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A few months ago, a TQE editor posed the following question in our team Slack: “Does anyone have a favorite shampoo and conditioner?” Not one of us had a definitive answer or brand loyalty when it came to the search for the perfect haircare routine, and I knew what needed to be done. It was high time for a Quality Edit haircare investigation.
Someone had to do it, and I bravely volunteered. Armed with my split ends, I gathered a list of top brands I was seeing; everything from the ones my friends were raving about, to the ones flooding my Instagram feed. My discerning eye set the criteria to include stellar customer reviews and impeccable branding. I then set out on a mission to test the buzziest brands in order to crown one the victor.
I set out to try Act + Acre, Hairstory, OUAI, and Prose. Like any good scientist, I must disclose the context and parameters of my experiment. I have medium length, natural brunette hair (never dyed or color-treated), which varies in texture from defined curls to soft waves -- this variation is often influenced by the shampoo and conditioner I use. My scalp shows product build-up really easily (read: horrifying flakes I can’t get rid of), and with a really wrong shampoo and conditioner, I spend my day wrangling equal parts flatness at my roots and frizz throughout.
Here are the metrics by which I evaluated and ranked each brand:
- Touchability: Is this a real word? A.K.A.: how soft and silky each product left my hair feeling post-air dry.
- Scent: I don’t like overpowering scents, but I do want my shampoo and conditioner to smell amazing (and to leave a sweet but subtle scent on my hair well after my shower).
- Texture: What did this product do for my natural texture and curls in an air-dry situation?
- Volume: This metric pairs well with what I’ll refer to as “the grease factor,” e.g. does the shampoo and conditioner feel heavy or weigh down my hair? How long after my shower will I feel the need to wash my hair again? Do I get a natural lift at my roots without any accompanying frizz?
The great news is that, after trying each of these brands, I would recommend them all...to varying degrees. Read on to discover my rankings in alphabetical order, each scored on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the best, obviously).
To be perfectly transparent: Prose’s promise is so comprehensive, it feels almost unfair to compare it to just shampoo and conditioner (or, in Hairstory’s case, just one product)! While this journey was designed to be a shampoo and conditioner review only, Prose delivers a completely customized, full-system hair-care regimen -- and who am I NOT to experiment with that?
To begin, Prose takes you through a quiz to learn more about your hair. While I expected this to be a fairly basic series of questions on texture, dryness, and hair health, the quiz exceeded my expectations. Sure, it went through the basics, but it also asked about lifestyle factors, hair history and treatment habits, and styling preferences. Prose even asked for my zip code to gauge the water quality I was showering with and how the local climate could impact my hair -- yes, it’s that detailed. The final steps ask for ingredient and fragrance preferences, so you can design your dream gluten-free and vegan hair care routine.
Prose even asked for my zip code to gauge the water quality I was showering with and how the local climate could impact my hair -- yes, it’s that detailed.
A few days later, I received a beautiful package complete with a pre-shampoo scalp detox mask, shampoo, conditioner, and curl cream -- all packaged in apothecary-esque dark bottles and labels with my name on it. I was skeptical. Was this just a series of ordinary formulas, branded to be personal and special? My skepticism was quickly proven wrong.
You know that “perfect hair day,” the one that only seems to happen once a year when you’re not even planning to leave your house or see anyone? Prose got me to that texture with consistency, predictability, and ease.
