Works For Me: Cheap Haircare

I think salon hair-care products are a rip-off.

There.  I said it.  And I say it with trepidation, because my Most Excellent Hair Stylist Sarah is reading this, and I adore her (partly because she is lovely, and partly because she wields enough power to give me bad hair days for six months.)

But it’s true–I’ve tried the expensive shampoos and products before, and I honestly cannot tell any difference.  I think that we are so desperate for good hair (and OH, do I understand this desperation) that it’s easy for the fancy shmancy salon companies to convince us that $18 shampoo matters.

And based on my own experience, I don’t think it does.

That’s not to say that all shampoos are created equal.  You may have to kiss a lot of toads before your cheap haircare prince.  A lot of it depends on your hair type of course, but I think that most of us can find a drugstore variety that will work for us.  Here are the cheapies that work for me (prices are what I pay at my own personal mothership):

SHAMPOO:  Suave Professionals (I use the “volumizing” one).  I have used this stuff for a couple of years.  It’s lathery, it smells great, and it gets my hair clean.  Is there any more we should expect from our shampoo?  (In the interest of disclosure, I need to tell you that the Suave people sent me some free samples, but they sent me samples of the stuff I was already using–which really, REALLY works for me.)  COST: $1.88

CONDTIONER:  Suave Professionals.  The “partner” to the shampoo above.  I don’t condition my hair every day; if I do, it gets a little limp.  Generally, I only condition a couple of times a week.  COST: $1.88

MOUSSE:  Tres Semme Curl Care.  Lots of body, no stickiness.  Works for me.  COST: $3.23

HAIRSPRAY:  Tres Semme Tres Two.  My hat is off to those of you who require a quick spritz of hairspray.  Not me.  I am a Southern women and a child of the ’80s, and as such, I cannot fully let go of the big hair.  It’s not huge hair, but it’s not small, either.  I have used this stuff for probably about ten years.  It is the perfect weight: firm hold, but it’s not too crunchy.  COST: $2.98

ROOT LIFTER:  Garnier Fructis Style.  This is a handy little styling tool I first added a few months ago, and it works great.  If you have straight, fine hair (*raising my hand*), this stuff will really give you some body.  COST: $2.94

BONUS:  Baking Soda.  Seriously.  My Most Excellent Hair Stylist Sarah told me this trick.  Every few weeks, make some baking soda paste (add enough water to make it the consistency of shampoo).  Comb it through your hair while you’re in the shower and it will remove all the old hair spray reside.  Which comes in handy, if you’re a fan of not-small hair.  COST: pennies

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86 thoughts on “Works For Me: Cheap Haircare

  1. The (Almost) Amazing Mammarino says:

    AMEN to everything you just said!!!!!! I’m a Suave gal myself, and I use the baking soda trick as well. When I have been given salon shampoos as gifts, I have actually used salon shampoo on half my head and Suave on the other half for a few weeks. No difference!
    I also saw a 20/20 (or Primetime, or 60 Minutes) where they proved that most of the fancy ingredients of expensive shampoos were worthless, and that cheap shampoos work as well as expensive ones.

  2. suburbancorrespondent says:

    Totally Twisted For Curls has changed my teen daughter’s life. If you have a girl with curls that won’t behave, get it for her!
    I, too, use Suave products. Also, Garnier Fructis has good products that are relatively inexpensive.

  3. Githe says:

    Kiss my Face products! They are too wonderfull and all natural and/or organic. The shampoo is wonderful, it DOES NOT however have great lather because it’s paraben free. LADIES, unfortunately great lather = great, big, bad chemicals. If this interests you at all there is a wonderful site called “environmental working group”. Click on “skin deep”. You will never be the same again.

  4. Githe says:

    Kiss my Face products! They are too wonderful and all natural and/or organic. The shampoo is great, it DOES NOT however have a great lather because it’s paraben free. LADIES, unfortunately great lather = great, big, bad chemichals! If this interests you at all there is a wonderful site called “environmental working group”. Click on “skin deep”. You won’t be the same.

