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." 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."
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, which she says is on the thicker side, "longer lengths of hair and heavier textures." 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
Says our e-commerce editor Julia Marzovilla: "This shampoo changed my hair from the very first wash. 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
Finn says that this shampoo is her "go-to volume shampoo and conditioner." She explains, "It contains 100% cold-pressed human keratin, so while it’s super lightweight, it will strengthen and protect delicate light textured hair while being sulfate-free."
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
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."
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. A few warn, however, that if you're worried about buildup or greasiness over time, you should pair it with a once-weekly clarifying shampoo routine.
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.
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. Users love this one from Amika, both for its ability to restore blonde locks and for its shine-enhancing powers.
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 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.
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 lasts for ages.
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 shampoo is effective for all hair types at providing a deep cleanse and infusing hair with strength and moisture. Several reviewers also say that it reduced the advancement of their split ends and made their hair feel softer after just one wash.
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 sulfates. Customers say that this clarifying shampoo banishes sweat, dirt, and buildup without making hair feel dried out.
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 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.
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.
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