Picture yourself like this: your monthly trip to Boots, or Superdrug, or Sally Beauty, or *insert name of your preferred store in your country*. You’re here because you’re finally running out of that awful shampoo/conditioner that is making your hair dry, or greasy, or dull, or frizzy, or that simply doesn’t smell good. But you had to put up with it because why would you buy another bottle of shampoo if you have a full one in the shower that cost you ten pounds? Exactly. And your hair doesn’t look that bad anyways.
So here you are, happy that the bottle is almost empty. You can finally buy a new one without feeling guilty for wasting a full product or for spending all of your money in (questionably) unnecessary shit. You go into any of the stores named above, and walk straight to the hair section. Some of you probably did some research, specially if the shampoo you bought last time was so bad you even avoided washing your hair too often (you should avoid this anyway, according to the hair gurus). You may know more or less what you’re looking for: coco, or lavender, or shea butter, or argan—whatever, I am by no means an expert in the matter of hair products. But maybe you’re looking for something more organic, something without all those chemicals that start with sulphate and end with an unpronounceable word. NO PARABENS (whatever that even means). No salt (is sulphate salt? It sounds like it is).
You stand there in front of the largest shelf you’ve ever seen in your life, full of coloured bottles of all sizes and shapes. Shades of blue, pink, green, yellow. Suddenly, you feel a little intimidated. Now, the interesting thing here is that there’s not only shampoos and conditioners: there’s also oils, hair masks, sprays, dry shampoo (god bless whoever invented this). This clouds your mind. Should you buy something else? Probably not. You just need shampoo and conditioner, and so you try to focus your attention on those bottles. You read the front labels:
Lift N’ Volume
Hair Food (wtf?)
Repair and Protect
Thicken & Restore
Nourish & Moisture
And those are only the big letters. If you look closer, you’ll see the details:
For Weak, Brittle Hair. Exotic Bamboo Fibres, Rich Castor Oil, Lush Neem Oil
0% Parabens, Phophates Colourants (what?)
If you’re looking for those free from every single chemical starting with sulphate, you know you’ll have to dig deeper. So you turn the bottle around and face another set of barely readable letters, so small and thin that you struggle to find what you’re looking for. You skip the “How to use” part (because why on earth wouldn’t you know how to apply shampoo on your own hair?!), look for the words but honestly you’re also no expert on this and can’t figure this puzzle out.
That’s when you pick up your phone and message that one friend who knows everything about hair care. She’ll know which one to buy, you think. And she does, after waiting a couple of minutes for her to reply, still standing in front of all the innumerable, dizzying bottles.
There are so many, you text her.
So your friend proceeds to ask you your exact type of hair, if it’s dry or greasy, thin or thick. If she has touched/smelled your hair she won’t ask for this, or maybe she will just to double check. She tells you to avoid certain brands. NEVER BUY THIS ONE OR THIS ONE OR THIS ONE, which turn out to be the cheaper ones, as usual. You proceed to send her pictures of the ones from the brands she tells you are THE BEST, which could go from two to six, depending on the store. You have to send pictures of the shampoos and conditioners, so this is going to take a while. Thankfully nobody has walked by your section of the store (probably because they’ve seen you standing there for a while and know you’re in the middle of a mental breakdown/existential crisis/life struggle). Your friend replies, giving a short explanation of each hair product you just sent, saying yes or no.
It has finally narrowed down to two shampoos and three possible conditioners. It’s your choice, she says. As if you hadn’t been standing and squatting and then on your toes trying to reach the fucking purple bottle on the top of the shelf that’s supposed to change your life for thirty minutes already. You read the labels again, touch your hair, feel it as if it hadn’t been in your head for the last *insert your age* years. You choose one, the winner. Then you choose the conditioner. You tell your friend that you’ve finally made up your mind, she congratulates you, says the money will be worth it (it better be).
You’re about to leave the aisle triumphantly when you see a different bottle from the same brand you just chose, something called “Hair mist” or “Hydrate mask” or “Super oil”. Anyway, something you definitely don’t need but now desperately want because you’re feeling empowered by your hair and your capacity to make choices. The bottle looks lovely, you pick it up to smell it. Then you see there’s another bottle, with different ingredients, probably the same thing with a different smell. You have to choose again. Same process: read the front, read the back, picture for the friend on the other side of the phone, looking for approval. She approves. You happily walk to the counter, three bottles in your arms, big smile of “I’m a grown up” in your face.
You leave Boots, or Superdrug, or Sally Beauty, or *insert name of your preferred store in your country* with a full new hair treatment line, after an hour of indecisiveness. You repeat this exhausting and fun process every time you decide you want to change shampoos, which can happen from one to four times a year, even more if for some reason you keep buying shitty products.
It is a wonderful life.
Siham Lee is a Chilean writer living in Glasgow. She’s currently doing a Mlitt in Creative Writing while writing short stories to keep herself alive and mentally stable in the midst of working on her first novel. The rest of the time she’s either rewatching Brooklyn 99 for the ninth time or eating all the cookies in the house.