It doesn’t matter if you’ve got curly hair, oily hair, natural hair or color-treated hair. You want your hair to look fabulous and even good cheap shampoo can make that happen.
Yes, even drugstore shampoos can give you luxurious locks for less than $9 a bottle, way less. Watch for sales, especially buy-one-get-one free details, to maximize your savings.
If $9 for a bottle of shampoo seems high consider how much use you’ll get out of it. If you are using the suggested amount, you could get 30 washes out of an 8-ounce bottle. That’s about 30 cents a wash. Not bad.
Shampoo can be as super cheap as that bottle of Suave or VO5 that you’ll find at dollar stores, but you’re not after just cheap for your beauty routine. You want quality shampoo for less that can keep you from being tempted by the uber-pricey stuff. We’re looking at you Olaplex at nearly $30 for 8.5 ounces. Think about how that much shampoo is per wash!
We spoke to dermatologists and hair experts for their best tips on identifying quality shampoo that’ll keep your hair clean and healthy, whether you’ve got frizzy hair, oily hair, color-treated hair or straight hair.
The 12 Best Cheap Shampoo to Try
- Best for damaged hair: Pantene Fortifying Damage Repair Shampoo with Castor Oil
- Best for swimmers: Neutrogena Anti-residue Shampoo
- Best for hair that knots easily: SheaMoisture Detangling Shampoo
- Best for dry hair: Hask Hemp Oil & Agave Moisturizing Shampoo
- Best for dandruff fighting: Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Dandruff Shampoo
- Best for daily shampooing: Dove Nutritive Solutions Shampoo Daily Moisture
- Best for light-colored hair: Hask Blonde Care Purple Toning Shampoo
- Best for curls: Curls Blueberry Bliss Reparative Hair Wash
- Best for dry scalps: Creme of Nature Moisture & Shine Shampoo with Argan Oil
- Best for frizzy hair: Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine
- Best for flat hair: Herbal Essences Volume Orange Blossom
- Best for hair that needs a deep clean: Not Your Mother’s Charcoal & Purple Moonstone
1. Pantene Fortifying Damage Repair Shampoo with Castor Oil
Best for Damaged Hair
Got some damage? This shampoo will strengthen your hair, thanks to the castor oil, Vitamin B5 and antioxidants. It’ll transform your locks into soft, shiny, smooth hair that feels expensive (please start making bigger bottles, Pantene!). When we switched to this shampoo, we regularly started getting asked about our “new” hair products. ($8.69 at CVS)
2. Neutrogena Shampoo the Anti-Residue Shampoo
Best for Swimmers
Use this just once a week to remove up to 90% of residue caused by your products and other shampoos. It’s made for every hair type. If you go in the pool or in the ocean, this shampoo is a must, as a clarifying shampoo is essential for preventing salt and chlorine from damaging your hair. “The price is quite low due to a modest composition that includes only the most essential clarifying components,” says Monica Davis, a professional hairstylist and founder of the MyStraightener blog. ($6.99 at Neutrogena)
3. SheaMoisture Detangling Shampoo
Best for Hair That Knots Easily
If you need moisture and effective detangling, this shampoo is a universal solution, Davis says. Due to the natural softeners, such as cocoa butter, shea butter and coconut oil you can even use this to straighten your curls. “The natural components are actually cheap, and it’s not surprising that the price for this pretty bottle is that low,” Davis says. ($8.50 at Walmart)
4. Hask Hemp Oil & Agave Moisturizing Shampoo
Best for Dry Hair
This is incredibly moisturizing (so much so, that if you have excess oil, this isn’t the shampoo for you), with agave to lock in the moisture. The smell is fresh and sweet, and this leaves you shiny and slick. It’s free of harmful chemicals, and is ideal for colored hair. ($3 at Ulta)
5. Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Dandruff Shampoo
Best for Dandruff Fighting
Containing zinc pyrithione and other ingredients to combat the yeast that causes dandruff and itchy scalp. Plus, it keeps your scalp clean at a bargain price, says Purvisha Patel, a dermatologist in Memphis, Tennessee, and the founder of Visha Skincare. ($6.99 at Target)
6. Dove Daily Moisture Shampoo
Best for Daily Shampooing
This moisturizing shampoo contains glycerin to keep hair super supple and soft, and it is gentle for everyday use. There is a subtle, pleasant scent. “The formula includes glycerin, which is both safe for the hair and scalp, and makes hair softer and smoother,” blogger Davis says. ($3.49 at Target)
7. Hask Blonde Care Purple Toning Shampoo
Best for Light-Colored Hair
It’s got a violet formula to neutralize brassy tones to bring back your cooler blond shades. This works on natural and colored blond hair to brighten, Hask Blonde Care contains elderberry oil and Vitamin C for added shine, and it doesn’t have any bad-for-you ingredients. ($6.29 at Ulta)
8. Curls Blueberry Bliss Reparative Hair Wash
Best for Curls
It’s actually shocking that this is priced so low. Stocked full of blueberry fruit extracts, vitamins C and B — and aloe leaf juice — it is a miracle cleanser for curls because it delivers soft, hydrated, healthy curls even if you started with a frizzy, dry, hot mess. It smells super sweet, which is lovely. Bonus: You may find yourself using fewer products because this takes care of all your hair’s needs. ($7.29 at Ulta)
9. Creme of Nature Moisture & Shine Shampoo with Argan Oil
Best for Dry Scalps
A little goes a long way for this shampoo (so make sure you stick with a quarter-sized dollop of shampoo). It’s a great shampoo for restoring your scalp oils, plus it smells delish and it doesn’t leave any residue behind. This is especially great for natural hair and has powerful detangling properties. ($4.99 at Target)
10. Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine
Best for Frizzy Hair
Heading out into the humidity? Got hair that’s essentially a frizz magnet? It’ll be no match for this shampoo, which will protect your hair from frizz for up to 72 hours — even in 97 percent humidity. And the scent! It smells like a fresh bouquet of flowers that just bloomed after the rain. ($7.12 at Walmart)
11. Herbal Essences Volume Orange Blossom Shampoo
Best for Flat Hair
If you remember the Herbal Essences commercials (if you know, you know), then you’ll totally understand why this shampoo made the list. We look forward to showering just so we can smell this shampoo. It’s sweet and refreshing like a crisp orange juice, and it adds volume to hair in just a few washes. ($5.99 at Target)
12. Not Your Mother’s Activated Bamboo Charcoal & Purple Moonstone Clarifying & Detox Shampoo
Best for Hair that Needs a Deep Clean
Use this once a week for a truly good clean. It’ll remove any build-up, products and other non-essential oils in your hair, leaving it soft and simply clean. It doesn’t strip your hair, and you’ll find that you won’t need to wash your hair as often when you use this product. (7.99 at Ulta)
What Is in Shampoo?