  5. Sandwiched says:

    Amen! I recently gave in to the hype and bought the John Frieda line called Brilliant Brunette: shampoo, conditioner, and color-depositing gloss.
    What a waste. Can’t tell any difference. Oh wait…my hair is actually LESS smooth and conditioned than usual. And as for the gloss, the only place it seems to deposit color is on my hands when I apply it.
    Back to Herbal Essence for me. Love the coconut scent of Hello Hydration!

  6. Rebecca (Green Baby Guide) says:

    I’ve been experimenting by using just baking soda (instead of shampoo) for a few weeks now, and it seems to be working! If it continues to keep my hair shiny and clean, I’ll save money and hundreds of plastic bottles over the years.
    Before the great baking soda experiment, I was trying various natural/organic shampoos with little success. I am happy to find a non-toxic, eco-friendly alternative to shampoo that also costs next to nothing!

  7. Joanna says:

    love reading everyone’s entries!
    I use Dove hair care products. The shampoo gives me volume (the green bottle, the one that smells like cucumber something or other. lol) like no other shampoo can. As for conditioning, I do every day, but only the ends. Otherwise it gets too greasy…blech!

  8. Anna says:

    You LIE! You do not have fine, straight hair. 😉 Your hair is gorgeous, full, and beautiful.
    On the off chance that you’re not lying, I think I’ll pick up a bottle of the root lifter. I’m already using the same shampoo/conditioner.
    (Thanks so much. I was teasing about your lie.)

  9. Sally says:

    I use the SAME products! Suave Professionals and Tres Seme hairspray. I have a funny story. I went to my hairdresser and she was complimenting my healthy hair and said she could tell by the way it looks and smells that I was using Biolage hair products! Ha ha… was the suave that is “like biolage” I love those products!!

  10. Vicky says:

    I am sooo going to give that Baking Soda tidbit a try. My curls require a few products to keep me from looking like I put a finger in the light-socket.
    Also, I don’t think I commented on the last WFMW (backwards). I also have a problem keeping my white socks white, so I was excited to read your reader-tips. Since so many advised Oxyclean or Baking Soda, I went to Target and bought Arm-N-Hammer Baking Soda PLUS OXYCLEAN detergent. I am making myself wait to finish my old stuff, but I can’t wait to give this a try! THANKS TO SHANNON’S READERS! (and to you, shannon, for posing the question)

  11. Mandy says:

    I love Tres Semme! I used it when I was a kid, and then found it again recently. I also really like Rave hairspray #4. I have really thick hair and it holds it really well!

  12. The Happy Housewife says:

    Shannon- for the first time I have to sort of disagree with you. I agree that the inexpensive products work well, and as good or better than the pricey stuff…except for me. I have tried almost every brand and my thick, sort of curly, always frizzy hair goes nuts with most products. I buy a bottle of $20 shampoo and $20 conditioner and it lasts me almost a year. In fact I am almost out of my shampoo that I bought in Oct 2007. It probably costs more per wash, but I look less like a lion and more like a human.

  13. Alissa says:

    THis is my first time posting, but I have read your blog for a while. Great cheapy hair tips. I use baking soda too. I am a little lazier than you though, and just dump some in my hand with my shampoo. It works.

  14. Katie says:

    Well, Shannon…you can tell I’m a rookie at this…and I even read through all of your guidelines before participating in WFMW today! 🙂 I added all the links correctly at my blog and in Mr. Linky ~ but when I read “Enter your name” on Mr. Linky, I forgot to put a brief description of my WFMW tip by my name in parentheses! Sorry!! I should’ve added (Cutting Toddler Foods) by my name but I don’t know how to change it! If you want to delete the link, please do…I don’t know how to amend the title. I’ll be more careful in the future!
    Love your site ~ have been reading for a while just never been part of the action. 🙂

  15. Rachel says:

    I can tell a difference when I use salon products, but I’ve found a drugstore shampoo that I think works just as well. Organix sells for 6.99 (recently 4.99 on sale). I get the vanilla scented one and it is heavenly. Great post!

