Deciphering shampoo and conditioner labels: What do they really mean?

All those cryptic words decoded...

With thousands of shampoos and conditioners on the market, it can be a tad overwhelming deciding which one to buy, let alone understanding which formulation is suitable for your hair type or problem. Let’s be honest: we’re all guilty of having grabbed a bottle in a hurry because we haven’t got time to study the full selection. So, to save you time and effort, we’ve compiled a handy list that deciphers the most popular shampoo and conditioner labels, so you know exactly what they mean. Keep reading ahead, then make an informed decision on which ones are right for you next time you go shopping.

Understanding shampoo and conditioner labels


If the label says: ‘natural’ or ‘infused with natural ingredients’

A product can be named natural if it’s mainly made of natural ingredients that meet specific certifications. If the label says ‘infused with natural ingredients’, it means the formulation contains some natural ingredients. Suitable for: all hair types.

Try: the TRESemmé Botanique range, which contains 3 natural ingredients (coconut milk, coconut oil, and aloe vera).

If the label says: ‘moisturising’ or ‘moisture-rich’

Hair naturally contains a small amount of water (approximately 8-10%). But this percentage can increase or decrease depending on weather conditions, and if and when you use heated styling tools. It’s important to keep the water content of your hair balanced, as water determines fibre pliability. Using a ‘moisturising’ or ‘moisture-rich’ shampoo or conditioner will help to rebalance your hair’s water content. Suitable for: dry hair.

Try: TRESemmé Moisture Rich Luxurious Moisture Shampoo (500ml, £3.69*) and Conditioner (500ml, £3.69*).

Deciphering shampoo and conditioner labels.

If the label says ‘cleansing’ or ‘deep cleansing’

Cleansing is the action of removing dirt and sebum from the scalp, while deep cleansing, as its name suggests, is more intense: it helps to remove the build-up of styling products. Suitable for: Hair that’s exposed to a lot of styling products, or hair that’s prone to heavy build-up.

Try: TRESemmé Cleanse & Replenish Deep Cleansing Shampoo (500ml, £3.69*).

If the label says ‘nourishing’ or ‘nutritive’

If you think nourishing or nutritive shampoos and conditioners deliver intense conditioning, think again! If you see the word ‘nourishing’ on a label, it actually means the hair product is delivering conditioning molecules and benefits to the hair. Suitable for: dry or damaged hair.

Try: Dove Nourishing Oil Care Shampoo (250ml, £2.69*) and Conditioner (200ml, £2.69*).

If the label says ‘rebalancing’, ‘rejuvenating’, ‘replenishing’, ‘restorative’, or ‘rebalancing’

All of these words refer to benefits associated with the scalp (e.g. products that either moisturise the scalp, or remove the excess of sebum to rebalance a healthy scalp environment.).

  • ‘Rejuvenating’ products help to replenish nutrients that are lost with age in order to help give the hair a younger appearance. Suitable for: mature hair.
  • ‘Replenishing’ is normally referring to the fact the product is substantive to the hair fibre: it replenishes it with components that have been lost due to ageing or damaging. In addition to this, it may refer to ‘replenishing’ the natural protective barrier on the surface of the hair fibre. Suitable for: mature or damaged hair.

Try: the TRESemmé Botanique range.

  • Shampoo and conditioners with the word ‘restore’ essentially help to restore the look and feel of a property of the hair fibre to boost softness, smoothness, and shine strength against breakage. Suitable for: dry or rough hair.

Try: the TRESemmé Keratin Smooth Restore & Control Shampoo  (500ml, £4.99*) and Conditioner (500ml, £4.99*).

Deciphering shampoo and conditioner labels.

If the label says ‘volumising’

‘Volumising’ means the product delivers lightweight conditioning that doesn’t weight the hair down, making it easier to achieve a voluminous style. Suitable for: flat or limp hair.

Try: TIGI Bed Head S-Factor Stunning Volume Shampoo (250ml, £15.50*) and Conditioner (250ml, £16.50*).

If the label says ‘silicone-free’

Often mis-construed as better for your hair, ‘silicone-free’ actually means the product doesn’t contain silicones to coat the hair, and instead uses other cationic polymers or oils to achieve conditioning. Suitable for: all hair types.

Try: TRESemmé Perfectly (un)Done Weightless Shampoo (£4.99*) and Conditioner (£4.99*).

If the label says ‘protect’ or ‘protective’

Don’t be fooled: this label can mean a number of things.

  • Firstly, it can refer to the shampoo or conditioner providing humidity protection. Your hair can absorb water from the air in humid environments, making it more frizzy. A ‘protective’ shampoo or conditioner will create a layer on top of your hair fibre to help make it more water repellent, which helps it to defy frizz. Suitable for: frizz-prone hair.
  • Secondly, this label can refer to protection against breakage. This means that the hair care products work to reinforce the internal and/or external structure of your hair fibre to make it more resistant to breakage. Suitable for: weak or damaged hair.
  • Thirdly, the label can refer to protection from heat styling. This type of protective hair care works by creating a layer on the surface of the hair fibre, which helps to protect it from the damaging effect of high heat from styling appliances. Suitable for: hair that is exposed to a lot of heated styling.

Try: The TRESemmé Platinum Strength Strengthen & Protect Shampoo (£4.99*) and Conditioner (£4.99*).

*RRPs are Unilever suggested retail prices only, it is at the discretion of the individual retailers to set the actual price.

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