Evaluating Shampoo Foam


There is probably no personal care category that is more competitive than shampoos. With this in mind, formulators of shampoos are asked by marketing to develop products to both appeal to consumers and perform (whatever “perform” means).

Speaking about performance, I scanned the shampoo products available on www.drugstore.com and quickly was able to come with a list of claims. I stopped looking at the claims after reviewing the labels of approximately 25 shampoos of the more than 300 they sell.

We have come to expect these outrageous claims, as have consumers. A consumer may indeed purchase the shampoo based on one or more of these claims, but the four attributes that come into play only during use, and that are rarely mentioned (and are most valued by consumers), are: cleansing, fragrance, viscosity and foaming.

Cleansing: Cleansing is taken for granted by consumers. In fact, while marketing people may be concerned that the shampoo being developed by R&D cleans adequately, in reality all shampoos contain several times the amount of surfactant needed to clean even the most soiled hair. It would be almost impossible to make a shampoo using today’s anionic surfactants that didn’t clean the hair.

Fragrance: Fragrance is one of the most important reasons a person buys a shampoo. Have you ever seen a shampoo that was fragrance-free? I think not.

Viscosity: To a purchaser, a shampoo that is thick implies it must be “rich” (whatever that means) and will certainly perform. It is silly, but who am I to argue with consumers?

Foaming: The consumer, standing in the shower with eyes closed and wet hair, applies the shampoo, rubs, feels the foam/lather and quickly makes a judgment as to the performance of the shampoo. If it does not provide a copious, lubricious, dense foam quickly (that also smells pleasant) the consumer will have a rather negative impression of the shampoo that will be difficult to overcome even if it does a great job in providing hair conditioning. Let’s spend a few minutes talking about foam evaluation.

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