We Tried Budget And Luxury Blonde Haircare So You Don't Have To
"It looked like I'd tried to murder a punnet of blueberries." The path to blonde hair does not always run smooth.
Everyone knows a blonde's best friend is purple shampoo and conditioner. To us – Ailbhe and Emma – it's bona fide hair crack.
If you want to get rid of brassy tones there's no better beauty tool. But there are SO MANY out there. And only so much money in our bank accounts.
We decided to test out five different haircare brands against each other: a drugstore brand, a cult brand, a mid-level brand, a natural brand, and a high-end brand. We decided to share the shampoos and conditioners we tested, to help keep down costs.
I'm Emma. I have long, medium-thick, naturally blonde hair, and a sensitive scalp.
I wash my hair every two to four days. The longest I've ever gone is five days (don't judge me). This is because my hair is a ball-ache to wash, and a ball-ache to style. "I can't come out, I'm washing my hair" is an actual excuse I use regularly.
I put a LOT of lemon juice in my hair last summer (I know it's terrible for your hair, but it worked and cost about 30p), and the ends are still feeling the effects, so hydration is key for me. My scalp also happens to be more sensitive than Donald Trump, so I need a blonde shampoo that helps my hair achieve its best self, without irritating my scalp. Philip Kingsley and Aveda are both great at this, but Lush's Daddy-O is my all-time favourite, mainly because it's cheaper.
I am also easily swayed by both scent and design, because I am a shallow, shallow magpie of a woman.
I'm Ailbhe. I have short, fine, bleached hair, and a sensitive scalp.
As my hair is so fine it gets greasy easily, so I wash my hair every day. I don't really style my hair, apart from drying it using my fingers and maybe a bit of product if it's very floppy, like a '90s boy band member.
I'm a committed fan of Provoke's Touch of Silver range (So cheap! So effective! So purple!) but I'd love a blonde shampoo that was gentler and paraben- and sulfate-free, but still effective. Look, I know that's asking a lot, but it's my dream, OK?
I'm not too bothered about scent and design, and I'm willing to spend a little bit more if it means that the above boxes are ticked.
I had high hopes for Oribe (it was the runaway winner in our dry shampoo challenge), and I was pleasantly surprised. Firstly, it seemed like my luck was in on the days I used this. There were enough bananas in the office! I got a free coffee! And despite having no parabens or sulphates, it lathered really nicely. My hair was soft, styled easily, and was very shiny. In terms of brightening, the bleached blonde tones came up, but annoyingly, the ashier tones didn't show, even over five days.
This smelled fine, but the bottle was super fancy. Even the box it comes in is embossed! This shampoo made me feel like a cut-price Serena van der Woodsen every time I saw it in my shower.
NINETY POUNDS, THIS SHAMPOO AND CONDITIONER COMBO IS ALMOST NINETY POUNDS. That is just so expensive. You get a decent amount, but it's still prohibitively expensive.
Overall Verdict: 7/10
I loved using this, but I can't condone paying £82 for it. I would have maybe paid a third of this cost. I was disappointed that it didn't bring out all the tones in my dye job – for almost £100 I was expecting this.
I hoped so desperately that I would hate this. So, so desperately. But as soon as I started working the first squeeze of purple into my hair, I knew all was lost. The shampoo lathered beautifully, despite the lack of sulphates, and my hair immediately felt softer when I rinsed it out. Afterwards, my hair was silky and sleek and well-behaved and I don't know how I'm going to live knowing that this is what my hair could look like if I was willing to spend £82 on shampoo and conditioner. Though, like Ailbhe, I also experienced a rush of free stuff when I was using Oribe, so this unexpected side effect does offset the cost slightly.
The scent is subtle but I like that, as it's probably partly why my scalp wasn't irritated. The bottles were works of art. When I imagine my successful lady boss dream house, the bathroom is always tastefully decorated with beautiful bottles that look like these.
ORIBE, I CAN'T AFFORD EIGHTY POUNDS ON SHAMPOO AND CONDITIONER. WHY HAVE YOU DONE THIS TO ME?
Overall Verdict: 7/10
I'm in two minds. What Oribe giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other. I now know that my hair can look like Cher's from Clueless, but I also know that I will never be able to experience it again. A brief, shining light of hair perfection, now snuffed out forever.
