Shopping for a new shampoo and conditioner can be an overwhelming experience. With products promising everything from hair growth to color retention and more, it can be hard to nail down the best formula for your hair, and even harder to understand what types of ingredients you should be looking for—and avoiding—when shopping for your newest shower staples. There's one ingredient, however, that's gained notoriety as something that should be avoided in hair products, no matter your hair type: Sulfates.
"Sulfates are types of cleansers," explains Riley Finn, a color educator at Tricoci Salon & Spa. "All are not inherently bad, but they are not all created equally." Indeed, sulfates such as sodium lauryl sulfate (one of the most common sulfates found in hair products) are harsh and can strip hair of moisture, leaving strands dull, frizzy, and tangled.
Still, while it's important to find gentle cleansers that don't strip your hair of its natural oils, it's also important to ensure that your shampoo is clarifying for your hair and cleanses dirt and sweat from your scalp. And Finn admits that striking this balance can be "very hard for the average consumer to navigate."
To make this process easier, we've tapped Finn to unpack everything there is to know about sulfate-free shampoos, from understanding the importance of finding a sulfate-free formula to discovering the best product for you.
Why a Sulfate-Free Shampoo?
As Finn mentioned, sulfates can provide a deep cleansing that ultimately does more harm than good.
"A harsh cleanser can strip your hair color and leave your scalp feeling dry," she explains. Therefore, if you're looking for a deep cleanse that doesn't cause harm, opt for a sulfate-free clarifying shampoo instead.
Finn also adds that sulfates can hinder long-term hair growth because of the drying effect they have on your skin.
"Proper care of our scalp is very important to nurture future hair growth," she says. "It’s literally the soil that feeds our hair, so it’s important that we keep that soil balanced and hydrated so that we can have the healthiest hair possible. A healthy scalp is vital in preventing hair loss as we age as well."
The overall verdict? "If you are buying a professional grade sulfate-free product, you will be getting a gentle surfactant that will protect your hair and scalp with clean science to back it," Finn concludes.
The Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos
- Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Hair Growth: Nutrafol Root Purifier Scalp Shampoo for Thinning Hair
- Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair: SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl & Shine Shampoo
- Best Clarifying Sulfate-Free Shampoo: TPH by Taraji Honey Fresh Clarifying Shampoo
- Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo Overall: Tricoci Collection Smoothing Shampoo
Best Everyday Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Finn calls this shampoo the ideal sulfate- free choice "for the everyday washer”—great news for people who work out daily, have oily scalps, or who have thin hair that gets greasy easily. She explains, "It will balance the moisture of your hair and scalp, so you won’t over produce sebum, while providing a sulfate-free, sodium chloride-free and vegan experience." This means that the shampoo is also a great choice for those who suffer from scalp acne or dandruff, which are often caused by an overproduction of sebum.
Pros: expert-approved; vegan; moisturizing; affordable
Cons: small bottle
Customer Review: "I’ve been struggling with an oily scalp and I wash my hair everyday but with this shampoo my hair feels clean for days with volume!" -Tricoci
Best Moisturizing Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Finn recommends this shampoo as well, but she adds that it is on the thicker side, so it may not be suitable for those with thin hair that gets greasy or garners buildup easily. It’s also not the best match for those with oily scalps. Instead, she recommends the formula for "longer lengths of hair and heavier textures." It’s also a great option for thirsty, high porosity hair and dry scalps. She adds, "Virtue products all also contain UV protection and heat protection."
Pros: expert-approved; works well on textured hair; moisturizing
Customer Review: "I have thin yet frizzy hair. This shampoo works wonders on my hair. I also use the conditioner to this shampoo and adore them both!" -Dermstore
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Colored Hair
"This shampoo changed my hair from the very first wash,” our E-commerce Editor Julia Marzovilla says of this popular formula, which also happens to be vegan and free of parabens, sulfates, SLS, and SLES. “I have thin hair that tends to get greasy easily whenever I use conditioner, but this duo from Pureology has stopped all that. I can now go a few days in-between washes instead of rushing to clean my hair on day two, which is a godsend."
