By now, we’re accustomed to seeing shampoo and body wash—even hand soap—labeled as being “sulfate-free.” In fact, the term sulfate-free has become something of a buzzword. Much like words like nontoxic, natural, and organic, it carries a lot of weight and expectations, and might even drive sales up. After all, we are in the midst of a major clean-beauty movement, especially as people start to become more aware of individual ingredients and chemicals that they’re using in their beauty routines.
So let’s get down to it then. What are sulfates, and why are they inherently bad for you? The answer is quite simple. Sulfates are the foaming agents found in traditional shampoos. You know, the ones where you squeeze a big dollop into the palm of your hand, massage it into your hair, and feel that rich, bubbly lather? Those are sulfates at work. These foaming agents can have negative effects when they prove too harsh for your hair, stripping it off its natural oils and drying it to the point where it’s brittle and limp.
That’s why people reach for sulfate-free formulas. They’re thought to keep hair color and curls preserved more effectively and for longer than shampoos with these foaming agents. Although they might not lather up like you’re used to, know that your hair is still getting clean while becoming healthier at the same time.
This vegan, hypoallergenic, and cruelty-free shampoo has zero sulfates. It's also formulated with coconut oil and Gloss Moderne's signature French Riviera scent, which makes it a truly luxurious shampoo.
This sulfate-free shampoo is a good pick for anyone who has severely damaged hair (aka anyone who frequently uses heat tools and forgets to apply heat protectant first—we could be speaking from firsthand experience here). It has strand-building proteins to restructure the hair from the inside out.
This one is targeted specifically toward those who color their hair. Sulfates can be too harsh on color and strip it away over time, so you might see a big difference by switching out your normal shampoo for this sulfate-free and color-protecting formula.
The ghost part of this shampoo's name comes from the Moringa seed oil that's found inside. It has a super lightweight moisturizing capability, so it hydrates and softens without weighing hair down. Multiple members of the Byrdie team approve of this pick.
If you struggle with super-fine hair like some of us, then this new formula from fan-favorite brand Moroccanoil might just do the trick. It's antioxidant- and nutrient-rich to bring natural volume back to your strands.
Living Proof's Perfect Hair Day collection is beloved by many a beauty editor. The sulfate-free formula works through a patented molecule that gently cleanses and refreshes hair.
This budget-friendly shampoo is what we assume a mermaid would use if she washed her hair. It has sea water, kelp, and algae extract to repair split ends and add a boost of moisture.
Another sulfate-free shampoo with extracts from the sea, this one has seaweed to moisturize and renew dry and damaged hair.
L'Oréal was one of the first drugstore brands to base a line of shampoos on the sulfate-free mindset. This one restores moisture and cleanses well, without taking away too many natural oils.
This sulfate-free shampoo from Jessica Alba's Honest Company has coconut juice and essential vitamins and minerals like tocotrienols and niacinamide to keep hair hydrated, smooth, and healthy.
This natural shampoo is a favorite of editorial director Faith's, and for a simple reason: it's made with gentle ingredients that cleanse your scalp without stripping (like sweet almond), smells amazing, and leaves your hair feeling soft and clean. Plus, she swears it helps her hair air-dry better.
This natural shampoo uses the nutrient-rich rahua nut to repair dull, stressed-out strands and make your hair shiny and bright again. Quinoa, coconut, organic aloe and organic green tea all work to bring your tired hair back to life. Plus, the palo santo oil smell is intoxicating.
This sulfate-free shampoo is a Byrdie editor-favorite for its natural ingredients and uplifting scent. It uses a coconut-derived ingredient to gently get rid of buildup while preserving your scalp's natural oils.
This drugstore gem is made with gentle sulfate-free surfactants to cleanse your oily scalp, as well as organic coconut milk and coconut oils that smell amazing and add a big dose of moisture. One Ulta reviewer said that her usually-oily scalp still felt clean even two days after shampooing with this shampoo.
Byrdie's senior editor Hallie swears by this repairing conditioner from Olaplex, filled with ingredients specifically meant to mend color-treated or damaged hair. Another benefit? "It's the only sulfate-free shampoo that I've ever used that has a satisfying lather," she says. She uses it as her normal shampoo in conjunction with the Olaplex Hair Perfector or Olaplex Conditioner.
Click here for the 15 best new products for curly hair.
This story was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.