Experiments In Personalized Shampoo


You’ve been with your shampoo, on-again, off-again, for like, eight years now. You’d developed quite a routine, with the washing and the massaging and the rinsing and the conditioning. It’s seen you naked, at least a million times. You’ve read the use instructions out of boredom like it was subway poetry. A meditation on modern life / what it means to be truly clean. But did you ever step back and think, how well does my shampoo really know me?

Does my shampoo know that I peek in my friends’ showers to see what they’re using? That sometimes I even reach in to smell them? Does my shampoo know that I don’t know my credit score and worry about that sometimes? That I hate washing dishes? That I sign emails “warmly” when I truly mean “don’t hate me”? I dunno man, I dunno. I’m starting to think my shampoo doesn’t know shit about me.

So one day while I’m stalking high school friends on Facebook who I haven’t talked to in approx. 14 years, I see an ad for Function of Beauty’s personalized shampoo + conditioner, $36. Targeted ads have gotten effective! Could this be it? The shampoo that will finally get me-get me? Let’s find out.

First you take a quiz. What kind of hair do you have? I ace this one. I have fine, straight, blah hair. Scalp moisture—this one throws me for a loop. I’m pretty sure I have a dry scalp, because I have itchy dandruff issues. But my hair, because it’s fine, gets oily by day two. I decide to go with dry, hoping for a shampoo that will give me volume and cure my ‘druff.

Whoa, did not see the next question coming: Select five hair goals. Five!! At this point my hair has more goals than I do, and I wonder if maybe I should make a separate, life goals list while I’m at it. Nah. I choose a mere two goals: volumize, and soothe scalp. I figure the fewer goals, the more likely they are to be accomplished by a single shampoo. Is that how math works? Other goals I pass up like a sucker include: strengthen, anti-aging, fix split ends, thermal protection, replenish hair, anti-frizz, curl-definition. All kinds of stuff. As you click each goal, text pops up below to explain what it means, with a list of the ingredients (tea tree oil, coconut milk, ginger root, palmitoyl tripeptide-28, etc.) that will help achieve this.

Then you pick a pastel color, or go dye-free and feel good about yourself. I went with Necco wafer purple. What remains is the biggest decision of all: Which scent? Essential oils is recommended...but no, I don’t love minty shampoos. Cucumber mint sounds too high school to me, grapefruit hibiscus is tempting, and sandalwood violet is alluring. Since I just went though a major sandalwood phase when I experimented with essential oils, I go with that one. Floral, woodsy, musky, sexy. Yes. Choose fragrance strength: STRONG. Give it to me.

Did I say the perfume was the hardest part? I take it back. The formula name is the hardest. Do I try and squeeze in “titties” or something funny? “Billdonttouch” “notyours” “butts”. After hours of deliberation because I’m a child, I go with:


(Four exclamation points.)

A few days later, my violet goo arrives at my door. This is the moment, ladies and gentlehairs. Before I bring the new shampoo into my shower, I take the old one out and hide it in a basket so it doesn’t see what’s about to go down. The shampoo, which is a pearly light purple, foams up BIGLY and smells more like Dove bar soap than the perfume. Gotta admit that bummed me out. On the side of the bottle it says “untangle” then “wonder” over “destiny” like a fraction, = “embrace” then a little pyramid. What kind of illuminati formula is this??? I have so, so much to think about. The actual instructions came on a little sheet of paper, telling me to use 3-4 times a week, which is not my style. I’m an everyday-washer. Never gonna change. The perfume, it turns out, is in the conditioner, which is incredible. Musky and slightly floral with a back note of peppermint, just barely. It reminds me of the salon in the mall my mom took us to, Menchaca’s, where I learned that ecstasy is a head massage from a stranger.

Reminiscing on that, I realize that this isn’t the type of conditioner I favor, the kind that makes your hair instantly turn to silk in the shower, untangled and smooth. It’s coating my hair with goodness, but my hair feels rough and in need of a comb. That’s OK, there are plenty of expensive conditioners like this.

The real test is after the blow dry. How’s my va-va-voom? It’s acceptable. I didn’t add mousse or anything, because I wanted to be scientific about it. It turns out I still need mousse and all that. My hair feels thick, but it looks a little flat. I dig the smell, which isn’t super strong as the day goes on. What does happen though, is my hair gets oily by the end of the day. And I realize I should have selected a third hair goal: oil control. Maybe I should have selected scalp moisture: medium? I’m not sure. I go back and forth. Return/exchange the shampoo? (It’s free to!) Hold on a little longer to see if it cures dandruff? Don’t use as much conditioner?

So Function of alex!!!! might not be the one for alex! But it does have a lot in common with her. Unsteady on her feet, unsure of herself, second-guessing, reluctant to make finalizing decisions, strong desire to not be in charge, all of those are pretty accurate to both my shampoo game and life game. The lesson here is, you’ve got to know yourself, before you expect your shampoo to know you, too.

—Alex Beggs

Photo via the author.

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