Beauty

Misleading Hair Care Products

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Want to know the dirty little secret many shampoo companies don’t want you to know? When you wash your hair with most traditional shampoos, you are actually stripping your hair and scalp of their natural oils, thus drying out your hair. Why? Because most shampoos rely on sodium laurel sulfate or other damaging detergents for cleansing. While these generate a thick lather to clean hair, they also create dryness, frizziness, dullness, and color fade. We then spend a fortune of time and money on products (usually recommended by the same company that made your shampoo) to try to undo the damage caused by shampoo.

Misleading Hair Care Products

We talked to a leading hair stylist, who came clean with us on the many misleading advertisements for hair care products. A typical shampoo commercial script:

You. A sunny morning in Bryant Park. Wearing a baseball cap, you awkwardly try to pass by a group of people unnoticed. Heck! A friend notices you after all. She comes down to you running —  flipping her long, silky straight and shiny hair back and forth. Her hair catches your gaze. It’s both alluring and a pain in the ass for you.

Friend: (Smiling) Hey YOU, what’s with the baseball cap? You: Having a bad hair day. My hair is so frizzy and I can’t do anything about it. Friend: (Flips her hair again, smiling…) You: (Imagines holding a pair of rusty scissors and gives her hair the shaft, but manages to banish the thought for the sake of friendship.) Your hair is beautiful! How do you get your hair so smooth and silky? Friend: Well, my friend, I’ll let you in on a little secret of mine. I used to have dry and frizzy hair too, but since I started using Blah Blah Blah shampoo, I never struggle with unruly hair anymore. You: Seriously?! Friend: Yes. The Blah Blah Blah shampoo is especially formulated with restructuring ingredients that will treat the damage caused by styling and chemical treatments. It is also made with natural ingredients and is hypoallergenic. God, it’s the best shampoo in the world! You: OMG. OMG. I’ve got to get my hair on that shampoo. (Grabs your friend’s arm) Come with me!

And then you and your friend run towards the nearest drugstore — her long, silky straight and shiny hair flips back and forth as the scene fades…

Too good to be true, right? Tons of hair care products have misleading advertisements that end up giving your hair the shaft. While it is important for hair care products to have proper labeling, most of these labels are deliberately confusing to consumers. But fear not, for we’ve defined hair care product jargon for all unknowing Urbanette’s out there:

1. “Natural”

“Natural” is an unregulated word and is not synonymous with “safety” (or even chemical-free). Consumers should not necessarily assume that a product calling itself ‘organic’ or ‘natural’ contains truly natural ingredients in any noticeable quantity. If you want a natural product, go to a store that focuses on natural products, and read the ingredients list. Look for offical labels like USDA organic and Ecocert.

2. “Hypoallergenic”

‘Hypoallergenic’ is little more than a nonsense word, and is often insensitive to the needs of people with real sensitive skin. Given that there are no regulations governing this supposed category that was made up by the cosmetics industry, there are plenty of products labeled ‘hypoallergenic’ that contain problematic ingredients and that could indeed trigger allergic reactions. The word ‘hypoallergenic’ gives you no better understanding of what you are or aren’t putting on your skin.

3. “Studies Show”

These ‘studies’ are all about marketing. is all about marketing. The claim that a product has undergone scientific studies and has been proven to be 99% effective (or whatever the claim) may not be true. There are lots of ways to use pseudo-science to create ‘proof’ for a claim that, in reality, has very little to do with science and everything to do with marketing.

4. “Clinically Proven”

The words ‘clinically proven’ just means that a product has been tested in a lab. Period. It’s meant to infer that the manufacturer has conducted some testing of the product in a clinical setting, like a lab, and the results were supposedly positive. In reality, it doesn’t mean that anything significant has been ‘proven’.

5. “Fragrance-Free”

This simply means the product has no noticeable smell. It doesn’t mean it’s totally free of added fragrances. It just means that the fragrances were formulated to mask the smell of the basic ingredients.

6. “Dermatologist Tested”

They’re trying to infer that dermatologists approve of the product, by telling consumers that a dermatologist tested the product. But testing doesn’t mean necessarily mean the derma endorsed or liked the product. The implication is that the dermatologist liked it, but you don’t know that. And even if it says “Dermatologist Recommended”, that claim also means nothing because dermatologists routinely get paid to “recommend” and endorse products.

7. “Restructuring”

‘Restructuring’ means that the product has the ability to temporarily mask hair problems (like frizziness), but it cannot restore hair back to its natural structure. It does not mean that you can permanently restructure hair.

8. “As Good as the Salon”

This means absolutely nothing. If anything, it just means that drugstore brands have some of the same ingredients as the salon brands — but their quantity differs.

9. “Botanical Ingredients”

For the most part, these are just for show. Unless you’re buying an organic brand at the health store, the teeny amount of honey, chamomile, or vitamin E they add to their product is likely not going be enough to cause any effect. While some of these may have benefits for your hair, the truth is there simply are not enough of those ingredients in the product to have any effect.

10. “Brings Back Hair to Life”

Any product claiming it can heal your hair is not worth any price. ‘Brings Back Hair to Life’ is an epic lie and should be taken as a caution. Hair is dead and cannot be fixed with anything but a good set of styling scissors. If you are considering salon products but you are not sure about paying the extra money, try samples and see for yourself if you notice any improvement.

Check if your product’s claims are accurate by looking up the reviews at Beautypedia. Then see if it’s toxic at GoodGuide.

More about cosmetics and hair care products:

Read more: How I Went From a Salon-Lifer to a Box-Color Convert

Sarah enlightens us on a daily basis with the newest trends as (and often before) they transpire. She is the consummate globe trotter. Having traveled to over 70 countries, she earns her living writing, blogging and modeling while on the road. In her spare time she gets manicures, suntans on yachts in Greece, shops for even more shoes, and lives in the limelight. She loves photography, elephants, sailboats, bangles and ballet flats.

7 Comments

  1. Jen Spillane

    It seems like it's really overwhelming to try to navigate what's safe and what's not. For that reason, I'd prefer to make my own, but I haven't yet found which formulations work for my hair. The whole baking soda/vinegar, coconut oil thing leaves my hair limp and brittle. Does anyone have suggestions on alternative formulas?

  2. Not until I started trying to treat my natural hair , I realized how many bad chemicals are in shampoo. So I started adding my own ingredients to my shampoo such as coconut oil, lemon juice and honey. I also make my own conditioners now and my hair is so much better since then!

  3. Sandra Brown

    Walking down the hair aisle in the store is very overwhelming. I have very curly and frizzy hair and never can seem to find a product to help with it. I also have a sensitive scalp so I usually go for the products that say fragrance free. I am pretty sure everyone has trouble trying to find products that will help bring life back to their hair. I sure know I do.

  4. Courtney Watson

    This puts into light the importance of reading labels. You need to know exactly what is in the product rather than being misled by promising hair product ads.

  5. Randie Cadiogan

    Anything to sell a product, I guess. 😀 

  6. Paula Lowe

    Usually, I buy a product that says “Clinically Proven” and “Has Natural Ingredients”.
    After reading this, I realized these words are just part of a product’s marketing strategy and that I should be more meticulous in buying a product. 

  7. Joanne Samonte

    Really helpful tips you got here. Thanks for posting this~

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