Bewildering choices breed tress stress

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Stranded . . . description of the average haircare consumer, as I am, baby-stepping down and around the aisles, spraying glaze rays along the shelves trying to understand and remember what the products do while struggling with what I need on the journey to actualization of ideal self-concept . . . high and outside, at least.

Shampoos, conditioners, color in, dandruff out, strippers, restoratives, shiners, fixatives, fullness, extra body, volumizing, antifatiguing, protecting, preventing, restructuring, retexturizing, revitalizing and restoring for hair that is too thin, too oily, too dry, damaged, difficult to detangle and tame, treated with color, totally tweaked, stranded or streaked, permed, frizzed, brittle and split . . . End!


Ingredients in large measure, small portion, trace, tincture, honorable mention: vitamins C, E, B-5, B-3, chamomile, cholesterol (you thought it was bad?), collagen, ceramide R, coconut, UV filter, aloe vera, wheat germ, tea tree, kangaroo paw, awapuhi, jojoba, sunflower oil, strawberries, wild berries, wild cherries, apple, melon, mango, honeysuckle, gardenia, kiwi, pears, peach, papaya and peppermint poop!

Are we talking about a snack or a facial?

Shall I go na-tu-ral, botanical, herbal, organic, scientific, or do I dare go exotic? Is there a difference? . . . Body Vive, Hydra Vive and Color Vive. I say, "Vive the Vive!"

Let's get real! That's hair talk for "natural." With Alberto-Culver and Tresemme Naturals, Alberto VO5 and the Naturals line, Lamour Natural Reflections, Clairol Herbal Essences, Suave Herbal Care, Freeman Botanicals and Helene Curtis Salon Selective Botanical Blends (I'm suddenly feeling like Starbucks or Columbian coffee calling), L'Oreal Vita Vive (it lives!) multivitamin, White Rain Solutions line with vitamin B-5, and the collection line with vitamin C, etc., I feel revived and ready to carry on!


But then there's science. Senscience, which says, "Inner strength means outer beauty. When you put science first, beauty will follow." And Nioxin, "The science of living hair." (Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this a bit oxymoronic? Living hair? As opposed to?) "Beautiful, healthy hair begins at the roots," it toots. Then there is Phytologie ("ology," the study of, would be too heavy, and "ologie" is much cuter).

Which way to turn? The heat is on. Enter Pantene and Thermasilk. They want the heat turned up. Well, it's not the heat but the humidity! Frenzies with the frizzies, spelled "FrizzEase"? Clairol says I need its Daily Defense, daily, 3-minute repair.

Three minutes? The water's running. I'm running

. . . late! I need instant repair. Confusium! Infusium? Leave in or wash out? Mane 'n Tail! (And don't I feel like it!)

I need to do what is right for me. Do you think I know? So I read Aussie's copy, which tells me to be an individual, to dare to try what's different and to get to know all 36 of their identity-transforming products. All 36?Do I try all 36 and hope to find myself in one of them?


Suppose I find myself in No. 15? Should I stop or hope that further down the line it's more me? They want me to be myself so they can change me. Identity transforming? I barely have a handle on what I am now, an identity crisis looming cumulus clouds over my self-help books as I try to discover or recover my inner soul, the real me . . . that sort of thing.

Identity-transforming? How scary is that? And get to know how many? I don't have time to food shop at Rite Aid while waiting for my Prozac prescription. I rush to the aisle where I begin my search for new and different -- and scan for my same old, same old.

Manufacturers are concerned with product clutter on shelves, and in 1996 Procter & Gamble Co., one of the largest in packaged goods, began a program to simplify its product offerings, reducing the number of Head & Shoulders shampoo varieties from 30 to 15. It makes it easier for consumers to find what they want (assuming they know). Less choice means less confusion and more intelligent choices for consumers. But, oh, if they could only agree on categories and terms -- just a little! Time is prime and precious to us consumers, and this would help, too.

While consumers do love new products and tend to be trendy, it's thought that only between 5% and 10% of new products are ever innovative. The wanna-be's are usually just variations of what "was."


I have read that on an average shopping trip, a consumer is confronted by so many items that her eyes linger for no more than 3 seconds on each product. Packaged pretty, pastel blossoms peeking from behind pretty names on plastic. Pretty faces and hairstyles on some boxes I don't identify. Too pretty, too young, too thin. Do I think I'll look like that? Do I want to look like that? Should I want to look like that? And no, printing "new" on a package won't do it. "New and improved" is redundant and ridiculous. Boutique beautiful and left out for all to see. But it can't just be a powder room trophy. It must deliver beauty, too -- inside/out.

Haircare is messy. There is much out there, so much seems the same. So many different ingredients. So many problems. So much that the consumer wants each product to do. In the mix lies the opportunity for a "heads-up" marketer and consumers to beam and shine, respectively.

Ms. Gross is a consultant in the field of strategic consumer behavior for Stan Gross Associates, Haverford, Pa.

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