Is Custom Shampoo Worth It? Pros Weigh In Once and For All|

In theory, ‘customized’ hair products sound like a dream come true. Designed to address the specific needs of your unique scalp and strands, these formulas are meant to help you escape the never-ending trial-and-error process of trying to find exactly what you need. And as “bespoke beauty” has emerged across the industry over the course of the past few years (across the Internet, it was named one of the biggest beauty trends of 2018), brands like Prose and Function of Beauty have expanded their offerings to turn our customized haircare dreams into reality. But considering their formulas retail for $25+ a pop (Prose’s shampoos start at $28, Function of Beauty’s start at $29), are they really worth paying a premium for? Keep reading for what the experts have to say on the subject.

How custom haircare products work

What sets personalized haircare products apart is the fact that the formulation process begins with a quiz. Customers are asked about their hair and scalp type, hairstyling practices, ingredient preferences, lifestyle factors (such as pregnancy and diet), environmental stressors based on their specific location, and any concerns they’d like to address with their products. From there, the brands use an algorithm to translate these factors into custom formulas—which can include shampoo and conditioner pairings as well as masks, dry shampoos, oils, serums, leave-in conditioners, and even supplements… most of which you can design with the color and fragrance of your choice.

But as much fun as it may be to show off a shampoo bottle emblazoned with your name, according to pros, that may be one of the only real benefits of opting for a custom shampoo over everything else on the market.

Are custom haircare products worth it?

There’s no definitive”yes or no” answer here about whether it’s worth shelling out $25 on a made-for-you formula—really, it depends on what you’re looking for.

“From looking at the physical products and their performance, both Prose and Function of Beauty can provide a different base to support different hair textures, scalp challenges, and styling needs,” says Kerry Yates, a trichologist with Colour Collective. “However, I am unsure if they deliver on the promise of adjusting active ingredients based on each person’s benefits.” She explains that though these products have a slew of hair-friendly ingredients, it’s hard to tell how much they differ from one formula to the next, so it’s not totally clear how “individualized” they truly are.

“Both brands deliver fabulous formulas for caring for hair, however, I’m unsure if the highlighted ingredients defined in the quiz results are really added in at the functional level or are purely emotive… meaning that the brand can claim an ingredient is included in the formula, but the ingredient level is so minute that it does not really deliver any real benefits,” she says. In other words, while the brands both formulate with nourishing active ingredients, it’s difficult to discern whether they’ve actually got enough of these ingredients to make a noticeable difference in the health of your hair.

With that in mind, Dr. Shunting Hu, a cosmetic chemist, notes that the brands’ products likely don’t perform any better than what you can buy at the local drugstore, no quiz required. Consumers have to be aware of the fact that these personalized shampoos will ultimately give them similar results to the shampoos they can buy off the shelves,” she says. “For example, when it comes to buying a hydrating shampoo off the shelf versus customizing your own, the hydration efficacy is similar.” 

However, both pros note that there’s one scenario where custom formulas may be the better choice. If you aren’t totally sure what, exactly, your hair needs, “The online quiz helps you choose the appropriate formulas—for example, you think you need hydration, but in reality, you need a volumizing formula,” says Yates. The added element of the quiz helps confused consumers figure out what their specific concerns are, then helps them find products accordingly. “These personalized hair care lines are a great way to involve the consumer and channel a unique approach to the hands-on user experience of choosing a shampoo that could work for their unique hair care needs,” adds Dr. Hu. 

That said, Dr. Hu notes that “the results are not always creating an active change in the scalp like shampoos formulated for specific issues, like dandruff, lice, et cetera,” so if you’re dealing with a more complex hair concern, expert advice from a dermatologist and/or a trichologist would be more beneficial than taking an online quiz.

So if you want to spend a few extra dollars for a bespoke product, there’s really no downside—especially if you’re struggling to figure out what, exactly, your hair actually needs. Just keep in mind that you may be able to get similar benefits from other (more affordable) options, so really, it’s about finding what works best for you.

To see what happened when our editor tried Function of Beauty for herself (she loved it, BTW)—and to find out which customized wellness products *are* worth investing in—check out the video below. 

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