There are so many new store products out there, and I can’t possibly speak for all of them, but I am simply sharing what I know from my background as a stylist.
The biggest difference is the pH levels. Your pH scale runs from pH0 to pH14 with pH7 serving as neutral indicating a balance. A measure below pH7 indicates acid. A measure above pH7 – pH14 indicates alkaline.
Normal, healthy hair is between pH4.5 – pH5.5 and is considered acidic. When hair is in its correct pH the cuticle is compact and closed, protecting the internal structure and giving the appearance of shiny, smooth, overall healthy hair. Hair that has a healthy pH level has natural bounce, shine, detangles easily and has a radiant condition.
If the hair is in an alkaline state, above pH7, the cuticle is raised and may even be torn or singed. The hair fibre itself is also swollen. This gives the hair a very dull, dry appearance. This hair is very difficult to comb when wet and will not accept colour evenly, unless a pre-treatment is done. A relaxer normally sits at pH12 to pH14. Permanent straighteners or perms sit at pH11 to pH13, while a permanent colour sits at about pH9 and a semi-colour sits at about pH6. A good in-salon treatment will be a pH3 – this helps to lock in hair colour.
Store products generally have a high pH, or a lot of them will say ‘pH balanced’. That sounds like it could be good for the hair but we now know that ‘balanced’ is a pH7, when we need a pH4.5 to pH5.5 for our hair to be healthy. Unfortunately, a lot of the so-called ‘colour safe’ shampoos are way above 5.5.
All professional products have an acidic pH. A shampoo which is supposed to open our cuticle scales should be between pH5 and pH6. A conditioner should be between pH3.5 and pH4.5 as it’s meant to close and seal our cuticles which leaves our hair shiny and smooth.
The second difference is the subject of sulfates. Sulfates are derived from salt. They are basically detergent surfactants which penetrate and break down dirt and create foam. In the case of sodium lauryl sulfate (the main ingredient in shampoo) it has a small molecular weight that will allow it to penetrate through the skin even into the blood stream and therefore will be carried and enter into every organ in the body (heart, brain, liver, eyes etc). Sodium lauryl sufate has aggressive properties due to many unstable (unpaired) electrons.
Shop products have a high amount of sulfates and that is why they foam so much and give the feeling of squeaky clean hair. Sulfates are also responsible for stripping colour out of the hair as well as making hair dry and dull. They can also make the scalp very dry and flaky, which many people then mistake for dandruff.
Your professional products are very low in sulfates, so your first shampoo will never foam. The more foam a product has, the more sulfates there are. A lot of professional products now have sulfate free shampoos. The foaming agents have been created by using natural ingredients like corn, coconut and sugar.
Salon products have years of research behind them. They are extremely concentrated and if used correctly, can last a long time. The molecules are much smaller and penetrate into the hair shaft. The ingredients used are of the highest quality and go through many processes in order to care for the hair.
Shop products are nowhere near as concentrated, and only work on the surface of the hair. They are able to give the hair a cosmetic feeling but never really feed the hair what it needs. You really can feel the difference.
Try it for yourself but make sure that you are getting the right product for your hair type for best results.
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