Cover image for the color care shampoo buyer's guide

Professional vs. Drugstore: The Best Shampoo for Color-Treated Hair (22 Brands Tested)

There is constant debate about whether professional shampoos truly offer better results than drugstore shampoos when it comes to the care of color-treated hair. To find out for ourselves, we tested color care shampoos from 22 popular hair care brands (half professional and half drugstore) to see how well each product held the color in a sample of professionally-colored human hair. Our experiment found that, as a whole, professional shampoos do in fact hold color better than drugstore shampoos. In addition, we found that Wella Brilliance is the overall best shampoo for color-treated hair, as it held color better than every other product in our experiment. Article Summary

One of the most heavily debated topics in hair care is whether or not professional brands are truly better than average drugstore brands. More specifically, there is hot debate on which shampoos are best for the care of color-treated hair.

On one side, you’ve got stylists claiming their expensive salon shampoos offer higher-quality ingredients that will hold color for longer while leaving your hair healthier and full of volume and shine. On the other side, you’ve got drugstore brands claiming their shampoos will give your colored hair the same long-lasting results but at a fraction of the price. So who’s actually telling the truth? Is there really a difference?

If you’re an avid social media user, you may have noticed a few videos going around lately of people conducting their own home experiments to try to prove which products are best. The tests usually involve a small group of shampoos, some professional and some drugstore. Each shampoo is mixed in a cup of water, and then a strip of colored hair is placed in each cup. The idea is to mix the hair in the shampoo-water to show which products strip the most color from the hair – and obviously, the less color stripped, the better.

Unfortunately, there has been massive criticism from viewers over the inconsistency of the testing methods used in the videos. For example, viewers have noticed different amounts of shampoo used between brands, different amounts of hair used within each cup, and different lengths of time that each brand was mixed (just to name a few of the complaints). On the surface, these might not sound like serious issues, but these are all variables that can definitely affect how much color is being stripped from the hair, thus providing inaccurate results.

We might not be professional stylists, but we know a thing or two about fairly rating products (not to mention, we care about our hair too!), so we decided to put together our own shampoo test to try to end the debate once and for all. We wanted to be as thorough as possible in our investigation, so we gathered 24 color care shampoos from 22 of the most popular hair care brands and put them all head-to-head using exactly-equal testing methods to get the most accurate, fair results.

Our goal with conducting this experiment was to be able to answer two important questions. First, on a broad scale, do professional shampoos really offer better results than drugstore shampoos when it comes to caring for color-treated hair? And second, overall, regardless of their parent category, which specific brand is best?

The products and materials used in our test

All of the existing “professional vs drugstore” shampoo experiments we’ve seen online only compare the results of a small group of products (usually around 4-8 total). While this may be enough to draw some rough conclusions, it leaves a lot of brands off the table – a complaint that many viewers had with the existing video tests. With that said, we knew we had to include more products in our test, so our test included 24 products from 22 different brands.

Our goal in choosing products was to try to include as many common and popular brands as possible, with three main reasons behind this thinking:

• First, larger numbers always mean more accurate results. The question of “professional vs drugstore” products is fairly broad considering how many hair care brands are out there, so we knew the more brands we included in our test, the more authority our results would have in choosing one side or the other.

• Second, testing more brands allows us to cover more of what people are actually using on their hair. As mentioned earlier, all of the existing video experiments online only test around 4-8 shampoos; which, in reality, probably only covers what 20% of people are actually using. By testing 24 shampoos, we figured we would be covering far more of the market, allowing more people to relate to the experiment and see how their shampoo stacks up compared to others.

• Third, it allows us to answer a more specific question of this whole debate: regardless of professional or drugstore, which is the overall best shampoo for color-treated hair?

We started out by literally just writing down all the common hair care brands we could think of. We then browsed retailers like Ulta and Target and even double-checked lists like Ranker’s top shampoo brands to find more names and ensure we didn’t miss any serious contenders. This gave us 25 popular brands to consider.

From there, we went through each brand one-by-one and hand-selected their shampoo best suited for color-treated hair. Some brands offer several color care shampoos, in which case we read through ingredients lists and customer reviews and decided whether to test each product individually or only the one with the best reputation (for example, L’Oréal has two highly-rated color care shampoos, so we tested both). Other brands didn’t offer any sort of colored-hair-specific shampoo, so we again went through ingredients lists and customer reviews and decided whether their regular shampoos were worth including in our test (for example, It’s a 10 doesn’t offer a shampoo specifically for color-treated hair, but their Miracle shampoo is color-safe and has such a great reputation that we couldn’t pass it up).

When all the product research was said and done, we had 24 products from 22 different brands (listed below in alphabetical order).

