Whether they admit it or not, people care about their hair. Chris Rock made a movie about it. Late night television is full of solutions for men with receding hairlines. [These solutions are not ITG-approved.] Famed trichologist Philip Kingsley claims to have coined the term 'bad hair day' because, he says, he “truly understands the relationship between our hair and our happiness, self image, and sexuality.” And it is true that we spend more time grooming, maintaining and nurturing our hair than any other part of our body.
What else is true: Attractive, glossy hair has become an indicator of health, and we’d like to think that everybody, at the least, wants to look healthy (if not in the 'Wow! You look well-fed' sense, then in the ‘Wow! great hair!’ sense). We are of the opinion that shampoo matters more than conditioner—what you use to cleanse and fortify your scalp feels more important than what you do to the actual hair strands (dead protein). Dr. Kingsley concurred via e-mail, writing: “You wash or cleanse your face every day to keep skin looking its best–your hair goes to all the same places, so it, too, needs daily care. Focusing on the scalp is the best thing you can do for healthy hair.” With that in mind, for this High/Low we examined a luxe shampoo and a drugstore conditioner to see where your money is best spent.
Aesop, maker of the Volumising Shampoo we tested out, knows what they’re doing when it comes to packaging. Their bottles tow the line between utilitarian and fashion-minded. In other words, if you found them in your boyfriend’s shower, you wouldn’t necessarily worry about how much money he spends on his own upkeep (and whether or not he’s a metrosexual, and whether or not that matters). This particular shampoo ($47) combines fennel seed, peppermint, and rosemary leaf, and is formulated to give oomph and body to fine hair. How, you ask? "Polyquaternium lifts and separates hair shafts, while botanical oils add lustre,” explains the bottle. We don’t know much about polyquartenium, but we do know what we like on our heads: shampoo that smells great (peppermint! rosemary!) and leaves your hair at that almost-squeaky-clean state, but with the right amount of residual gloss. Aesop focuses their attention on your scalp (the root of the issue, if you think about it, har har) and it’s own “unique issues.” Approximately $50 may seem like a lot for shampoo, but do you really want to mess around with your scalp? Give it what it needs, you can always save on....
Pantene Pro-V! Totally and unabashedly old-school. We’ll go out on a limb and say that we are confident most people in the Western world know the smell of Pantene and most of them have probably used it at one time or another. The Aqua Light line is new to the Pantene fold, and advertised as “weightless nourishment,” which is what drew us to it in the first place. Generally, we find that conditioner can weigh hair down like nobody’s business. This bottle spoke to us. Almost literally—the back of it asks, "Do you have hair that feels weighed down?” (Yes.) “Do you want hair that is beautifully conditioned with no weight?” (Why not!) So we slapped some on our strands after the Aesop, finger-combed it through (per the bottle’s suggestion) and rinsed thoroughly. And it was awesome. First off, that Pantene smell didn’t drown out the natural pleasantries of the Aesop appetizer, and secondly, they weren’t kidding about the weightless feeling. Our hair was soft, shiny, smooth, and had none of the buzz-killing limpness that we usually associate with conditioner. And it will cost you well under $6 for one of those space-agey huge opaque tubes.
So in summation: for healthy hair that still has volume and gloss and all of those good things, you don’t necessarily need to shill out for both steps in the operation. Go for the nice shampoo: get rid of all the grease and pollution to which we subject ourselves all day, and treat the root of the issue. Then, try skimping a bit on the conditioner, as long as it’s got the vitamins and hoopla that you need. It’s all about balance.
Find Aesop Volumising Shampoo.
Illustration by Karleigh Sherman.