Well, we've all been there. Sitting in the salon chair, your hair looks three hundred and twenty-six times better than you could ever make it look. Your stylist flashes her pearly whites and dangles a can of something in front of your face. All you can clearly see is the $25 pricetag because your eyeballs are way fried from the under-the-drier-with-bleach experience, and the unfortunate look you had at that issue of People with Michael Jackson sans nose. And your head is a little foggy after all the fumes, and how dazzled you are with your own beauty. So when your stylist concludes their speech with, "This will let you have this same exact look at home and your husband won't recognize you and it's the newest thing with nanoparticles and diamond dust!" you just vaguely nod your head and have it added to your bill and you walk out without shampoo which is what you really needed but you forgot in all that diamond-dust-prosthetic-nose-haze. Oops.
Actually, I haven't been there. I hope you haven't either. But it happens. To continue our hypothetical scenario:
Then you get your Shoppers Optimum VIP Mastercard bill a month later and your husband (who really did recognize you despite furtive use of Said Magical Product) waves it in your face and asks why exactly the salon bill was $25 extra, and you sadly recall that magical phial that is sitting at the back of the cupboard under the sink next to the Tilex, Lysol, and that at-home eyebrow waxing kit you were to scared to use. After going through mental anguish and feelings of low personal self-worth because no matter how hard you tried it just didn't turn out like at the salon, you turn to your questioner and reply...
So back to the eternal question. Are salon products really better than the ones you get in the drugstore?
The reason that your hair looks so much better when your stylist does it is because they work with hair every day and understand the biology of hair and scalp. (Trust me, I'm going through that training as we speak.) They have professional tools and flattering lighting, and your hair is usually at its prime when they are finished: freshly cut and coloured. They have lots of practice with their tools and products and can very quickly give a stylistic blowdry versus the quick tousle you give it in the morning as your run out the door. You are the one who has to deal with consumer-grade tools, you are the one who must deal with the hair when it has split ends and your highlights are brassy, and most importantly, you cannot see the back of your head. I am all for doing your hair yourself, but it is quite difficult and time consuming to get your own hair picture-perfect. I can't, and I got 92 percent on my last hairdresser's exam.
Often your stylist will mention that the pricetag is based on all the extra research that the large companies do. However, the fact that a company like L'Oreal is gigantic and actually produces both salon and drugstore products easily dispels that myth.
It is also proposed that salon formulas are more concentrated, and thus the pricetag is justified because it will take you longer to use up the bottle. I can't back this statement up with research in either direction, but considering that even cheap laundry detergent comes in a concentrated formula now, there is no reason that drugstore products couldn't have that going for them as well.
From my perspective, every brand and price range has its good products and its bad products, and that is just what Paula Begoun states in "Don't Go Shopping For Hair-Care Products Without Me". I have found this to be extremely true. I've worked at a salon for over a year now, mainly in shampoo. I have tried out a ridiculous number of different shampoos on clients with all different hair types. And I still think that John Mitchell products should contain fewer irritants, and that Rusk Sensories is like trying to get Jello to lather, but the new Goldwell DualSenses line has been sent directly from heaven. I can give a similar statement about lower end products, for example Pantene is just terrible all-around and their formulas in today's world might as well have come from the stone age, Life Brand hair gel with supposedly wonderful fruit extracts burns your hands, and brands like Sunsilk and Herbal Essences have some quite ingenuitive products.
As I have access as an apprentice to licenced-professional-only beauty supply stores and shows, I use both salon and drugstore products on myself. I've found no difference except that certain specialty products (like violet toning shampoo) are significantly easier to find in professional lines.
And to conclude our opening scenario...don't give up on the ridiculous miracle product you bought in a haze. Figure out what it's for (it's probably just a shine spray or something) and look up reviews of how other people used it. However your hairstylist used it won't work all that well at home, and too often products are recommended for their novelty rather than their effectiveness for your hair type. You can always take it back and explain why you didn't like it. Just watch out for the same baloney at the drugstore. ;)