A Guide to Picking the Best Shampoo for You

Woman in bathtub washing hair
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There are hundreds of shampoos on the market. Cheap or obscenely expensive? Volumizing or moisturizing? How do you even choose? It just needs to clean your hair, so it's not that serious, right? Believe it or not, choosing the right shampoo could be the deciding factor over whether you're going to have good hair days. Here's what you need to consider.

Shampoo Ingredients

The laundry list of tongue-twisting ingredients on shampoo bottles can be confusing. Two of the most common are sodium laureth sulfate and ammonium lauryl sulfate (OK, these aren't particularly unpronounceable). These give shampoo that lather factor, which we've come to equate with cleansing.

However, these foaming agents can actually be irritants. Nowadays, more and more sulfate-free shampoos are hitting the shelves and proving that sulfates aren't all they're cracked up to be. And most of them aren't shy about being sulfate-free, so if that's not on the label, take note.

Cheap vs. Expensive Shampoo

Is there really a difference between drugstore and salon shampoos? Yes and no.

Many cheap shampoos do contain those sulfates that can dry out your hair. Kerastase Aura Botanica Bain Micellaire Riche Shampoo ($33) is sulfate-free and worth the splurge. However, there are some great affordable sulfate-free options out there as well; Kristin Ess The One Signature Shampoo ($10) is one of them.

If you're on a budget, you can always alternate between drugstore and salon brand shampoos.

Picking a Shampoo for Your Hair Type

Hair type matters when picking a shampoo. Here's a breakdown.

  • Fine hair: Thinner hair tends to get oily fast. Avoid creamy shampoos and look for clear formulas instead. Gentle and volumizing daily shampoos are good bets.
  • Frizzy hair: If you're forever dealing with frizz and flyaways, your secret to softer hair is actually more in the conditioner than the shampoo. Try a one-two punch of Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo ($27) and Conditioner ($27).
  • Dry, coarse hair: Parched locks need creamy moisturizing shampoos. More importantly, never, ever forget to follow with a conditioner. In fact, some people with this hair type can get away with ditching shampoo altogether and co-washing instead (conditioner-only washing).

What Is the No-Poo Method?

Some people with dry, curly, coarse, and/or frizzy hair swear by the no-poo or co-washing method. This means using very little to no shampoo (which can strip hair of its natural oils) and instead using conditioners (which softens and hydrates hair).

Created by curly-haired women for curly hair, Deva Curl's No-Poo Conditioning Cleanser ($28) and Low-Poo Mild Lather Cleanser ($17) are sulfate-free, full of organic moisturizers, and created for ultimate frizz protection.

Shampoo for Color-Treated Hair

If your hair is colored, you should consider a shampoo that's specially designed for color-treated hair. These are made to be more gentle and contain ingredients to deposit and preserve color.

The goal is to reinforce weak areas in the hair shaft that occur as a result of coloring, straightening, relaxing, or perming hair. Look for protein-based shampoos with ingredients such as wheat and soy extracts or silk amino acids.

Unfortunately, overly processed hair can have oily roots but dry shafts and ends, so washing it can be tricky. You need to cleanse the roots while moisturizing the ends. In this case, wash hair every other day with a shampoo made for normal hair. Concentrate on cleaning the scalp. Then use a strong conditioner only on the mid-shaft to the ends of hair. 

Reach for Dry Shampoo

If you want to buy a day between washing or you need to refresh your hair after working out, dry shampoo will be your best friend. Try Klorane Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk ($20). Skipping a wash now and then helps avoid stripping your hair's natural oils.

Shampoos for Babies

Looking for gentle, tear-free shampoos for little ones? California Baby Calendula Shampoo and Body Wash ($35) and Burt's Bees Baby Bee Original Shampoo & Wash ($8) are made with natural ingredients.

The Best Shampoos for Dandruff

The best remedy for dandruff is to rotate three over-the-counter dandruff shampoos. This works because the fungus could otherwise adapt to and become immune to a single shampoo. Try the following formulas with beneficial ingredients.

How to Get Rid of Product Buildup

If your hair needs a deep clean, use a clarifying shampoo once a week. You could also rinse hair with a mixture of equal parts apple cider vinegar and water to help dissolve dead skin cells and buildup on your scalp.

Shampoo is easy to take for granted. But once you find the one you love, you just might achieve that coveted hair-commercial bounce.

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