After a good workout or a long day, there are few things more satisfying than a hot shower, complete with hair and body cleansers that let you work up a rich lather – but with many products, those little bubbles may come with a big caveat. Sulfates are the additives that help you achieve maximum sudsing, which is why they’re featured in many shampoos. But if your hair is dry, damaged, color-treated, or even just fragile, some experts recommend you look for formulations that skip sulfates in favor of more gentle ingredients to cleanse your hair without the potential for damage.
And if you’re struggling with skin conditions such as rosacea, eczema, or are just prone to scalp irritation, there may be even more reasons to seek out sulfate-free shampoos. If you suspect you’re reacting to your preferred brand, check the label for sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. These chemicals can cause redness, itching, or even hives if you’re prone to allergic reactions – so if you have any of these symptoms, it’s worth switching out to a more gentle formula to see if that works better for you.
We also think sulfate-free shampoos deserve a try if you’re looking to protect your color-treated hair; these formulations may help retain color, and at a bare minimum, are less drying than high-sudsing products. And if your locks are frizzy post-shampoo then, yep, you guessed it: sulfates may be the culprit. In fact, these chemicals have become a bit notorious over the last decade, which is why shopping for sulfate-free products has gotten increasingly easier.
Many brands announce right on their front labels that they’re sulfate-free (bonus: no more squinting to read the fine print on the ingredients list). So if you’re in the market for a shampoo that won’t strip your hair of its natural oils, and may protect that expensive color treatment, look for the “sulfate-free” designation. We’ve explored some of the highest-rated sulfate-free shampoo formulas and came up with some recommendations. And if you’re not quite ready to surrender the suds, try alternating your usual brand with these sulfate-free products to give your hair a break!
Puracy Natural Shampoo
It’ll be a hit to your pocketbook, but the all-natural formula of this shampoo makes it a great option if you’re battling rosacea or other skin issues. And even if your scalp is healthy, you’ll love this formula for what’s in it: coconut extract, peppermint, citrus, olive oil, and Vitamin B5 – as well as what’s not: sulfates, perfumes, parabens, and dimethicone. Plus, a little goes a long way, which means you can justify the investment.
Herbal Essences Sulfate-Free Shampoo & Conditioner BioRenew with Birch Bark Extract
Honestly, we’d be tempted by this kit even if it had sulfates; it smells downright divine. Luckily, they’ve left out the sulfates (parabens, too) in favor of botanical ingredients like aloe and birch bark extract. Herbal Essences also offers sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners in Honey & Vitamin and Aloe & Hemp formulations. They’re all pH balanced, which makes them a great choice for color-treated hair.
BIOLAGE R.A.W. Recover Shampoo
Infused with rich, nourishing ingredients like coconut, yucca, and goji berry, this sulfate-free formula can restore shine and bounce to damaged, stressed hair. The brand’s commitment to natural-origin ingredients means that you can be assured your shampoo is vegan, free from parabens, silicones, and other harsh chemicals. It gently cleans and leaves even coarse, super-dry hair silky smooth.
L’Oreal Paris EverCurl Hydracharge Shampoo
You already know that your curly locks can be finicky. It doesn’t take much for frizz or dryness to wreak havoc on even carefully-tended tresses. That’s why it’s ultra-important for curlyheads to avoid shampoos that contain sulfates. The chemicals too often set off temperamental hair, leaving you with fuzz or even breakage, rather than ringlets. Curly hair tends to be dry because your natural oils fade out before they can reach the ends.
Deep conditioning is important, but you can also set the stage for glamorous curls by investing in a shampoo that skips the sulfates and piles on the hydrating ingredients. Stylists suggest that you seek out sulfate-free shampoos that contain argan or coconut oil. These will penetrate the hair shaft and deliver a powerful boost of moisture where you need it most. We like L’Oreal Paris EverCurl Hydracharge shampoo – it’s affordable, sulfate-free, and is infused with coconut oil for extra manageability.
Desert Essence Lemon Tea Tree Shampoo
We’ll say one thing about sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate: they’re effective cleansers, especially when it comes to breaking down oil and grime. Their lathering power carries away whatever’s lurking on your strands – grease, product buildup, and everyday dirt – but sometimes it gets too carried away, and you’re left with dry, dull hair. For those of us who battle oily scalps, there’s a balanced approach. This is gentler, coconut-based sulfates that suds up but don’t strip your hair of all its protective oil. The tea tree oil soothes your scalp while it gently cleans, and we loved the lightly scented formula. Alternate this one with your everyday shampoo to get rid of product gunk, or to tame oily locks.
Pantene Illuminating Color Care Shampoo
You paid a lot for that color treatment, and the last thing you want is to see it going down the drain. Protect your investment with Pantene’s sulfate-free color care shampoo, which is supplemented with Vitamin B5 and biotin. Users especially liked this for red dyes, as this color always seems to fade the fastest, but we also recommend it for all the other shades of the spectrum; it’ll clean your locks without stripping them of color – or for that matter, of your natural oils.
Even if you’re not addressing any of these specific issues, you may want to give a sulfate-free shampoo a try. You may find you don’t need these potentially harsh additives. It’s entirely possible to achieve clean, shiny hair without them. And if you just can’t bear to give up those suds, check the ingredients label for coconut-based sulfates, as they’ll give you a bit of the bubbly without the stripping effect.