It's not uncommon to see bottles of shampoo in the supermarket for as much as $20, as more and more "specialist" or "salon" offerings appear on the shelves.

These products usually come in beautiful packaging and smell great, but does the bigger price tag actually mean a better performance? We asked volunteers to trial 11 popular brands of shampoo at a range of price points, and found that you don't have to pay top dollar for the best quality shampoo.

The 'salon-style' con

The experts we spoke to say there isn't a huge difference between the high-priced products and the cheapies – it all comes down to personal preference.

We asked trichologist (trichology being the scientific study of the hair and scalp) David Salinger to take a look at the ingredients of our top-rating product (from Dove) and our lowest-rating product (from Toni & Guy).

He says there's little discernible difference between the ingredient lists, which is generally the case for shampoos. "All shampoos are detergents (cleansing agents). The more expensive ones usually just have better perfume and packaging and more marketing."

Two of our What not to buy shampoos were also among the most expensive on trial. Charles Worthington clocks in at a pricey $6 per 100mL, while the worst-rated shampoo on test, from well-known international hairdressing chain, Toni & Guy, clocks in at $5.20 per 100mL. For products that don't rate well, that's a lot of extra dollars down your shower drain.

What to buy

The top two shampoos cost $2.78 or less per 100mL.

Dove Therapy Daily Moisture Therapy

Overall score 71%

Price per 100mL $2

Triallists' comments:

"A good shampoo that gives body and shine to my hair."

"Beautiful shampoo. Lather is creamy, but leaves hair feeling really clean."

"Good lather, left my hair feeling silky and soft. I even received a comment at work that day that my hair looked good and really shiny."


L'Oreal Elvive Nutri-Gloss

Overall score 70%

Price per 100mL $2.78

Triallists' comments:

"I loved this shampoo. It did a fine job cleaning my hair, but the best thing about it was that it made my hair feel thicker."

"I'd use it again – the clean feeling stays with you. My hair was soft and easy to manage."


What not to buy

Charles Worthington Brilliant Shine

Overall score 61%

Price per 100mL $6

Triallists' comments:

"Wouldn't buy it myself, didn't really like it at all."

"Had to use a lot of shampoo to lather. Took too long to rinse out."

"Just didn't really like it – the worst for me."


Schwarzkopf Extra Care Nutri-Protect

Overall score 57%

Price per 100mL $1.75

Triallists' comments:

"It was runny, the fragrance didn't make an impact and it dried out my ends."

"My hair was frizzy and felt dry."

"Not something I would ever use. This is the kind of shampoo I would expect at a cheap motel."


Toni & Guy Daily Style

Overall score 56%

Price per 100mL $5.20

Triallists' comments:

"It didn't really clean my hair, but still managed to dry it out. It was runny and I didn't like the fragrance".

"I had to use a lot of shampoo to coat my hair, and it left my hair tangled."

"It was OK, but I doubt whether I would buy it."


How we trialled

Sample size: 41 triallists per product.
Price: Recommended retail, as at February 2010.
* Price paid July 2010.

Plainly packaged samples of each of the 11 brands of shampoo were sent to 41 volunteers, who rated the shampoos from best to worst in relation to clean feel, fragrance, consistency and instances of irritation, to provide an overall score. The brands trialled are sold in supermarkets across Australia and marketed as being suitable for "normal hair" or "everyday use". The products were chosen on the basis of market share.

CHOICE verdict

The main purpose of shampoo is to clean your hair and scalp by removing accumulated sebum, skin debris, dirt and residue from hair products. A good shampoo should avoid the excessive removal of sebum and leave hair soft, shiny and easy to style.

It should also give some body, prevent "flyaway" locks, and improve the look of damaged hair. It must have a thick enough consistency so you can massage it easily into the hair and scalp, but still be easy to rinse out after use without irritating your skin or eyes.

Our trial certainly proves price is no indication of quality or popularity. To keep your hair in good condition, pay for regular visits to your hairdresser with the money you'll save using a cheaper shampoo. A healthy, balanced diet incorporating plenty of iron, proteins and vitamins is also essential for a healthy mane.