“He who does not economize will have to agonize.” — Confucius

PanteneThere’s a side of me that tries to be frugal. There’s another part that is just plain cheap. My shampoo buying habits hover in the cheap category. I’ve used Pantene (the drugstore brand of shampoo and conditioner) for close to 15 years. Why? I believe that salon brands are over priced and not any different from the under-ten-dollar-variety lining the shelves at CVS.

This all changed last week: I tried a new salon for my highlights and hair cut and the cute, young stylist seemed to just be making conversation when she asked what brand of shampoo I currently used. I sheepishly offered up my Pantene confession and she groaned in horror. All of a sudden I felt like I was back in junior high being ostracized by one of the popular girls. Only this time, I’m pushing forty and feeling very uncool next to the twenty-something, tinge of Goth, comfortably tattooed, club kid cutting my hair.

She had found a captive audience and I was all ears listening to her lesson on value. She asked why I would spend over $200 for salon services and then wash it all out prematurely by using drugstore shampoo and conditioner. I perked up further when asked what kind of return on investment I could expect from my hair-washing habits. Initially, I thought I was paying attention because money conversations typically make for good blog fodder.

But when I walked out the door with a new shampoo & conditioner and $35 less in my wallet, I quickly concluded that I was either successfully duped by the cute girl or just had the hair salon equivalent of an epiphany.

Of course, it’s only week two (of my new shampoo program) so the verdict is still out. To be honest, my hair doesn’t look or feel any different. The real test will be in about 45 days when I look in the mirror and start thinking about how and when I’m going to squeeze in the highlights appointment. If I still haven’t made the call by Day 60, then she was right. But if Day 45 hits and I’m mousy and feeling the urge for a few extra blond streaks, well, then I was snookered.

Here are what others have to say about the topic:

The Spa Diva at BlogHer questioned in her post, Salon brands vs. Drugstore brands: Are you really getting more bang for your buck? She tackles the subject from an ingredients point of view by writing, “Last summer, after receiving a hair cut at one of San Francisco’s high end salons, I reluctantly purchased a $30 Kerastase hair masque for my dry, brittle, broken ends. After using this masque every week, I did notice that it softened my hair, but it really wasn’t worth the high price. I noticed that Kerastase was, in fact, a L’Oreal product, so I headed to the nearest Walgreens to find a L’Oreal conditioner that was comparable. Sure enough I found that L’Oreal’s drugstore brand called Smooth Intense had a masque for $4.99 with the same ingredients!”

But it’s not just bloggers doing the hard hitting questioning. Even CBS News weighed in on the topic awhile back. Susan Koeppen reports, “Consumers spend billions of dollars every year on their hair. We want shine; we want bounce; we want, bottom line, nice hair. And getting it doesn’t have to cost a fortune.”

“Every woman knows the first step to gorgeous hair is the right shampoo. But with hundreds of brands to choose from, how do you know which is head and shoulders above the rest?”

“Begoun says you don’t need to go to the salon to get great products. You can find them right in the drug store at a fraction of the cost. In her book, ‘Don’t Go Shopping For Hair-Care Products Without Me,’ Begoun scrubs away the confusion about shampoo, and reveals which product claims you can believe, and which ones you can’t.”

This leads me back to my big question: “Can shampoo really prevent your color from fading?”

Give it 60 days and I’ll have the answer!