I Tried a $9 Custom Shampoo and Conditioner To Treat My Dry, Damaged Hair, and Was Genuinely Shocked at the Results

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Whether you're going across the country or across the street, moving is stressful. When I moved from Sydney to Los Angeles earlier this year, finding an apartment and a car were top of mind—my hair was among the last things I was worried about. That is, until I realized just how big an impact my changing environment was going to have on it.

When I got to LA, my hair became drier and more brittle than it had been in Australia. The culprit, I later learned, was hard water. "Hard water" contains high levels of minerals, like calcium and magnesium, and can lead to problems for your hair. "While not dangerous, hard water can leave your hair dull and brittle, making it more prone to breakage," Colin Ford, education director at Sachajuan, previously told Well+Good. "It can also discolor lighter tones, especially blondes and reds, and cause excessive fading of color-treated hair; whereas soft water balances your hair's pH level, so you're left with silky smooth hair after every wash." Case in point? A 2016 study examined women’s hair after being washed in hard and soft water over 30 days and confirmed that the higher the hardness, the drier your hair and skin.

Considering the water in Los Angeles is rated "very high" on the hardness scale (Sydney's water, on the other hand, is considered "soft"), it's no wonder my hair felt exceedingly dry post-move—to the point that even my pricey leave-in conditioners couldn't remedy the situation. I needed some serious moisture, STAT, so I decided to try a made-for-me routine care of The Hair Lab by Strands. I've tried pricey personalized products in the past, so when I heard about The Hair Lab by Strands—which offers custom shampoo and conditioner for $9 a pop, and "doses" for $2—I had to put it to the test. Could this brand get the same or better-targeted results for a fraction of the price? Keep reading to see how it went.

The process

Like many other personalized hair care brands, my journey with The Hair Lab by Strands started with a quick online survey about my hair. It asked about my hair type and texture, my styling and treatment routine, the level of oiliness on my scalp, and my main concerns (frizz, shine, breakage, etc). It also had me provide my zip code, which helped the brand take into the UV index, humidity, air pollutants, and—you guessed it—water hardness in my environment.

For context, my hair is naturally thick (I feel very blessed about this) and is a mix of wavy and curly. It’s been colored, bleached, and damaged over the years, with my main concerns being dryness and minimizing frizz. All of these factors were taken into consideration for my custom routine.

The products

The brand has three shampoos (Moisturizing, Revitalizing, and Clarifying) and three conditioners (Lightweight, Well-Balanced, and Deep) on offer, which serve as the "bases" of your routine. It also has 10 "doses," which target different issues and are meant to be mixed into the shampoo and conditioner to give you your personalized formula. Believe it or not, there are over 1,000 ways to mix and match these 16 core products—which means there's something for pretty much everyone.

My custom regimen consisted of Revitalizing Shampoo, Deep Conditioner, and three doses: heat defense, color protection, and moisture boost (other options include anti-breakage, anti-frizz, shine boost, curl define, scalp reset, anti-brass, and rebuild). I cocktailed them together, and it was time to put them to the test.

The Hair Lab Revitalizing Shampoo — $9.00

Designed to cleanse, protect, strengthen, and hydrate, this shampoo does it all. It whisks away dirt and grime while helping your scalp and strands maintain optimal levels of moisture, all while smelling subtly like a vacation in a bottle.

The Hair Lab Deep Conditioner — $9.00

The most nourishing of The Hair Labs conditioners, this formula is made with shea butter to moisturize, soften, and detangle coarse textures.

The Hair Lab Heat Defense Dose Set — $3.00

This formula coats strands with hydrolyzed wheat protein to protect them from heat damage. Because it’s heat activated, it works even harder the higher you turn up your iron.


The Hair Lab Moisture Boost Dose Set — $3.00

This dose will maximize the moisturizing abilities of your shampoo and conditioner thanks to vitamin B5 (otherwise known as panthenol), which improves hair’s elasticity and moisture retention.

The Hair Lab Color Protect Dose Set — $3.00

Keep color from fading with this ginkgo Biloba-infused formula, which will enhance vibrancy and help your dye job last.

The results

The revitalizing shampoo was specifically formulated with antioxidant-rich rice water to help maintain optimal moisture levels and scalp balance. According to Neda Mehr, MD, a California-based functional dermatologist specializing in hair, rice water can have a positive impact on the health of your strands thanks to the fact that it's packed with amino acids, antioxidants, and vitamin B vitamins—which is exactly what my hard-water-damaged hair needed.

"Lather, rinse, repeat" is basically my middle name, and with this shampoo, I found the first wash to be a bit difficult because I struggled to find the right water/shampoo ratio to get the perfect foaming balance. However, as soon as it was time for round two, things felt better proportioned and I was able to wash with ease. I prefer to limit my hair washes to once a week, and the fact that this formula kept my scalp and strands feeling clean and nourished throughout that entire stretch was highly impressive.

As for the conditioner, it worked like a dream. As someone with long, thick hair, I live for rich conditioners and masks—but because I wanted to put this formula to the ultimate test, I ditched my usual leave-in products to see if it could hold its own. And boy did it live up to the task.  Even after heat styling, my strands felt healthy, nourished, and moisturized.

Admittedly, I'm usually pretty particular about the hair-care products I use, and my typical routine tends to skew on the pricier side. The fact that this entire custom routine only cost $27 ($9 each for the shampoo and conditioner, $3 each for the three doses) is not too shabby—especially considering it's customized to your needs and actually works.

Besides the amazing price, each product is also clean and cruelty-free with no sulfates, parabens, phthalates, or mineral oils, making it all the better. The Hair Lab by Strands has converted me, and I’m sure if you give it a try, it will be your new go-to too.

Looking to hack your routine to minimize damage? Check out the video below. 

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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