Buy This, Not That!: L'Oreal Hair Masks

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Left mask: $30, right mask: $5
It's been over a year since my last Buy This, Not That post, so a re-introduction is probably in order. This is my version of product dupes, where I show you two items (one drugstore, one high-end) that are virtually the exact same thing. That may have been obvious to some, but I know some beauty girls do a different version of Buy This, Not That, so I thought I'd clarify.

Today's edition is interesting, because both products are from the same company: L'Oreal. (Can we really call L'Oreal a company at this point, or would it be referred to as a super-conglomerate or some other business term this English major doesn't know?). We all know that L'Oreal owns many cosmetic companies, and high-end and drugstore dupes exist within their business--check the post I wrote on the Giorgio Armani Maestro Fusion and L'Oreal Magic Nude foundations (post) if you'd like to see an example. L'Oreal duping their formulas is nothing new, but in today's case, both hair masks are L'Oreal brand.

About a month ago, I picked up the Absolut Repair Lactic Acid mask from the fancy European L'Oreal (that is actually what I call it) section of my CVS. I totally didn't need it, but I was too excited to try the high-end L'Oreal to listen to reason. It was a bit pricey at $30, but I remember justifying it to myself because I had a $2.50 off CVS coupon(!). When I got home and first opened it, before I even smelled it or put it into my hair, I suspected I had a dupe on my hands.

The very color, texture, and consistency--all without even touching it--looked very familiar to another L'Oreal hair mask I hauled almost a year ago: the $5 (regular drugstore L'Oreal) Total Repair 5 Damage-Erasing Balm. Both are so thick you can turn the tub upside down without the product moving, both have a distinct yellowish color, and both are so dense that you really need to work the treatment into your hair and comb it through.

I almost hoped these wouldn't be dupes since it would mean quite a waste of money, so I experimented with the two extensively. I even tried them both side-by-side (half my hair treated with one mask, the other half with the other mask) and sure enough, both parts of my hair felt the exact same. I couldn't perceive any difference in the look or feel of my hair between the two halves, and never would have guessed that each section had been treated with a different product. Don't get me wrong, these are solid hair products that really restore hydration and the look of health to my hair--but one of them is definitely a rip-off.

My first DSLR camera--can you tell I have no idea what I'm doing with it?

The results of each feel the exact same, and they only differ slightly in the pot. If you do a side-by-side touch comparison, the expensive L'Oreal mask is a bit thicker and pastier whereas the cheap mask is still thick and dense, but more pliable. They also both have quite strong scents, but with the inexpensive one having a more intense, plasticky version of the floral/alcohol smell of the overpriced option.

I've had a look at the ingredients list, and both lists begin with water, cetearyl alcohol, and behentrimonium chloride. The ingredients are listed in order of concentration, and from there the lists only deviate slightly (the next two items are swapped in order, followed by another two swapped) until towards the end where the cheap mask has a few more chemicals in it. They're not perfect matches ingredient-wise, but again, the lists are written in order of highest concentration in the product. As far as I'm concerned, the early components are the ones that actually matter--and they're the same ingredients, in slightly different order. It doesn't really matter to me if the $5 mask has more chemicals towards the end of its list, since I feel no difference between it and the $30 mask.

If we're talking about the product itself, then no, between the slight variations in texture and list of ingredients, they are not exact dupes. But I really only care about how the product functions and the results each mask gives, and in that sense, these two are most definitely dupes. If you're in the market for a good hair treatment, don't waste the money on a $30 hair mask when there's an almost identical version available for a fiver at the drugstore. 

Again, if you read the Maestro Fusion vs. Magic Nude post, this will be even more clear, but this seems to be a classic L'Oreal move: making two virtually identical products at different price points (launching the expensive one first), and then switching up the ingredients in the cheap option just enough to call it "different" when it's really not. 

Let's take this as a reminder that when a company is known for duping its products, do some research before buying--especially if it's a more expensive item. 

NOTW (featuring a surprise London haul) will be up Saturday!

Hope you're well!


  1. Thanks a lot for this review. I have seen the Total Repair in the drugstore and supermarket and planned to buy it when my current stock of conditioners run out. However, I subsequently saw the Absolut Repair on Amazon. I figured out that they are quite similar with L'oreal doing that whole market segmentation-dupe product thing, but the rave reviews on Amazon re the Absolut Repair made me seriously consider purchasing it instead. Please do post a review if you ever test the Absolut Repair against the Intense Repair in the L'Oreal Expert line. I don't know why companies come out with so many different variations of the same product.

    1. Hmmm, I don't think I've ever tried the Intense Repair, but it looks like the exact same packaging as the Absolut Repair--do you happen to know if they reformulated and/or changed the name?

      You're right, though--they do seem very similar!