This made my scalp itch and my hair feel slightly sticky, like a ghost toddler had run their hands through it. My hair was also drier and darker, and tangled more easily than usual. The one plus side was that it styled like a dream. My hair could have been made of butter the way my tongs slipped through it, and the curls lasted all day Thursday and Friday, and survived a Friday night out (see final picture for evidence).
The shampoo barely lathered in my hair, and I had to use loads. The smell was alright, like a standard drugstore smell. The bottles did not make me feel like a fancy princess, and that is unforgivable.
Whatever its sins, it's £2 a bottle, which you can't argue with.
Overall Verdict: 3/10
You get what you pay for. By the second wash my hair just didn't feel clean, and my scalp was screaming. I caved and re-washed my hair with Daddy-O, and haven't looked back since.
This is the shampoo that I normally use, so I was surprised to find that it wasn't as effective as usual. Maybe it's because I came to it after my fancy Oribe flirtation, but this left my hair feeling coated, and even a little dull. Returning to this shampoo was the hair-washing equivalent of looking back at photos of myself as a teenager, wondering how I ever thought wearing a tie and T-shirt together was cool. So, I cheated. I also own Provoke's Nuclear-Strength Brightening Shampoo, so I tried that out too. It made a huge difference in colour (picture 1 vs picture 2) but not in texture – my scalp was also a little itchy throughout.
This lathers nicely, and smells faintly medicinal. The bottle isn't the most glam, but for under £2.50 what do you expect?
Excellent value, especially the intensive brightening shampoo.
Overall Verdict: 5/10
I don't think I'll be returning to A Touch of Silver – this experiment has shown me that I can get the brightness from other products, ones that don't irritate my scalp so much. That said, I will never give up the intensive shampoo. Never. You can pry it from my cold, icy, bleached-blonde hands.
I was really stoked to try Bleach's range, and it did not disappoint. The shampoo brought out all the tones in my dye job – including the ashier ones (see close-up pic on the right). When a friend took a photo of us at the weekend, the first thing I said when I saw it was "OMG MY HAIR LOOKS SO BLONDE". Annoyingly, it was hard to find the matching conditioner in the shops, so I opted for the mask. It was such a treat to use, and left my hair feeling really soft and more voluminous too. Though the shampoo contains sulphates, my scalp wasn't itchy and my hair didn't feel coated either.
This smells pleasant enough, but the packaging is very annoying. The shampoo comes in a bottle with a screw top, meaning it's hard to regulate how much product you use each time. Each time I used this, I managed to spill some by mistake in the shower. I'd much prefer a squeezy valve.
For a salon-quality range, this is tremendous value. I was really impressed.
Overall Verdict: 10/10
I really loved this, and will definitely be purchasing again!
I didn't love how the shampoo and conditioner made my hair feel, but HOT DAMN the shampoo packs a serious colour punch. To the extent that it made my fingers go a bit purple for a little while afterwards. Do not leave this stuff on your body too long, unless you want to pull a Violet Beauregarde post-Willy-Wonka-chewing-gum impersonation. My hair afterwards looked a lot blonder, but didn't style as easily and felt a little flat. But it was super soft, thanks to the mask, which like the shampoo, is powerful stuff. Basically, Bleach doesn't muck about.
My major bugbear with the shampoo is the bottle. I know it looks really cool and trendy and highly Instagrammable, but I spilt so much of it in my shower it looked like I'd tried to murder a punnet of blueberries Psycho-style. The mask was great though! Smelt lovely, and the tube it comes in looks lovely too.
Only a couple ££ more expensive than the Provoke, but 100x better. For the price, this stuff is fantastic value.
Overall Verdict: 7/10
I'd use this occasionally to colour-correct, but not as my regular shampoo. I just didn't like how it made my hair feel afterwards enough, though the colour it gave me was great. The mask was really fantastic though, and I'll probably buy it again.
Having a little break from Lush made me realise just how good this stuff is when I came back to it. Where Oribe gives you sleek, shiny hair like a Bel Air princess, Lush gives you LOADS of volume and texture. It makes you feel like you've doubled the amount of hair on your head, and then turned it all into a weightless cloud. Also, the Marilyn mask definitely worked, as I think my hair looks quite a bit blonder after using it. I spent all day swishing my hair around like a mad person, taking millions of selfies while yelling "IT'S FOR MY JOB DON'T JUDGE ME" and I don't regret a second of it.