Shampoo consists of two basic components: water and surfactants, which is what’s responsible for the lathering and cleansing. Those two elements comprise between 50 to 80% of the contents, says Nikki Goddard, a certified hair stylist and shampoo expert from San Jose, California, and senior editor at The Right Hairstyles magazine.
The rest of the shampoo can made from silicone, thickening agents, perfume, natural oils and extracts.
Why Are Some Shampoos So Expensive?
Sometimes the higher prices are simply due to marketing, says Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist based in South Florida. Higher prices may also be because the shampoos include more expensive fragrances and conditioning agents, says Vanessa Thomas, a cosmetic chemist, founder of Freelance Formulations.
And some professional product lines made for hair salons can include components and formulations that actually do improve the health of the hair and the scalp, says Goddard. For example, she says sulfate-free and all-natural products usually cost more.
Shampoo Ingredients to Seek Out — and Ones to Avoid
You can get a sense of which inexpensive shampoos will be of good quality by checking out the ingredient list. Look for these ingredients, all of which serve a purpose in keeping your hair clean and healthy:
- Moisturizing agents (glycerin, hyaluronic acid, lanolin)
- Anti-sebum ingredients (ketoconazole, piroctone olamine, zinc)
“Note that adding vitamins, fruit acids, antioxidants, SPF agents and less than 25 to 30% herbal extracts makes no point,” Goddard says “They won’t penetrate and nourish hair.”
If you see superficially active substances (SAS) like magnesium laureth sulfate, decyl glucoside, lauryl glucoside along with those moisturizing agents, you can safely assume the shampoo will be an effective product.
Of course, you should also take your own specific needs into consideration.
Advice for People with Sensitive Skin
Hair experts have plenty of advice for people who have skin issues and need to find the best shampoos.
If you have skin-related infections, like eczema or dandruff, you’ll want to look for shampoos that contain ketoconazole, selenium sulfide and/or pyrithione zinc, which are antifungal agents that can help treat itching, flaking and dry skin on your scalp, says Dawn Clemens, founder of Larwe Hair, which sells wigs and hair extensions.
On the other hand, try to avoid sulfates, paraffins, silicones and peroxides within haircare products, as they add frizz and can damage your hair, Chacon, the South Florida dermatologist, says.
Make sure that a cheap shampoo does not include toxic SAS (which includes the majority of sulfates, cetrimonium chloride, lauramide DEA, and PEG-150 distearate), mineral oil, BHA and BHT, stylist and magazine editor Goddard says.
You should also try to avoid formaldehyde, triclosan, dimethicone, cocamide MEA and artificial perfume agents. These chemicals have come under scrutiny for a variety of reasons. For instance, the FDA banned triclosan for use in hand and body washes in 2016, while formaldehyde can pose a problem for people with sensitive skin.
Should You Ever Opt for More Expensive Shampoo?
Women who have specific hair concerns — and we don’t just mean dry ends or hard-to-control frizz — may need to opt for something a little pricier. If you have damaged hair due to overtreatment, fine hair or thick, course hair, you may need a specialized shampoo. Typically, a cheaper shampoo brand will sell products that aren’t necessarily geared toward a specific hair type.
If you have specific needs for your hair, here’s what you should look for when shopping for shampoo:
- Dry, damaged hair: Avoid clarifying shampoo, which are clear shampoos focused on removing oil from the scalp. Instead, opt for shampoos and conditioners with moisturizing ingredients like glycerin and avocado oil.
- Fine hair: Avoid heavy moisturizing shampoos, especially those containing silicones, as they will weigh down the hair. Silicones are best for controlling frizz, as they coat the hair follicle, locking out moisture.
- Thick, coarse hair: Opt for a product containing oils and humectants in a creamy formula, and avoid volumizing shampoos, Thomas says. Those with drier and textured hair may only want to wash their hair once per week or may co-wash, which is washing with only a conditioner. Dry, brittle hair that’s washed too often will become damaged.
The Penny Hoarder contributor Danielle Braff is a Chicago writer who specializes in consumer goods and shopping on a budget. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Real Simple and more.