You can’t talk about shampoos without talking about sulfates. The category of ingredients can most easily be thought of as cleansing agents, essentially detergents that, yes, help clean your scalp and hair, but can also be responsible for stripping away natural oils and color, too. (Fun fact: Sulfates are found in other things besides shampoo, including products such as laundry detergent.)
Anyone can benefit from a sulfate-free shampoo formula. In particular, they are “perfect for those who have color-treated hair, kinky or coily hair, or struggle with dry hair. They are known to be more gentle and are formulated to cleanse the scalp and hair strands without causing redness or irritation on the scalp,” explains Erinn Courtney, a StyleSeat hairstylist.
The good news: You don’t have to spend the big bucks to find a great sulfate-free shampoo. Courtney points out that many sulfate-free formulas you can find at the drugstore contain similar ingredients to what you’d find in their more expensive counterparts and are just as effective at gently cleansing your hair and scalp.
We conducted hours of research on the best sulfate-free shampoos you can get at the drugstore, evaluating formulas on how effectively they cleansed hair as well as the scent and any extra features of each shampoo. Our team then combined these results with stylist-recommended picks to create this list.
Keep reading for more of our favorite sulfate-free drugstore shampoos.
Climaplex Moisture & Repair Shampoo
Works for all hair types
Contains synthetic fragrance
This newbie has quickly earned a permanent spot in our shower rotation. The brand’s proprietary technology repairs the disulfide bonds in the hair that are broken due to exposure to air pollution, chemical treatments, heat styling, and more. It also touts sunflower seed for natural UV protection, is cruelty-free and vegan, and works for all hair types. We appreciate how nicely it lathers and rinses out, as well as how soft and strong it leaves our hair, especially when paired with the accompanying conditioner.
Price at time of publish: $10
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Fresh | Size: 13.52 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Fine Hair
OGX Thick & Full Biotin & Collagen Shampoo
Breaks up buildup
Ideal for anyone who wants to boost the volume on their limp locks, this relies on strengthening biotin and plumping collagen to do exactly that. It imparts plenty of lift at the roots almost instantly but is also great at breaking down any built-up residue from leftover styling products. And that’s super important for the fine-haired set since all of that gunk can end up weighing hair down even more—the last thing you want.
Price at time of publish: $14
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Bergamot, jasmine, vanilla | Size: 13 ounces, 25.4 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Fine Hair, Runner-Up
TRESemmé Pro Pure Light Moisture Sulfate Free Shampo
Great level of moisture for fine hair
Works best with accompanying conditioner
If you have fine hair, finding a shampoo (and conditioner, for that matter) that delivers the right moisture level can be somewhat of a challenge. You need something that’s going to moisturize (since that’s important for warding off frizz) but isn’t going to moisturize too much, as that can end up weighing down your hair and making it look even flatter and limper. Enter this aptly named option, which strikes that perfect balance. It’s hydrating yet lightweight and also lathers beautifully.
Price at time of publish: $10
Hair Type: Fine | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Clean | Size: 16 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Dry Hair
Shea Moisture Power Greens Shampoo
Doesn't lather well
This aptly named option is essentially like a green smoothie for your hair, quenching and nourishing dry, dehydrated strands. Indeed, the ingredient list does read more like a smoothie recipe than a shampoo, with things such as avocado, kale, and matcha, just to name a few. It’s a good choice for dry hair, but curly hair, too, although FYI, it can be a bit hard to work into a good lather.
Price at time of publish: $13
Hair Type: Curly, dry, textured | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Avocado | Size: 13 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Best for Dry Hair, Runner-Up
Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Moisturizing & Detangling Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Good for many hair types
A little pricier than some other options
Courtney is a fan of this option, which she says excels at removing product buildup from the scalp and strands without stripping natural oils. She also lauds how nicely it lathers and adds that the creamy texture leaves hair feeling extra moisturized; credit the addition of both avocado and almond oils. FYI, it works great for curly hair, too.
Price at time of publish: $12
Hair Type: Dry, curly | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Botanical | Size: 12 ounces, 32 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Oily Hair
Love Beauty and Planet Delightful Detox Charcoal Shampoo
Combats oil but isn’t drying
Refreshing citrus scent
Doesn’t lather especially well
You may be more used to seeing charcoal in skincare, but it can actually serve a similar function in hair care—namely, acting as a magnet to pull out excess oil. Still, to combat that from drying out the hair too much, this also contains moisturizing coconut oil. All in all, it’s the perfect balance and combo to help degrease scalp and strands without veering into over-drying them.
Price at time of publish: $15
Hair Type: Oily | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Citrus | Size: 13.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Curly Hair
Garnier Fructis Curl Nourish Sulfate-Free Shampoo
May weigh down finer hair
Curly hair is innately prone to being dryer than straight hair, which is where sulfate-free shampoos can be hugely advantageous. This particular pick helps combat that potential dryness by not only being sulfate-free but also adding hydrating glycerin and coconut oil to leave your spirals soft and shiny. Plus, it works on all types of curls, too.
Price at time of publish: $3
Hair Type: Curly | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Coconut | Size: 12.5 fluid ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Color-Treated Hair
L'Oreal Paris EverPure Sulfate Free Moisture Shampoo
Doesn't strip hair
Reviewers note the bottle can leak
If you have color-treated hair, sulfate-free sudsers are the way to go when it comes to maintaining and prolonging the life of said color. This pick, which is also great for dry or curly hair, lathers beautifully, smells amazingly refreshing, and rinses out easily without ever weighing down strands.
Price at time of publish: $9
Hair Type: Color-treated, dry, chemically treated | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Rosemary | Size: 8.5 ounces | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Scalp Issues
Kristin Ess Scalp Purifying Micellar Shampoo
Pointed tip applicator
Opting for a sulfate-free sudser is also a good move if you have any kind of scalp issues—think dryness, irritation, or itch. We’re big fans of this lightweight micellar formula, which relies on micelles instead of sulfates to get the job done. Think of them as little magnets that attach to and remove dirt, oil, and product residue—without stripping your scalp's (or hair’s) natural moisture.
Price at time of publish: $15
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Not list | Size: 10 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Mielle Rosemary Mint Strengthening Shampoo
Refreshing scent and sensation
Unknown if cruelty-free
Another choice pick for Courtney, she likes that this one has the addition of strengthening biotin. The “gentle tingling sensation from the rosemary and mint” feels invigorating on the scalp, she says, adding that the use of many moisturizing ingredients (coconut oil, babassu seed oil, castor oil) makes it a nice option for even those with super brittle strands.
Price at time of publish: $9
Hair Type: All | Sulfate-Free: Yes | Scent: Herbaceous | Size: 12 ounces, 32 ounces | Cruelty-Free: Unknown | Byrdie Clean: No
Sulfate-free shampoos are the way to go, especially if you have dry, color-treated, or curly hair. The Climaplex Moisture and Repair Shampoo gets our vote for the top pick, a reparative formula that’s great for all hair textures. If you have curly hair, try the Garnier Fructis Curl Nourish Fortifying Shampoo—great for all curl patterns and all curl types. The Kristin Ess Purifying Micellar Shampoo is a nice choice for anyone with an easily irritated scalp.
Meet the Expert
Erinn Courtney is a StyleSeat hairstylist. Her focus is on natural hair and locks as well as extensions.
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 chock-full 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.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. She considered dozens of products for this story, evaluating each formula and consulting third-party reviews. Given that she has both dry and color-treated hair, she opts for sulfate-free shampoos almost exclusively and has tried most of the products on this roundup.
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