Updated December 2021
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for best sulfate-free shampoos

Sulfates are found in countless shampoos because they create plenty of suds and clean your hair thoroughly. Unfortunately, all that suds is what strips your hair of its natural oils. Sulfates can irritate the scalp, dry out hair, and even damage your tresses, which is why more and more consumers are turning to sulfate-free shampoos.

Before you decide on a product, there are a few factors to keep in mind. First, consider your hair texture — frizzy and kinky hair, which requires extra moisture, is a good candidate for sulfate-free shampoo, while straight, oily hair may not need it. Also, consider your skin sensitivity and whether your hair is color-treated, as there are sulfate-free shampoos to fit just about every need.

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Remember that plenty of sulfate-free shampoos don’t lather — so don’t add more product in hopes of more suds. Just work the product into your hair and scalp thoroughly.

What are sulfates?

Sulfates are a kind of surfactant — a substance that reduces the surface tension of the liquid it is dissolved in. Since sulfates attract both oil and water, they’re a thorough cleaner for removing dirt, grease, and grime. This is why sulfates are so common in many cleaning products, such as detergents, dish soaps, carpet cleaners, and odor and stain removers.

Sodium laureth sulfate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and ammonium laureth sulfate are common sulfates in personal hygiene products. These sulfates vary in intensity and the degree to which they’ll dry out your skin. They can leave your hair dry and brittle and even irritate your scalp if it’s sensitive.

Sulfate shampoo can also exacerbate skin conditions, like eczema. Some claim that sulfates are carcinogens (i.e., cancer-causing). But no definitive studies have linked sulfate in shampoos with cancer. Regardless, there are certain hairstyles that would greatly benefit from shampoos without sulfate.

Key considerations

Hair texture

Some hair types are more prone to dryness. Kinky hair, such as that of African-Americans, is coarser and more porous, thus requiring more oils to stay hydrated. Very curly and frizzy hair would also benefit from sulfate-free shampoo. Sulfate actually lifts hair cuticles; frizziness can occur when the hair cuticle is raised because it leaves room for moisture to swell the strands. If your hair is thin, straight, and oily, however, a shampoo with sulfates may work just fine for you.

Color-treated hair

There are a couple reasons you should choose a sulfate-free shampoo if your hair is dyed: dyeing hair strips it of moisture, especially if it’s a dramatic color change, and sulfate-free shampoos will be gentler on your artificial hair color. Sulfates on color-treated hair can strip the hair color more quickly, which will send you back to the salon sooner than you would like. Search for a good sulfate-free shampoo that will retain your hair’s moisture and permits your hair color to last.

Frequency of hair washing

If your hair is oily, chances are you wash it pretty regularly to get rid of buildup. In that case, a sulfate-free shampoo isn’t best for you. Perhaps you rely on the foaming action of sulfate shampoos to clean the excess oil. If you wash your hair every few days or on a weekly basis, then a milder shampoo should suit your hair just fine.

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Did you know?
Keep in mind that a sulfate-free shampoo won’t do much good without a sulfate-free conditioner.

Sulfate-free shampoo prices

The drawbacks of sulfate beauty products have become more known in the past several years, which means it’s pretty easy to go sulfate-free these days without breaking the bank. Expect to pay anywhere from $3 to $30 for a good sulfate-free shampoo.

Shampoos in the under $10 range are common drugstore brands, but plenty of them still work well. Bottles in this price range are typically between eight and 13 ounces, and there isn’t a significant price difference between sulfate and sulfate-free shampoos.

Sulfate-free shampoos that are above $10 may come in a large size or as part of a shampoo and conditioner set. Some of these shampoos may be professional-grade, marketed toward hair stylists or those who want to upgrade their beauty arsenal (WOW products are a good example). Sulfate-free shampoos with additional active ingredients, such as keratin, are likely to cost more.


  • When washing your hair, keep in mind that because a sulfate-free shampoo doesn’t have any foaming action, you’ll need to put in a little extra elbow grease to thoroughly clean it.

  • If you find that your hair isn't getting clean with your sulfate-free shampoo, add more water before you add more product.

  • Be sure to distribute the shampoo evenly through your hair, starting at the roots, to ensure every strand gets clean.

  • Instead of using your fingernails to scrub, use your fingertips, which are gentler on the scalp.

  • It’s important to rinse well. Otherwise, your hair may still feel greasy or heavy with residue.

  • Try drying your hair with a microfiber towel or a clean T-shirt instead of a terry cloth towel because the coarse texture can rough up your hair.

Other products we considered

We like WOW’s Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo & Conditioner Set. The shampoo activates the natural power of apple cider vinegar to remove excess oil, dirt buildup, and hard-water minerals. The conditioner adds extra hydration with its blend of coconut, almond, argan, and olive and avocado oils infused with B vitamins. Both are gently scented, and both are suitable for any hair type. Some buyers report improvements in skin conditions on their scalp — psoriasis, for example. Others say you should wait a few days for WOW to work its magic — but when it works, it works.

The Almond Milk Shampoo by Carol’s Daughter is another winner. Its gentle formula nurtures hair that’s been damaged from dyes, relaxers, or perms. It’s safe for color-treated hair, too. While Carol’s Daughter is marketed to black buyers, their shampoo is enjoyed by others with all kinds of hair textures. The shampoo lathers nicely and leaves hair with a mild almond scent. Plus, it’s gentle enough for daily use. Buyers notice improvements in dandruff and dryness, and those with curly hair love this shampoo’s detangling properties. You can also achieve a good lather, so it won’t take much to get your hair good and clean.

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You may notice your hair getting thicker after prolonged use of your sulfate-free shampoo. That’s because your hair is retaining more of its natural oils, which permits it to grow thick and luxurious.


Q. Does sulfate-free shampoo make hair greasy?
Sulfate-free shampoo won't make your hair greasier. However, since some brands don't create a lather, you'll have to work harder than usual to wash your hair. Be sure your hair is already wet before working in the shampoo. Don't be afraid of a second or third wash either.

Q. Will sulfate-free shampoo help hair loss?
Sulfate shampoos are known to cause dryness and breakage among some hair types. If that statement applies to your hair, then trying a sulfate-free shampoo can help retain length.

Q. Does sulfate-free shampoo cause dandruff?
No, but you might need to work extra hard to get rid of your dandruff since these shampoos don't contain harsh stripping agents. For people whose dandruff is caused by dryness or scalp irritation, a sulfate-free shampoo can be rather helpful.

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