Fact: When it comes to hair products, we all want the absolute best, regardless of our hair texture or curl pattern. While we’re always on the hunt for a new hydrating styling cream or moisturizing hair mask, it might be time to reconsider the core staple of haircare: shampoo—or, more specifically, sulfate-free shampoo. ICYMI, your go-to everyday shampoo might be formulated with sulfates, i.e., sudsy surfactants that help break down scalp oils and product build-up on your hair. So, why is that bad, you may ask?
Well, even though sulfates help create that foamy lather you feel when shampooing, they can be rather damaging to your hair. While they’re getting rid of the dirt and build-up, sulfates can also strip your hair of the good things it needs, like natural oils, moisture, and even hair dye if you have color-treated hair. As a result, sulfates can leave your hair feeling drier and more lackluster than before. The solution? Easy, sulfate-free shampoo. (And if you’re wondering… Nope! Conditioners don’t have sulfates, so you’re already in the clear there.)
But we want to give you all the tea on sulfates, how they can affect your hair, and what the best sulfate-free shampoos are out there. So we sat down with a couple of the top celebrity hairstylists around—Monaé Everett and Bianca Hillier —to hear their verdict. But first, here’s a sneak peek of what’s to come…
✔️ P.S., This is new, up-to-date info, bb. We updated this article in December 2022 to add new sulfate-free shampoos the internet won’t stop talking about, delete outdated oldies, and checked in with new experts for the latest in shampoos, just for you.
Our top picks for the best sulfate-free shampoo picks of 2022:
Alright, we think you’re ready to take the plunge into a sulfate-free life. These shampoos will gently cleanse your hair (so no grease or oil), and restore shine and moisture too. Below, you’ll find 15 of the best sulfate-free shampoos that are really, genuinely excellent, plus all the info you need to know about ’em.
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Best Hydrating Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Replenishing Moisture Shampoo
Best Drugstore Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair
Pantene Gold Series Deep Hydrating Co-Wash
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Damaged Hair
Olaplex No.4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo
Best Everyday Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Dae Signature Shampoo
Best Nourishing Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Briogeo Banana + Coconut Nourishing Superfood Shampoo
Best Smoothing Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair
Pattern Hydration Shampoo
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Curls
Vernon François Curl Shampoo
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Fine Hair
Sexy Hair Big Volumizing Shampoo
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo Scrub
Goop G.Tox Himalayan Salt Scalp Scrub Shampoo
Best Drugstore Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Damaged Hair
Kim Kimble RepHair Shampoo
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo Bar
Superzero Restoring & Repairing Shampoo Bar
Best Gentle Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Aloe + Oat Milk Ultra Soothing Shampoo
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Dandruff
L’Oréal Paris Ever Fresh Antidandruff Shampoo
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Color-Treated Hair
Color Wow Color Security Shampoo
Are sulfate-free shampoos really better for your hair?
TBH, there is no “better” or “worse” option when deciding on a sulfate-filled or sulfate-free shampoo. It’s all about personal preference and depends on which works best for your hair’s texture and scalp condition. “Generally, [sulfates] can be harsh for people who do not have thick and/or oily hair,” says Everett. If your hair is dry, damaged, color-treated, chemically altered, and/or curly (think: types 3a to 4c), you should stick with a sulfate-free shampoo, since harsh surfactants will strip your hair cuticle of its much-needed moisture and oils, which will eventually lead to knots, dullness, dryness, and breakage.
But if your hair is on the straight, fine, and/or oily side, sudsing up with a sulfate-free shampoo (and a good conditioner, of course) may be totally fine for your hair type. Ask yourself this: Does your hair feel squeaky-clean and almost tangly after shampooing? If yes, that’s a sign you’re stripping your hair (not good) and you should switch to a less intense, more moisturizing formula.
How to choose the best sulfate-free shampoo:
Not all sulfate-free formulas are equal, especially considering we all have different hair textures and concerns. Before making the big switch, here is some essential information on how to find the right sulfate-free shampoos for you.
Check the ingredients list
According to Hillier, it’s a good idea to make sure there are no silicones on the ingredients list (FYI, silicones give your hair a slippery-smooth feeling—but they can also quickly build up on your hair and dry it out). The majority of silicones can only be removed with sulfate-based shampoos, so if you’re switching to a sulfate-free shampoo that’s filled with silicones, you’re going to run the risk of major build-up.
Look for moisturizers
Everett recommends looking for sulfate-free shampoos that have moisturizing ingredients, like fruit and nut oils, mango butter, shea butter, and aloe, which will leave your hair feeling soft and healthy. If you’re worried about your sulfate-free shampoo being too moisturizing, though (hi, anyone with fine curls or waves), avoid formulas that are filled with heavy oils, like coconut oil, castor oil, and olive oil.
- Monaé Everett is a celebrity hairstylist, author, and public speaker with over 20 years of experience specializing in natural hair based in Brooklyn, NY. She has worked with celebs including Tia Mowry, Yara Shahidi, Lizzy Greene, and more.
- Bianca Hillier is a celebrity hairstylist and colorist specializing in customized beachy balayage based in West Hollywood, CA. She is also a global brand ambassador for Olaplex.
Siena Gagliano is a contributing beauty editor at Cosmopolitan and has three years of experience writing about beauty, fashion, and lifestyle news. She’s an expert at researching and writing beauty and hair stories, like the best texture sprays and the greatest purple shampoos on the market. She regularly tests and analyzes sulfate-free shampoo on her own hair for efficacy, while working with the industry’s top hairstylists and cosmetic chemists to assess new formulas and brands.
Lauren Balsamo is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan with eight years of experience researching, writing, and editing skincare, hair, and makeup stories that range from the best hair detanglers to the greatest hair straightening brushes on the market. She chose her sulfate-free shampoo picks based on product reviews and personal testing.
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