The negative reputation of sulfates is fairly well known by now, with reports noting that some can irritate your skin and eyes. But derivatives of the sulfuric-acid-based salts, like sodium lauryl sulfate, can still be found in many popular shampoos. That’s because, despite what has been said about how they can harm our bodies, sulfates are highly effective at cleaning your hair and scalp — and they give shampoo that lather that’s synonymous with a thorough cleanse. Even so, Brooke Jordan, a co-owner of and master stylist at the Bird House salon in Gowanus, says sulfates’ ability to clean is just not worth their potential negative side effects. “The scoop on sulfates,” she explains, “is that they’re detergents in the surfactant family, and although there are types of surfactants that are completely safe for us, sulfates in particular are generally known to be unsafe.” Fiona Guidice, the owner of eco-friendly hair salon Fiona Hair NYC, adds that sulfates are “an incredibly aggressive abrasive that dries and damages hair” and can often cause split ends. Shirley Hagel, a color specialist at Spoke and Weal salon, puts it a little more bluntly: “Sodium lauryl sulfate, which is the harshest of the sulfates, is the same ingredient used in Dawn dish soap.”
So if you wouldn’t wash your hair with Dawn, it’s probably best to find a shampoo without SLS or any other kinds of sulfates. Luckily, there are tons of sulfate-free shampoos on the market, ranging from bottles you can find at your local drugstore to luxe salon-grade brands. What’s more, sulfate-free shampoos are out there for all hair types, too. To find the best sulfate-free shampoos, we spoke to 15 hairstylists and salon owners (then combed through our archives for any others that we’ve written about before). The options below include shampoos for specific hair types, others that can be used universally, and even some that will deliver the lather of their sulfate-filled cousins (just without the harmful ingredients).
Best overall sulfate-free shampoo
Stephanie Louis, the owner of Brooklyn’s Stylebox Salon, emphatically recommends Verb Ghost as a universal sulfate-free shampoo that “works for EVERYBODY.” (Emphasis hers.) She adds that “it’s probably the best shampoo we’ve ever worked with” because, “no matter the hair texture or type, it detangles with ease, moisturizes immediately, and doesn’t leave hair feeling heavy with product.” Louis also told us this versatile shampoo won’t bleed out color if you’re using it on color-treated hair. She’s not the only one who loves it — Verb Ghost is among the best-rated shampoos at Sephora, according to some 900 hyperenthusiastic reviewers, one of whom wrote that “it feels almost magical when it lathers.” This is a not-insignificant detail because, as we noted above, sulfates are often what makes shampoos foam up, so it can be harder to find a sulfate-free one with lathering properties, let alone “almost magical” ones. (Another Sephora reviewer raved that Verb Ghost “basically gave me shampoo-commercial hair.”) Louis’s emphatic endorsement of Verb as a sulfate-free shampoo safe for any hair type, coupled with the Sephora reviewers’ praise for it (and its reasonable price tag), helped it earn its place at the top of this list. “It’s really amazing, top-shelf stuff,” Louis promises.
Best (less-expensive) sulfate-free shampoo
For less than half the price of Verb Ghost, you can get this (same-size) bottle of sulfate-free shampoo from Monday, a popular New Zealand–based hair-care line that recently became available in the States. Hair stylist Jenna Perry, the founder of Jenna Perry Hair Studio (which caters to clients including Bella Hadid, Emily Ratajkowski, and Chloë Sevigny), particularly likes the brand’s Smoothing Shampoo for its frizz-battling formula that she says “smells great.” It’s one of several sulfate-free shampoos offered by the brand: Others include a moisturizing shampoo for dry hair and a volumizing shampoo for fine hair (which one of the writers of this story, Dominique Pariso, bought back in February and now swears by). So, as Perry puts it, there is a formula that “doesn’t break the bank” for most anybody.
