I Tested DIY Hair Cleansers Versus Luxury Brands

Whenever a new fad comes sweeping into beauty town, it can take awhile to decipher precisely what products and techniques work for you. Right now, cream cleansers for hair (also known as cleansing conditioners) are all the rage, and there are plenty of options to choose from. Plus, if you're more of a DIY gal like myself, you can even give making one yourself a go! But could how much you pay really make a difference in how well these cleansers work?

Well, that's why we're here comparing four high end cream cleansers to one of my tried and true DIY recipes that keeps hair soft and shiny without weighing it down. Before I began the experiment, I spoke with my friend Anessa, owner of Headdress Salon in the East Village of NYC for her take on why cream cleansers are so fab. Anessa tells me that cream cleansers are the missing link for many people who experience dry and brittle hair. Some people will remain devoted to sudsy shampoo, but she notes that color treated, damaged, and curly hair may never look back once switching to cream cleansers. In case you're curious, her fave is still one of the OGs: Purely Perfect.

It can be a bit odd getting used to cream cleansers, but Anessa has some tips for co-wash beginners. For one, she tells me, you'll probably need to keep adding water as you massage it into your strands, rather than just applying on top of wet hair. Also, just like with your normal conditioner, you'll want to live these cream cleansers in for a few minutes, so apply them at the beginning of a shower and rinse out at the end.

Carefully following Anessa's tips, I got to work. To keep results consistent throughout the experiment, I used the same product cocktail in my hair after each test: R+Co Aircraft Pomade, Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil, and Alterna 10 in 1 Caviar CC Cream. I’m wearing my hair curly all summer so there was really no better time to try a regimen that boasts a devoted curly following! Here's what I discovered.

1. Purely Perfect Cleansing Cream: The Godfather Of Cleansing Creams

Purely Perfect Cleansing Cream, $40, Purely Perfect Products

Price Range: 4 Kitten Emojis Fancy

This stuff smells like a minty rose face mask, and the quality of ingredients is on par with the fanciest skincare products. Purely Perfect does NOT mess around! As Anessa mentions, you must add plenty of water to distribute it evenly or you will overuse this pricey (but dreamy) goodness. I love the light scent, its water soluble moisturizers like aloe and glycerin, and how it rinses cleanly thanks to the silicone free formula. The oils are lightweight and nutritious rosehip seed and evening primrose oil which deliver moisture and shine that isn’t heavy in the slightest.

As you can see, this left my curls pretty shiny, definitely frizz-free, but still nice and soft. I'm sort of obsessed.

2. R+Co Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner: For Parched Locks

R+Co Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner, $29, R+Co

Price Range: 3 Kitten Emojis Fancy

This smells like some kind of peppery fruity dreamland, and the scent lasts well into the day. I was so very caught up with smelling my own hair that I forgot to dry it all the way, and that showed me just how moisturizing this argan oil and green tea foam is to my bleached and salt spray-pillaged ends. It comes out of the can like a shaving cream, and you only need the tiniest dollop to hit your hair from root to tip.

Since this line was developed by session stylists, it's super legit. I was shocked by how light my hair felt when it finally did dry all the way. Normally my ends are dry and frizzy within minutes, but the added moisture and hair-strengthening horsetail and nettle leaf extracts allowed them to curl even more uniformly, without the greasy roots the second day.

3. WEN Summer Coconut Lime Verbena Cleansing Conditioner: For Those Who Like To Linger In The Shower

WEN Summer Coconut Lime Cleansing Conditioner, $40, WEN

Price Range: 4 Kitten Emojis Fancy

Let me start by saying that WEN predates most of the other stuff I'm reviewing here, and really brought the whole idea of co-washing out of the message boards and into the average American’s living room. I loved my experience using WEN, but I found I had to tweak the application from the instructions on the bottle. Instead of applying all the way to my scalp, I worked the cleanser up to just below my roots, which provided me with bouncy, soft curls. I did follow WEN's suggestion to wash twice, which meant I got some extra time to linger in a relaxing shower.

If you're trying a new beauty product, I do highly recommend experimenting a few times before you decide something just don't work for you. The instructions on the packaging are what works best for most people, but you should definitely do you!

4. Oribe Cleansing Crème for Moisture & Control: For The Ultimate Luxury Treatment

Oribe Cleansing Crème, $44, Oribe

Price Range: 4.5 Kitten Emojis Fancy

I haven’t been let down by Oribe yet. Everything I grab from the line has superior ingredients and superior results. My date with Oribe’s freshly scented cleansing cream was like climbing into a tub with fresh basil, mint leaves, and lemons. I wish everything I used on a hot summer day could smell like this. To say nothing of the beautiful packaging, I was blessed with another day of great curls and I would wager all of the antioxidants, vitamins, and cleansing fruit extracts played a role in getting everything clean as well as soft. Just like R+Co, it took my hair a little longer to dry, but the wait was worth it.

5. Dani's DIY: For Beauty Mavens On A Budget

Price Range: 1 Kitten Emoji Fancy ($1 per 4 oz bottle)

I wrote about this DIY on xoVain last week, and it’s been one of my better potions to date. Using castile soap, rosewater, and silicone free conditioner, this is easy to eyeball and uses super affordable ingredients. I find that this is one is a lot more similar to traditional shampoos in that it actually cleanses the hair, rather than just taking out excess oil with oil. You get a very light foamy wash when you mush into wet hair, and your curls come out moisturized enough to behave, though do I recommend putting extra conditioner on ends if you have thick or coarse hair.

Do I think this formula is the best ever? No. If you're looking for loads of moisture, you're probably better off going the store bought route. But if your scalp, like my scalp, requires at least some light sudsing once a week, this DIY recipe is golden.

So we now know the hairstylist fave is Purely Perfect, the beauty editor’s fave is R+Co, the natural gals can opt to DIY, luxury-experience seekers go for Oribe, and die-hard Chaz Dean fans can continue to wait for the once yearly offerings of a gallon of WEN. Their chosen cleansers are all helping to unite us in one common (and important) goal: shampooing less often.

Photos: Maria Penaloza