Herbal Essences Brings The Nostalgia


The drugstore hair aisle is no longer the aisle of my youth. Which is to be expected in this time of constant rebranding and reissuing. So, imagine my surprise, when on a recent trip, I ran into a friend I hadn't seen in years, but I'd recognize anywhere. Hadn't changed a bit in 15 years. Herbal Essences in that old-school packaging, with those flowers winding up the background label— a rose for the Smooth Collection, a daisy for the Shine Collection. I opened the Rose shampoo cap and took a sniff. The scent is just as it always was— smells just like your best friend in middle school. Everyone had a pretty, non-mid-awkward-stage-friend who smelled like Herbal Essences. (If you can’t think of anyone, that means you were that friend.)

As an adolescent, I was more attracted to the daisy range. Daisies felt virginal, reedy, uncomplicated…plus, I remember Meg Ryan giving them a hard-sell in You’ve Got Mail: “Don't you think daisies are the friendliest flower?” Meg’s the kind of woman a prepubescent girl hopes to be. So, in the days of yore, I was a daisy girl. My hair matched my nose: shiny.

As Herbal Essences went through its rebranding, maybe I went through mine, too. College, Philosophy 101, Life Study, Ethics. Not to mention a certain, um, awakening. So, upon revisiting the line, I was hoping to find myself as a rose. Go ahead, laugh. But I was sort of hoping that my weird adolescent self had blossomed.

I’m sure that, like me, many of you have moved on to the sulfate-free $40-bottle shampoos: a tax you pay for adventurous dyeing and processing. Gone are the full-bodied, sulfate-y suds of my youth…but sometimes, I have to go back. Every once in a while it just feels so, so good to get a huge, foaming lather going on top of your head. To work up a frothy, white mountain: a Marie Antoinette wig of lather. And then the shower fills up with those eponymous herbal essences. It’s aspirational and nostalgic, all at once.

We’ve both changed, Herbal Essences and I, but we've both come back to each other for this one moment of sudsy, floral rapture. If you can’t use sulfates in your hair, you can use it as a body wash. So worth it. It’s true that my own frazzled hair is going to need to go back to something more restorative eventually, but I’ve found that the daisy formula allows me to retain some of that beachy wave that I otherwise have to fake. Maybe I haven’t changed flowers.

Still a daisy, after all these years.

—Trace Barnhill

Photographed by Tom Newton.