Best drugstore sulfate-free shampoo
Louis says this sulfate-free shampoo carried by most drugstores is the one to grab if you’re doing a quick CVS or Duane Reade run. She notes that “even though it says it is for ‘extremely dry, brittle hair,’ it really is for any hair type.” Plus, she says the Shea Moisture shampoo can double as a conditioner in a pinch: “It’s really good at leaving the hair super-moisturized even without conditioner.” If you’re looking for something that delivers even more hydration, you could try Shea Moisture’s sulfate-free Protein Strong Treatment, which Strategist contributor Shammara Lawrence says her dry curls “drink up.” (Lawrence also told us she notices that she sheds less hair after using it.)
Best sulfate-free shampoo for daily use
While Hagel told us you really need to wash your hair only once or twice a week, some people may find it hard to give up their daily habit. If that sounds like you, this Davines shampoo formulated for all hair types is the only one on the list specifically formulated to be gentle enough to use seven days a week. “Davines shampoos are a favorite of mine,” says Jordan, who notes that they are also organic. “They use disodium laureth sulfosuccinate as their surfactant, which is considered to be very safe for humans because the molecules are larger than other surfactants and can’t penetrate the skin.”
Best sulfate-free shampoo for natural hair
According to our beauty writer Tembe Denton-Hurst, “Since its launch a few months ago, Bread has instantly become a favorite of ‘lazy naturals,’ people with curly hair who want a simplified, low-maintenance approach to hair care.” The shampoo is also a favorite of Erica Smith, a beauty writer for our sister site the Cut. “It gets you the thorough cleanse of a shampoo, with the gentle, hydrating feeling of co-washing, which I love,” Smith says. “It left my 3C curls completely content: clean but not crispy; moisturized but not weighed down; soft, while still embracing all my natural frizz.”
Best (deep-cleaning) sulfate-free shampoo for natural hair
In the Strategist’s guide to taking care of natural hair, hairstylist Nigella Miller, the owner of Nigella Hair Studio, says that those looking for a deeper clean from a sulfate-free shampoo should check out SashaPure Healing Shampoo. “It really removes buildup,” she promises of the product, which is also color-safe.
Best sulfate-free shampoo for 4C hair
Denton-Hurst has written that while sulfate-free shampoo “is relevant for all hair textures, it’s even more important with 4C hair, which is particularly prone to dryness and tangling.” Hairstylist Stasha M. Harris, the owner of Magic Fingers Studio, likes this shampoo from Design Essentials for 4C hair, telling us “it cleanses all buildup as well as softens the texture,” which, when used with the accompanying conditioner, makes hair easy to detangle and prevents breakage when combing through it.
Best sulfate-free shampoo for fine hair
For those with fine hair who need something to give their locks oomph, Dhiran Mistry, a stylist at the David Mallett salon, says Living Proof’s sulfate-free Full Shampoo is “great for creating more volume.” It does so, he explains, by “removing residue and product buildup on hair and scalp, leaving the roots fuller and less weighed down.”
Best sulfate-free shampoo with UV protectant
On top of being sulfate-free, this shampoo is also vegan and contains a protectant to shield hair from UV rays, which can be damaging. Guidice says it’s particularly good for those with fine locks, promising that the shampoo creates “incredibly touchable hair” with a lot of natural body.
Best sulfate-free shampoo for double-processed hair
“For a double-process, I love this classic shampoo,” says Emaly Baum, the colorist at Suite Caroline who took our writer Rio Viera-Newton from brunette to blonde. She calls it a simple, everyday shampoo that will not dry double-processed hair out. The formula contains fortifying Amazonian nut oils, coconut, and shea butter, resulting in a product that Baum says is “nourishing and won’t strip your color.”
Best sulfate-free shampoo for thinning hair
Hagel first told us about Aveda’s Invati line when we asked about the best products to treat thinning hair. She uses the brand’s three-part system (shampoo, conditioner, and scalp spray) to treat her own thinning hair, but explains that you can buy just the shampoo if you’re looking for a sulfate-free option specifically for thinner hair. Hagel says it’s a particularly good idea to go sulfate-free if you’ve got thinning hair because harsh sulfates won’t help the already sensitive state of your strands.