  16. Fuschia says:

    Tres Emme for shampoo and conditioner. For hairspray (and I’ve never had a hairdresser who could believe the volume I’m able to get out of my FINE, LIMP hair) I love Aussie Aussome Volume!!
    I did the baking soda thing years ago; anyine know if that affects color?

  17. Angela says:

    Yeah I have to agree with the happy housewife. I’m sure they work great (I love the smell of strawberry suave but mercy it screws up my hair) but I’ve got straight, thin, prone to oil and static and every single inexpensive product at wal-mart has made my hair nasty. And while I still have to change my shampoo every year because eventually my hair will rebel against what I’m using, I have much better results with salon products. First was Matrix and that was great for just over a year. When my hair got weird I switched to Paul Mitchel and used that conditioner with a generics (from sally’s, still pricy, but liked better than the paul mitchell) shampoo. Next came big sexy hair which my first bottle of shampoo was awesome but when it got lost in our move we found that they’d changed the formula and I am so not loving it. So I’ll be changing it again soon. I’d love to find one at a normal store that works for me.

  18. Donna says:

    I am a serial cheater when it comes to hair products. Whatever is on sale is what I buy. Of course, practicality extends to my hair cut as well…let’s just say I can “finger-style” my little locks!

  19. Heather Lessiter says:

    I am rushing out right now to try the root lifter you suggested. I have fine, straight hair that I like to grow out to donate and it has no lift.
    My faves are your “mothership’s” knockoffs of Pantene.
    Thanks for sharing!

  20. Kimi G says:

    I hate to admit it – but I love Salon Products. I ONLY buy them because my mom is a hair stylist which means $$$$$ savings for me. I would never pay full price for salon products, BUT I do think that the smell lasts longer on your hair than OTC 😀
    Thanks for your post – love your blog!

  21. Bev says:

    Sorry, but I have to disagree about the shampoo/conditioner. I have very long, thick hair, and the cheap stuff makes it impossible to deal with. I always use Pantene 2-in-1, and it’s not terribly expensive and it does a fabulous job. My sister-in-law is a hairstylist and she will occasionally surprise me with bottles of Biolage, which is like heaven in a bottle, at least for hair like mine. It is so smooth and shiny and NO TANGLES. I love it.

  22. Kim H. says:

    I completely agree – I just can’t justify the extra expense anymore… so I’ve been using herbal essences for color-treated hair, and it honestly is the best I’ve used in a while! My hair is softer than ever!

  23. Donna @ The Frugal Mom Blog says:

    I know what you mean. Evey time I go to the hair dresser, I get suckered in to buying these huge containers of shampoo, conditioner and styling creme only to end up not liking them at all. I now use them for body wash and to shave my legs. What I really like is Sunsilk, the one in the purple bottle. It makes my hair really nice and straight.
    Thanks for sharing your tip!
    Donna @ The Frugal Mom Blog.

  24. Runningamuck says:

    You pulled me back from the brink just in time! I’d pulled an add out (coupon included of course) and was ready to go purchase some salon shampoo/conditioners! I can’t help it! I’m desperate! I hate my childbearing and age induced drab, dried-out hair!
    But you saved me. Better yet, you saved the $30 I’d earmarked to spend (which would have undoubtedly turned into $50). Thanks! =0)

  25. Heather says:

    @ Fuschia: Yes, baking soda can strip your hair of color, so just dilute it. Many in the “no ‘poo” (no shampoo) community say to use a tablespoon dissolved in a cup of water.
    I, too, use Suave, and I love it! After years of being suckered into buying the expensive stuff because my hairstylist swore that they work better, I finally ditched shampoo altogether and just use Suave conditioner to clean my hair. My hair comes out just as clean and nice and shiny and smooth.