As for the hair used in our experiment, we wanted everything to be as realistic as possible, so we used real virgin human hair that was professionally colored by our local salon using Pravana ChromaSilk Vivids. The coloring was done five days prior to the experiment, allowing the color plenty of time to properly set before washing it.

We chose pink for a few reasons. First, we wanted something super bright that would easily show color strippage within each cup of shampoo-water, and you can’t really get much brighter than pink. Second, red dye is more susceptible to color loss than any other shade, and pink is a shade of red, so it was the most logical choice. Finally, red shades (again, including pink) are the most commonly used hair dyes. As mentioned earlier, we wanted our experiment to relate to as many people as possible, so it made sense to use a color that the largest majority of people use on their hair.

How we tested

Knowing that inconsistency was the main issue people had with the other video shampoo tests online, we made it our top priority to ensure each product was tested using exactly the same methods and materials. We’ve outlined each step in our testing process below to give you full insight into how we performed our experiment.

Step 1: Measure out even amounts of shampoo (1 ounce)

The first step in the process was to measure out an equal serving of each shampoo into each cup. In our case, this meant one ounce of each product. Since different shampoos all have slightly different liquid consistencies, they can be a little difficult to measure and pour, so we found the most accurate way to measure amounts was by using the bottom ridge of our Solo test cups as a marker. For those who don’t know, the bottom ridge of a Solo cup conveniently indicates approximately one ounce of content.

Now, it’s important to note that an ounce of shampoo is slightly more than what you should actually be using on your hair (we’ll cover appropriate shampoo amounts in our “tips” section further down the page). With that said, we chose this amount on purpose; we wanted to use slightly more than average to really show the effects of each shampoo on our test hair.

Step 2: Measure out even amounts of water (8 ounces)

The next step was to measure out a separate cup of water for each shampoo. Truth be told, this isn’t something that’s going to make or break the experiment if each cup has slightly different amounts of water in it – but we promised consistency in every aspect, so we still used a measuring cup for each fill anyways. Each cup was measured and filled with exactly 8 ounces (1 cup) of regular room temperature water (it’s always recommended to use cooler water when washing color-treated hair as hot water is known to strip color faster).

Step 3: Mix shampoo and water together (15 seconds)

After precisely measuring out each serving of shampoo and water, the obvious next step was to mix the two together. This is another thing that probably wouldn’t crucially affect the results if each cup isn’t mixed exactly the same, but as we said before, we’re going for consistency in every way possible. So for the sake of equal measures all-around, we used an iPhone to time ourselves and mixed each cup for 15 seconds. This gave each cup of shampoo-water a nice, even consistency to test with.

Step 4: Measure out even amounts of hair (9 inches)

With the cups of shampoo-water measured and filled, we brought out the colored hair to be used in the test. We made sure each strip of hair was cut and grouped to approximately the same size (roughly 9 inches long), and also that the coloring was consistent across all the hair. These are two areas that can seriously affect the results is some strips have more hair than others, or if some strips are more richly colored than others, so we paid very close attention to these aspects.

While we can’t guarantee our hair strips to absolute standards like we did with every other aspect of the experiment (if we tried to count out and examine each strand of hair individually, it would’ve taken months!), we did our best to ensure everything was equal. We’d confidently say the size and coloring was 98% consistent across all the hair strips used in the test.

Step 5: Mix hair in shampoo-water (15 seconds)

The final step is where the fun began, and also where consistency was the most important. This is where we finally placed a strip of colored hair into each cup, mixed it around, and observed how much damage each shampoo did. This is the number one area that viewers expressed issues with in the other video experiments shared around online – people complained that the video creators mixed certain shampoos far longer and more vigorously than others. Some viewers even accused the video creators of doing this on purpose in order to create bias towards certain brands. With this in mind, we used an iPhone to time ourselves and mixed each strip of hair for exactly 15 seconds, and then removed them. We made sure not to mix any brand more intensely than another, and kept everything as absolutely equal as we could.

The results of our test

Let’s start by answering the general debate on professional versus drugstore brands, and then we’ll show you which specific brands are the best shampoos for color-treated hair.

Professional vs. drugstore brands

Comparing each group of results side by side, we found that the professional shampoos did in fact perform better than the drugstore shampoos. The difference wasn’t nearly as significant as we originally thought it would be, and some professional brands were even right on par (or worse!) than the drugstore brands, but if we’re talking general comparison here – the group of cups using professional shampoos were on average lighter shades than the group of cups using drugstore shampoos, meaning they didn’t strip as much color.

Now that we’ve got that debate out of the way, let’s get onto our second question, which is arguably the most important of all.

The overall best shampoo for color-treated hair

At the end of the day, what matters most about which shampoo you use is its effectiveness, not which category it comes from. Seeing the images above, you may have already gotten a rough idea of which brands performed better – but don’t draw conclusions just yet. Each shampoo starts out with its own unique color and consistency, so to truly judge each brand’s performance, we took pictures of each cup before and after they had been mixed with the hair. This way, we were able to get the most accurate look at how much the color of each cup changed.