Pros: free of parabens; vegan; works on all hair types and curl patterns; made with color-treated hair in mind
Cons: contains fragrance
Customer Review: "This is my new go to shampoo!!! It feels like a spa on my scalp! Besides that it leaves my hair clean and smelling minty fresh." -Sephora
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Volume
Tired of having flat, lifeless hair? Before you turn to potentially damaging methods like teasing, consider a volumizing shampoo like this one from Virtue Labs. Finn says that this formula, along with its conditioning counterpart, is her "go- to volume shampoo and conditioner." She explains, "It contains 100 percent cold- pressed human keratin, so while it’s super lightweight, it will strengthen and protect delicate light textured hair while being sulfate-free." Multiple reviewers agree, calling the vegan, cruelty-free option their “holy grail.”
Pros: volumizing; great for fine hair; strengthening; protein-infused
Cons: expensive for small bottle
Customer Review: "Each strand of my hair if fine but I have a lot of it. Plus, now with some grey coming in, it gets a bit more unruly than before. This shampoo helps so much with giving body, but not frizz." -Ulta
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo with UV Protection
Another standout option from premium haircare brand Tricoci, this shampoo is formulated with ingredients like argan oil, which are great for lending hair smoothness and shine, sans harsh chemicals. Finn says that this shampoo is "safe for all textures of hair who just love a silky soft feel without being flat!" She adds, "You just can’t go wrong with it. Plus you get UV and heat protection." Thus, it’s a great option for anyone who lives in a warm climate, or who simply enjoys days spent out in the sun.
Pros: contains natural ingredients like argan oil; expert-approved; protects hair from heat and UV
Cons: small bottle
Customer Review: "I loved how this shampoo made my hair smooth and frizz free. The scent was amazing!!" -Tricoci
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair
Customers with thick, dry, and/or curly hair love this highly moisturizing formula—including me! A few warn, however, that if you're worried about buildup or greasiness over time, you should pair it with a clarifying shampoo on a weekly basis, just to make sure you’re not weighing your hair down or over-moisturizing it. Like all Shea Moisture products, this shampoo is strongly scented, with a coconut and hibiscus scent that reviewers absolutely love. It’s best paired with the rest of the coconut-hibiscus line, especially the creamy curl-enhancing smoothie.
Pros: made with natural hair in mind; cruelty-free; clean
Cons: strong fragrance
Customer Review: "This one is super moisturizing and will really do wonders...My scalp feels absolutely wonderful and hydrated, and along with the usage of the conditioner, I can see my hair starting to develop its curl pattern better." -Ulta
Best Frizz-Fighting Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Users with curly and coily hair particularly love this hydrating shampoo, which is made to moisturize. Several reviewers do note, though, that quite a bit of the formula is needed per wash, which means that the relatively small bottle runs low quickly. On the plus side, this option is clean and sustainably sourced, and it’s free of potentially harmful ingredients like sulfates, SLS, and SLES. Users with high porosity hair especially love incorporating it into their wash routines, noting that it never dries hair out—even when used daily.
Pros: curl-enhancing; made with natural ingredients; clean
Cons: some users find it doesn't lather enough
Customer Review: "This works great on my dry, fine, color treated hair. My curls hold up well for two or three days after I wash it. Also, my hair isn’t overly dry after I shampoo it." -Sephora
Best Sulfate-Free Purple Shampoo
If you've dyed your hair blonde or gray, you should consider a purple shampoo to stave off dullness and brassiness, or at least to hold you off until your next appointment at the salon. Users love this one from Amika, both for its ability to restore blonde locks and for its shine- enhancing powers. It’s made with avocado oil and amino acids, which are meant to strengthen and moisturize hair from the inside out.
Pros: color-enhancing; moisturizing; works well on sensitive skin
Cons: small bottle
Customer Review: "I have platinum blonde hair (bleached) and this shampoo leaves it shinier than other purple shampoos I've tried. Hair feels healthier, less brittle, too." -Walmart
Best Sulfate-Free Blue Shampoo
Just as purple shampoos prevent and treat brassiness in blondes, $ blue shampoos$ like this one prevent dyed brown hair from turning brassy and reddish between color appointments. Reviewers love this option, in particular, from dpHUE, writing that it's fast-acting and that it works well on all hair types. The clean, cruelty- free formula promises to cleanse all hair types gently and effectively. Pro tip: For best color results, leave the shampoo on for a few minutes in the shower before you wash it out.
Pros: color-enhancing; cruelty-free; free of parabens, gluten, silicones, and phthalates
Cons: strong fragrance; can be drying
Customer Review: "I use this to tone my very dark brown, dyed hair (darkest intense brown NN). It keeps the brassiness at bay when needed, and it's especially helpful when my color needs to be refreshed soon." -Ulta
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Hair Growth
I've sworn by Nutrafol's products ever since they helped me get past a bout of nasty post- Covid hair shedding. This shampoo, part of their anti-$ hair thinning$ regimen, lathers well, doesn't smell strongly, and, because just a small bit of this shampoo goes a long way, it lasts for ages. Great for all hair types and levels of thickness, it also never made my curly, high porosity mane feel dry or appear frizzy.
