Updated February 2018
How do you choose the best sulfate free shampoo or conditioner? 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?
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! We’re here to help you find the best sulfate free shampoo and conditioner combinations for your hair.
Skip directly to the best sulfate free shampoos and conditioners.
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 myreth sulfate (SMS), sodium laureth ether 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 harmful 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 start producing noticeable effects, as the exposure to them is frequent.
Sulfates in your hair products strip hair of essential oils, irritate your skin, fade your color, utterly ruin and dry out your hair (especially those of us with curls). If you want to read more about what sulfates are and what they do to your hair, scroll to the bottom of this post or check out our article, Should You Use Shampoo Without Sulfate?
Best Sulfate Free Shampoo List
Is your hair frizzy, thin, color-treated? You should be using sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. With all that said, let’s take a look at the best sulfate free shampoo and conditioner lists. We’ll start with the shampoos first.
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 soothe 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! If you are looking for fast relief, this will be your go to. They also sell a great sulfate-free dandruff shampoo.
Related Brand (More expensive but worth it): Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan Oil Hair Repair System
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’s perfect partner, Maple Holistic Tea Tree 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 lemongrass, leaving your hair fruity and luscious. Another option comparable to this would be Carol’s Daughter Almond Milk Sulfate Free Shampoo. Both are great for wavy or curly hair.
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! It’s probably the cheapest on our list. The Loreal Everstrong, Everpure, and Eversleek lines are great for colored or highlighted hair. AG Colour Savour is another great option for colored hair.
Similar product: Pravana Pure-Light Sulfate Free (for blondes)
This shampoo brand uses a vegan formula and is for both men and women alike. This product is gluten-free and safe for color-treated hair. The shampoo lathers on exceptionally well, unlike some others. It also contains organic Moroccan argan oil, rice keratin, antioxidants, omega-6, and other natural smoothing essences. You can usually find this brand in Target, Ulta, Walgreens, or Amazon. A similar product to this would be ORS Organic Root Stimulator Curls Unleashed, or Mixed Chicks which are also sulfate free.
Last, but certainly not least, on my top 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 List
While shampoos serve to clean the hair and scalp, conditioners are essential for both the feel and appearance of your hair. Thus, they 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 staggeringly 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 combating hair loss, due to its unique combination of tea tree oil, saw palmetto, copper peptides, and biotin. (If you like tea tree, you may also want to consider OGX chelating Teatree Mint Conditioner, a men’s favorite).
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 beautiful 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 from harmful pollution and UV rays, making this conditioner both nourishing, and protective.
This is an award-winning sulfate free line. It’s a unisex product that also does not test on animals. The elements infuse hair with moisture which makes it lush but also has other advantages such as thickening and cleansing. It’s a gentle lather that raises the bar for conditioners. It comes in a cute purple bottle that you can’t miss. The shampoo and conditioner combo is a best-seller and has been an Amazon choice product many times.
You may also like: TIGI Bed Head Superstar Shampoo for thick hair
Sulfate Free Shampoos and Conditioners that have positive reviews but we didn’t personally review [Honorable Mentions]
- Avlon KeraCare Hydrating Detangling line
- Kerastase Discipline Bain Fluidealiste (for sensitive or chemically-treated hair)
- Joico Blonde Life Brightening Shampoo (Sulfate Free Shampoo for light hair)
- Joico Color Endure Violet Shampoo (toning blonde or gray hair)
- Goldwell Dualsenses Green True Color Repair Shampoo – Learn More
- Living Proof Restore Shampoo – More Details Here
- Marc Anthony Hydrating Coconut Oil & Shea Butter Shampoo & Conditioner
- Giovanni Balanced Hydrating Smooth As Silk Sulfate Free Shampoo
- Shu Uemura Art Of Hair Color Lustre Shampoo (red bottle)
- Bumble and Bumble Hairdressers Invisible Oil Shampoo (LOVE Bumble and Bumble products but personally haven’t tried this one)
- Wella Professionals Elements Renewing Shampoo
- Ion Color Defense
- Kenra Professional Platinum Color Care
Sulfate Free Shampoos and Conditioners From The Drugstore List
Here is a list of brands and product lines that are free of sulfates, silicone, and/or parabens that you can pick up at your local drugstore. You’ll have to research reviews of these on your own, as we don’t necessarily count these as out “recommended” brands. But, we wanted to include them so you know you have other options.
