There comes a time in every beauty editor’s life when work crosses over into home. That time, for me, is now. And not because the August holidays loom, but because I’ve finally reached the point where I must face that beauty item I have been avoiding all summer: shampoo. Shampoos are glitzier, more expensive and more complicated than ever, and to figure out if they are (to paraphrase the L’Oréal ads), “worth it”, they require a certain hands-on testing that you just can’t do in the office.
Which is why recently I arrived home with 50 bottles of haircare products, many of them so fancy that if there were to be a Through the Keyhole-type TV programme based on what lies on the floor of my shower tray, watchers might think they were looking at the home of a Russian oligarch’s wife. My immediate assumption: everyone’s trying to get their products into Harrods – where, I’ve heard, the higher the price point, the quicker an object sells. But really: do we actually need tassels hanging from our shampoo bottles? What are we meant to do with them?
One designer range was so throwback-1990s – big, clunky, with a square gold lid – I couldn’t work out if it was making an artistic yet ironic statement or was just so ahead of its time it was ahead of me. Not to mention the fact that almost every shampoo comes with both a matching conditioner and a toner (something that trichologist Philip Kingsley first developed, and his is great, by the way). So much for the era of austerity.
And so much for practicality: wouldn’t it be great if instructions could be repeated on bottles and not just left in the box? Preferably in at least 12-point font size? I do not want to bring paper instruction sheets, elaborate packaging or a magnifying glass into the shower. Especially because, as my daughter discovered after Googling prices, these new hair luxuries cost up to “£100 – can you believe it? Can we put them on eBay?” (For anyone who’s wondering, my answers were yes – and no). Plus some of them don’t even work: when my son tried one for flaky scalps, it seemed to actually give him flakes.
It all confirmed what I have long believed, which is that some cheap shampoos are often just as good as the pricey ones, and sometimes better. To wit: TREsemmé (horrible packaging, bulky, but works); Pantene (their Deep Moisture Soufflé, essentially a leave-in conditioning mousse, is an absolute hair game-changer at a bargain £4.49); L’Oréal’s Elvive; and John Frieda’s ever-growing family of colour-friendly shampoos. Liz Earle’s range, mid-priced, is fantastic – volume, shine, you name it. As is the new offering from the woman behind the John Frieda brand, Gail Federici, whose Color Wow shampoos and conditioners left my hair looking expensively glossy.
Which is not to say that it’s all bad as we head up the price ladder. Indeed, anything by Kérastase (from £13.90) is very good, although it’s important to get a hairdresser to tell you which one is right for your hair type. One new brand, Concoction, even invites customers to create their own at a special mixology bar: add two sera of your choosing into a shampoo base, so there’s no buying the wrong product (from £14).
I’m most excited about two new “natural” ranges – not just because they’re natural but because they had the best effect on the quality of my hair, which tends to look lank on top and frizzy at the bottom, in my home test. First is Natu, an American line that comes in an odd-looking bottle but lathers up well and left my hair looking incredibly full, shiny and feeling soft (from $18 for their Professional Colorist Shampoo). The second is Phylia de M. That line, from £60 for their new Re-Connect toner (the shampoo, Clean, starts at £28), came about when a Japanese former oncologist, Dr Dick Miyayama, who moved to Mexico to fuse his passion for Mayan herbology with a love of all things high-tech, and his Los Angeles-based part-Japanese goddaughter and business partner Kazu Namise started to think of hair as being like grass: ie, in need of fertiliser. What if they applied natural, fertiliser-type ingredients to help it grow (think aloe and tannic and fulvic acids)? The idea is that the nerve ending to the hair follicle is, yes, reconnected, thanks to restoring the supply of keratin to the hair.
Frankly, given the number of claims made about this particular line – your hair will start growing back where you thought it was gone for good; your greys will take longer to appear; your nails will get stronger – it’s amazing it hasn’t been dispatched on a peacekeeping mission to some far-flung war-torn outpost. My middle-aged husband, worried about hair loss as is the wont of all middle-aged husbands, was, for the first time in the history of samples passing through our bathroom, interested enough to try.
And after testing the trio of shampoo, conditioner and toner myself? Well, you know those really annoying women who fiddle with their hair while they’re talking to you? Yup. That’s now me. Excuse me while I go wash my hair.