every 3 days and then shampoo it with loreal proffessional density advanced shampoo…i dnt experience very little hairfall(10-15 strands a day) and almost no dandruff…i regained weight after loosing it coz of eating all the junk for 2 yrs but now i am clean and exercise regularly…basically i aint having much problem coz i had thin hair probably from.birth but at the back of the brain i always think that i may go bald one day cause i ate bad for 2 yts and got fat nd will be loosing out hair as time passes in the gym..i dnt use any other product apart from oil and shampoo…yes i got premature grey hair but i cover those by applying henna once every 3 months….serious help needed as i am a very bright student but this is making me loose focus
    Thank you in advance :)

    • Erika says:

      Don’t worry, you’re doing a lot better than most people! Everyone falls off the wagon sometimes, and even though you may feel that the 2 years makes a big difference… are young and it’s much easier to bounce back from that now rather than later.

      Even though you have some premature grays that doesn’t mean that you’ll lose it early. Unfortunately, going bald isn’t something that you can stop. Being healthy so that your hair can grow at it’s potential is the best you can do. Baldness is usually hereditary, and it happens to everyone. The good news is that you have a very long time before you have to worry about that!

      I have a friend that is in his mid to late 30’s and he felt that his hairline was thinning/recessing. He had hair transplant surgery and it looks great. I think that’s an extreme option though. It’s a lot to go through, but something to think about when you’re older if your hair thins and it bothers you.

  6. Heidi says:

    I been trying salon quality shampoo but I can not find one I can tolerate scent wise. I get extremely bothered by strong scented shampoos Can you recommend a shampoo that is very mild scented. My hair type is long and fine

  7. Starr says:

    I just got my hair highlighted and my hair is really dry, wavy, and frizzy. I straighten my hair 3 days a week also. What shampoo, conditioner, and styling products are the best for my hair. I was using sheer blonde highlight shampoo and conditioner and it makes my hair dry and frizzy. Thank you for any advice you have. I want to have soft, shiny, straight hair. It also tangles after I shower.

  8. Lea says:

    Dear Erika,

    I have very fine curly hair and I was wanting to get my curls a bit relaxed or bigger so that I would not have to use styling tool much. I wanted to get away from having to blow dry my hair and curl afterwards with a wand I use to build bigger curls. My hair is already color processed because I have a bit of gray. Needless to say, my stylist recommended a relaxer but because my hair is so fine and was already dry, I knew it would severely damage my hair so I said “no.” Later she suggested that a soft perm would do the trick in that it would reshape my curl and it would be more gentle. I am sure you can tell by now that it turned into a disaster. As embarrassing as it is for me to even write this comment, my hair is extremely ‘fried’ and I desperately need help. It feels mushy and hard when it is damp and my curl is completely gone and frizzy, it literally looks like burnt hair from the top so it puffs when dry and she said, “well it did give you volume.”
    Ultimately I had to cut it up to my chin from having it down to mid-back. Surely I need to just cut more off but I just don’t have the stomach in having a pixie cut especially since it grows very slow due to the tight curl. Now, obviously, I am looking for a good protein (?) product/treatment that will either repair or assist in growing out my hair so that I may cut off the rest of the damage. I have been using K-Pak from Joico and some of the curl has been slowly coming back but only from the back of my head. Regardless, there is so much breakage that my hair looks very stringy and the only way for it to look decent for work is by doing the worse, blow drying and flat-ironing to smooth (of course with a thermal-protectant).
    I recently came across the Living Proof product line but after trying so many professional prods (i.e. Alterna, Biolage, Joico, Redken, It’s a 10, Sebastian,Kenra, Paul Mitchell…to name a few), I am leery. I have also been creating my own concoction of natural treatments with coconut, olive, castor, and almond oils but they just aren’t enough. :-(

    I do understand it will take at least a year to get my hair in better shape but I am hopeful for some suggestions.