- Garnier Fructis – Pure Clean (contains sulfates but does not include parabens or silicones)
- Suave Naturals (wouldn’t recommend)
- Curls Unleashed – Lavish In Lather (great for curly hair)
- Tresemme Naturals Line (Conditioner only)
- Vo5 (wouldn’t recommend)
- Johnson and Johnsons Baby Shampoo
- Schwarzkopf Bonacure Color Save
- Cantu Shea Butter Shampoo for natural hair
- Mizani Supreme Oil Moisturizing shampoo
- Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo (uses organic ingredients)
Note: If there’s a specific brand you love, they most likely have a sulfate free line. Especially the salon brands such as Redken, Nexxus, Paul Mitchell (try Awapuhi Keratriplex Damaged Hair Treatment in the black bottle), Aveda, John Frieda, and Biolage. Usually, brands such as Aussie, Pantene, Neutrogena, and Herbal Essences contain SLS / ALS.
With most drug store and over the counter brands, it is difficult to find 100% zero sulfates in the shampoo or conditioner, but you can find some with lower amounts. This is because it’s cheaper to make it with the chemicals, which can mean companies can make more money.
Sulfate Free Shampoo And Conditioner Is The Best Kept Secret (Not For Long) To Beautiful, Healthy, Thick, Sleek, Hair
But don’t take our word for it. Anthony Dickey, Lorraine Massey, and other top stylists have been mentioning this for years. It strips your hair of naturals protein, proper ph levels, increases thinning and split ends.
No matter how much detangling spray, lather techniques, and magic cure serums you try, the safest and more inexpensive ways to improve your hair is simply by switching to sulfate free shampoo and conditioner. If you want to continue getting your hair relaxed, or are trying to renew your healthy natural curl, going sulfate-free is whats going to benefit your hair.
Negative Effects Of Hair Shampoos And Conditioners Containing Sulfates
1. Essential Oil Loss
One of the reasons sulfates are included in shampoos is that they can 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. Just like having too much oil leads to greasy hair, lack of oil leads to dry hair.
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.
No matter how many homemade conditioning treatments, coconut oil masks, or moisturizing wraps you try, you won’t see a difference unless you switch to a neutralizing shampoo and conditioner. People with naturally oily hair tend to prefer sulfate shampoo but there are still other issues that arise from sulfates. But, there are still plenty of sulfate-free shampoos out there for people with straight or finer hair.
2. Skin Irritant
Those with existing skin problems, such as seborrheic 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.
Sulfates are commonly found in detergents such as toothpaste, dish wash liquid, and laundry soap. So if you notice your skin gets dry and itchy, you may want to remove using sulfates from your daily routine altogether. Especially if you have babies or toddlers running around.
3. Color Fading
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.
For example, many women who use shampoo and conditioners with sulfates in their hair end up getting dandruff since they are stripping out the essentials. Then they switch to a shampoo such as Head & Shoulders to alleviate this (active ingredient: selenium sulfide). Unfortunately for them, these shampoos are filled with even MORE sulfates and cause extreme dryness to hair and strips out any color or professional treatment (such as a blowout) they paid for. But this isn’t just women’s products, men’s are doing just as much damage.
4. Ruins Curly Hair
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. If you have curly hair, it’s better to wash your hair less, not more. Click here for sulfate free shampoos for curly hair.
Fun fact for those of us with curly hair…you’ll also want to limit products with a lot of alcohol. Check out these sulfate-free shampoos for curly hair on Amazon.
