I have always been envious of the kind of gal who can eke everything her hair needs out of a single bottle - a longing that probably stems from my tomboy roots. Think of all the cosmetic clutter avoided and precious A.M. minutes saved! Whenever I find myself in a friend’s shower with no choice but to use the lone Head & Shoulders 2-in-1 or Pantene 2-in-1 shampoo, desperation ensues for a product to spare my brush from getting stuck in a hair nest. In my routine, conditioner must accompany shampoo at all times. My thick, quick-to-tangle hair insists on a team effort.When I heard about the new Cutler Specialist Cleanser + Conditioner with Olive Oil - marketed as the equivalent of seven personal care products - I thought that at long last my dreams of having low-maintenance hair could come true. This multi-functional cleanser and detangler promises to minimize frizzing, color-fading, and loss of elasticity without a single drop of harsh detergents or parabens. With its shampoo-free formula, Cutler Specialist looks closely similar to Chaz Dean’s WEN range (a bestseller on QVC), minus the investment in four separate products. At $19.50 per bottle, it’s like the poor man’s WEN.

Yet, how far does that $19.50 actually get you? The instructions on the bottle read (and I wish I were making this up): “Step 1: Wet hair thoroughly for at least 1 minute. Apply 5 to 7 pumps to the crown of head and 8 to 10 pumps to nape/back of head. Massage vigorously into scalp for 2 to 3 minutes. Then, add an extra splash of water to help evenly distribute through the ends. Step 2: Add 5 to 10 pumps (depending on hair length) through the mid-shafts and ends to thoroughly cleanse and hydrate. The more product used, the better the results.” If you do the math, that’s up to 27 full pumps of liquid for long hair (like mine). At that rate, the 16. oz. bottle would be drained after about 6 uses. Could this be a mathematically-challenged misprint...or a marketing ploy to get you to buy more bottles?

Not quite so heavy-handed in my application of Cutler Specialist, I managed to coat my entire head - from scalp to ends - with about 9 pumps total (still a shock when you’re used to the standard nickel-sized amount). The fragrance smelled subtly clean, and the consistency felt like conditioner. But instead of silkily spreading through the hair, the lotion came to an abrupt stop where it landed. Each section of my hair required its own dollop of lotion, which coated the strands with a tacky texture and made no sign of foaming.

If you’ve ever tried a sulfate-free shampoo, you are familiar with the strange sensation of cleaning your hair without a froth effect. It’s not particularly pleasant - nor easy. But it is much better for the health of your hair, sparing it from damaging chemicals with protein-denaturing properties. Improving upon its predecessor (Cutler Daily Shampoo), Cutler Specialist succeeds with what it adds to the formula as much as with what it leaves out. Beneficial botanical oils and extracts -  including olive fruit oil, sweet almond oil, avocado oil, aloe leaf juice, wheat protein, rosemary leaf extract, coffee seed extract, and bilberry extract - dominate the ingredients list.

The combination of these fruit oils, along with emollients like glycerin, made for a remarkably moisturized result. My brush managed to work its way up to the roots from the tips without hitting any major snags, which is much more than I can say for other shampoo/conditioner combo products. Amodimethicone, short for amine-functionalized silicone, is partly responsible for the lotion’s targeted conditioning power. This silicone polymer is also particularly helpful for damaged or color-treated hair because it protects from thermal damage, increases color retention, and boosts shine.

However, the Cutler Specialist product developers probably didn’t take into account another property of this ingredient when they included it in the formula. Though it is more resistant to build-up than other silicones, amodimethicone can only be completely removed from the hair with the help of sulfates or cocamidopropyl betaine. Gentler cleansers just won’t cut it. Therein lies the catch-22 common among products that attempt to unite various cosmetic functions all under one roof.

I was pleasantly surprised with Specialist Cutler’s ability to condition, but ultimately it left my hair dry, drab, and weighed down. Ironically, the so-called 7-in-1 product increased my average time spent prepping and primping. After adding an extra ten minutes into my already hurried morning routine for squirting, massaging, and repeating, I expected more. A couple of weeks into my trial, my hair looked like it had the life sucked out of it. The experience of using Specialist Cutler made me yearn for a sudsy lather that glides over my locks and enhances them. I guess in the end I’d rather have a cluttered shower than a one-size-fits-all product that doesn’t fit my hair.
Water, cetyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol, glycerin, amodimethicone, behentrimonium methosulfate, olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, PEG 60 almond glycerides, prunus amygdalus dulcis (sweet almond) oil, persea gratissima (avocado) oil, aloe barbadensis leaf juice, hydrolyzed wheat protein, chamomilla recutita (matricaria) flower extract, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract, coffee arabica (coffee) seed extract, vaccinium myrtillus fruit extract, rosa roxburghii fruit extract, potassium sorbate, panthenol, butylene glycol, propylene glycol, stearamidopropyl dimethylamine, guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, menthol, polysorbate 60, citric acid, BHT, disodium EDTA, 1,2-hexanediol, hexylene glycol, caprylyl glycol, sorbic acid, phenoxyethanol, fragrance.