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Fact: When it comes to the products used on our hair, we all want the absolute best, regardless of hair texture or curl pattern. While we’re always on the hunt for a new hydrating styling cream or nourishing hair mask, it might be time to reconsider our bread and butter of haircare: shampoo and conditioner.
ICYMI, your typical go-to shampoo and conditioner combo, could be formulated with sulfates, a preservative made of salts of sulfuric acid. In shampoo, sulfates help cleanse and strip away oil and dirt build-up on the scalp and hair strands. 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 lackluster than before. The solution? Easy, sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner.
But we want to give you all the tea on sulfates, info on how they can affect your hair, and what the best sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners are out there. So we sat down with a couple of the top celebrity hairstylists around to hear their verdict.
TBH, there is no “better” or “worse” option when deciding on a sulfate or sulfate-free formula. 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,” mentioned Everett. So if your hair is on the relatively thin side, then a sulfate-free formulation is probably best since, according to Hillier, “that texture can benefit from natural oils that sulfates strip away.”
It’s essential to consider your hair goals when switching to a sulfate-free formula. If you’re looking to color your hair for the first time or just want to maintain your routine dye job, then a sulfate-free formulation is probs ideal. “If you have color-treated hair, a [sulfate-free] shampoo will help elongate your toner,” Hillier says. She also mentioned that the prolonged use of sulfates in your shampoo or conditioner could cause the color in your hair to become faded and less shiny, as well as potential scalp irritation and hair loss.
The same goes for those deciding to go completely natural with their hair journey. For those who have thicker textures and curl patterns, like 3B through 4C, it might not be enough to just stop processing or straightening your hair. “Often, when people decide to go natural with their hair, they decide to remove all synthetic products from their regimen,” says Everett. So while sulfates won’t necessarily hurt natural hair, if you’re experiencing breakage or even transitioning back to natural hair, it might be worth ditching the sulfates to experience maximum benefits for natural growth.
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 or conditioners for you.
According to Hillier, it would be a good idea to make sure there are no silicones present on the ingredients list—these guys can typically suffocate your hair and stop any hydrating factors from coming in. So, while a sulfate-free product might claim to be “clarifying” or “purifying,” it could still be pretty drying and striping. Additionally, watch out for formulas that have parabens, formaldehyde, alcohol, artificial dyes, or fragrances that could be damaging to your hair.
Since sulfates help to give you that squeaky-clean feeling when washing your hair, you’re going to need just as many healthy-hair ingredients present when using a formula without them—if not more. Everett recommends looking for formulas that have nourishing ingredients such as vitamins, natural oils, and hydrators such as argan oil, mango butter, and b-complex. This is especially important for those with tight natural curls. A clean and healthy scalp is imperative for hair growth and your sulfate-free formula shouldn’t lack any good and clean ingredients your hair needs to thrive.
Alright, we think you’re ready to take the plunge into the sulfate-free life. Below you’ll find 23 of the best sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners that are really, genuinely excellent. They’ll gently cleanse your hair (so no grease or oil) and restore shine and moisture too.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo Bar
SUPERZERO Restoring & Repairing Shampoo Bar
Intrigued by bar shampoo? This lil gem suds up and lathers just like your typical liquid formula and is made with avocado oil and shea butter for a nourishing clean.
Best Sulfate-Free Leave-In Conditioner
dae Cactus Flower Leave-In Conditioner
A leave-in conditioner and a heat protectant?! This sweet-smelling bb is formulated with cactus flower and prickly pear extract for added hydration. And it protects hair from heat up to 450°F.
Best Drugstore Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Damaged Hair
Kim Kimble RepHair Shampoo
If you’re ballin’ on a budget, you can still get all of the wonderful nourishing ingredients like avocado, jojoba, and coconut oil in a sulfate-free formula. This one is just under $10.
Best Sulfate-Free Clarifying Shampoo
Sunday Clarifying Shampoo
Instead of using harsh surfactants, this sulfate-free clarifying shampoo uses ginseng root, rosemary, and sage leaf extracts to get rid of excess grease, hard water deposits, and product buildup without stripping your strands.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair
Pattern Hydration Shampoo
Hydrate and nourish your curls while you cleanse with this ultra-hydrating shampoo from Pattern Beauty. The creamy formula is sulfate-free (duh) and infused with coconut oil, honey, and aloe vera.
Best Sulfate-Free Conditioner for Natural Hair
Adwoa Beauty Baomint Deep Conditioning Treatment
This sulfate-free deep conditioner is perfect for natural curls and coils in need of moisture. It’s packed with organic shea butter, baobab oil, and prickly pear oil to nourish and repair damage, plus organic peppermint oil to stimulate your scalp and create a healthy environment for hair.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Blondes
Playa Violet Brightening Shampoo
Whether your hair is dark blonde or icy platinum, this sulfate-free toning shampoo should be a part of your cleansing routine. It has tiny purple pigments that help neutralize brassiness and yellow tones along with purifying apple cider vinegar to keep your blonde color looking fresh and bright.
Best Drugstore Sulfate-Free Conditioner
Ogx Nourishing + Coconut Milk Conditioner
Sulfate-free, affordable, and delicious-smelling, this drugstore conditioner from OGX is infused with coconut milk and coconut oil to strengthen, soften, and moisture your hair while leaving behind a yummy tropical scent.
