Beauty Test Drive: Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo Vs. Apple Cider Vinegar

At the risk of giving you way too much information about the intimate workings of my scalp, let’s just say that something about the water (or humidity? or sweet tea?) in Nashville does not agree with my hair. Ever since moving here, my scalp has been super dry and itchy while my hair seems constantly greasy. Whatever I do, my hair never feels truly clean. It’s gross. In my quest for a solution, I’ve scoured blogs, haircare forums, and DIY Pinterest boards. Two options quickly caught my eye, because they came highly recommended, used similar methods, and promised similar results: one was Neutrogena’s Anti-Residue Shampoo, the other was apple cider vinegar. I tried both. Here’s how they stacked up:

Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo

Price: $6, drugstores.

The claim: According to the instructions on the box, using this shampoo once a week will break down and remove 70% of product buildup that other shampoos leave behind.

How to use it: Massage into hair, lather, and rinse just like a normal shampoo.

Pros: The gel texture makes it super easy to distribute through hair.

Cons: This stuff smells weirdly medicinal, and the smell doesn’t fade after your hair dries. I got a headache from the scent and had to wash my hair again later that night with a better-smelling shampoo.

The result: I don’t know if this anti-residue shampoo leaves residue of its own, or just doesn’t clean as thoroughly as I expected, but the roots of my hair still felt greasy after using it. Between the smell and the unimpressive results, I was pretty disappointed.

Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

Price: $2–$5, grocery stores.

The claim: Rinsing your hair with apple cider vinegar (yep, the kind you buy at the grocery store!) helps remove product buildup and restores your scalp’s natural moisture balance.

How to use it: Mix with equal parts water (I used about 3 tablespoons of each) and pour onto wet hair. Massage onto scalp and let sit for a few minutes, then rinse out. I just poured my ACV/water mixture into a mug and then dumped it on my head in the shower, but I’ve read that using a spray bottle works really well for more even distribution.

Pros: It’s cheap, and although I was afraid this technique would leave me smelling like pickles for the foreseeable future, I was pleasantly surprised to find the smell faded completely as soon as my hair dried.

Cons: It smells … like vinegar. The smell is super strong while you’re washing your hair, but like I said, it fades completely as soon as your hair dries. It’s also so watery that it’s tough to distribute evenly throughout your hair without a spray bottle.

The result: After rinsing with apple cider vinegar, my hair felt super soft, and my scalp, which had been dry and itching pretty severely before I got in the shower, felt soothed and calm. My hair itself looked a bit stringy at the roots, but I noticed when I used my regular shampoo a couple days later, it felt much cleaner and looked extra shiny.

So, which product wins?

I’m giving the gold star to apple cider vinegar! It did everything the Neutrogena shampoo claimed to do, but more effectively, and for half the price. With results like that, I can put up with plugging my nose in the shower for a few minutes. I’m going to start doing an ACV rinse once a week or whenever my scalp starts acting up.