Benefits Of Sulfate Free Shampoo And Conditioner
You’ll almost instantly notice a change in the consistency of your hair, the shine, the loss of frizz, tangles, and overall health of your hair and scalp. Benefits of sulfate free shampoos and conditioners include the following:
Time to Change ‘Drab’ Into ‘Fab’ With Sulfate-Free Hair Products
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.
The Demand For Natural Beauty Products Continues To Rise Nationally
American consumers aren’t the only ones against sulfates. You can see it happening in the Philippines, Canada, Australia, India, African countries, Brazilian cities, Hong Kong, and the UK too. Fun fact: “tanpa” means “without” in some of these countries so if you see that on the bottle that’s what it is referring to.
Luckily for consumers, companies are starting to get the hint. Many are adding sulfate-free products to their lines or updating their formulas (like Rusk has done).
Is Your Shampoo and Conditioner Actually ‘Sulfate-Free’?
People consider sulfate-free to automatically mean “organic” and “healthy”. The informed consumer knows that this is not always the case. The same thing has happened with brands throwing around the term, “organic makeup”.
Sulfate free shampoo and conditioners tend to be a little more expensive than other brands. BUT, salon-grade hair products can still be a pretty penny, even with a coupon or discount! Just because you are paying more doesn’t mean it’s “better”. A Kirkland or Generic brand can be just as good. You have to know what to look for.
Ingredients to Look for in Sulfate-Free Shampoos and Conditioners
These are things you’ll find in sulfate free hair products that are used instead of harmful chemicals:
- Lauryl glucoside (sometimes spelled laurel)
- Coco glucoside
- Caprylyl capryl glucoside
- Sodium cocoyl glutamate
- Ammonium cocoyl isethionate
- More on the BeautyEditor.
If you want soft silky hair, or are worried about what you are using on your baby or kids, conditioners and shampoos free of sodium chloride and sulfates. These additive are a huge factor in the performance of your hair product.
For added benefits, you’ll want to find products packed with vitamins. Before you buy, use a site like GoodGuide for clarifying what kind of ingredients are found in the product you are thinking of getting.
Other toxins in your hair products to steer clear of: cocamide DEA, DEA-cetyl phosphate and oleamide DEA, sodium hydroxymethylglycinate,1,4-dioxane, phthalates (known to trigger allergy attacks), parabens, salt/sodium.
Want to make your own sulfate-free shampoo? Here’s a homemade DIY recipe video to watch:
You can find an unscented shampoo base online. More on how to make homemade shampoo here.
How To Wash Your Hair With Sulfate Free Shampoo
Sulfate-Free shampoos and conditioners usually feel a little different than regular. They can be more difficult to lather (unless you have chosen one of the ones we reviewed above). In order to get the most out of your new hair washing product, you’ll want to:
- Completely wet your hair
- Wash the back of your head first (with about a quarter sized amount)
- Wash the front of your head and scalp second (with another quarter sized amount)
- Start massaging for 2-3 minutes (add more water if you need…not more shampoo!)
- If you don’t feel fully “clean”, repeat this process OR skip right to the next step
- Rinse for 60 seconds (one minute) with lukewarm to cold water
- Follow up with your sulfate-free conditioner and condition as normal (let sit for a few minutes and rinse)
Which Is The Best Sulfate Free Shampoo And Conditioner Combo For Your Hair?
This is all going to depend on your hair makeup. Everyone’s is different. Some people can get luxury hair using Dove, others are going to need some serious products. Don’t be afraid to do your research or ask your stylist what is best. Our list comes from brands that design their products specifically for high-quality hair and have proven benefits time and again.
You’ll also want to find other hair care tips for your hair type. When you find the one that works for you, you’ll never go back! It’ll be your superdrug. Take before and after pics to really see the difference it can make!
If you are still having issues, you may want to lay off the chi or consider introducing a protection creme into your hair regime. Another factor could be your water quality (hard water). All the products can get expensive, but you can usually find coupons online or good prices on Amazon, Boots, Tj Maxx, or Marshalls on top-rated brands!
- 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
- Babble: this post from 2012
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