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The Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos to Nourish and Protect Your Hair

by Suka Junin

Jun 29, 2022

Picking out haircare products is harder than ever; there are just so many choices. On top of prioritizing cruelty-free brands, more people are searching for natural ingredients and fragrance-free options. Sulfate-free shampoo is also becoming a common choice for many. But what is a sulfate? And when we eliminate it, does our hair really benefit?

Spread the word.

Before you buy a whole new line of products, let’s break down what it means to go sulfate-free.

What is sulfate-free shampoo?

Most shampoos contain sulfates, a type of foaming agent. When mixed with water, sulfates help shampoo to foam and create suds, allowing for a good lather.

Sulfates are generally safe when used correctly with normal quantities. But when used too often and too much, sulfates can strip your hair of the oils that keep your locks healthy. (There is such thing as too effective at cleaning.)

Apart from oils, sulfates can also take up too much moisture, which can leave your hair dry and your scalp dehydrated and more likely to irritate.

Foaming might seem important as it allows you to spread the shampoo easily over a larger area of your head, but it isn’t completely necessary. Sulfates do help the shampoo’s active ingredients cut through dirt, debris, and excess oil, but sulfate-free shampoos can do exactly the same.

If you want to check if your favorite shampoo contains sulfates, look out for names like sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate, and ammonium laureth sulfate.

What are the benefits of sulfate-free shampoo?

Sulfate-free shampoos will clean your hair just as effectively as those that contain sulfates.

Another upside is that sulfate-free shampoos are suitable for any texture of hair. Even though they don't lather as much as shampoos containing sulfates, they still give some pretty decent foaming action. It might take some time to get used to having less lather, but you can always add extra water and product to build foam if you feel you need more coverage.

Most sulfate-free shampoos also contain moisturizing agents, making them gentler on your hair.

Sulfate-free shampoos are also considered environmentally friendly. This is because most of them contain fewer chemicals, and instead, rely on plant-derived ingredients.

Who should use sulfate-free shampoo?

Sulfates are known to irritate, so those with sensitive skin and eyes would benefit the most from using sulfate-free shampoos. If you have a particular skin condition like eczema or psoriasis, you may want to consider switching to a sulfate-free option.

Those with dry, frizzy, or brittle hair will reap the benefits of sulfate-free shampoos. This is because it won't dry out your hair even more; additional friction dries frizzy hair by ridding it of natural oils and moisture. Instead, a gentler cleanse will help hair to retain its natural oils.

If your hair is colored or chemically processed, your locks are already experiencing some stress. Sulfate-free shampoos can protect your strands, and won’t strip the color of dyed hair. It’s best to avoid sulfates if you want to maintain the color you worked so hard to get!

To help you find the best sulfate-free shampoo for your hair, we've recommended a few products below to get you started. Important note: All of these brands are cruelty-free, but some are owned by non-cruelty-free companies.

Best sulfate-free shampoos

Living Proof* – Perfect Hair Day Shampoo

Regardless of hair type or texture, this shampoo leaves your strands tangle-free and adds volume for a bouncy and weightless look. Bonus: the slim packaging makes for a great travel or space-saving product.

Rahua – Classic Shampoo

From just opening the bottle, you can smell Rahua’s signature scent: the woodsy and earthy Palo Santo oil. Also known as ‘holy wood’, the oil is considered a treasure by Amazonian shamans.

Of course, as the brand’s name suggests, the Classic Shampoo also contains rahua oil, a game-changing oil that strengthens strands all the way into the follicles and scalp.

Rahua claims this shampoo is suitable for all hair types, but it especially works for those with fine hair, as the natural ingredients are gentle enough for daily use.

Iles Formula – Haute Performance Shampoo

If you've spent time and money on coloring your hair, the last thing you want is a shampoo that just strips everything off. Although it’s a bit on the pricier side, Iles Formula Shampoo Haute Performance will keep your color in and also prevent your hair from drying out.

The formula makes color-treated hair manageable and shinier, as if you just had a fresh color done. Apart from its color-aiding features, this shampoo reduces frizz and adds volume without weighing down the hair.

Hask – Tea Tree Oil & Rosemary Invigorating Shampoo

For effective scalp care, the tea tree oil in this Hask shampoo helps with itching and dandruff. It can be difficult to find a cruelty-free anti-dandruff shampoo that is also without sulfates, but this one from Hask ticks all the boxes.

