Everyone uses shampoo, and most of us use conditioners as well, but if I asked you if your shampoo was sulfate free, could you tell me? Would you know why it was a big deal? And how do you choose the best sulfate free shampoo or conditioner?
The reality is that, unfortunately, most people don’t know what sulfates are, where they are used, and why they are a big deal when your hair is concerned. As a result, there are probably millions of people with less than healthy hair, and they don’t even realize it!
What Are Sulfates?
There are a few different sulfates that can be found in a wide range of hygiene products: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), and ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS). They’re cheap to manufacture and give the products a signature trait: foaming. That’s right; the lovely foaming of your current shampoo is all caused by the chemical sulfate.
Sulfates in shampoos and conditioners are surfactants that act to separate dirt and oil so they can be washed down the drain. This is why they have to ability to make oily hair feel especially cleansed as they remove essential oils from the hair and scalp.
Why Are Sulfates Bad for Hair?
While there is a lot of debate around whether or not sulfates are damaging to human health, it is certain that sulfates can be bad for your hair. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that one wash with a sulfate shampoo is going to ruin your hair, but most of us wash our hair every day or every other day. If you exercise, it could be twice a day! This is where sulfates could really start producing noticeable effects, as the exposure to them is frequent.
Essential Oil Loss
One of the reasons sulfates are included in shampoos is that they have the ability to strip essential oils and keratin from the hair at an accelerated rate when compared to sulfate-free products. While the action of separating oil and dirt is not a bad one, you can have too much of a good thing.
The reality is that these days, shampoos and conditioners contain so many sulfates that they remove too much of the essential oils that are vital for healthy, strong hair. This removal causes dry, weak hair and an itchy scalp.
Those with existing skin problems, such as dermatitis or eczema, are more sensitive to the effects that sulfates can have on skin. One study looked at patch testing the sulfate SLS as a potential irritant demonstrated an irritant reaction from concentrations as little as 0.5% in 41.8% of 1600 participants.
While the results were not staggering, it’s worth noting that many shampoos and conditioners out there contain much more than the 0.5% concentration used in the study. Some can have upwards of a 10% concentration of sulfates, making real life results more significant.
Due to the abrasive nature of sulfates, they can cause the outer layer of the hair shaft to open and let artificial coloring seep out, causing your hair to fade. This is why most salons will recommend that you opt for a sulfate-free shampoo or conditioner to maintain your lovely new color.
If you have naturally curly locks, you are more prone to the effects of sulfates. Due to the structure of curly hair, it tends to be naturally drier than non-curly hair. When sulfates are introduced, they extract what’s left of the moisture and make your beautiful curls rigid, dry, and brittle.
Time to Change
The reality is that cosmetic care products contain a whole load of chemicals these days, but people are slowly wising up and realizing that not all of them are beneficial to health. The points mentioned above are just some of the common observations made with regards to sulfates and your hair, but with those points alone you are probably already considering changing your shampoo or conditioner to support rather than damage your hair health and longevity.
With all that said, let’s take a look at the best sulfate free shampoo and conditioner.
Best Sulfate Free Shampoo
In my top spot for best sulfate free shampoo is a number one seller on Amazon, Maple Holistic’s Argan Oil Shampoo. It comes with a host of natural ingredients including Argan, Jojoba, Avocado, Almond, Keratin and more! The combination of natural ingredients make it one of the best value sulfate-free shampoos available. Avocado oils enrich your hair with vitamins while the Argan oil leaves it feeling silky and smooth. Keratin helps strengthen your strands, bringing your hair back to life, and almond oil helps sooth dry itchy scalps. With no synthetic fragrances, the natural vanilla and honey leave your hair smelling aromatic. Perfect for any hair type and extremely affordable!
Next on my list is a shampoo that’s perfect for dry, damaged hair: Macadamia’s rejuvenating shampoo. The unique combination of Macadamia and Argan oils are rich in vitamins and fatty acids, perfect for restoring moisture and strength to damaged hair. It is completely sulfate and paraben free and will leave your hair feeling silky but strong, smelling tropical and fresh.
Every curly head’ss perfect partner, Abba Pure Curl Enhancing Shampoo is formulated from natural, sulfate-free ingredients and is excellent at de-tangling hair, making curls flexible and versatile. It mildly cleanses with natural herbal ingredients such as orange peel oil and lemon grass, leaving your hair fruity and luscious.
The refreshing and invigorating rosemary and juniper fragrance of this shampoo will leave your hair smelling and feeling great. Completely vegan and without a sulfate in sight, this shampoo is perfect for restoring dry and damaged hair, curly hair, or just general use. L’Oréal claims that its patented Bio-Ceramide complex with have your hair healthier and stronger in just one wash, and the feedback seems to support this!
Last, but certainly not least, on my top 5 best sulfate free shampoo, is the Moroccanoil Moisture Repair Shampoo. This keratin-enriched shampoo is ideal for hair that has been weakened or damaged by coloring, heat treatments, or sulfate-rich products. It will help restore elasticity and strength. The antioxidant-rich argan oil and fatty acids will leave your hair healthy, moisturized, and shiny.
Best Sulfate Free Conditioner
While shampoos serve to clean the hair and scalp, conditioners are essential for both the feel and appearance of your hair, and should be used in conjunction with a shampoo to help protect and nourish your hair even further.
In top spot again is Maple Holistics, with their all-natural conditioner, a perfect addition to their sulfate-free shampoo. With eighteen different natural silk amino acids, this conditioner will rid your hair of any frizziness, reduce dryness, and leave your hair feeling silky-smooth and easy to manage. It is also rich in botanical keratin that will help strengthen hair and restore depleted keratin—a common cause of weak, brittle hair. There are absolutely no synthetic chemicals, including fragrances, just an all-natural vanilla that will appeal to men and women alike. For a staggering low price, this conditioner definitely packs the best punch for your money.
Suitable for all hair types, this conditioner gives hair more body and thickness with each wash you give it, restoring your hair back to its former glory! The hydrolyzed keratin penetrates deep into your hair, restoring moisture and volume while encouraging hair growth. The silk proteins create a protective barrier, trapping moisture in the hair to give it body while creating a visual shine. This conditioner is especially good at combatting hair loss, due to its unique combination of tea tree oil, saw palmetto, copper peptides, and biotin.
This all natural conditioner is sulfate free and contains three key ingredients to help repair your damaged hair and make it more manageable. The argan oil helps give your hair a nice smooth appearance, fixes brittle hair and restores elasticity. The Jojoba plant extracts, lavender, rosemary, and chamomile relieve and nourish dry hair. Finally, keratin is at hand again to strengthen weak and porous hair.
Eliminate frizz and detangle your hair with this ultra-hydrating conditioner that smoothes and volumizes your hair with its stimulating botanicals and oils. Ideal for those with curly hair, but suitable for all hair types, this conditioner will penetrate your hair deeply to moisturize and add volume, making it silky-smooth but also keeping it light and airy, unlike some conditioners that can make your hair feel flat and heavy.
Replenish damaged hair and protect it from harmful UV rays with the LaCoupe ORGNX RE Balance Conditioner. The lime, fenugreek, and avocado with nourish your hair and scalp, leaving your hair hydrated, healthy, and smelling fruity. The pure moringa proteins will also help protect your hair against harmful pollution and UV rays, making this conditioner both nourishing, and protective.
- Geier, J., Uter, W., Pirker, C. and Frosch, P. J. (2003), Patch testing with the irritant sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) is useful in interpreting weak reactions to contact allergens as allergic or irritant. Contact Dermatitis, 48: 99–107. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0536.2003.480209.x