Pros: editor-approved; vegan; clean; supports hair growth
Customer Review: "A small amount goes a long way! I've only been using this product for a few weeks, so I can't wait to see its full effects after a month or more. It is readily applicable and has excellent consistency. Not overpowering in scent and beautifully packaged." -Sephora
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Damaged Hair
This popular, award-winning shampoo from Oribe is effective for all hair types at providing a deep cleanse and infusing strands with strength and moisture. Several reviewers also say that it reduced the advancement of their $ split ends,$ and that it made their hair feel softer after just one wash. This is likely because of its key ingredients, which include moisturizing hyaluronic acid (that’s right—it’s good for your hair, too!) and strengthening plant- based proteins, bamboo leaf, and chia seed extract.
Pros: vegan; award-winning; works on all hair types; moisturizing; contains hyaluronic acid
Customer Review: "I’m really impressed by this shampoo. It smells so good, like I’m leaving a high end spa. A little goes a long ways and leaves my hair feeling nice and clean and film free after." -Sephora
Best Sulfate-Free Clairfying Shampoo
Just because you need a thorough, clarifying cleanse, doesn't mean you need to opt for a formula packed with harsh chemicals like sulfates. Customers say that this clarifying shampoo banishes sweat, dirt, and buildup without making hair or scalp feel dried out. That’s because it’s filled with hydrating ingredients like honey, willowbark extract, and aloe, which moisturize the hair and scalp without resulting in buildup or grease. It’s also color- safe—a huge plus for those who don’t want to eschew their signature color, highlights, or balayage.
Pros: moisturizing; cruelty-free; free of parabens and phthalates; works with natural hair and protective hairstyles; affordable
Cons: none found
Customer Review: "So fair I love it. It lathers really well, non stripping and cleansing! The smell isn't too strong either and leaves your hair feeling clean. Works well with locs and natural hair." -Sally Beauty
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Scalp Health
This shampoo is another great option for those who are in need of a deep cleanse, but who don’t want to dry out or damage their hair in the process. This detox shampoo from Ouai is formulated to curtail breakouts, oiliness, and flakiness on the scalp. Use it when you're in a pinch, or break it out once a week for scalp maintenance. Customers love it for its results and for its fresh, subtle scent. Still, as with all carifying shampoos, be sure not to use it every day.
Pros: made for sensitive skin; supports scalp health; banishes build-up
Cons: may be too harsh for everyday use
Customer Review: "I have Seborrheic Dermatitis and have never been able to use a shampoo other than my medicated one. Every other shampoo would cause my scalp serious irritation. This is the 1st shampoo I have been able to use that doesn’t make my hair and scalp break out. Such a great product." -Ouai
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo Bar
Users love this shampoo for dry hair, writing that it softens, moisturizes, and revives their locks even after the worst heat- and color- related damage. However, if you have an oily scalp, take care to incorporate a clarifying shampoo into your routine as well so that you don’t end up with grease, dandruff, or acne. Another element of this shampoo that I love? It’s a bar formula, making it 100 percent zero waste. Haircare that’s good for you and for the environment? Count me in.
Pros: affordable; made with natural ingredients; softening
Cons: strong scent
Customer Review: "The smell is just sweet and heavenly. I wash my hair almost every day and my scalp is NEVER dry." -Lush
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Every Hair Type
The word oil may scare those with thin hair away from this product, but never fear: The oils used in this moisturizing shampoo are lightweight and gentle, so your roots won't be greasy and your hair won't be weighed down, even after regular use. Plus, this option enhances shine and banishes frizz after just one use, and its premium ingredients like coconut oil, argan oil, and sweet macadamia seed oil support long- term hair health and moisture.
Pros: shine-enhancing; cruelty-free; free of parabens
Cons: some users don't find it clarifying enough
Customer Review: "I received this initially as a sample and immediately ordered it after trying it. It is so silky and moisturizing during use and the results continue after the hair is dried and styled!" -Sephora
Meet the Expert
Riley Finn is a hairstylist and color educator working for Tricoci Salon & Spa. Currently, she's based in Chicago.
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