#1: Wella Brilliance
After carefully studying each and every comparison, the best performer by far was Wella. As you can see, the color of the cup barely changed after being mixed with the hair, turning from a milky white to a very, very light hint of pink.

#2: Pureology Hydrate
After Wella, the second-best performer was Pureology. While performing the test, we didn’t think it looked like much of a contender due to its thick purple hue, but once we put the before and after cups side by side, we knew we were wrong. Although the color of the mixture might have been purple, Pureology’s shampoo starts that way, and this comparison shows how it didn’t really change much after being mixed with the hair.

#3: Fekkai Technician Color Care and Bed Head Colour Goddess
There were a few good contenders for the third place spot, so decided to put two of them together for a tie. Those two brands are Fekkai and Bed Head. With Fekkai being a professional brand, we expected it to do well; but for a common drugstore brand like Bed Head to be right on par with its performance, we thought the tie was well-deserved.

We’ve included a gallery below with each brand’s before and after shot so that you can see all the results for yourself (listed alphabetically). We had several people judge the results, which is how we came up with our four winners above, but let us know if you think a certain brand deserves more recognition.

Additional tips to make your color last longer

Choosing the right shampoo isn’t the only thing you can do to help your color last longer. There are several other tips and tricks you can use to keep your new color as long as possible.

Delay your first wash after coloring

After coloring your hair, wait at least 48 hours to wash, preferably longer if you can manage it. Color needs time to “set” into your hair, so the longer you give it, the better it will hold over time. This is precisely why we colored our extensions five days before our experiment, to allow the dye more than enough time to set properly. According to Eva Scrivo, a highly acclaimed hairstylist in NYC, “It takes up the three days for the cuticle layer to fully close, which traps the color molecule, allowing for longer lasting hair color.”

Wash your hair less frequently

In addition to the initial wash waiting period, try to wash your hair less frequently, and instead try a dry shampoo or baby powder in between traditional water washes. The reason behind this is simple: water washes color away, so the less you do it, the longer your color will last. Matrix says, “To retain those natural oils that help condition your color-treated hair, shampoo just two or three times per week, and never more than every other day.”

Use the right amount of shampoo

Most people have vastly different opinions on what the “right” amount of shampoo should be. You’ll hear some people say you should use as little shampoo as possible, while others shake their heads and say there’s no such thing as too much. So who’s right? Let’s see what the experts have to say.

According to Head & Shoulders, about two teaspoons worth of shampoo is what most people should use. However, WebMD states you should only use a small dime-sized portion. In an interview on Cosmopolitan, John Frieda hairstylist Harry Josh says the size of a cherry tomato is ideal, but you can add a little more if you’ve got dirtier or thicker hair. Elaine Mitchell, creative director for Sassoon Salon in NYC, told TODAY basically the same thing as Harry Josh, although using a raspberry for reference instead of a cherry tomato.

After taking the above experts’ recommendations into consideration, plus several more that aren’t listed, we’ve found that most experts agree that the appropriate shampoo serving size is about the size of a cherry tomato. Most of us are major shampoo abusers (which results in color fading faster because more shampoo means more color strippage, as shown in our video), so cutting back and using only what’s necessary can seriously help preserve your dye.

Use cooler water when washing

There are few people in the world who don’t love a scorching hot shower. However, washing colored hair is one time where you may want to tone down the temperature a bit. Hot water expands the hair cuticle and allows pigment molecules to escape; in other words, the warmer the water, the more color will be stripped, so we’d recommend going as cold as you can manage. This is why the water used in our experiment was room temperature (in other words, about 70 degrees); this is usually where most people draw the line in terms of coolness in the shower.

If your brand offers the choice, go sulfate-free

Even on non-color-treated hair, it’s becoming pretty well known that sulfates aren’t good for your hair. Sulfates are salt-based detergents that are designed to cleanse, but unfortunately their oil and moisture stripping properties have quite a few negative side-effects that far outweigh any positives they offer. In addition to accelerated color fading, Michelle Villett, founder and editor of BeautyEditor and prior beauty and health editor at ELLE Canada, says sulfates can cause dry hair, scalp irritation, acne, and even potentially hair loss.

Wrapping it up

The battle between professional and drugstore products will likely never end, and that’s okay. Competition is competition. However, at the end of the day, you still need to know which products to use, and figuring out which brand offers the best results is far more important than whether or not said brand is from the “professional” group or the “drugstore” group. When it comes to preserving color-treated hair, our test found that Wella, Pureology, Fekkai, and Bed Head are the best shampoos to use.

Which brand do you prefer? Leave us a comment and let us know what you think about our test!

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