Aesop is a high-end Australian manufacturer in existence since 1987, committed to “the highest-quality plant-based ingredients” and making “judicious” use of non-botanical elements such as antioxidants.

Another renowned trait of Aesop’s product is their “exquisite scents” and the Sage Scalp Cleaning Shampoo is no exception; the powerful mix of rosemary and sage is softened by cedar and that is what attracted me to the product at the outset. It is, for someone like me who spent my childhood vacations in Provence, pure magic and a true delight. Buying 18oz of sophisticated and fabulous smelling shampoo for about $50 is not a bargain, but a worthwhile indulgence... Or so I thought!

The major drawback of this shampoo is that that it is incredibly powerful, bleaching everything from one’s hair, leaving it dry, lifeless and dull. I have tried it for one year, using as little as possible or following up with various conditioners with a similar result: the feeling that someone with a razor blade has scraped every follicle and the scalp. Only the most powerful professional conditioners would restore a semblance of smoothness or flexibility… For some of our testers, the result was even worse with some bad scalp reactions, significant itching and irritations. When thinking about this review, the words to describe the impact of the shampoo were along the lines of “agent orange”, “bleach”, “industrial grime remover”. Of, course, these are a bit extreme, but you get my drift.

How and why did Aesop, these thoughtful and experienced Australians get there?

The “how” is rather straight-forward as was explained to me by Marta, our editor, the ingredient list is rather telling. Some are potential irritants such as propylene glycol, sodium and ammonium lauryl sulfate, others are falling out of favor with cosmetic makers and are only used in rinse off  products, ie methylchloroisothiazolinone, a neurotoxin called methylisothiazolinone, and lastly there are some classic astringent and antiseptics including citric acid, rosemary, sage and tea tree.

The “why” is rather more complicated. How could Aesop qualify its product as “gentle cleansing” and yet deliver this scorched earth impact? The answer may be on their website and in the instructions. Basically, Aesop does not believe in hair cleaning and shampoos: they even write:” For those who feel that hair requires daily refreshing after sports, Aesop Scalp Cleansers may be diluted with water and poured over scalp and through hair”. What? Buy $40 of product but you may be better off with water if you want to be clean after sport?

Further reading suggests that this shampoo is not for hair but for scalp: “In your day to day routine, focus on cleansing the scalp, as this is where oil secretions build up”. Now, unless you are bald, how can you wash your scalp and avoid the hair? This defies common sense. Moreover, Aesop explains that the hair is very fragile, especially when wet and it advises to “brush it before cleaning”, “lightly work though it”, rinse it thoroughly” “do not dry it but wrap a towel around it” and so on so forth… Concluding on this precious note from the shampoo manufacturer: “The current tendency to shampoo excessively”.

Let me summarize the conceit: this expensive product addresses the scalp (indeed the tea tree oil does well against dandruff) but not the hair. It is devised with so much power that it will destroy your hair if by any chance you are dim-witted enough to get your hair in contact with our product as you are washing it with our product…

Please, this is absurd.