Well, this time the gamble did not pay off, and I could tell it was not going to be a great experience from the beginning. As soon as I sat down, she asked me what kind of shampoo and conditioner I use. Never a good sign. My hair is very dry in general -- and especially at that moment because I had been avoiding buying new products for a few months, and instead just using up some old shampoo I had on hand for my boyfriend that was not doing anything to help the dryness. I was also using some expensive, "natural" conditioner that was equally useless. So I mumbled some (drugstore) brand name, and she immediately launched into a lecture about why "grocery store" and "drugstore" products are terrible for your hair. You've heard it before. They deposit "wax" on your hair which builds up and makes it rough and dry (unlike the expensive "natural," "botanical" products she could sell me). She explained that the reason my hair doesn't take a curl is because I have all this gunk on it that won't allow styling products to penetrate the hair, because it's like having a plastic glove over my hair. (Do I want hairspray to penetrate my hair? That's not generally how it works.) Never mind that my hair has never curled well with heat, even when I was a child. The worst part was that she delivered this inept and misinformed lecture while giving me my scalp massage, so she was half-assing the massage, and I was simultaneously annoyed by the nonsense she was spouting.
I know there are worse things going on in the world right now. This ranks as an annoyance, not a disaster.
I don't entirely blame the hair stylist, because I know that this sort of thing is part of her training and part of her job. It's what she's been taught, and she believes what she's saying. "Pantene is horrible because it deposits silicone on your hair and it builds up and forms a film that weighs down your hair." Yes, most conditioners deposit a film on your hair. That's how they work. It's the film that makes it soft and smooth and shiny (with the exception of very few ingredients, like coconut oil). That is true for both drugstore and salon conditioners and styling products. All you have to do is look at the ingredients to see that they are very similar in higher and lower end products. Silicone is fine for your hair - it washes right out with shampoo. So even if you are concerned about build-up, all you have to do is use a clarifying shampoo once or twice a week to clear it up. I know that some people with curly hair prefer to avoid silicone, which is a legit choice - but even if you accidentally use a product containing it, it's easy to shampoo out. If silicone didn't wash off with soap or detergent, most of us would have a thick coating of it on our skin, because it's also an ingredient in a lot of lotions and moisturizers.
Pantene adds more silicone than some other products, because they make a conditioning shampoo. You can read all the specifics of how it works in this post from The Beauty Brains, in which they also answer someone's question about why Pantene isn't sold in salons if it's "so good." The answer, in short, is because they wouldn't make nearly as much money from it as they do now. (Sidenote: I'm really sad that when The Beauty Brains lost their archives, they lost the post in which they collaborated with a stylist who swore she could tell the difference between hair washed with drugstore and salon products. In a blind test she was right less than 50% of the time - which suggests that if she was choosing the "nicer" hair, the drugstore product might have been better. It was so good.)
Anyway, the anti-drugstore spiel that you get from hair stylists and that other people repeat over and over is another version of "it's better because it costs more." Some expensive products are great, and some are crappy; ditto for cheaper stuff like Pantene. Here's an good explanation of why people think cheap things are worse, even though there is little correspondence between cost and value today (h/t Liz, thanks!):