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Whether you wear your hair in a bun, a high ponytail or regularly opt for a glossy blowout à la Kate Middleton, a trusty shampoo can make all the difference between a good hair day and a great one. The right cleanser will promote a healthy, balanced scalp by removing flakes, oils and buildup that can accumulate on your scalp without stripping your locks of any much-needed moisture. And depending on your hair type and condition, it might be one of the best sulfate-free shampoos you're looking for.

What Are Sulfates, Exactly?

Justin Toves-Vincilione, a design team elite stylist at Ulta Beauty, tells PureWow, "Sulfates are cleansing agents that aid in an intense lather and easily cleanse away oils and buildup." They're also responsible for "that lather that we’re so used to experiencing when washing our hair," he says.

What Is a Sulfate-Free Shampoo?

Put simply, a sulfate-free shampoo is one that's formulated without sulfates, using other agents, such as plant extracts, like palm or coconut oil, to clean your hair.

Why Use a Sulfate-Free Shampoo?

Good question! As luck would have it, those same sulfate-based cleansing agents that leave your locks feeling squeaky-clean can also leave you with irritated eyes and skin—particularly if you're prone to sensitivities. (Womp, womp.) To give you an idea of the strength these chemicals have, "these same sulfates can also be found in household cleaners and detergents," Toves-Vincilione tells us.

As a result, they can cause redness and acne with prolonged use and strip away natural oils that serve to moisturize your hair. "Using a sulfate-free shampoo can ensure that your hair and scalp retain a healthy amount of natural oils while still cleansing away build-up accumulated in between washes," explains Toves-Vincilione.

Who Should Use Sulfate-Free Shampoos?

"Sulfate-free shampoos can benefit all hair types and textures but especially hair that is already dry, damaged or chemically treated," says Toves-Vincilione. (We're looking at you, curly and coily gals.) Have color-treated hair? A sulfate-free shampoo might be your best bet. As Toves-Vincilione explains, the gentle cleansing "is known to preserve the longevity of your hair color."

Dr. Elyse Love, a dermatologist at Glamderm and Spring Street Dermatology, told PureWow in November 2020 that sulfates can be helpful, however, for greasy-haired gals with locks that tend to fall limp. “For those with fine, oily hair, [sulfates] can be helpful on a routine basis to control oil buildup and allow styles to hold for longer," she said.

What Should You Look for in a Sulfate-Free Shampoo?

Labels are key when selecting a sulfate-free shampoo. According to Toves-Vincilione, you should look for one without sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate. "It’s also very beneficial if you find natural ingredients higher up on the ingredients list," he shares, adding, "The higher the better! This means there is a higher content of that ingredient."

A few common sulfate alternatives to keep your eyes peeled for include glucosides (more commonly known as vegetable oils and starch), taurates and fatty acid isethionates, which are derived from coconut fatty acids, glutamates (these amino acid surfactants are among the gentlest around), and amino acid sulfosuccinates.

How Do You Use Sulfate-Free Shampoo?

First, decide if you want a gentle or deep cleanse, Toves-Vincilione says. For a gentler shampoo experience, he recommends that you get your hair completely wet and apply a moderate amount of sulfate-free shampoo to your entire scalp. "Try not to focus a large amount on just one area," he says.

From there, massage the product throughout your scalp and make your way down your hair. "Avoid putting too much shampoo directly on your ends," Toves-Vincilione warns. "This area tends to be more dry and requires less cleansing." Afterward, use a conditioner that's suited for your hair type.

For a deeper clean, you can follow the steps above and then apply second layer of shampoo to your scalp and spread evenly. "You’ll notice a more intense lather the second time around," Toves-Vincilione says. "Massage the scalp and work your way down to the ends." When you're finished, nurture your strands with a deep conditioner, hair mask or replenishing treatment.

To discover the best sulfate-free shampoos for every hair type (and budget), keep scrolling—you're guaranteed to find at least one that's just right for you.

The Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo at a Glance

RELATED: I Tried Sulfate-Free Shampoo for a Month and Here's What Happened

Amazon

1. Authentic Beauty Concept Hydrate Cleanser

Hair Stylist’s Choice

Toves-Vincilione loves this sulfate-free shampoo from Authentic Beauty Concept, specifically calling out its effectiveness for fine, damaged, color-treated and textured hair. Its key ingredients are antioxidant-rich mango and soothing basil, which is known for its moisturizing properties. It's also vegan and cruelty-free, making it a win-win.