    • Erika says:

      I’m so sorry, I know how you feel! Just from your description of your natural hair….I would not have suggested a perm. It makes me so sad to hear stories like this where other stylist just don’t care (or they don’t know). In this case it seems like she wasn’t being creative with solutions for you. Being a hairstylist takes patience and compassion. I hope you can find a new hairstylist that cares about you and your needs.

      Natural curl is a blessing and you’re so lucky to have it in a way that is manageable. I know that you feel like you can’t do anything with it right now, but don’t worry….there are ways to make the time pass and before you know it you’ll be back to normal!

      Here are some suggestions:
      1)Stay away from heat tools! Even though you feel that blow-drying and flat-ironing your hair is the only way….it’s not. Heat will damage weakened hair even worse than if your hair were healthy. Your hair take much longer to recover with regular use of heat tools.
      2)Alternate protein and moisture treatments. Too much protein causes hair to become brittle and break. A really good protein treatment is too strong to use daily unless you balance it with a moisture product. I like the Joico K-Pak line and I’ll give you some other suggestions.
      3)Let your hair air dry. You can use velcro rollers or something similar to help with styling.
      4)Styling Products- I like moroccanoil mousse because it’s gentle and has a great hold. Depending on how fine/thin your hair is you may also want to try a daily treatment like moroccanoil to tame down the frizz and treat your ends. Only use a tiny bit of the treatment so it doesn’t weigh your hair down.
      5)Shampoo/Conditioner/Treatments- My favorite conditioning treatment is It’s a 10 Miracle Hair Mask. It’s wonderful for repairing your hair and it will feel great! If moroccanoil leave-in treatment that I mentioned is too strong for your hair, then use the It’s a 10 Miracle Leave-In Conditioner. It’s light and it is a great heat protectant (if you must use heat).

  9. Valerie Shanley says:

    Hi Erika I have been using ION from Sally’s Beauty Supply for the past 4 years in medium natural brown. I recently had my hair cut and styled and the Hair stylist recommend that I get caromel highlights for my darker brown hair. I am now putting off touching up my roots (the crown of my head to my ears is white) for fear that the pretty highlight she gave me will be covered over. If this is the case and she is a professional why would let me get these highlights and spend alot of money if it is going to be a temporary thing? I really like the lighter look and she said she can transition my hair color but it will take time. Money does not grow on a tree and I don’t mind spending it if what she is going to do is realistic. Can you advise me as to what can or will happen and what the process is? I really appreciate it because I feel like I am leaving my life in her hands and I do not want to get ripped off. Oh she also told me to get a lighter shade of my hair color to do my roots and try not to get it on the rest of my hair which I think will be pretty hard to do once I have to wash it out.

    Thank you so much for any input you can give me



    • Erika Brown says:

      That is very unprofessional of her to make those suggestions. Some of these things depend on the consultation you two had and if all bases were covered before she suggested the highlights.

      If someone expresses concerns to me about maintenance and cost I always consider that before talking about what’s best for them. If she knew that you would like to keep your salon budget low, then she would not be suggesting highlights. Some stylists will do this because they are not very knowledgeable or they are trying to make more money off you. If you asked for a lighter look, then she may not have the training or expertise to realize that what she suggested is wrong. Some stylists are afraid to say no to a client. Saying no isn’t a bad thing, it’s the right thing to do along with another suggestion (which also requires experience and confidence).

      NOW for her color suggestions….what?! Lighten your own roots with a kit from sally’s? Is she out of her mind? This situation is headed for disaster and quickly.

      If I were you I would retouch my regrowth with the color and formula that you are comfortable with. Some stylists do this anyways on every-other retouch that has highlights to save the client money. On the 3rd time, it may be more noticeable that your highlights haven’t been touched. That all depends on how light they are.

  10. Jules says:

    Do you recommend any salon brand over the other? I currently use redken shampoo, conditioner, and heat protectant, but I am having a hard time with the price – although it did last quite a while and I loved how easy my hair was to deal with. What is the best salon product for your money? I feel like when I go into a salon and ask, they only promote the one or two brands they carry – that’s how I ended up with Redken 3 months ago. A bit about my hair in case that helps with brand choice – My hair is straight/wavy and tends to be on the dry side because I do use heat on it about 4-5 days/week. I wish my hair was still naturally curly and I have been considering a perm lately to get those large, loose curls back.