The smell of Lush is controversial, as it isn't what you'd call subtle. I love it though, as they're some of the few scented products I can use without making my scalp go crazy. I knocked off a point for the Marilyn packaging – a tub with a screw-on lid isn't very practical/hygienic.
The Daddy-O shampoo doesn't seem like great value, as it's £5 for a small bottle, but it lasts for ages (you only need a tiny bit to get a good lather). My last £5 bottle lasted for well over three months. The Marilyn treatment isn't as good value though. It's really effective, but I easily used about half the tub in one go.
Overall Verdict: 9/10
Lush is like an old friend. No matter how long we've been apart, things always work between us.
I have mixed feelings about this shampoo. My hair is nice and blonde, but not as shiny as other shampoos made it. And while it's not floppy, there's also a little bit too much texture for me. I know I'm being super picky, but when your hair is short and fine, anything that weighs it down isn't ideal. The mask didn't boost my colour as much as the Bleach mask either. I know Lush is all natural, but in this instance, I say "Give me chemicals!"
I really disliked the scent of this. I know smelly shampoos are Lush's ~thing~ but it was unpleasant to have a shower every morning that stank of Parma Violets.
For £5, the bottle of shampoo is brilliant value, and I would definitely buy it again – especially if I was going away for a week or two. It's small enough to stash in hand luggage, which is a giant plus.
Overall Verdict: 6/10
I'll keep this handy in my travel bag, but not in my shower caddy.
Guys, Davines wasn't the one for me. It overwhelmed my fine, short hair, meaning it always felt a bit heavy and weighted down, with little texture. The photo on the right is after I had taken out a plait, and you can see how my hair is just all flopped together (technical term). After four days of daily use, I tried swapping the conditioner with a gentle, Kind Natured one I had in my shower. It helped a little (photo on the left) but ultimately it's a no. The colour is fine, but not as vibrant as Bleach gave me.
In other news, I also disliked the smell of Davines – it's pongy in a floral way. The packaging was also annoying – a screw top on the bottle, and a scoop pot for the conditioner. Nope.
If this suited your hair (like I suspect it will suit Emma's) then I imagine it would be a nice treat purchase.
Overall Verdict: 4/10
I can see that this might suit some people, but I really disliked it, and would be annoyed if I had bought it in my day-to-day life.
Haircare is a bit like Pokémon. You can have an amazing, level 50-type shampoo, but if you're using it on the wrong hair type, you're not likely to get a win. And this was the case with Davines. I was apprehensive to use it because of Ailbhe's experience, but like a beautiful purple Squirtle facing up against a Charmander, it was super effective on my hair. The colour of my hair was a fair bit brighter afterwards (the conditioner is Bleach levels of purple), and it styled easily and was ridiculously soft.
The smell is going to be polarising, as it is VERY floral in a granny-ish kind of way. I quite like it, but after a few uses it did get a bit potent. NB: This is not a shampoo or conditioner for oily or fine hair types – the shampoo doesn't lather very well, and the conditioner is thick AF.
I'd recommend using this once a week as a treat for damaged, dry hair. Used like that, the £30 price tag becomes a lot more justifiable. If that's still too pricey though, I'd argue you only need the conditioner, which makes a fantastic hair mask.
Overall Verdict: 7/10
If you have thicker, dry hair that needs some lovin', Davines is your Pokémon.
Emma: I'll admit it, I'm a bit of a haircare snob. I'm prepared to spend a lot on the right shampoo and conditioner, and wouldn't touch anything drugstore with a barge pole (memories of what Pantene did to my teenage hair still haunt me now). But I've now reassessed my hair snobbery, and come to realise there is a price limit on how much you can spend on shampoo, no matter how good it is (Oribe), and that cheaper brands can be really effective too (Bleach). Essentially though, after a few brief flirtations, Lush is still the baby bear porridge to my Goldilocks – just right.
Ailbhe: Even though I was prepared to spend more for the right product, I fell in love with a budget option. Like a real-life Princess and the Frog, I love love love Bleach's range. Except this is less of a frog situation, and more "an incredibly hip salon that opened an affordable haircare line". I was surprised how much I cared about the texture of my hair – I automatically assumed that I would love products that made my hair thicker, but with fine short hair, sometimes thickness = greasy.
For me, testing products with a friend like Emma meant that I didn't have to splash out on endless bottles of shampoo that would end up being wrong for me. If you're in a similar position, I can really recommend it! And the Bleach shampoo. Did I mention that I loved it?