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These days, the term “sulfate-free” pops up on all kinds of beauty products, from face wash to shampoo. So, what are sulfates and why does everyone want to go without them?
Put simply, sulfates are detergents or soaps, the ingredients responsible for breaking down dirt and oil and well, cleansing your hair or face as it were. (They’re also the ingredients that give you that luscious, foamy lather, which is why sulfate-free products are notorious for not lathering. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean they’re not working.) And yes, those cleansing capabilities are obviously what you want from a shampoo or face wash or body wash, but there’s a drawback. Many sulfates can be pretty harsh, removing not only unwanted oil, but also natural oil from your hair or skin, and leaving it dry and stripped.
With your strands, in particular, that can also translate to leaving them brittle and limp. And, let’s face it, if you have fine hair, that’s the last thing you want. Enter the beauty of sulfate-free shampoos, which use alternative types of cleansing ingredients to still get your hair and scalp clean, but also leave it extra full, luscious, and full of bounce.
Ahead, the best sulfate-free shampoo picks perfect for anyone with fine hair.
Best Overall: Living Proof Full Shampoo
Sulfate-free part of things aside, this is a perennial Team Byrdie favorite for anyone with fine hair. Credit the brand’s patented molecule that not only removes existing gunk and grime, but also works to repel dirt and oil at the same time. Hair gets clean, stays clean longer, and is perfectly prepped for styling. And yes, all of that without any sulfates involved.
Best for Dry Hair: Rahua Hydration Shampoo
Nabbing the title of ‘Best Shampoo’ in our 2019 Byrdie Eco Beauty Awards, our staff lauds this deeply hydrating formula for leaving hair ultra-silky and shiny—but without weighing down fine hair. A litany of nourishing oils and botanicals (and no sulfates, duh) is responsible for its moisturizing prowess, including Amazonian rahua oil. It doesn’t hurt that it smells deliciously tropical, too.
Best for Damaged Hair: Virtue Recovery Shampoo
When you’re dealing with tress stress, you better believe sulfate-free is the way to go. The only issue? Many reparative formulas, even if they are sulfate-free, can be too heavy for limp locks. Not the case here. It uses a unique type of keratin protein to strengthen hair but binds only to damaged areas. Translation? It won’t weigh down your mane. It also excels at breaking down build-up, leaving your hair soft and full.
Best for Curly Hair: Davines Love Smoothing Shampoo
Did you know that curly hair is more susceptible to dryness than straight hair? The shape of the strand makes it harder for the natural oils to travel from the scalp down the full length. That’s why choosing sulfate-free shampoos is a great move for those with curly hair, no matter whether it’s thick or fine. This particular option transforms into a creamy foam that cleanses curls and waves while boosting elasticity and minimizing frizz.
Best for Thin Hair: L’Oréal Everstrong Thickening Shampoo
When you’re dealing with not just fine hair but also hair that’s becoming noticeably thinner, it’s time to call in the big guns. Enter this shampoo, which strengthens and boosts thinning strands. But it doesn’t stop there; it’s also formulated to minimize breakage, super important since you want to do anything you possibly can to safeguard the hair you have. Plus, it’s both sulfate- and salt-free, meaning it’s safe to use even if you get keratin treatments.
Best for Frizzy Hair: Hask Keratin Protein Smoothing Shampoo
Stash this in your shower for whenever you want to tamp down errant frizzies, think humid or rainy days. Hydrolyzed keratin works to keep the cuticle—the outermost layer of the hair—smooth and intact. Translation? No frizz, just sleek strands with plenty of mirror-like shine. Plus, it’s free of sulfates, parabens, and artificial colors.
Best Budget: TRESemmé ProPure Light Moisture Shampoo
Everyone needs moisture in their hair, but that can become a slippery slope when you also have fine hair. Too heavy of a moisturizing formula with too many oils and butters can have the opposite effect, leaving your hair weighed down and looking flat and oily, the last thing you want. That’s why we appreciate that this sulfate-free pick is specially formulated to deliver just the right amount of hydration for those with fine strands. It’s gentle with a capital G, but will still leave your mane full and touchable and soft.
Best for Irritated Scalps: Briogeo Charcoal + Coconut Oil Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
Healthy—and full and thick—hair comes from a healthy scalp. And let’s not forget that the scalp is skin and needs TLC and attention, just like the skin elsewhere on your body. Enter the beauty of this shampoo, perfect for anyone dealing with an itchy, irritated scalp. Along with being free of potentially irritating sulfates, it touts healing tea tree oil and purifying charcoal to deeply detox. The end result? A healthier scalp and ultimately better-looking hair.
Best Drugstore: Pantene Sulfate Free Illuminating Color Care Shampoo
It’s no surprise that one of our go-to drugstore hair brands has a standout sulfate-free option. This pick is great even if you don’t color your hair, offering super gentle cleansing, a fresh fragrance, and plenty of lather—hard to come by in the sulfate-free world. Plus, it delivers a dose of protective antioxidants and strengthening biotin, too.
Best Vegan: Fekkai Full Blown Volume Shampoo
The latest line from hair industry legend Frederic Fekkai touts formulas that are not only vegan and sulfate-free, but also silicone-, paraben-, phthalate-, and gluten-free, too. The volumizing variant does a great job at detangling and boosting roots, delivering up to eight hours of volume when paired with the accompanying conditioner and texturizing spray. Also nice: The packaging is made from 95% recycled plastic.
Best Clarifying: Acure Curiously Clarifying Shampoo
‘Clarifying’ and ‘sulfate-free’ may admittedly seem like an oxymoronic pairing; after all, clarifying formulas generally have higher contents of intense detergents to, well, clarify. Consider this the exception to the rule. It’s gentle yet effective, removing more build-up than your average sulfate-free shampoo. Bonus points for the light lemongrass scent and the addition of hydrating argan oil.
Best for Color-Treated Hair: Missio Golden Shampoo
Sulfates strip not only necessary moisture from your hair but also dye molecules, making a sulfate-free sudser especially important for anyone who colors their hair. We’re partial to this option from one of our favorite under-the-radar brands both because of how well it cleanses and because it’s loaded with a ton of naturally reparative ingredients, Think antioxidants such as acai and green tea, and baobab seed to strengthen and deeply hydrate, always a boon for color-treated strands. Not to mention that the company gives back 30% of profits to helping fight human trafficking.