Sooner or later, everything in beauty gets a bad rap (sorry, parabens, makeup wipes, and chunky early-aughts highlights).And sometimes that's unfair—but sometimes, like with sulfate-filled shampoos, there's reason to be apprehensive. A refresher: Sulfates are detergents—the same kind found in dish soap—that strip the moisture from your hair and can leave it brittle, faded, tangled, and, yes, even oilier. And yet, they're are still found in the majority of shampoos (go check how many of your hair products have sodium lauryl sulfate in the ingredients list). Before there were more elegant and gentle cleansers, sulfates were a go-to for stripping away all manner of grime, oil, dirt, and debris. But now chemistry has advanced and it's the shampoo equivalent of using an anvil to place a thumbtack. Sulfates can contribute to dull hair, frizzy texture, and split ends, among other hair woes.
Which brings me to: May I suggest trying one of my favorite sulfate-free shampoos, below? They contain all of the good, hair-hugging ingredients you want, without any of the damaging ingredients your hair doesn't. And yes, I promise they'll still get your hair really, really clean.
R+Co Bleu Primary Color Shampoo, $59
Housed in stylish packaging that's both recyclable and recycled, this sustainable offering from R+Co is free of all the nasties, and yet still feels (and smells) like a trip to a luxe salon.
Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo, $14
Let's pretend your hair is very, very...extra. (Like, you've either had a full lift from deep brown to pale blonde, or you've had it straightened or permed or any other major moment.) This is the shampoo for you. Dozens of botanical extracts team up with the brand's signature molecular compound—bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate—to noticeably fight fuzz, frizz, and damage without ruining your treatment.
Pureology Hydrate Shampoo, $28
Sure, it's on the pricier side, but then again, it's not your average shampoo. This hydrating formula is basically the queen of all color-safe shampoos. It not only protects your hair from fading, but it also mitigates the inevitable damage that comes with each new dye job.
Virtue Full Shampoo, $38
There's a lot of science packed into this pleasant little purple vial. For starters, a proprietary keratin protein complex actually works to patch up divots on damaged hair shafts. Phospholipids moisturize alongside artichoke leaf extract, which is said to ward off environmental (UV rays, pollution) damage.
Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser's Invisible Oil Shampoo, $31
If your hair is drier than Melba toast, look for a shampoo filled with lightweight oils—like this best-selling formula—to deeply moisturize your hair and leave it shiny. And don't worry; even though it has "oil" in its title, the formula also has serious sudsing powers that actually break down product buildup and scalp oils without stripping your hair.
With a signature dose of the brand's revolutionary argan oil—which, molecularly, is small enough to penetrate the hair shaft and moisturize from the inside out–this sulfate-free version can help slick down lifted cuticles and make frizzy hair appear more sleek.
Sunflower Color Preserving Shampoo, $32
A lightweight blend of botanical oils—sunflower, apricot, and a B-vitamin complex—quench parched strands. But it's the addition of a UV-protective filter that should really catch the attention of those of us with color-treated strands.
Frizz Dismiss Sulfate-Free Shampoo, $22.50
Why do I have such a soft spot in my heart for old-school Redken products? Who can say! What I can say is that there's nothing old school about this technology, which uses a sulfate alternative to cleanse hair alongside lightweight oils that won't weigh down coils or spirals.
Amika Bust Your Brass Blonde Purple Shampoo, $20
If you're an unnatural ice blonde, unfortunate brassy tones—and ragged, desiccated strands—are kind of part of the deal. This nifty offering taps keratin to rebuild compromised hair, while a generous dose of purple pigments counteract unfortunate orange hues.
Moisture Fast Food Sulfate-Free Shampoo, $58
Fast food, but like, in a good way. Like, more Chipotle, less McDonalds. Inside, all the things that are proven to smooth and repair (botanical oils, silicones, keratins) and none of the things that aren't (sulfates, parabens).
Living Proof Color Care Shampoo, $29
It's honestly hard to do new things in the world of shampoo but Living Proof does just that with their proprietary OFPMA which helps hair stay cleaner, longer. (It's a feather-light film-forming layer.) Hydrating esters enhance your hair's natural moisture layer while a chelating agent (hi, chemistry!) removes hard water minerals like iron and copper which can cause premature color fading.
