Hair cleansing is probably the first step you take towards maintaining a healthy hair care routine. But with so many different shampoos and hair cleansers available, how do you choose a product that is worth your hair?
Even though hair cleansers and shampoos serve similar purposes, they have certain differences that you must know before determining the right product for your hair.
Let’s understand what these products are and dive deep into their differences.
What Is A Hair Cleanser?
The purpose of a hair cleanser and a shampoo is the same i.e, cleaning your hair to remove dirt, grime, and product build up. However, hair cleansers are much more mild in nature and they tend to make your hair soft.
Hair cleansers are sulfate-free and hence are gentle to use on your hair. It cleans your hair without ripping off your hair’s natural oils. If you are someone with dry or frizzy hair type, you can try using hair cleansers.
What Is A Shampoo?
Hair cleansing product like shampoo is something we all have been using since long. Shampoos are primarily a replacement for soap bars used for cleaning hair. They are usually available in the form of viscous liquids  meant to clean your scalp and hair by removing the excess sebum, dirt, pollutants, and remains of hair care products from the hair follicles.
Shampoos work as cleaning or foaming agents and usually contain sulfates which tends to strip off natural oils from your hair. Dirt and sebum are generally insoluble, which means using only water is not enough to properly clean your hair. A sulfate-rich shampoo can remove this insoluble dirt, grime, and oil easily. Typically, a shampoo contains a combination of different surfactants that work together to form rich lather, thereby cleaning your hair and scalp effectively.
However, not all shampoos contain sulfate. There are many sulfate-free shampoos as well. If you have a pre-existing scalp condition like eczema or contact dermatitis, then you may consider using a sulfate-free shampoo.
Major Differences Between Hair Cleansers And Shampoos
Although both the products' end goal is the same, they vary significantly in their composition and how they clean your hair. Let’s take a closer look at the differences.
1. Who Should Use This?
Cleansers are gentler than shampoos. They do not remove the natural oils from your hair. So, if you have damaged, fragile or dry hair, cleansers are best for you. Cleansers are ideal if you have curly or bleached hair. Also, if you use hair colors and hair styling products, choose cleansers over shampoos.
Shampoo is a cleansing agent that contains surfactants and detergents. These ingredients together help remove oil, sweat, dirt, and product buildup from your hair and follicles. So, if you use different hair styling products, work outdoors and are exposed to pollutants or sweat a lot, a shampoo can give your hair and scalp a thorough cleaning.
2. Main Purpose
The primary idea behind using a hair cleanser is to gently wash your hair without stripping off the natural oils present in your hair. If there is a dire need of washing your hair daily, choose a cleanser that makes your hair soft.
However, using a shampoo can help you get your hair and scalp rid of dirt, environmental pollutants, grime, product build up, etc. Most of the shampoos are formulated with harsh chemicals that can make your hair dry. So, choose chemical-free shampoos to see best results.
3. Ingredients Used
A hair cleanser has a mild “Michelle” formulation that gives it a creamy appearance. Michelle is a mix of oil and water, hence gentler on hair. Thus, it doesn't strip off your hair’s natural oils.
Whereas, the basic formulation  of any shampoo includes detergent, opacifiers, sequestering agents, fragrances, sequestering agents, special additives, preservatives, conditioners, and thickeners. They contain synthetic detergents, categorized as anionic, cationic, nonionic, amphoteric, and natural surfactants.
Did You Know?
Amphoteric is non-irritating to the eyes and has mild cleansing properties. That’s why this group of detergents is used in baby shampoos.
4. How Frequently Can You Use?
Hair cleansers are gentler, hence can be used daily. But if your hair is too oily, instead of using a cleanser daily, you can consider shampooing once a week for a thorough cleaning followed by a hair wash with a cleanser. This will ensure your hair is well-cleaned without stripping off the natural oils and moisture.
However, the frequency of your hair wash depends on the quality of your hair, lifestyle, environment, etc. For example, if you exercise or sweat a lot, you may need to wash your hair daily. Or if you live in a humid place, then you need to shampoo your hair daily. Also, for those who have very fine hair or an extremely oily scalp, shampooing more often can help. However, if you have thick hair, tight curls, or textured hair, shampooing once a week is enough. 
5. How To Apply?
When using a hair cleanser, get your hair wet using lukewarm water. Squeeze out a generous amount of cleanser and apply it to your hair strands. Work gently in a circular motion and rinse off. Apply conditioner working from mid-length towards the end. Use a detangler or a wide-tooth comb to detangle the knots.
In case you are using a shampoo, get your hair wet with warm water. Take a little bit of shampoo and apply it to your hair. Work in a circular motion to form a lather. Pay extra attention to your scalp while massaging. Be gentle. Vigorous massaging can tear off the hair. Rinse well.
6. When To Apply?
Before you plan your hair wash, watch out for signs. If your hair appears oily or your scalp feels itchy due to dirt accumulation, go for cleansers. Since cleansers are mild, you can use it more frequently than shampoos.
You can consider shampooing your hair every 2 to 3 days, however, there is no fixed rule. If you notice oily hair, dandruff, or product buildup in your scalp, it is time to shampoo your hair. Also, if you are looking for extensive cleaning, choose shampoo over cleanser.
7. Side Effects
Cleansers are milder and don’t contain harsh chemicals. Hence, they are safe to use without any such side effects. If you still notice any side effects like itching on your scalp, speak to your doctor immediately.
Shampoos have harsh detergents . Overusing it or using the wrong product can make your hair rough, brittle, and frizzy. Also, the detergent can cause irritation and redness if it goes into your eyes.
8. What Can You Add?
You can use homemade cleansers to clean your hair and promote its health. Egg whites are protein-rich and you can use them as hair masks to remove excess oils, promote hair growth, control loss of hair, etc. You can use it with lemon juice and apple cider vinegar together to wash your hair. Also, you can use honey, cucumber mixed with lemon juice and water, among others to wash your hair.
For luscious and long mane, you can add several natural ingredients to your shampoo. For example, you can use aloe vera juice to cure scalp itchiness and dandruff. To accelerate hair growth, you may add a spoonful of sugar to your shampoo. Adding glycerine can help to retain moisture in your hair, nourish your scalp, and promote hair growth. Besides these, you can add lemon juice, peppermint oil, tea tree oil, etc. to your shampoo and see the results.
Hair Cleanser Or Shampoo - Which One To Use?
Whether you should be using a shampoo or a hair cleanser would entirely depend on your hair quality, lifestyle, environmental factors, usage of hair care products, etc. If your hair is delicate and frizzy, if you don’t have sweaty scalp or if you live in cold places, a hair cleanser may work fine. On the other hand, if your product buildup is too much or if your scalp secretes excess oil, you may need frequent shampooing.
Be it a hair cleanser or a shampoo, both help in keeping your hair and scalp clean. However, there are differences in the formulations which you should consider before buying. Hair cleansers are usually gentler to use on your hair while shampoos contain sulfates that tend to strip off your hair’s natural oils. Make sure you understand what your hair needs before choosing any hair product. If you fail to understand, watch out for signs and then decide whether to use a hair cleanser or a shampoo for cleaning your hair. Along with this, follow a proper hair care regime to maintain your hair’s health.
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