By Hannah Reich Berman

I like having multiple bottles of shampoo on hand. It gives me pleasure to have the option of selecting a different one each time I shower and wash my hair. Unfortunately, it seems that I choose shampoos based on the shape of the bottle, the color of the shampoo inside, and, lastly, the fragrance of the liquid; not exactly a scientific study of which shampoo does what. It had been years since I took the time to read a label. So, recently, when I picked up a few new bottles of shampoo to grace my shower caddy, I decided to do just that.

It was an exercise in futility. The only thing I noticed was that each one was identified as a clarifying, moisturizing, fortifying, or volumizing shampoo. No one will convince me that they do anything of the sort. It’s unlikely that any of them live up to the claims printed on the front of those bottles. But the descriptions are nothing short of fascinating.

My hair is limp and is stick-straight. No shampoo, even one that is touted as volumizing, will change that. Unless the manufacturer decides to lace the liquid with something that expands when moistened (oatmeal comes to mind), it is not going to make a bit of difference and my hair will remain as it has always been–limp! The term moisturizing shampoo is another baffling one. People use shampoo to clean their hair, which means removing dirt, excess oil, and chemical products. So why would anyone want to cleanse the hair of those things while simultaneously putting another chemical product right back into it? And what could possibly be doing the moisturizing if not a chemical product?

To clarify means to make something clear. What is it that is being made clear by a clarifying shampoo? Chances are that advertising experts ran out of sensible adjectives to describe shampoo, so they came up with that ridiculous term, clarifying. That surely must have been the case with one bottle of shampoo that I picked up. In big, bold print on the front of the bottle were the words “Pure Clean Hair Shampoo.” Are they kidding? Isn’t that what shampoo is supposed to do, deliver clean hair? Those three words–pure, clean, and hair–on a shampoo label, give new meaning to another word: redundancy.

Fortifying shampoo also doesn’t cut any ice with me. It is my understanding that to fortify means to strengthen, and I’m not clear on why my hair would be weak or strong. I also don’t care. It’s not as if I will be using my tresses as cords or ropes to rig a ship. And they are not scheduled to do battle with anyone. If they’re weak, so what? Why would they need fortification? There is something here that I am missing, but I have yet to discover what it is.

Some shampoos come with labels suggesting that they be used only by those who want to keep their hair sleek (a euphemism for straight) and shiny. Other shampoos have labels informing the consumer that her hair will remain curly after she uses this product. I don’t believe a word of it. Common sense dictates that, regardless of which shampoo one uses, curly hair doesn’t suddenly become straight and straight hair doesn’t suddenly sprout curls. Oily hair remains that way and will show signs of oil within hours. Most, if not all, of the claims are simply advertising gimmicks. Since hair cannot read and has no idea that infusing it with a specific shampoo can change its basic nature, it’s up to the consumer to use her noodle and to realize that things remain as they always were. As they say, it is what it is.

Should I decide to go into advertising, I could make a mint. Words are my specialty–specifically, adjectives. I have an endless supply of those, and many could be applied to what a shampoo might do or not do. The shampoos will do none of those things, of course, but I am within my rights to suggest that they will. It appears that anyone in advertising has that right, since false claims are made all the time. But, as I don’t want to risk having anyone steal my ideas, I am unable to share my catchy advertising adjectives and phrases.

Even though I don’t buy a word of what appears on the labels of shampoos, I have continued to buy several different types of the stuff. But it eventually occurred to me to read the incredibly small print on the back of the bottle’s label. On that day, my first move was to whip out my trusty reading glasses, which are nothing more than magnification lenses. Unfortunately, the magnification wasn’t sufficient and didn’t allow me to distinguish one word from the other. I left the store without shampoo that day.

The following week, when my shampoo supply was running seriously low, I returned to the store with a strong magnifying glass in hand and proceeded to do my homework. As a kid I wasn’t much for hard work, nor was I a good listener. But it turns out that my parents and my teachers were right all along; it pays to do homework. When, at last, I was able to read what was in those shampoos, I discovered that I had been doing the right thing all along. Every bottle of liquid had the exact same properties.

My investigation wasn’t the most scientific one ever conducted. To start with, while there were seven different claims being made by seven different shampoos, I read the labels on only four of the bottles–one claiming to fortify, clarify, moisturize, and volumize. My investigation was also less than thorough since I quit reading each label after I had read only about three quarters of the way down. My intentions were good, but even with the magnifying piece that I had, reading the words was more of a struggle than I’d bargained for. The print is that small! And there are 30-plus ingredients, half of which I can’t pronounce. That brought an abrupt end to my study.

So I do what I’ve been doing all along, I remain a sucker for unusual-shaped and attractive containers and delightful fragrances. Multiple shampoos continue to grace my shower caddy. v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.


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