Jun 11, 2021

Salon Wash Techniques: Why Is Wash Day SO Much Better At The Salon?

Is it possible to have your own salon experience at home?

Formulate user Emma G. dropped us a line to ask a very, very important question about salon (and dry bar) hair washes -- why are they so much better than anything you can do at home?

As a kid, I remember my mom scrubbing my scalp and ouch! Her fingernails were so sharp, and I hated it! It hurt so bad, SO bad. I got super freaked out by anyone touching my scalp, and only had dry haircuts until I was 26 because I would cringe every time anyone touched my poor sensitive scalp for longer than a second. But let me tell you, the first time I had a salon wash, it was a REVELATION. It felt so nice, and now I spend way too much time at the dry bar.

So here's my question: what exactly do they do when they wash your hair at the salon/dry bar that makes the whole experience so... good? I always leave feeling super relaxed and clean, and also like I look like a million bucks. I never feel like I get as good a clean at home, nor do I ever feel as relaxed after. Is there a way to make the at-home experience a little closer to the salon experience?

Thanks for writing, Emma! We've got a couple of ideas on why you don't feel like you're having as good an experience at home, as well as some thoughts about how to make things better.

First, and arguably most importantly: independent of your actual results (aka - how clean/fresh/bouncy your hair is when you're done), it's probably going to be pretty hard to have as good a sensory experience at home compared to the one you have in the salon.  

Salons and dry bars invest a lot of money into giving you a great, sensory-rich experience. They spend the big bucks on designing an environment that feels luxurious -- those fancy mirrors don't come cheap, nor do the complimentary drinks, nor the rights to the music that they play. Everything is intended to make you feel fancy and spendy, so you'll, you know, keep coming back for the happy tingly experience alone.

Another very important and very not cheap part of salon life: the hairdressers. These gals and guys are crucial to the experience -- they're the ones who do the actual labor of making you feel pampered to the nines while your hair is being washed. Sure, you could learn all their techniques and apply them yourself to your own noggin, but it likely won't feel as satisfying -- everything's better when someone else is doing the hard work while you're able to just chill.

Here's a last kicker about experience: if you feel like the salon that you went to was fantastic, your happiness with your experience may impact the likelihood that you evaluate your hair wash as being good. Because you felt like you went to a nice salon and were served by experts, you'll probably rate the end product as being superior to anything you could have done at home. So it's totally possible that your at-home washes have resulted in hair that's as shiny and bouncy as any wash at a salon -- you just might not be able to see it, because of cognitive bias. Isn't haircare psychology fun?

Now that that's out of the way, here's the good news: if your goal is to just give yourself a really good wash, you can absolutely do that at home. Here are our instructions on how to get the best possible results with a sulfate-free shampoo:

  1. Completely soak your hair with water before applying your shampoo. Sulfate-free formulas don't create the same lather as sulfate-based formulas, so plenty of water is essential to evenly distribute your shampoo.
  2. Pump your shampoo into your hands and evenly distribute it. You'll want a thin layer of product across your palms and fingers so you can evenly apply it across your scalp.
  3. Massage shampoo into your scalp for at least 3 minutes. Take your time - give yourself a nice scalp massage. Don't worry as much about spreading the product to the ends of your hair, your scalp is where you should be focusing. 
  4. Try to avoid the temptation to scrub rapidly or with your fingernails. Shampooing is something that turns out best when you take it slow, and without scratching up your scalp. Hair is extra fragile when wet, so take care of your tresses as they get clean. 
  5. After you finish your scalp massage, leave the product in your hair for an additional 2 minutes for the best results. 
  6. No time to massage for 3 minutes? Feel free to wash twice. If you decide to go with this option, definitely still give your scalp a good massage to distribute the product evenly.
  7. Rinsing time! Be sure to rinse your scalp for at least a full minute. It's important to be sure that you're removing any trace of the shampoo.
Note: You might notice that your sulfate-free formula doesn't foam up as much as sulfate-based ones. This is totally normal. While bubbles are fun, they're not absolutely necessary for a great shampooing experience. You'll find that you'll be able to get a bit more lather by adding a little extra water as you massage your scalp.

Wanna learn even more about haircare? Here's what you should check out next:

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Caroline Schmidt