CHI Infra Shampoo, $14.99
Wait, did everybody already know that CHI stood for Catatonic Hydration Interlink? Had no idea! What it actually means, however, I can help you with. The idea is that silk molecules, which by nature have a positive charge, lock into the damaged spots in the hair shaft, which have a negative charge, to rebuild and enhance shine and moisture. If that sounds like hocus pocus, I encourage you to review the 1,000-plus five-star reviews on Amazon instead.
Ouai Detox Shampoo, $30
Apple cider vinegar gently and effectively cleanses away gunky product build-up from dry shampoo, hairsprays or other essential stylers. Also a great option after a week swimming in the ocean, pool, or lake. (Like, when travel is allowed again, that is.)
R+Co DALLAS Biotin Thickening Shampoo, $29
Just because your want your hair clean doesn't mean you want your hair flat and limp. Biotin bolsters the hair's keratin structure while coconut oil and B5 vitamin work to plump and hydrate.
Caviar Anti-Aging Clinical Densifying Shampoo, $38
First things first: This contains caviar, the fatty acids of which are said to help restore the hair shaft's shine, moisture and elasticity. Cleaning sulfates here are replaced with Amla Indian gooseberry, which stimulates healthy hair growth at the follicular level.
Moroccan Argan Oil Shampoo, $12
For the price, you cannot beat the effectiveness of this argan oil-packed wonder that will both clean and smooth your strands.
Leonor Greyl Shampooing Crème, $51
An array of botanical smoothers and replenishers—including bamboo marrow (!), silk, collagen, and wheat proteins, and garlic and horseradish extracts—combine in a creamy, restorative formulation. If silicone smoothers tend to be too heavy on your strands but you still need some streamlining, this could be the ticket.
Playa Every Day Shampoo, $32
Contrary to whatever your brain has been telling you, your flat, fine hair still needs moisture—just really, really lightweight moisture. This low-suds shampoo weightlessly hydrates with coconut water and aloe leaf extract, while also adding a tiny bit of volume thanks to sugar beet extract.
DpHue Cool Brunette Shampoo, $24
If you've ever dyed or highlighted your brown hair, you know how quickly it can take on that dreaded brassiness. Enter: this hydrating shampoo. The gentle formula neutralizes orange hues with a dose of blue pigment (blue is opposite orange on the color wheel, so they cancel each other out). Use a few times a week to keep your hair bright and fresh.
Earth's Nectar Mint Leaves & Tea Tree Shampoo, $22
Trust me—you don't need a heavy-duty, hair-stripping formula to get your greasy scalp clean. And this natural, tea tree oil–infused shampoo proves it by cutting through oils to soothe scalp irritation and banish bad smells, all without leaving your hair feeling like straw.
Briogeo Curl Charisma Rice Amino and Shea Moisture Shampoo, $24
Curly folks, take note: This ultra-moisturizing shampoo uses a blend of natural oils to hydrate and soften dry hair, plus a dose of humidity-fighting tomato ferment to keep curls from shrinking up or frizzing out.
SheaMoisture Curl & Shine Shampoo, $10
Repeat after me: Curls need moisture. And if you're using anything other than a hydrating, sulfate-free shampoo, like this silk protein– and neem oil–infused formula, you're basically asking for breakage, tangles, and damage.
Ouidad Superfruit Renewal Clarifying Cream Shampoo, $21
Most curl-specific shampoos are way too rich and heavy for fine curls, which is why I'm obsessed with this cream-based clarifying shampoo from Ouidad. Not only will it keep curls moisturized with a layer of lightweight banana oil, but it'll also give your scalp that "clean" feeling, thanks to the inclusion of clarifying fruit acids.
Verb Volume Shampoo, $14
Not sure what hair type you have? Go with whatever formula makes you look like you're constantly walking by a wind machine, like this volumizing shampoo from Verb. It uses keratin proteins to amp up limp hair, plus vitamin B5 to hydrate dry ends without weighing them down.