After one (ONE) use, I instantly noticed results that seemed too good to be true:
- Touchability: Two words: SILKY SMOOTH. The softest my hair has ever felt after letting it air dry, while still maintaining my natural curls (more on that in the Texture category). (10/10)
- Scent: One word: AMAZING. As a part of their quiz, Prose has you select your scent preferences. The options are seemingly endless -- as the indecisive Libra I am, I wanted to select more than a few fragrance profiles. Somehow, I ended up with the perfect scent (freesia, jasmine, and vanilla), one that was subtle but also somehow smelled like a combination of a bouquet of flowers and my favorite candle? Like OUAI, the scent of each product is divine in the shower, but not so strong that it distracts or overwhelms after your hair has dried. I especially loved the scent of my scalp treatment, which had a combination of charcoal and eucalyptus that made each shower feel like a spa treatment. (10/10)
- Texture: You know that “perfect hair day,” the one that only seems to happen once a year when you’re not even planning to leave your house or see anyone? Prose got me to that texture with consistency, predictability, and ease. My natural curls were defined and springy, without any of the frizz that often plagues them. I also want to clarify that these results, while enhanced by the curl cream, could also be achieved with just the shampoo and conditioner (believe me, I tested it)! The curl cream certainly made my curls more curly than wavy, and I loved that I could precisely choose the texture I wanted to see from my hair on any given day with Prose. (10/10)
- Volume: Voluminous throughout, without the frizz. No flakes on the scalp, thanks to my trusty personalized scalp detox mask, designed to solve the exact issues I have with flakiness and product build-up. Out of all the brands I tried, Prose’s products left my hair feeling the lightest and bounciest -- without any need to painstakingly wash (or double wash) the products out of my hair. (10/10)
Act + Acre
If your Instagram feed is anything like mine, you’ve probably seen Act + Acre’s sleek, chic bottles more times than you can count. The brand was built on a line of “Cold Process” Essentials, which consist of a Cold Processed Scalp Detox, Hair Cleanse, and Hair Conditioner. While most hair products favor conventional heat processing to combine hundreds of ingredients into one homogenous mixture, Act + Acre favors cold processing in a hyperbaric chamber.
Now what do any of these words mean? Essentially, Act + Acre’s cold process -- which they see as the future of hair care -- preserves the potency of their ingredients, creating a nutrient-dense formula that easily absorbs into the hair and scalp. Other cool bonus points: the formulas are all plant-based, the packaging and production process are eco-friendly and sustainable, and Act + Acre has plenty of testimonials that prove these products are effective at cleansing scalp buildup and improving hair health.
Ultimately, however, we’re here for the experiment, not the statistics. Here’s how it went:
- Touchability: Act + Acre recommends that you cleanse twice, and wash thoroughly. They also emphasize an adjustment period: if you’re not used to silicone or sulfate-free hair products, your locks might take about a week for the natural oils in Act + Acre to actually begin absorbing. While I used the products beyond this grace period, I noticed my hair was not nearly as soft or silky as it normally is (even when I’m typically using drugstore-brand hair care). Regardless of how long I rinsed, it always felt like there was some residue of product post-air dry. I don’t love the idea of a routine that feels time-intensive or delicate. (6/10)
- Scent: This is where I think Act + Acre underwhelmed me most. The products had little-to-no discernable scent (some reviews note an herbaceous or botanical fragrance, but I didn’t notice anything that prominent). Many people prefer an unscented hair regimen...I am simply just not one of those people. (5/10)
- Texture: The Cleanse and Conditioner knocked it out of the park on hair texture. My curls were defined and frizz-free -- I was supremely impressed. (10/10)
- Volume: This category is tricky for Act + Acre. While I definitely had good volume at the roots after using the products, my hair still felt weirdly weighed down and/or greasy. Similar to the touchability category, my hair never felt truly clean or weightless. (6/10)
Act + Acre also deserves its own category for scalp-care efficacy. These products do deliver on that fundamental promise: I saw an immediate and noticeable improvement in any flakiness I’m typically used to seeing on my scalp (especially in Winter, when my scalp tends to be a little more dry).
