When I first started working on cosmetic formulations back in the eighties, every month a list of the best selling shampoos in the UK market would appear. Sadly, I cannot remember who used to compile it. It wasn’t a tremendously exciting list- Head and Shoulders and Vosene were always at numbers one and two. They sometimes switched places, but it was a pretty stable situation.
Today I imagine it would be impossible to compile such a list with any degree of accuracy. There are a lot more brands and outlets now, and the whole way people buy products has changed. But it would be a safe bet to say that the biggest sellers are the ones that get the biggest share of the shelf space in the supermarkets. So aside from Head and Shoulders, which must be the biggest seller everywhere, I think that Pantene Pro V Shampoo must be one of the biggest and may well be the biggest. Like Head and Shoulders, it is from Procter and Gamble. So lets have a look at its ingredients.
Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate is the main ingredient. It is a flash foamer, which means it creates bubbles. Lots of them. I think the choice to use the ammonium rather than the more widely used sodium salt is interesting. It should be a bit less irritating, and that may well be the motivation.
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate is closely related to ammonium lauryl sulfate. For some reason, bubbles form better when you have a mixture of similar materials. It is something to do with the way the molecules lock together and fill the space more efficiently. It is a bit like it is harder to disentangle safety clips if they are all different sizes.
Sodium Chloride is as everyone knows common salt. Most shampoos contain salt mainly to adjust the viscosity to the desired range – though it can be dispensed with if you really want to.
Cocamide MEA – full name cocamide monoethanolamide. This is the material that stabilises the foam produced by the flash foamer.
Glycol Distearate – along with the cetyl alcohol this is responsible for the pearly effect.
Dimethicone – this is a silicone which coats the hair giving a conditioning effect. This is the ingredient that probably more than any other gives this shampoo its appeal.
Fragrance – I think you know this one.
Panthenol is the ingredient that gives the product its name. It is a precursor of vitamin B5. In medicine a material that the body itself converts into a drug is called a pro-drug. It isn’t often used that way, but you could also call something that you eat that gets converted by the body into a vitamin as a pro-vitamin. Panthenol in the diet could be converted by the body into vitamin B5, so you could call it a pro-vitamin B5. Or Pro V, if you want to be both brief and use the roman symbol for the number 5. Do you see what they did there? Don’t worry, nobody else does either.
Panthenyl Ethyl Ether is a derivative of panthenol. Both this ingredient and the panthenol tend to penetrate wet hair. When it dries again, it has aquired these new components that make the hair more flexible. This is doesn’t seem like a huge benefit, but some people seem to really like it.
Cetyl Alcohol is a fatty alcohol that as I said earlier contributes to the pearly appearance.
Polyquaternium-10 is a cationic polymer that coats damged hair and gives a conditioning effect.
Sodium Citrate will be used to adjust the pH, in combination with the citric acid.
Sodium Benzoate – is normally used as a preservative and may well be here. But I think the motivation here might be as a buffer. This is something that stops the pH from changing. Sodium citrate and citric acid together work as a buffer, but they might not be enough on their own.
Ammonium Xylenesulfonate is a bit of a mystery to me. It is way down the ingredient list so there can’t be much of it in the formulation. Judging by its chemical nature it ought to be a flash foamer. Foam quality is often a lot better if you have a couple of different detergents mixed together. Maybe this adds to the mix and so enhances the foam.
Disodium EDTA helps with the preservation and stability of the product by binding to any metals in solution. It is also supposed to help the performance of the shampoo in hard water. This makes sense theoretically, but I have never seen any hard data to back it up.
PEG-7M is a water soluble polymer that gives the shampoo consistency.
Citric Acid – this is there to adjust the pH and will only be present in a trace amount.
Methylchloroisothiazolinone and Methylisothiazolinone – these two ingredients are the preservative system and are added together as a blend. I think this is the only possible choice for a shampoo like this. They are safe and environmentally friendly. They do cause a small minority of people a problem with sensitisation, which for a really big seller like this one represents a very large number of people. But the only alternative that would give lower sensitisation rates would be some blend of parabens, and these don’t work too well in shampoos. All the other possible preservatives would probably cause more reactions – albeit to a different set of people.
This is a very good and well formulated product that millions of people enjoy using every day. You would hardly expect any different from a large company with enormous resources like Procter and Gamble. But the formulation is only one part of its success. The marketing muscle behind it is far more significant.