Best Alcohol-Free Shampoos

Updated October 2021
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

35 Models Considered
8 Hours Researched
3 Experts Interviewed
131 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best alcohol-free shampoos

The wrong shampoo can leave your hair in a frizz ball. As shampoo formulas continue to change and advance, some traditional ingredients have been shown to cause more problems than they solve. One of these is alcohol.

Some, but not all, types of alcohol take moisture from the hair shaft, making it become brittle and dry. Today’s consumers are more educated and concerned about the ingredients in the products they use daily. The demand for better results has led to a wide array of available alcohol-free shampoos.

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Vegan, cruelty-free, organic, gluten-free, and sulfate-free are only a few of the formulas you may run across when looking at alcohol-free shampoos. The more products the shampoo is “free” of, the more expensive it becomes.

Types of alcohol: The good and the bad

Not all alcohols are the same. Depending on the molecular structure, some alcohols act as a thickener while others dry out your hair until it’s a brittle mess. You only need to be concerned about certain types of alcohol. There are others that can help give your hair the swoon-worthy results you want.

Not to get too technical, but the weight of the carbon molecules in the alcohol chain determines the properties of the alcohol in terms of its ability to make or break your hair.

Short-chain alcohols: Short-chain alcohols mix with water and dissolve oil and other ingredients to help them mix with water, too. For that reason, they’re often used to dissolve shampoo ingredients before they are mixed with the liquid portion of the formula. These alcohols also help evenly distribute ingredients throughout the shampoo and, therefore, your hair. Their short chains also cause them to evaporate quickly, decreasing drying time.

However, because they mix with water and dissolve oils, short-chain alcohols often remove both of these substances from the hair cuticle as they evaporate. (Many of them are used to disinfect skin for this very reason.) Unfortunately, as they take out water and oil, they remove valuable moisture from the hair, leaving it dry and frizzy.

Short-chain alcohols include the following:

  • Isopropyl alcohol

  • Ethanol

  • Propanol

  • SD alcohol

  • Propyl alcohol

  • SD alcohol 40

  • Alcohol denat

Fatty alcohols: Fatty alcohols have much longer chains, anywhere from 12 to 20 carbon molecules (short-chain alcohols have three or fewer). These are frequently found in natural ingredients like vegetables, fruits, and sea botanicals. As a result of their higher carbon content, these alcohols are referred to as fatty, which simply means they feel oilier. These are the alcohols that are used as emollients to soften skin and hair in many hair care and skin products.

That’s not all fatty alcohols do. They also act as the following:

  • Surfactant: This helps hold water, which also helps the water in shampoo wash dirt and oil out of the hair.

  • Thickener: This prevents the formula from being too runny or watery.

  • Emulsion stabilizer: This helps mix oil-based ingredients with water to maintain the structure and mixture of the formula.

Fatty alcohols that are frequently used in shampoos include:

  • Lauryl alcohol

  • Behenyl alcohol

  • Cetyl alcohol

  • Stearyl alcohol

  • Myristyl alcohol

  • Cetearyl alcohol

Other alcohols: Some alcohols don’t fall into either category but are still commonly used in many hair care products. Benzyl alcohol, for example, acts as a preservative. Propylene glycol acts as a humectant that attracts and holds water to the hair shaft. Hair texture isn’t affected by these alcohols, so you don’t need to worry about them.

Alcohol-free shampoo features to consider

Alcohol-free shampoos do not contain short-chain alcohols that can dry out your hair. Some formulas will also exclude fatty alcohols, which can increase the price because more expensive ingredients must be used as thickeners, emulsifiers, and surfactants instead of the alcohols.

Just because a shampoo is free of alcohol does not mean that it’s organic or natural. It may still contain other ingredients, including phthalates and sulfates, that you may or may not want on your body.

Formula: Even if a shampoo is marketed as alcohol-free, it’s best to check the ingredient list so you know exactly what you’re getting. If you want absolutely no alcohol, even the fatty ones, you’ll have to closely check the ingredients because some manufacturers may only include the short-chain variety in their definition of alcohol-free. Every manufacturer has its own formula, which means it might take some trial and error to find one that works with your hair.

Scent: Alcohols aren’t used to add scent, but because many alcohol-free shampoos are organic or all natural, they often lack heavily scented ingredients. They are more likely to have natural scents like lemon, coconut (which contains fatty alcohols), or ginger.

Special hair-care needs: With such a wide variety of hair types, it’s no wonder that there are so many different shampoo formulas. You may have special hair care needs that will narrow down your alcohol-free shampoo search. For example, curly hair might need extra moisture, while fine hair needs a lighter formula that won’t weigh it down. There are also alcohol-free dandruff, clarifying, and toner shampoos.

Volume: We’re not talking about volumizing shampoo, but the volume in which the shampoo comes. Alcohol-free shampoos can be pricey, especially if they contain organic ingredients. You need to think about how many people will be using the shampoo. Will you, your spouse, and your children be using it or just you? Bulk products often cost less per ounce, though it may still seem like a hefty price for shampoo.

Alcohol-free shampoo prices


You can find alcohol-free shampoos for as little as $0.30 to $0.50 per ounce, which means an 18-ounce bottle costs at least $5. There are formulas for kids (no alcohol means less stinging of the eyes), dry hair, oily hair, and pretty much every hair type in between.


For $0.50 to $1.50 per ounce, there are formulas that are free of other substances like phthalates, parabens, or sulfates. These may also contain additional moisturizers like argan or coconut oil.


In the $1.50 to $2.50 per ounce range, you’ll find formulas for dandruff control or color-treated hair.


For $2.50 and more per ounce (and some are $3 or $4 per ounce), you’ll find formulas made of all-natural and/or organic ingredients that are free of all alcohol products.


  • Don’t worry if the shampoo that works for your friend doesn’t work for you. Your hair type, activity level, and lifestyle all affect the results you get from washing your hair. Your unique needs probably require something different, so don’t be afraid to try another shampoo to get good results.

  • Gently massage the shampoo into your scalp to remove buildup and clean the roots. A gentle motion will prevent the irritation that could lead to the scalp releasing excessive oil after you dry your hair.

  • If you mix brands, your hair can end up over- or under-conditioned. Manufacturers design their shampoos and conditioners to be used together. One manufacturer may use more moisturizers in its shampoo so the conditioner doesn’t need as much, or vice versa.
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Beauty experts recommend shampooing your hair two to four times per week, depending on your activity level. Shampooing every day can strip your hair and scalp of natural oil and moisture.


Q. Are some hair types more susceptible to the drying effects of alcohol?

A. There are definitely hair types that are more likely to be damaged by alcohol. Curly or coarse hair is drier than average, which causes the drying effects of alcohol to leave it even more frizzy and brittle than other hair types. Fine hair is also more easily damaged simply because it tends to be more sensitive to any kind of hair care product.

Q. If alcohol dries out my hair, can I find other hair care products that are alcohol-free?

A. Alcohol can be found in all kinds of hair products. You can find alcohol-free conditioner, gel, mousse, pomade, and the list goes on and on. It’s really a matter of finding products that work within your budget and with your hair type because there’s almost always an alcohol-free option.

Q. Are there alcohol-free shampoos for children?

A. Yes. In fact, many children’s formulas are alcohol-free because alcohol can sting the eyes. Any parent who’s had a screaming, sudsy child knows the value of a shampoo that cleans but doesn’t leave children in tears.

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