Hairstory might be a bit of a loophole on the whole “shampoo and conditioner” approach of this review. Revolving around only one foundational product, New Wash, Hairstory sells something pretty great: a no-foam wash that does the effective work of shampoo, like cleaning out excess oil and dirt, but that feels like a conditioner and doesn’t strip away your hair’s natural moisture and shine. You’re telling me, after my bathroom is now filled with shampoos AND conditioners, that I might only need one product? Sounds too good to be true…
I was admittedly skeptical of the New Wash after my less-than-stellar experience with the minimal foam of Act + Acre’s formula. Fortunately, I didn’t run into the same issues. In fact, Hairstory restored my faith in the aspirational ideal of a good-for-your-scalp, one-and-done haircare routine:
- Touchability: Softness supreme! The New Wash has the texture of a conditioner, so my hair felt incredibly soft after it air-dried. It also enhanced my hair’s natural shine. (9/10)
- Scent: Hairstory DELIVERS in the natural, subtle, essential-oil scent category. The New Wash carries notes of rose and ylang ylang but, like Act + Acre, isn’t so overpowering (so if you can’t stand strong fragrances, this could just be the one for you). (8/10)
- Texture: The texture of my hair after using New Wash wasn’t noticeably different which, in my book, isn’t a negative thing. Its texture effects were neutral -- it didn’t make my hair more curly, more defined, or more straight, it just let it...be itself? (8/10)
- Volume: I expected my hair to be greasy or weighed down without the lift of a foaming shampoo, but this wasn’t the case at all. In fact, my hair felt more voluminous than usual, minus any frizz. My scalp looked healthier, too (I didn’t notice any flakes or product buildup -- another point for Hairstory). I suggest trying a starter kit for maximum results; the Hairstory Brush that came with my New Wash helped to distribute the product through my hair, which alleviated any scalp oiliness or uneven product residue. (8/10)
After trying (and loving) OUAI’s new Hand Care line earlier this year, I knew I needed to test out their hair products. Founded by celebrity hairstylist Jen Atkins, OUAI made its name on its ability to deliver salon grade, model off-duty hair at home. I tried the Medium Shampoo & Conditioner; unlike most of the other brands in this experiment, OUAI isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel with haircare. It’s just shampoo and conditioner and, put simply, it’s pretty damn great.
- Touchability: OUAI reigns supreme in this category. They’re not joking with the aspirational, celebrity hairstylist origin story. My hair looked and felt impossibly silky -- I’m talking the day after you get your hair professionally cut, and you can’t stop touching your own locks because they’re so insanely soft, silky. While I can sometimes get that touchability after blow-drying my hair, OUAI’s shampoo and conditioner got me to that degree of silky-smooth even after an effortless air dry. (10/10)
- Scent: Just like their hand wash and lotions, OUAI’s Shampoo and Conditioner -- with notes of Orange, Peony, Jasmine, and Magnolia -- smell so delicious (and not just in the shower, but on my hair for hours after). My favorite thing about this aroma is that it’s noticeable enough to smell and enjoy it myself, but not so strong that it conflicts with my perfume. It’s intimate and subtle, just the way I like it. (9/10)
- Texture: While OUAI didn’t weigh my hair down (like, at all), I noticed that it straightened out my often-unruly curls into soft, beachy waves -- a texture I’ve spent a painstaking amount of time trying to achieve, but that suddenly seemed effortless with OUAI. This softening effect was even more impressive after styling my hair post-shower with OUAI -- my blowout was sleek and straight without the assistance of any additional products. (9/10)
- Volume: Lifted at the roots, sleek on the ends, perfect all-around. It’s worth noting (for comparison’s sake) that OUAI didn’t contribute to any flakiness or product build-up on my scalp (the formula is light and doesn’t feel heavy in the slightest), but it also didn’t actively do anything to target my pre-existing scalp flakes or sensitivities. (9/10)
Prose was my personal favorite -- it was, after all, personalized. Each of these brands offer something for every type of hair and person:
- For the fragrance-averse and those in a fraught relationship with their scalp health: Act + Acre
- For the simplest, shampoo-free routine that will still deliver healthy and silky results: Hairstory
- For salon-perfect, smooth locks: OUAI
- For a complete routine that will give you a (super) great hair day, every day: Prose