The Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos, According to Dermatologists
What are sulfate-free shampoos?
Ever scanned the ingredient list on a bottle of shampoo? There are so many difficult-to-pronounce terms on the label that reading it can induce a major headache. However, there’s one shampoo ingredient in particular you've probably heard some buzz about: sulfates.
"Sulfates are harsh chemicals in many personal health products that are used primarily as foam makers and cleaning agents," says Shani Francis, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and hair loss specialist. They'll usually appear on an ingredient list as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, and may be abbreviated as SLS.
Sulfates are added to shampoo for a reason—they help de-grease strands, dissolve oil, and give the formula that frothy, foamy quality. But because they work by scrubbing away the body's natural oils, Dr. Francis explains that sulfates may also dry strands, irritate the scalp, and, in extreme cases, cause damage to the cuticle (the hair's outer layer).
Should you use a shampoo without sulfates?
If your hair tends to be on the oily side and requires daily washing, a regular shampoo is probably fine, says Debra Jaliman, MD, a New York City-based dermatologist. But she does recommend switching to a sulfate-free shampoo if you have damaged hair (such as from color or keratin treatments), naturally dry hair, or if you struggle with an irritated scalp. For these people in particular, a shampoo that doesn't contain sulfates may be beneficial.
Interested in making the switch to a sulfate-free formula? We’ve rounded up the best sulfate-free shampoos that have been recommended by dermatologists and hairstylists. Here, 14 of their top picks.
Shu Uemura Color Luste Brilliant Glaze Shampoo
To buy: $48;
"Many stylists love sulfate-free products to help protect color treatments, as they tend to be gentler," says Dr. Francis. This sulfate-free wash from Shu Uemura is no exception. It's specifically formulated for color-treated strands, and the rich foam helps prevent color from fading while also balancing the scalp’s natural oils.
Nexxus Color Assure Replenishing Shampoo
To buy: $17;
Tatiana Slaughter, a hairstylist at Kiss Kiss Bang Bang salon in Carmel, Indiana, loves this sulfate-free formula from Nexxus. It contains white orchid extract to help lock in hair's moisture and keep color-treated strands looking vibrant, even after many washes.
SheaMoisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo
To buy: $9;
Need a formula that will help nix dry hair? You’re in luck. This super-smooth wash (another one of Slaughter's recommendations) is made specifically for dried-out strands. Thanks to ingredients like sea kelp, argan oil, and shea butter, the formula restores shine and seriously moisturizes hair without the use of sulfates.
Bumble and Bumble Hairdresser’s Invisible Oil Shampoo
To buy: $31;
Protect strands from damaging UV rays with this cleanser. "It's pricey, but I always suggest [this shampoo] for anyone with dry hair," says Slaughter. "It doesn't leave a lot of buildup and detangles hair instead of leaving annoying knots." Six oils—including coconut, argan, and grapeseed—infuse moisture into split ends while also smoothing tangles.
Briogeo Rosarco Repair Shampoo
To buy: $24;
A must-have for thick, curly hair, Briogeo's Roscaro Repair shampoo (another pick from Slaughter) utilizes nutrient-rich argan, rosehip, and coconut oils to make hair stronger and supersoft to the touch.
Kevin Murphy Hydrate Me Wash
To buy: $49;
Jackie Remos, a hairstylist at Yanni Erbeli Salon in Red Bank, New Jersey, recommends this super-smooth wash since it's sulfate-free, paraben-free, smells great, and will leave strands shiny. Bonus: the formula is packed with antioxidants to prevent your scalp from losing moisture.
DevaCurl No-Poo Decadence
To buy: $22;
Have naturally curly hair? This ultra-moisturizing milk cleanser will give you gorgeous, silky waves. Not only is it infused with grapeseed oil, but the added quinoa protein strengthens and protects your hair's natural shine.
"Curly hair can be hard to treat, because curls need more oil to look bouncy and fresh," explains Slaughter. "I like this formula because it actually gives your hair moisture."
L’Oreal Paris Ever Strong Thickening Shampoo
To buy: $7;
Fragile hair has met its match, thanks to this sulfate-free formula from L'Oreal (another one of Slaughter's go-tos). Rosemary leaf helps boost thickness in thin strands, making it stronger and less susceptible to breakage over time.
Paul Mitchell Awapuhi Wild Ginger Moisturizing Shampoo
To buy: $21;
Your dry hair will thank you for choosing this moisturizing mixture. Awapuhi extract balances moisture while also rebuilding damaged strands. "You only need a small drop the size of a dime to make it work," says Slaughter. Also good: it’s gentle enough to use every day.
Aveeno Pure Renewal Gentle Shampoo
To buy: $6;
Dr. Jaliman is a big fan of this drugstore staple from Aveeno. She recommends it to balance your hair's moisture levels with each wash, giving it a shiny, healthier appearance. Bonus: it’s wallet-friendly!
Pureology Hydrate Shampoo
To buy: $19;
Another formula designed for color-treated hair, Dr. Jaliman tells us that she loves this gentle cleanser for its ability to purify each strand without stripping color. Plus, the ZeroSulfate formula delivers a rich lather while hydrating from roots to ends.
Giovanni Smooth as Silk Deep Moisture Shampoo
To buy: $7;
Calm unruly hair and say goodbye to annoying frizz with this deeply moisturizing formula, which is another of Dr. Jaliman's top picks. The lather works well on all hair types, and helps transform dry hair into soft, silky strands.