$28 at Amazon

Sephora

2. Pureology Hydrate Shampoo

Best Vegan Sulfate-Free Shampoo

If you want your cleanser to not only be free of sulfates, but animal products, too, check out Pureology's Hydrate shampoo. This vegan formula checks all the boxes, relying heavily on moisturizing jojoba, green tea and sage, which supports hair growth. It also has an antifade complex with a UV filter, making it a good choice for those looking to maintain their hair color between visits to the salon. Customers say it cleans quite well without sulfates, but several noted that it has a strong natural scent, so if that's not your bag, move along.

Buy It ($34)

Amazon

3. Garnier Whole Blends Shampoo Bar

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo Bar

If you need a shampoo that won’t leak all over your suitcase or gym bag, this solid version by Garnier will be a dream come true. Made with 94 percent plants (not a whole lotta of sulfates here!) it's chock-full of hyper-moisturizing coconut oil and aloe vera that aims to keep your hair silky-smooth without any extra detergents. It also comes in a recycled cardboard box, making it eco-friendly, too.

$7 at Amazon

ULTA

4. Not Your Mother's Curl Talk Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Curly Hair

Curly girls are singing the praises of this rice curl complex formula, which adds protein as it cleanses and hydrates—something that's crucial for keeping the integrity of your ringlets intact. Add in the fact that it does it all without sulfates, and you just may have found your next coil perfecter.

Buy It ($9)

Amazon

5. Kick Active Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Dandruff Shampoo

If your scalp is prone to dandruff, the Kick Active shampoo might be just what you need to finally feel confident about wearing black. It's made with flake-busting tea tree leaf, eucalyptus, peppermint, aloe vera and rosemary that aim to take care of the problem at its root—the scalp—while leaving your hair soft and silky. Your biggest challenge while using it? Your boyfriend just might want to steal it.

$21 at Amazon

Violet Grey

6. Shu Uemura Color Lustre Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Color-Safe Shampoo

Japanese brand Shu Uemura has infused the oxidation-preventing power of goji berry with fatty acid-enriched musk rose oil for a formulation that will reportedly keep your color from fading. The scent description also reads like a trip to the farmer’s market, with mandarin, grapefruit, black-currant, cardamon essence, rose, freesia, violet, sandalwood, musk and vanilla—mmm!

Buy It ($49)

Sephora

7. Gisou Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Fine Hair

Don’t let the packaging fool you: Gisou is more than just a pretty bottle. The brand is known for its honey-based products, including this shampoo, which uses the natural humectant to keep fine hair moisturized without weighing it down. While you may need to stick with it for a few washes to get your desired results, per the reviews, its benefits are said to include volume, oil reduction and a fantastic fragrance.

Buy It ($37)

Sephora

8. Susteau Moondust Hair Wash Shampoo

Best Foaming Sulfate-Free Shampoo

There’s something satisfying about lathering your hair as you shampoo, and Susteau gets that. To use it, shake a bit of the powdered Moondust hair wash into your hands, add a spritz of water and let the foamy goodness cleanse your hair. It's said to equate to four bottles of regular shampoo, since you don't need as much, and it counts rice protein, aloe vera and coconut acid among its clean and sulfate-free ingredients.

Buy It ($29)

Amazon

9. L'Oréal Paris EverPure Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Purple Shampoo

This L’Oréal Paris purple shampoo is tinged with hibiscus and purple pigments to clean your blonde or color-treated hair without stripping it of dye. It's also formulated to neutralize brassy tones (we're looking at you, bleach lovers and and highlighters). According to the more than 30,000 shoppers who love it, it won't turn platinum hair purple either (a real worry with some blue/purple shampoos!).

$14 at Amazon

Amazon

10. Verb Hydrating Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo With UV Protection

The sun's harsh rays can not only do a number on your skin, but also on your hair. This hydrating pick aims to help with that with its inclusion of sunflower seed extract, which acts as a natural UV protectant. Beyond that, this sulfate- and cruelty-free formula uses quinoa proteins to condition and shine, keratin protein for strength and pro vitamin B5 to moisturize. Not bad for less than $20!

$18 at Amazon

Amazon

11. PureNature Argan Oil Deep Hydra Nourishing Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Damaged Hair

If your strands are in need of help that your run-of-the-mill moisturizing shampoos can't provide, this promises to help with its heavy concentration of vitamin E, which the company says will penetrate your cuticle for deeper repair. It also has argan oil, which has long been touted as a heat protectant, in an effort to keep more damage from occurring from your hair dryer, curling iron or other tools that can be rough on tender tresses.

$25 at Amazon

Amazon

12. Garnier Whole Blends Taming Shampoo

Best Scented Sulfate-Free Shampoo

If the 15 minutes you get alone in the shower is the most "you" time you'll get all day, make 'em count with this Garnier Taming shampoo. Notes of coconut, vanilla and sandalwood form its base, which shoppers say smells "heavenly." Of course, it's also got a job to do, and the company claims that when paired with its conditioner and leave-in treatment, it will leave hair frizz-free for up to 72 hours.