    • Jules says:

      Also, Hair is all natural -never died.

    • Erika Brown says:

      It depends on your hair and your needs. There are some lines (like Aveda) that I have only a few products that I like. But, those few products are awesome and do what they claim for your hair. Others (like Alterna, Joico, It’s a 10, etc.) I like just about all of their products and I wouldn’t tell you that one is far better than the rest because some of that opinion is based off my personal preference (like scents or affordability).

      My favorites are Alterna, ColorProof, and It’s a 10(to keep the list short :) ) . Redken is good too, but they have SO many options that it can be hard to keep up. If you get Redken when they have sets on sale, that’s a really great way to get what you need at a low price. A shampoo, conditioner, and styling product set can be $15-$25 depending on where you go and which set you need.

      It sounds like you would benefit from the Redken Extreme Anti-Snap for a leave-in/heat protectant. The Extreme line is a popular box set, but you would want to have a moisturizing shampoo to alternate with as well. Shampoos that are meant to repair heat damage (or any damage) contain high amounts of proteins, which can make your hair brittle over time with consistent use. If you don’t want to buy a set and a shampoo, I would recommend the All Soft set if you stick with Redken.

      If you would like to switch brands….I LOVE It’s a 10! They have a basic shampoo and conditioner as well as a great everyday leave-in product that literally does everything you need it to do!

      • Erika Brown says:

        If you’re looking for something less expensive, I would go with the or something similar.

        For a heat protectant you may want to try something like .

        Remember, when you are in the salon they are recommending what’s sold there for one main reason. That’s to reach their personal sales goals, and just about every salon has a minimum sales requirement for stylists to reach every month. If your stylist really cares about you and your needs she/he will recommend a product to you even if it’s not carried in their salon. I’ve had this happen a few times….I knew that my client needed something we didn’t sell. That happens sometimes, and I would rather suggest the right product or treatment, than the wrong one just for a sale. But, not as many stylists care as much…unfortunately.

        As for the perm….wait! Your curl may come back if you take good care of your hair and be patient. Getting a perm could be a nightmare….the curl won’t turn out like you expect….and it could be even more straight after the perm is gone!

  11. […] Professional Products vs. Drugstore Brands […]

  12. […] of course, but everyone forgets about the damage they inflict on their own hair.  Box coloring, bad products, too much heat, no protection from UV rays or heat, and more are just a few of the […]

  13. moxymenace says:

    I wish I would have read your blog yesterday before I put box dye in my hair! :'( I am so sad right now! Is there anything I can do to help reverse some of the damage it might have done to my hair?

    • Erika Brown says:

      It’s okay…we’ve all done it! It’s a learning process whether you are a stylist, future stylist, or client. As women we are naturally stubborn when it comes to these things and must learn the hard way. I’ve been at the point where I wore a ponytail for months…it’s not easy to deal with, but you will get through it :).

      How bad is the damage? What kind of chemicals were on your hair or how much damage did you have before coloring? Does it tangle when wet, resist the comb, or break off easily when dry? With a little more information I can give you a regimen to follow. No worries…it will be back to normal in no time!

  14. becky says:

    So What are the salon clarifying shampoos that’s ok to use on color treated hair? I need to buy a clarifying shampoo for my color treated hair

    • Erika Brown says:

      Good clarifying shampoo can be hard to find when you have color-treated hair! One thing’s for sure…don’t use one that isn’t for color! My favorite is Clear It Up Detox Shampoo by Color Proof, and another great one is Purify by Pureology.

      If you don’t have to use it right now it’s great to use a clarifying shampoo before you go in for your next color! It doesn’t have to be for colored hair, but remember the drugstore brands will make your hair feel more straw-like. Then the fading won’t matter and you will get the best results out of your service :)

  15. […] Buy Professional Products vs. Drug Store Brands […]

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