It also has a refreshing minty scent and doesn’t leave your scalp completely dry or irritated. Instead, it leaves it cool, which is great for itch relief. For an affordable price, this shampoo does what it says and is even more effective when used side by side with its conditioner counterpart.

Olaplex – No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo

You’ll find Olaplex products on most haircare lists – and for good reason. The No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo, in particular, works wonders for many hair types; its unique, patented bond-building technology is effective in repairing extremely damaged hair and building up resilience.

Apart from important bond-mending work, this shampoo can reduce annoying frizz and tame flyaways.

The formula isn’t harsh, so you can use it as a regular shampoo or just as a treatment to repair your locks. Either way, it’s a match for those that often put their hair through the wringer by using hot styling tools or hair dyes.

Briogeo – Be Gentle, Be Kind Aloe + Oat Milk Ultra Soothing Shampoo

Who says oat milk is only reserved for your iced lattes? The star ingredient in this Briogeo shampoo, oat milk is a super gentle, nourishing, and moisturizing ingredient that’s also rich in omega-6 fatty acids.

The shampoo was made for those with sensitivities to ingredients that are hard to avoid from most hair products. This includes fragrance, essential oils, lactose, soy, and gluten.

If you’re on the verge of giving up on finding a shampoo that won’t cause your scalp to break out, give this hypoallergenic one a go. (Just keep in mind the flawed pump, which some users say gets in the way of quality shower time.)

Dae – Signature Shampoo

Don’t let the minimal aesthetics of this shampoo fool you – there is more to it than meets the simple packaging design.

Simply titled Signature Shampoo, this sulfate-free option contains desert-derived botanicals like hibiscus flower, false daisy, and moringa seed oil. Together, the ingredients help to protect, strengthen, and retain your hair’s natural oils for a soft and shiny look.

The desert theme continues through to the naturally pink liquid (said to be inspired by desert sunsets!), which effectively removes buildup without having to squeeze out too much. If you’re big on fragrance, this Dae shampoo has a citrus blend scent of essential oils.

Bread Beauty Supply – Hair Wash Gentle Milky Hair Cleanser

This cleanser by Bread Beauty Supply has a gentle, semi-sudsy wash to get rid of buildup without the dryness. The light, milky shampoo is designed for those with thick, curly, or textured hair in mind, but it works on any hair in need of hydration.

Hydrating ingredients include argan oil, aloe vera, and lemon tea tree oil. The formula was inspired by sensitive skin cleansers, hence the gentle and light feel. Plus, it also smells like Fruit Loops!

Evolvh – UltraShine Moisture Shampoo

Suitable for all hair types, Evolvh’s UltraShine Moisture Shampoo is an all-rounder. It fixes dullness and reduces frizz after a few washes while leaving your hair with a squeaky-clean feel.

It works even better when paired with the brand’s SmartStart Leave-In Conditioner, which gives hair a buttery smooth feel.

This shampoo has a thinner consistency than most and you may feel you need to add more product to feel cleaner, but a little goes a long way. The lemon-citrusy scent lingers slightly to keep you feeling fresh for a while.

SheaMoisture* – Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo

If you feel like your curls are hard to manage, SheaMoisture’s Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo might change that.

The product softens hair, yet adds definition, giving your locks new life. It’s especially suited for curly and thick hair but its deep cleaning abilities are a draw for any hair type or texture.

Thanks to shea butter, sea kelp, and argan oil, this shampoo smells as good as it cleans, with a scent that’s not overpowering but lasts for days. Given its hydrating ingredients, this shampoo is also perfect for those transitioning chemically treated hair back to natural curls.

Garnier* – Whole Blends Honey Treasures Repairing Shampoo

Whole Blends, the sulfate and paraben-free haircare line from Garnier, has various products to match certain hair needs.

The Honey Treasures Repairing Shampoo uses nourishing ingredients like honey and propolis to target split ends and breakage. Not only does the use of honey help maintain your hair’s natural moisture, but it also smells delicious.

This drugstore gem can be paired with the Repairing Conditioner to enhance the benefits of the shampoo.

*Brand owned by a non-cruelty-free parent company.

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  • Lynn Picco says:

    This list is very helpful! I love that some amazing brands are available at Target!

    Thank you,
    Lynn Picco

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