The best sulfate-free shampoo
No one wants to go through the day with greasy hair, which is why it's essential to use an effective shampoo that cuts through oil buildup on the scalp. But in some cases, traditional shampoos can do more harm than good. While the sulfates in conventional formulas cause plenty of sudsing action that can remove dirt and oil, they can leave you with dry, frizzy hair, too. A sulfate-free shampoo, on the other hand, can give you the clean grease-free hair you're after without stripping away beneficial natural oils and drying out your tresses.
Having trouble finding the right formula? Our buying guide has all the tips you need to choose the best sulfate-free shampoo for your hair. We've also included some specific product recommendations at the end, such as our top pick from Pureology, which contains antioxidants and sunscreen to protect your hair.
Considerations when choosing sulfate-free shampoos
Certain hair types are more prone to dryness than others. To those types, a shampoo with sulfates can be especially damaging. Coarse, curly, and kinky hair tends to be more porous and requires more hydration to prevent frizz and dryness. That's why sulfate-free shampoo is such a good fit for these hair types -- it strips away less moisture.
People with thin or oily hair can use a sulfate-free shampoo as well, even though they don't have the same hydration needs. If this is you, keep in mind that you may have to massage your scalp a little more thoroughly with your sulfate-free shampoo to get your hair completely clean.
Sulfate-free shampoo is also a smart choice for color-treated hair, as dyeing your hair can remove its natural oils. Using one of these formulas can also help prolong your color because sulfates tend to fade it faster.
Like other shampoos, sulfate-free formulas are available in a few different types of packaging. Many come in a squeeze tube or a squeeze container with a pop-top. Larger bottles of sulfate-free shampoo may come with a pump dispenser, which makes it easier to squirt out the precise amount of shampoo you need.
You can find sulfate-free shampoo in a variety of fragrances. Common scents include floral, herbal, and fruity blends. There are also unscented formulas available.
You'll usually spend between $3 and $30 for a sulfate-free shampoo. Drugstore brands can go for $3 to $10 and work fairly well. Sulfate-free formulas in the $10 to $30 range typically contain high-end ingredients, such as keratin, which helps to strengthen your strands.
Q. Why are sulfates bad for my hair?
A. Sulfates rinse the natural oils from your hair to clean it, but they're often extremely harsh. They dry out hair, cause frizz, and fade hair color.
Q. Can my hair get as clean with a sulfate-free shampoo?
A. Because sulfate-free shampoo doesn't lather up like traditional shampoos, some folks believe it's not as effective at cleaning your hair. But if you wet your hair thoroughly before you apply it and massage it into your scalp well, it can be just as effective as a shampoo with sulfates.
Sulfate-free shampoos we recommend
Best of the best: Pureology's Hydrate Sheer Shampoo
Our take: A favorite of professional hairstylists that effectively cleans with all-vegan ingredients.
What we like: Formula includes botanicals, antioxidants, and sunscreen. Leaves hair clean and soft. Produces lather unlike some other sulfate-free formulas.
What we dislike: Some users find the scent to be too strong.
Best bang for your buck: L'Oreal's EverPure Sulfate-Free Moisture Shampoo
Our take: A quality sulfate-free shampoo from a reliable brand that won't break the bank.
What we like: Works well on most hair types. Pleasant rosemary scent. Boasts a creamy texture that lathers well. Formula is vegan.
What we dislike: Doesn't moisturize as well as higher-end shampoos. Lid tends to break.
Our take: Gentle sulfate-free formula with a clean, fresh scent.
What we like: All-natural, organic ingredients that effectively remove buildup. Brand doesn't test on animals. Mild enough for children and adults with sensitive skin.
What we dislike: Texture is somewhat thin. Doesn't lather as much as other options.
Jennifer Blair is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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