Store vs professional products

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Store vs professional productsThere 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.

Image: Tyler Olson/


Written by

Candice Donadel is a veteran when it comes to colour. She used to be the colour technician for L’Oreal Professionel and Redken but is now the owner of Mirrors Hair Lab in Cape Town. She has travelled the globe, working with some of the world’s best hairdressers, and locally, has done hair for SA Fashion Week.

Want to write a comment? Sign in here sign up now
Tell your friends
  1. AndreaM

    In america they can easily access a kit to test the PH level of a product. I wonder if we can get it here as well.

    5 years ago •

  1. foreverGLAM

    So grateful for such an informative article.

    6 years ago •

  1. Ra’eesa

    This is true. I have fine,straight thin and therefore oily hair. But recently noticed extreme thinning on my front and sides of my head. My hairdresser recommended the Nioxin range. Nioxin products are the leaders in treatment for thinning hair. The shampoo and conditioner are R280 and R285 respectively which is more expensive than store bought products but both my husband and I use it and it lasts for 2months.
    A very small amount is enough to cleanse my scalp,and I use a small amount of conditioner just from mid-lengths to ends.
    I have noticed that hair fall has been reduced and a thickening effect to my hair.

    6 years ago •

  1. Reigh-J

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Will definately consider the salon shampoos now.

    6 years ago •

  1. Tasha

    Great article! Thanks you very much!

    7 years ago •

  1. BeautyBloggess

    I go on the spend/splurge rule. Save on some things, splurge on others. I love a good conditioner and hair treatment (loving Aussie 3 Minute Miracle).

    7 years ago •

  1. Chicara

    So interesting. A lot I didn’t know.

    7 years ago •

  1. Maddy

    Well this is such an informative article , certainly makes feel good about spending those extra bucks on salon products.

    7 years ago •

  1. Lorraine

    Interesting facts.Never was aware of this.

    7 years ago •

  1. Sam

    I’ve always found that my hair becomes oilier, faster when using store bought products.

    7 years ago •

  1. Humphreys

    Wow! This is interesting stuff. Now i know exactly what to look out for when shopping for hair products. Knowledge is power!!

    7 years ago •

  1. Rochelle Kay

    Very nice to know. I think salons should have more green products!

    7 years ago •

  1. Samantha

    Good to know, just a pity that some of the salon products are so expensive!

    7 years ago •

  1. CarolynMcM

    I buy Salon product most of the time as they really do last much longer than store products. I have seen better results with Salon products. Every now and then I try a new store brand, but in the end I go back to my Salon brand. After reading this article I will probably not try a store brand again.

    7 years ago •

  1. Steenkamp

    Never knew. I never buy salon products, in gonna have to start now

    7 years ago •

  1. McConney

    I only use salon products. It really makes a world of difference. I would rather spend R200 on a shampoo and conditioner that really nourishes my hair from within than buy cheaper products that do more damage than good. Plus the Salon products last really long because they are so rich and you don’t use a lot.

    7 years ago •

  1. Rochelle Stewart

    So true, beauty and science goes hand in hand…

    7 years ago •

  1. Guccigirl

    I’ll skimp on some things, but I always treat myself to salon haircare products. The difference is huge.

    7 years ago •

  1. DIVA

    Great aticle, I’ve always noticed the difference when I wash my hair at home and when I go and wash it at the salon. I always thought it was me, now I know its the products from the stores.

    7 years ago •

  1. landman

    I have tried so many salon related products and the reason why i love my pantene so much was because it foams a lot, now i know why, this is such a interesting article, i always wondered why the salon shampoo does not foam as much as the store products, after this article i really gonna make a point out of it, to rather pay a little more, but invest in a better product for my hair thank u for these tips and information.

    7 years ago •

  1. Mpbutterfly

    So interesting! I have noticed that my salon shampoo does not foam as much as the store bought shampoo.

    7 years ago •

BeautySouthAfrica - your pre-shop stop for all things beauty is South Africa’s most comprehensive online beauty magazine and your pre-shop stop for product information and reviews. From the latest international make-up trends to the hottest new products on the market, we offer insights into the glamorous world of beauty. Join like-minded beauty fanatics in our loyalty program and earn points, trial beauty products and share your experiences.

Become a beauty addict!

Get great deals and climb the ladder to a Gold Star!


Sign In