Best (less-expensive) sulfate-free shampoo for thinning hair
A cheaper sulfate-free shampoo for thinning hair, according to hairstylist Matilde Campos, is Color Wow’s Security Shampoo. Not only is it free of sulfates and silicones, but “it cleanses the scalp and unblocks follicles that can cause thinning hair,” she explains.
Best sulfate-free shampoo for growing hair
If your hair-length goals are inspired by Rapunzel, Gregorio Ruggeri of Salon Ruggeri says the sulfate-free Act+Acre Cold Processed Hair Cleanse “helps nurture the growing process” because the formula includes rosemary, which stimulates circulation in the scalp and promotes healthy hair follicles. The product also contains vetiver, lavender, and amaranth oil, all of which strengthen and moisturize hair strands. Together, he says its ingredients promote the growth of strong hair from root to tip, so you’re less likely to experience breakage.
Best sulfate-free shampoo for damaged hair
Campos calls this shampoo “the holy grail” for those with damaged hair. “This product deposits keratin protein directly into the hair, changing it from the inside out to counteract any damage caused from hot tools, chemicals treatments, and color applications,” she explains. “You will feel a difference immediately after shampooing.”
Best sulfate-free shampoo for oily hair
Those dealing with excess oil should look for a sulfate-free rebalancing shampoo to help make their hair look (and feel) less greasy. This one from Davines comes recommended by two experts: Pickthorn Salon owner Chelsey Pickthorn and hairstylist Matt King, the director of education at Manhattan’s Fox and Jane salon, who calls it “a great option for people who are looking to handle an oily scalp without drying out their hair.”
Best sulfate-free shampoo for dry hair
If you’re looking for a sulfate-free shampoo that will seriously hydrate brittle strands, Louis says “this is an amazing product.” She notes that it’s totally worth the price because “nothing beats this at clearing up dandruff and introducing moisture back to the hair shaft. It has that refreshing tingling feeling, plus it leaves your hair feeling super-duper clean.” It’s not the first time we’ve heard good things about Eufora shampoo — Angela Taormino of Union Beauty Salon named Eufora’s Curl’n Enhancing Shampoo as her favorite to use on fine curly hair, and Louis praises Eufora’s Volumizing Shampoo as her go-to product for strengthening thinning hair.
Best sulfate-free shampoo for curly hair
“To my curly hair gals,” says Campos, “your curls will feel incredible and easy to detangle” after using this shampoo. She calls a “must-have go-to” for those with thick hair “in need of moisture,” because the sulfate-free shampoo’s “incredible blend of oils will not weigh hair down, but will de-frizz, silken, and soften it.”
Best sulfate-free shampoo for tightly curled hair
Louis says this product is like her favorite Verb Ghost shampoo “but for tightly curled hair.” When hair is super-curly, you usually have to rely on a conditioner to do the “heavy lifting” of detangling, she explains. But “you won’t have to worry about that if you use this incredibly effective product” she says. Like the Verb Ghost, this shampoo is also color-safe.
Best sulfate-free shampoo for acne-prone skin
Finding a shampoo that’s right for your hair and is also kind to your skin can be a struggle, especially if you’re acne-prone. Dermatologist Dr. Sapna Palep of Spring Street Dermatology says those who break out on their scalp or hairline should generally look for shampoos free of comedogenic ingredients like oils, fragrance, and, yes, sulfates. One such shampoo that both Palep and dermatologist Dr. Hope Mitchell recommend is this one from Seen, a dermatologist-formulated line that Mitchell says is free of “sulfates, phthalates, silicones, dyes, or pore-clogging oils.” The shampoo (and companion conditioner) are formulated for all hair and skin types and can be purchased fragrance-free — always a better option for sensitive skin — or with a light scent for those whose skin can tolerate it. Another fan of this shampoo is Strategist deals writer Leah Muncy. She says that after using it and the conditioner for three months, the breakouts she typically gets around her hairline and behind her ears vanished and that her hair and skin “are looking the best they have looked in years.”
With additional reporting by Hilary Reid.
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