  26. Lori Drumm says:

    I LOVE Suave! Shampoo, conditioner, styling products…use ’em all! And I LOVE it when I find it on sale AND I have a coupon! I usually end up making money on the deal.
    Great blog!

  27. SheilaG says:

    I agree with you mostly, but I’ve got to tell you my salon gel is amazing. It is so much better than anything else I have ever bought. Granted, it’s $15, but it lasts forever, and I love it.
    But shampoo? I’ve had some expensive stuff that I hated. So go cheap on that, and then spend your money somewhere where it really counts!
    Visit To Love, Honor and Vacuum today!

  28. GiBee says:

    I’m gonna have to try your hair spray, mouse, etc. I only condition once or twice a week too… but my hair really frizzes in humid weather, which is about every day here on the east coast.

  29. T with Honey says:

    I’ve been hooked on Suave Professionals for a few years now and I refuse to stray ever again. The Humectant Conditioner is the only product that makes Princess’s curly locks any where near manageable and we have tried a LOT of different things trying to save her from a buzz cut.

  30. Karen says:

    Sorry girl, I’m going to have to beg to differ on this one.
    As the owner of very thin, often oily hair I have horrible results with cheap shampoo and conditioner. It’s like pouring candle wax on my head. Then add a very dry climate and my hair goes wild with static electricity and damages really easily.
    Perhaps my hair is like a delicate flower? Who knows, but I would rather grow dred locks than go back to grocery store shampoo. 🙂 Biolage all the way!
    I will be trying that baking soda trick, though . . .

  31. Liz C. says:

    I have to avoid the sodium laurel/laureth sulfate, or my hair breaks off. I’ve not found an SLS-free cheap option.
    But, what I have found is that I can spend $40 and get a years’ worth of the spendy stuff (shampoo plus three conditioner bottles), and it’s the SLS-free stuff, on sale. With the $2 bottles, we go through three each month (1 shampoo, two conditioner), so that’s $6/month–$72 a year. I could stock up for 2 years on the spendy stuff at that rate. 🙂 I think it has to do with being able to go from a quarter-size puddle of shampoo each time, and a handful of conditioner, to a nickel-sized puddle of shampoo, and a tablespoon of conditioner.
    And the whole “hair not breaking off” part.

  32. Chel - An Abiding Branch says:

    You may want to delete 216 (Chel an Abiding Branch – that’s me) I redid it so that it gave a hint to my title. I did post the link correctly this time. I will get “this” one day!! lol
    I love the 80’s hair too! Not Farrah but close. I love my hairspray! The one thing that has made a difference for me is my blow drier. It works much faster than the old one. I bought the Chi and I love it!
    Btw, I am glad my hair does not stand alone!!

  33. Sherry says:

    I totally agree. I even heard a famous celebrity say one time that the conditioner is actually what makes more of the difference than the shampoo unless talking about oily hair.

  34. Jennifer says:

    I love the Suave shampoo, but I have given up on finding a cheap condition that works for me. After multiple bottles of bad conditioner, I bought one huge bottle of redken “soft”. It makes my frizzy hair smooth and soft!

  35. pam says:

    Great tips, Shannon. I especially love the idea of using something like baking soda, which I always have around. Economical and easy, I love it!
    I so enjoy these posts. Thank you so much for all you do.

  36. Cristy says:

    We use a lot of the same products. I use Garnier Fructis shampoo, then rinse and use TreSemme moisture rich shampoo and partner conditioner. I also go back and forth between the Garnier Fructis root lifter and the TreSemme Big Boost root lifter. (I think I like the TreSemme better, though.) Everything else is the same.

  37. Christina says:

    love tre semme hairspray. i have no idea how to spell that.
    love that baking soda tip. will try it. wish it worked on the hair spray residue on my walls and floor.
    for that I use a bit of liquid fabric softener mixed with water and a LOT of ELBOW grease!
    i like infusium shampoo, btw.

