Ask Your Barber is a monthly feature on the Beardsgaard Barbers blog where we answer your questions about hair, beards, grooming, the business of being a barber, blogging, and more. Have a question? Ask it in the comments or by email HERE.
Why would anyone buy expensive salon products? The stuff at the drugstore works just fine, and if I want the professional stuff, I can buy it cheaper at CVS or on Amazon, right?”
This is a tough question, and one we answer near every day in the shop.
It is tough both because this is a huge industry gray area, and because we are sure that many folks think we are just after a sale, and would say anything to keep them from getting a deal elsewhere.
Yes, we do receive a commission on sales, but it is the smallest part of our pay. We can’t speak for all hair people, but for us, you using good, authentic product that works for your hair is far more important than you buying it from us. It makes our work easier and look better when you’re away from our shop!
So if you have a friend or relative in the biz that gets the good stuff for you cheap, or you shop the sales at Ulta, then great, you keep on doing that. If you are getting it anywhere else, you have literally no idea what you’re getting. At best, the product is simply old, at worst…horrors.
You might just want to keep reading.
Commercial Brands vs. Professional
What exactly qualifies a brand as “professional?” Professional brands are created by companies that make nothing but hair and beauty products, and pour vast amounts of research and development into their carefully formulated products.
Most importantly, they ONLY sell their products to retail locations that have trained, licensed barbers and stylists on staff. If you can’t find hair on the floor where you’re buying these products, you are not in an authorized dealer of professional products.
There are plenty out folks out there that insist that Suave or Axe or whatever tube of awful they pick up at at the drugstore is just as good as the fancy professional brands.
Besides having a strong belief that you get what you pay for, we know from both personal and professional experience that there is no way that something you paid $3 for is more effective than a product carefully formulated and completely backed by both the company that sells it and the manufacturer.
The reason the drugstore brands are so much cheaper is that they are filled with harsh ingredients like sulfates and bulked out with cheap fillers like water (which makes you go through a bottle infinitely faster) and silicone, which waxes all of your cowlicks and hair problems into place.
This section could be an entire essay by itself, but trust your barber on this one – commercial brands do far more harm than good.
Professional Brands at the Drugstore
“So,” we hear you asking, “why can I find Paul Mitchell, American Crew and all of these other supposedly ‘professional’ products in CVS and the grocery store?”
That, my friends, is thanks to a nefarious black market process that is so non-threatening and not even technically illegal that it is called the “grey market.”
Here’s what happens:
- Product is purchased from the professional company by a legitimate professional entity or distributor.
- Product is sent to sit in warehouses for about three years until the barcodes printed on the packages expires and can no longer be tracked.
- Product is sold to stores.
While this is against the rules of the companies producing these products and distributors can totally get sued for this, it is not strictly illegal, so in practice it is hard to stop.
We know, it sounds a bit conspiracy theory, legitimate retailers selling this grey market stuff? Even if you don’t believe these two barbers, check out the news report and hear it straight from Paul Mitchell’s Robert Cromeans.
Of course what do customers looking for a good product at a good price care about the legalities behind how the products get to them? It’s that middle step that’s the trip.
These products contain oils and emulsions that both have an expiration date and need a measure of temperature control to work the way they are supposed to. Expose them to high or low temperatures or a fluctuation between extremes and the temper on that carefully formulated puck of paste is going to get out of whack in a very bad, often weird and oily way.
Oftentimes we will select a Paul Mitchell product (for example) to use on a customer only to hear that they have tried it before and disliked it, but their description of the dislike didn’t match what we knew of the product.
Sure enough, they had purchased it from a drugstore, or worse, an online retailer (more on that one below). Even if the product inside the container was genuine, due to improper storage or tampering, it is a shadow of its former self.
Even so, we realize that people still buy these pro products from the drugstore, because heck, cheaper is cheaper. But that is the truly baffling part, because they totally are not cheaper. In all of the cases we have seen, these products are a couple of bucks more expensive than they are in salons and barbershops.
Really, there is no upside to the drugstore buy. Unless you like paying more for things that are worse?
The drugstore is out then. How about online? You can certainly get better deals on these products on Amazon and the like. We warn you though, buying consumables from shady cheap Amazon sellers is a dangerous business.
Professional products generally don’t come in tamper resistant or evident packaging. This makes them incredibly easy to dilute or completely replace the product inside.
Occasionally we peruse the Amazon reviews of our favorite products, especially the ones we carry. In countless listings we see poor reviews for great products where the defects described are obviously due to age, improper storage, dilution and even straight up replacement with counterfeit contents.
This happens so often it is really the exception more than the rule. With the risks you’re taking you really might as well be saving even more money and buying Axe.
If you want a professional product, you need to buy it from a professional, authorized retailer like a salon or barbershop.
Not only do you know what you’re getting, but your friendly stylist or barber, who has their well-trained hands in your hair, can guide you to something you will happily get to the bottom of.