Best Sulfate-Free Conditioner for Color-Treated Hair
Color Wow Color Security Conditioner
Whether you’re a blonde, brunette, or redhead, you can (and should!) be using this sulfate-free conditioner from Color Wow on wash days. It’s specifically designed to keep your color looking fresh and your hair feeling healthy between trips to the salon.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Fine Hair
Sexy Hair Big Volumizing Shampoo
Want to give your fine hair more volume and body? Get it in the shower with this sulfate-free shampoo. It contains vitamin B3 and lemongrass extracts that help amp up fine, limp hair without making it feel like a tangled mess.
Best Sulfate-Free Conditioner for Fine Hair
Verb Ghost Conditioner
If you have fine hair, then you already know that most conditioners can weigh your hair down. Not this lightweight, sulfate-free formula though. It’s made with moringa and jojoba oils to detangle and hydrate fine hair without making it feel limp or greasy.
Best Gentle Sulfate-Free Conditioner
Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Conditioner
Not only is this gentle conditioner made without sulfates, but it’s also free-from fragrance, dyes, silicones, and parabens too. It’s pretty much the ideal gentle conditioner for anyone with sensitive skin who is looking to nourish and hydrate their hair.
Best Drugstore Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Herbal Essences Bio:Renew Honey & Vitamin B Moisture Shampoo – 12.2 fl oz
If you’re looking to add a sulfate-free shampoo to your wash rotation that won’t break the bank, def try this drugstore option from Herbal Essences. It costs just $6, but is filled with good-for-your-hair ingredients, like color-protecting antioxidants, hydrating honey, and moisturizing vitamin B5.
Best Everyday Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Dae Daily Shampoo
I’ve been using this sulfate-free shampoo on my fine, straight hair for weeks now, and I’m truly obsessed. The plant-based formula is made with clean ingredients, like shine-boosting aloe vera and deep-cleaning hibiscus extract, and makes my hair look and smell amazing. The best part though? The gentle formula is safe to use every day, which is ideal if you‘re a frequent washer like me.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Brunettes
Redken Color Extend Brownlights Blue Toning Sulfate-Free Shampoo
This sulfate-free shampoo for brunettes is infused with blue pigments (DW, they won’t stain your hands or turn your hair blue) to counteract unwanted brassiness and orangey tones in natural and color-treated brown hair. Use it once or twice a week in place of your regular shampoo to keep your color looking fresh between salon appointments.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Frizz and Flyaways
IGK Thirsty Girl Coconut Milk Anti-Frizz Shampoo
Humidity + hot weather = the enemy of soft, frizz-free hair. Luckily, this sulfate-free shampoo contains smoothing coconut milk and hydrating hyaluronic acid to prevent your hair from turning into a ball of flyaways as soon as you step out the door during the summer months.
Best Hydrating Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Alterna Caviar Anti-Aging Replenishing Moisture Shampoo
This shampoo is sulfate-free, but it’s also free of parabens and phthalates (a plus for anyone inching into the green-and-clean movement). It’s especially great for anyone who has dry, damaged hair from heat styling or color treating, since it hydrates, boosts shine, and helps prevent breakage.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo Scrub
Goop G.Tox Himalayan Salt Scalp Scrub Shampoo
Shampoo scrubs are having a moment right now, but they’re not all created equal (aka some can damage the shit out of your hair). If you want to use one, make sure it’s sulfate-free (like this one from Goop) and made with gentle exfoliating ingredients (i.e., salt or sugar particles) that won’t cause breakage or irritate your scalp.
Best Nourishing Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Briogeo Banana + Coconut Nourishing Superfood Shampoo
This ultra-nourishing sulfate-free shampoo is infused with antioxidant-rich superfoods like bananas, coconuts, and acai to help moisturize, nourish, and repair your hair as you wash. Oh, and the fruity fragrance smells like a tropical vacay, which, hey, I’ll take.
Best Smoothing Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo
Special smoothing molecules in this sulfate-free shampoo make hair ridiculously soft and give it mirror-like shine (the dream, if you ask me). And don’t worry—the lightweight formula won’t weigh down fine hair, meaning it can be used on all hair types and textures.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Damaged Hair
Olaplex No.4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo
There’s a reason every stylist swears by this sulfate-free shampoo. In addition to gently cleansing your strands, it helps reverse breakage, minimize frizz, and repair split ends by mending broken protein bonds along the hair shaft.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Curls
Vernon François Curl~ Shampoo
This sulfate-free shampoo for curly hair doesn’t just clean your coils—it deeply moisturizes them too. It’s packed with moisturizing plant oils, like baobab seed, kernel, and coconut, to coat your hair with strengthening and softening nutrients that’ll keep your curls healthy.
Best Drugstore Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair
Pantene Gold Series Deep Hydrating Co-Wash
This drugstore sulfate-free co-wash is ideal for super-dry curls and/or anyone with type 4 hair. The low-lather formula gently breaks down dirt and buildup while simultaneously conditioning the hair with moisturizing panthenol and argan oil.
Best Organic Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Rahua Classic Shampoo
Safe for all hair types (including color-treated), this sulfate-free shampoo is made with natural and organic plant-based ingredients, like green tea, aloe, and rosemary extract to gently cleanse your hair from roots to tips.
Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Dandruff
L’Oréal Paris Ever Fresh Antidandruff Shampoo
Dealing with dandruff, flakes, or itchiness? Try this sulfate-free shampoo from L’Oréal Paris. It contains 1 percent pyrithione zinc to soothe and rebalance your irritated scalp without drying out your hair.
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