  38. Texas in Africa says:

    The Garnier Stuff really works? How straight and fine is your hair? ‘Cause mine is like a baby’s, and I’ve never found anything that gives it body or lift for more than ten minutes, including backcombing.

  39. Daiquiri says:

    I totally agree with you! I actually use my (gasp) husband’s Head & Shoulders every day. Ran out of the “good” stuff one day, so used his. I actually liked it better! I go for the Infusium conditioner, the Tre Seem (?) mousse and hairspray. Good to go for the day.
    All of this after YEARS of salon stuff addiction. So foolish to waste my money like that!
    BTW…I think the same goes for makeup. I used Lancome for a decade…then switched to stuff I bought at the store. Worked just fine. Oh, to get the $30 per pressed powder I spent. And the eye shadow! And the liner! Ugh.

  40. Mary Wiedenhaupt says:

    I find that if you buy 2 cheap or less expensive shampoos and alternate them, you will have more success. At least it works for me. I’ll try not conditioning so much but only wash it twice a week to keep from being so dry.

  41. Bonnie says:

    I’ve tried different products, and now pretty much just use shampoo and conditioner. The one that I found worked for me (after some trial and error) is Infusium. It’s harder to find (many stores don’t carry it), but it’s been my “staple.” After I use it, I can just run my brush through my hair no problems – and since I have long hair, not many products give me that result. 🙂 One tip: I discovered Infusium by using samples at a condo we stayed in. If you can get samples of the product to try, it’ll save you money over buying bottles of shampoo you never use. 🙂

  42. mommy bee says:

    I use baking soda for my deep cleansing about once a month. There are people who use it full time too–did you know that? THey call it “no-poo” because there’s no shampoo, just baking soda…
    I have always found the cheap shampoos to be the best. Actually, if you talk to serious hair growers (such as the folks at where I like to hang out) you will find that 3/4 of them use the cheaper shampoos or make their own (or buy from independent little sellers such as on etsy). Fancy brands have fancy stuff in them…but that doesn’t make them better OR good for your hair in the long run!

  43. sandy says:

    I’ve started using everything up in my drawer, and much of it all seems the same. I do have to use the shampoo/conditioner for color treated hair though. I’ve tried w/out and I’m a firm believer of that stuff.
    Fun catching up on your blog, Shannon! 🙂

  44. The Diaper Diaries says:

    Am I the only one disagreeing? I don’t have time to read through all the comments.
    Here is the deal, I am very prematurely gray and have to get my hair colored every 5 weeks to cover the gray. I used to go six, but my roots were just getting too bad.
    Recently I started using a few store brands to save some money and I could majorly tell the difference. At about 3 1/2 weeks I was root city.
    So why these may work on normal hair, I would advise that if you have color treated hair, you might still want to pony up for the good stuff.

  45. Jen says:

    A stylist friend of mine always tells her clients to use the Dove line. She says they’re outstanding products, you can’t beat the price, and her conscience won’t let her try to sell people the stuff in the salon that’s $15 a bottle. I can’t even imagine maintaining my hair with costly products. I’d rather go out for dinner than spend $30+ on a brand name.

  46. kidlet says:

    Clipper. No guard, setting on 1 🙂
    Shampoo? Never heard of it… hair and body cleanser only. Drying off is a single wipe across the scalp and I couldn’t be happier!

  47. Rena Gunther says:

    A woman after my own hair…uh, heart, or something.
    I absolutely buy volumizing products and will grab the cheapest if it works well. I love Tresemme as well. I love Aussie products.
    I have the best hairdresser in the world…or at least the Baton Rouge area.
    Wouldn’t trade her….got out of my slump recently and started back making the those next appointments when I leave the salon.
    BUT I agree! I don’t find it worth it to spend the extra money on those products…no ma’am!

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