$16 at Amazon

Sephora

13. Ouai Detox Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Clarifying Shampoo

Apple cider vinegar, long prized for its clarifying properties, is the star ingredient in Ouai's detox shampoo. This gentle cleanser is formulated to really get in there to remove product buildup, dirt and oil without using any sulfates. Its color-safe keratin, meanwhile, aims to build your hair up.

Buy It $30

Sephora

14. Bread Hair Wash Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for 4C Hair

Tight, coily kinky hair requires special care, and this sulfate-free cleanser delivers, if the reviews are any indicator. With an emphasis on retaining moisture, its key highlights include hydrating argan oil and aloe vera juice, plus a dash of lemon tea tree oil to soothe the scalp.

Buy It ($20)

Sephora

15. Vegamour GRO Revitalizing Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Thinning Hair

If you're dealing with hair loss, Vegamour GRO may the sulfate-free shampoo for you. Chock-full of the brand's proprietary karmatin (which is described as a vegan silk keratin), the company claims it's capable of making your hair look more than 50 percent more dense based on a double-blind, in-vivo clinical study of 40 subjects over 150 days. It also has red clover and mung bean, which aim to prevent hair loss, to keep the problem from getting worse.

Buy It ($48)

Sephora

16. Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo

Most Restorative Sulfate-Free Shampoo

Between the heat, dye and stress our hair is subjected to on a regular basis, we ask a whole lot of it everyday. Give it a break with Olaplex's sulfate-free No. 4 formula, which is meant to reduce breakage and frizz while leaving your tresses with a healthy shine. Its secret weapon lies in the "bond-building" technology, which supposedly serves to repair bonds in your strands to prevent both damage and the dreaded split end.

Buy It ($28)

Amazon

17. Hair Food Smooth Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Frizzy Hair

Have you ever washed and dried your hair, only to wind up with a headful of static-y tresses that look worse than they did before you hopped in the shower? There'll be no fear of that with this argan oil and avocado concoction, which works to fight frizz and prevent breakage while remaining gentle enough for colored hair—one reviewer even went so far as to say it saved her strands. As an added bonus, it's cruelty-free.

$12 at Amazon

Amazon

18. Pantene Pro-V Blends Rose Water Shampoo

Best Drugstore Sulfate-Free Shampoo

You don't have to go to a beauty store to get a great sulfate-free shampoo. This Pantene pick, which has a lovely floral scent, will get the job done just fine—and you can find it on the shelves of drugstores everywhere (you can also buy it right here with the accompanying conditioner for $20 total). While its ultra-gentle, sulfate-free formula may not be the best choice for those with long, thick locks who need a little extra oomph to get hair clean, those with thinner strands have found it makes hair soft and shiny.

$20 at Amazon

Sephora

19. Moroccanoil Hydrating Shampoo

Most Popular Sulfate-Free Shampoo

There’s a reason the Moroccanoil brand is beloved. This cult fave seemingly has it all, from the hydration it offers with its included red algae to its vitamins of A and E, which are said to support sebum secretion to help prevent breakage and potentially encourage hair growth. It's sulfate-free, color-safe and shine-boosting, thanks to its added argan oil, and it's said to work best on dry strands.

Buy It ($26)

Amazon

20. Aveeno Oat Milk Blend Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Sensitive Skin

While those with sensitive scalps may see improvement in their scalp just by using a less harsh, sulfate-free formula, this shampoo is extra gentle. Made by the same company that provides relief to those with eczema with its oatmeal bath-based products, this uses oatmilk, which can be soothing to those with irritation. More than one user also cited its tendency to make their locks nice and shiny.

$6 at Amazon

Amazon

21. Carol’s Daughter Wash Day Delight Shampoo

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Natural Hair

If your hair is curly or kinky, this aloe vera-scented hair wash is worth a look. Everything about it, from the formula, which is made to minimize tangles to help you work your fingers through your tresses, to the unique targeted applicator tip, which has been designed to let the liquid easily flow through coily locks, points to a great experience for those with natural hair. Happy buyers say it's plenty moisturizing, too.

$10 at Amazon

Sephora

22. Briogeo Scalp Revival

Best Sulfate-Free Scrub

For those days when you need a deeper clean (which, if you're extra-oily, may be all the time), consider this Briogeo scalp revival shampoo. Its spearmint, peppermint and tea tree oil will go to work on your scalp while its binchotan charcoal aims to draw out impurities that may clog your hair follicles. Add in a dash of coconut oil for moisture, and it's sure to be a greasy woman's BFF.

Buy It ($42)

RELATED: The 20 Best Shampoos for Thinning Hair

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