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Shampoos are formulated to, well, clean hair, but they can sometimes wash away more than you’d like, including natural oils, moisture, and color. The culprit? Sulfates, the cleansing agents that make shampoos (and laundry detergent) oh-so-sudsy.
Just as you wouldn’t wash your favorite cashmere sweaters in harsh detergent, the same goes for your hair. Shampoos with sulfates can irritate the scalp and over-strip hair, making it dry, frizzy, and dull. For a gentler alternative, try sulfate-free shampoos. While they don’t foam much, they can clean just as well—and they can help keep strands soft, smooth and vibrant in the process. What’s more, they’re great for everybody, especially for those with scalp issues or dry, frizzy, or chemically-treated hair.
Scroll down to discover our favorite drugstore sulfate-free shampoos. (We even found some that lather nicely, too.)
Best Overall: L'Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Moisture Shampoo
No matter what you’re looking for—softness, shine, color protection—this drugstore favorite has got you covered. What makes it so special is that the formula strikes the perfect balance between cleansing and conditioning. It cleans without stripping, softens without weighing hair down, making it a great pick for many hair types including color-treated hair. But really, we love its satisfying lather—kind of rare with sulfate-free formulas—and the zippy blend of mint and rosemary smells so refreshing.
Best Budget: Suave Professionals Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Shampoo
If you’re looking for moisture, hands down, this is the best bang for your buck. (This jumbo 18-ounce bottle costs roughly the same as a venti soy latte.) It not only cleans hair, but it also makes it a lot softer and glossier with a buttery blend of raw shea butter and pure coconut oil. The rich, creamy formula is designed for natural hair—including kinks, coils, and curls—but anyone looking for mega hydration can benefit from using it too. Bonus points for the convenient pump bottle and beachy scent.
Best for Fine Hair: OGX Thick & Full Biotin & Collagen Shampoo
If volume is your number one hair goal, add this to your hair rotation stat. This body-building shampoo does an incredible job bulking up fine, wimpy strands thanks to two key ingredients: strengthening biotin and plumping collagen. Assuming you probably load up on thickening sprays, mousses or lotions to style your hair for a fuller look, there’s bound to be product buildup—and this shampoo is great for that too. The creamy lather tackles it all and gets hair really clean so that there’s nothing weighing it down. The outcome? Big, soft hair with a nice lift at the roots.
Best for Thick Hair: Pantene Miracle Moisture Boost With Rosewater Shampoo
It’s hard to believe a drugstore shampoo could feel this luxe. Lusciously rich and creamy, the formula features a trendy skincare-inspired ingredient—rose water—and the brand’s signature pro-vitamin B5 for petal-soft, manageable hair. We’re also hooked on the floral scent. It smells like, well, roses, but there’s also mint leaves and lily of the valley in the mix, so it’s more of a quiet rose and not totally in your face.
Best for Straight Hair: Not Your Mother's Blue Sea Kale & Pure Coconut Water Sea Minerals Shampoo
Not Your Mother’s Naturals Sea Minerals Shampoo checks off all the boxes: It smells great (light and clean), lathers nicely and is like a fancy seaweed wrap for your hair (minus the hefty price tag). Blue sea kale and coconut water weightlessly coat each strand in vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes, leaving hair soft and bouncy. Also, if you’re looking for a formula that’s natural and clean, this checks off those boxes too. It’s made with 98% naturally-derived ingredients and formulated without sulfates, silicones, parabens or dyes, so you can feel good about what you’re putting on your head.
Best for Curly Hair: Garnier Fructis Curl Nourish Fortifying Shampoo
The perk of having curly hair that has a mind of its own? You get to use this. Formulated specifically for curls—which tend to be naturally dry—this sulfate-free shampoo creates soft, springy spirals with a trio of nourishing oils that mimics your hair’s natural oils. There are coconut, jojoba and macadamia oils, all of which work together to gently cleanse and revive every kind of curl—loose, wavy, kinky, tightly coiled, all of it. The formula is quite concentrated, so a little goes a long way, which is perfect if you’re on a budget.
Best for Color-Treated Hair: Aveeno Blackberry Quinoa Protein Blend Shampoo
Got a head full of bleach? We got you. Suitable for all hair types, this strengthening formula helps restore color-treated hair back to its optimal state, keeping your dye job as fresh and vibrant as when you stepped out of the salon. What’s in the secret sauce? Blackberry and quinoa proteins, which help prevent fading and repair even the most fried strands. The lather is creamy and thick and feels expensive even though it’s not.
Best for Dandruff: Kristin Ess Scalp Purifying Micellar Shampoo
There is so much to love about this gem from celeb stylist Kristin Ess’s eponymous line. For starters, the minimal green bottle looks très chic in our shower. But more importantly, it makes our dry, flaky scalps happy. Suitable for all hair types and free of sulfates, silicones, and parabens, it has a cocktail of nourishing botanicals, including aloe vera, eucalyptus, and lavender, to calm and balance irritated scalps. Micellar water gently washes away buildup without causing irritation to the scalp while mango butter offers soothing hydration from root to tip. Also nice: The pointed tip applicator.
Best for Dry Hair: Shea Moisture Power Greens Shampoo
We’re all for a bargain when the formula’s legit, which this is. Like a green juice after a spin class, thirsty strands will drink this stuff right up. Scan the ingredient list and you’ll see that it’s packed with the same superfoods you can find in your favorite post-workout drink: Matcha, kale, and avocado, which are all rich in nutrients for nourishing dry, stressed out hair. The formula is a bit runny and not the easiest to spread, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised how silky soft your strands will feel—and we’re talking even before you condition.
Best for Oily Hair: Hask Charcoal Clarifying Shampoo
This purifying formula combines charcoal derived from coconut shells and citrus oils to draw out impurities from the scalp and wash away all sorts of grime and buildup that can weigh hair down. While the lather is gentle at best, it leaves hair feeling squeaky clean, which isn’t always the case with sulfate-free formulas.
Best for Frizz: Love Beauty and Planet Argan Oil & Lavender Smooth & Serene Shampoo
Frizz is the great beauty equalizer. We all deal with it to some level, whether our hair is straight, curly or somewhere in between. Sulfate- and silicone-free, this vegan formula features nutrient-rich Moroccan argan oil (aka liquid gold) to seal in moisture and lock out humidity so that you experience as little frizz throughout the day as possible. It takes a little effort to lather, but that’s fine with us since it smells so good. With light notes of calming French lavender, you’ll definitely want to take your sweet time using it.
What to Look for in a Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Fully Free of Sulfates
Be sure to carefully read the label—not all sulfate-free shampoos are totally sulfate-free. Some may be free of SLS (the most popular), but you’ll want to double-check there aren’t any others hidden in there. Other sulfates commonly found in shampoos include ammonium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.
While removing sulfates is the first step to a more naturally moisturized scalp, you’ll want to purchase a shampoo that is chockful of hydrating or conditioning ingredients for the full effect.
What does sulfate free shampoo do?
Sulfate-free shampoo doesn’t strip the scalp of natural oils, thus leaving your hair with more moisture. Those with sensitive skin or eczema should stay away from sulfates, as they may be irritating to the scalp and cause dryness and itching.
What happens when you switch to sulfate-free shampoo?
You’re likely to notice less frizz after making the switch. Those with sensitive scalps may notice less irritation post-shower.
Is it okay to use sulfate-free shampoo every day?
Yes. While many experts don’t recommend washing your hair every day (your hair may become coarse and brittle) sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner are safe to use daily. Plus, many of these formulas are designed to retain moisture.