6 Amazing Shampoos That Cost Just Pennies Per Wash

Dove Nutritive Solutions, Pantene Nutrient Blend and Neutrogena ani-residue shampoo are recommendations for affordable shampoos.
Inexpensive shampoos that use ingredients to promote healthy hair include Dove Nutritive Solutions, Pantene Nutrient Blend and Neutrogena anti-residue shampoo. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder  

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 a 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 deals, to maximize your savings on the best cheap shampoo.

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 in any Dollar Tree, but you’re not just after cheap for your beauty routine. You’re after 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 locks clean and healthy, whether you’ve got frizzy hair, oily hair, color treated hair or straight hair.

6 Best Cheap Shampoos to Try

What Shampoo Is

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 includes silicone, thickening agents, perfume, natural oils and extracts.

Why Some Shampoos Are So Expensive

Both cheap and inexpensive products contain surfactants that remove oil and dirt almost equally well. So why are some of them so outrageously expensive, while others cost less than $5?

Sometimes the higher prices are simply due to marketing, says Anna Chacon, a board-certified dermatologist based in South Florida.

“Other times, I think it could be due to imported materials or products that may come with their own unique high costs,” she says.

The shampoos may also have fragrances and conditioning agents to leave hair feeling soft and smelling good, 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, but she believes the higher price is justified.

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)
  • Keratin
  • Collagen

“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 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. Typically, a cheaper shampoo brand will sell products that aren’t necessarily geared toward a specific hair type, cosmetic chemist Thomas says.

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. Black women typically wash their dryer and textured 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.

6 of the Best Cheap Shampoos That Pass the Ingredient Test

Here are six inexpensive shampoos that have the ingredients you want — and none of the ones you don’t.

1. Pantene Fortifying Damage Repair Shampoo with Castor Oil

Got some damage? This shampoo will strengthen your hair, thanks to the castor oil. ($8.69 at CVS)
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2. Neutrogena Shampoo The Anti-Residue Shampoo

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)

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3. Dove Daily Moisture Shampoo

It’s got glycerin to keep hair super moisturized and soft, and the scent is similar to a sweet hairspray that leaves a subtle scent behind. “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)

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4. SheaMoisture Detangling Shampoo

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

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5. Hask Hemp Oil & Agave Moisturizing Shampoo

This is incredibly moisturizing (so much so, that if you have excess oil, this isn’t the shampoo for you). The smell is fresh and sweet, and this leaves you shiny with great slip. $3 at Ulta

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6. Head & Shoulders Classic Clean Dandruff Shampoo

Containing zinc pyrithione and all the ingredients needed to combat yeast causing dandruff (scalp itching), as well as the ingredients needed to keep your scalp clean, this contains all the essential for less than $10, says Purvisha Patel, a dermatologist in Memphis, and the founder of Visha Skincare. ($6.99 at Target)

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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.