After months of testing shampoos and conditioners, one brand stands out: Sebastian. Most of their packaging is terrible: dull, confused - they look like prototypes. But the products housed therein are just fantastic. My favourite of all was the Sebastian Performance Active Conditioner, pounds 11.95, an intensive conditioner you leave on for only a minute and is the colour of the inside of an avocado (which is also one of the ingredients). This left my hair gloriously smooth and glossy.
I used it with shampoos from the second-best hair brand: Phytologie, which is a French make and is all planty and herbally. Their bottles are very nice: like old fashioned cough mixtures. Anyway, I used the Phytojoba Intense Hydrating Shampoo with jojoba oil, pounds 8.60. Together, these products gave me superb hair. Every time I used them I had comments of "What have you done to your hair? It looks like that swingy hair you get on the telly." I had to save it for special occasions (also, like skincare products, I think you should rotate and not use the same products repeatedly).
The Phytocypres Exfoliating Dandruff Shampoo, pounds 8.60, was used by a long- time sufferer of a flaky head. His verdict: "Most dandruff shampoos are based on coal-tar, which is an oil-refined product, for God's sake, or steroid-based medication, which actually inflames the tissue of the scalp making dandruff worse. The Phytologie stuff is based on herbal extracts and actually cleanses the scalp and gets rid of dandruff (no sense that you are poisoning yourself). There isn't too much foam so doesn't feel coated, which would make scalp flaky and come off as flakes. Easy to wash out. Has solved a long-term problem. Whatever it costs, it's worth it." Hmmm, fairly pleased with it then.
Not so popular for dandruff was the Charles Worthington Results: no flake anti-flake anti-dandruff shampoo, pounds 3.45, which made another tester's head "100 times worse". But his girlfriend tried it (she doesn't have dandruff) and proclaimed the shampoo "great, lovely smell, very refreshing". So, there you go. Funnily enough another flaky-haired tester found the Charles Worthington Impact Total Hairwash one-step shampoo, pounds 3.50, and conditioner, pounds 3.50, to be very good for his dandruff, even though it is not specifically for that.
To go on about Sebastian products a bit more, the rest of their range is also fantastic, although some were better than others. I liked their shampoos (Slipliner, pounds 4.20, to build body; Blue Mint, pounds 6.65, for oily hair; Green Apple, pounds 6.65, for normal hair), although I thought their conditioners were really the top biscuit (and vice versa with Phytologie).
But Sebastian had another product I have fallen in love with in their styling products range (I haven't fully tested all of these yet, so I'll do more on styling products in the future). Their Laminates Drops, pounds 19.95, or Laminates High Gloss Spray, pounds 11.55, is absolutely perfect for adding gloss to your hair. You need only a teeny tiny bit if your hair is loose, but I found it invaluable for turning a pony tail into a Margot Fonteyn look - you know how it is when you tie your hair back and you end up with a wispy, fluffy outline? Well, not with this. Instant gloss, instant glamour and 100 times better than gel, which makes your head go all hard.
While I'm on the subject of scraping hair back (a look some boys seem to hate - don't know why, but who cares about them), try the Blax Snag- Free Hair Elastics, pounds 1.96 for a pack of eight, which come in black or clear from the Beauty Quest catalogue: call 0541 505 000). Sebastian's Potion 9, pounds 16, is also legendary among frizzy-haired gels and boys: "really fantastic" the testers chorused, `it separates your curl and dries without frizzing, naturally or with blow drying. Next morning, it's exactly the same, usually my hair looks like a haystack."
MAC's retain shampoo, pounds 5, was "the only thing that has ever tamed my hair" said my tester, but his girlfriend hated it (her hair didn't need taming). Philosophy hair products were good but not excellent. I used their Head Trip conditioner, pounds 9.50, and the first time, I didn't leave it on long enough (five to 25 mins), so only had myself to blame. Subsequent times proved much better and it did the job. Their Breaking Point intensive conditioner, pounds 9.50, smelled gorgeous and left the hair soft but very flyaway.
The Stressed Out Daily Hair solution, pounds 9.50, also smelt beautiful but the tester was not won over from the Sebastian Potion 9, which she was now clutching. E'spa's Pink Hair and Scalp Mud Pot, pounds 24.95, was given to the very curly-haired Linda to test and she thought it was superb - the best product she's ever found for her hair. But, because she has so much hair, it was all gone in two goes.
Imogen (greasy hair) was happy with the Origins Clear Head mint shampoo, pounds 8.50, but "bored with greasy hair having to smell of mint". She was delighted with their Knot Free Finishing Rinse, pounds 8.50, which really did untangle hair, and not impressed with the Nicky Clarke Hairomatherapy Conditioner, pounds 3.25, which she said "felt sticky". Nicky's (please cut your hair Mr Clarke, you look so stupid, and shave your sideburns) Thick and Shiny Hair "The Styling Gel", pounds 3.25, was a winner, holding the tester's hair for three whole days - which is two days, 23 hours and 59 minutes more than I can watch Nicky Clarke on telly for.
Anyway, further comments included "lovely product, didn't make hair frizzy or flat, although you need to use quite a lot of product"'. I tested the Origins No Deposit shampoo, pounds 8.50, which is for when your hair has had enough, and their Happy Endings conditioner, pounds 12.50, both of which were excellent and their packaging (pictures of slices of fruit) made me smile.
Finally, I can't go without telling you about Aveda hair products, because they are joint second with Phytologie. They make some very good colour- enhancing shampoos, pounds 8, and conditioners, pounds 15.50, and their Shampure, pounds 7.50, has a bit of a cult following (it's meant to be the "ultimate shampoo"). Their Pure-Fume brilliant spray-on for hair, pounds 9.50, was also a nice way to add a bit of shine to your tresses. Phew, that's it, you need never have a bad hair day again. (PS: It really does seem to be worth spending money for good hair products.)
For stockists: Aveda: 0171 410 1600; Charles Worthington: 0845 0708090; E'spa: 01252 741600; MAC: 0171 349 0601; Origins: 0800 7314039; Philosophy: 0171 636 2523: Phytologie: 0171 613 0265; Sebastian: 0345 125545. Nicky Clarke products available from Tesco, Boots and Superdrug.