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Which Shampoo To Use And When?

Shampoos today assume a big role in our day to day lives, both for a woman or a man. And with the range of shampoos available it becomes difficult to know which shampoo works best.

Patients often pose this question to me and my answer is simple: there is no ‘one shampoo’ for everyone. As much as the shampoo commercials make us believe that buying a certain shampoo will make your hair silky or make your hair less frizzy, it isn’t so.

Your hair, like any part of your body has its needs. On a humid day you might feel your hair has gone frizzy and on a dry winter day you might get hair that falls flat and looks dull! Your hair changes everyday according to the weather and the environment you are in.

Therefore knowing the ingredients of your shampoo is important for you to be able to select your shampoo according to the needs of your hair for that particular day!

Here are the basic ingredients shampoos are made of and how they work:


Remove environment dirt, sebum, dead skin and styling products.

There are 5 categories of detergents:

Anionic detergents are used for deep cleansing but may leave the hair harsh.

  • Lauryl sulfates are used for oily hair and are useful if water is hard

  • Laureth sulphates are used for normal to dry hair

  • Sarcosines are used as secondary cleansers

  • Sulfosuccinates are used as strong detergents for oily hair

Cationics are used for minimal cleansing but impart softness and manageability. Aminoesters, Ammonioesters, Cetyltrimethylammonium chloride are cationics and are used for daily shampooing of damaged hair, coloured hair & straightened hair.

Nonionics like Polyoxyethylene fatty alcohols/ sorbitol esters, alkanolamides are used for their antistatic effect. These are the mildest of all cleansers and impart manageability

Amphoterics like Betaines, sultaines, imidazolinium derivatives are used in baby shampoos since they are not irritating to the eyes and are mild cleansers

Natural surfactants like Soap nut (REETHA) Soap bark, soapwort, Sarsaparilla, ivy, agave produce excellent lather but have poor cleansing capacity


Allow shampoo to form suds or lather (foam), because consumers equate cleansing with foaming even though the two are unrelated. They add gas bubbles into water and thus cause foaming. Cocodiethanolamide is a product that boosts foaming.


Leave the hair soft and smooth after sebum removal by the detergent.

  • Instant hair conditioners: quaternary ammonium compounds or quats help in increasing the reflective abilities of the hair making them shine. They also neutralise static electricity and improve manageability.

  • Leave in: these form a thin film and consist ofpolyvinlypyrrolidone (PVP). This polymer fills the defect in the hair shaft creating a smooth surface thereby increasing shine and eliminating static electricity as well making the hair more manageable.


Thicken the shampoo because the notion it to believe that a thick shampoo works better than a thin shampoo. For example, glycol distearate,PEG-150 distearate and salt.


Sequestering agents like polyphosphates and ethylenediaminetetra-acetic acid are used to chelate magnesium and calcium ions. Presence of these ions form insoluble soaps called “scum” over the scalp and hair, may cause itching and exacerbate the symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis while making the hair dull.

FRAGRANCES: Fragrance adds to the aesthetic appeal of the shampoo only


Prevent microbial and fungal contamination of the shampoo before and after opening the bottle. Parabens, DMDM, EDTA etc are some examples.


Another important thing that you should be at least aware of is the pH value of the shampoo. Most shampoo detergents have an alkaline pH (value more than 7) which causes the hair shaft to swell. This swelling loosens the protective cuticle and can predispose the hair shaft to damage and breakage. So a pH balanced shampoo with additional ingredient like glycolic acid or citric acid can help in maintaining the hair shaft integrity.Why use a special shampoo for chemically treated hair? The shampoos have a neutral pH and are formulated for such hair that has been coloured or straightened.

Yes! So when anyone asks me what shampoo would be the best,I say: look at your hair and then decide. On certain days you might feel your hair has become dry , so using a mild cleansing sulfate free shampoo with a neutral pH might help. And on certain days your hair might seem very oily and grimy, so using a lathering shampoo that cleanses could do wonders.

And did you know how the term shampoo entered the English language ? Through India! Shampoo was inspired from the Hindi word “champoo” which meant to press or massage, it was used to denote cleaning through massage of the hair and skin.

Happy ‘Champooing’ everyone!

- Dr Pradnya Shastri


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