InStyle December 12, 2023



Say goodbye to stripped-down strands and hello to hydrated, luscious locks.


Olaplex No. 8 Bond Intense Moisture Hair Mask is remarkable at reviving hair.

Every so often, a buzzy beauty phrase pops up that reminds us we should all be a little more aware of what ingredients we’re using in our daily beauty routines. One such example: sulfates, which may be responsible for weak, brittle strands and that frizzy halo around your head that never seems to calm down, no matter how much hair oil you apply. 

“Sulfates are surfactants, so they attract both water and oil,” explains dermatologist Dr. Hope Mitchell of Mitchell Dermatology in Perrysburg, Ohio. “After rinsing, sulfates strip the hair and scalp of their natural oils, moisturizers, and pigment, leaving behind dryness, flaking, and irritation.” And if you shell out regularly for pricey color or keratin treatments, bad news: Sulfates also strip the outermost layer of hair, shortening the lifespan of your expensive treatments. 

While sulfates are present in up to 90 percent of hair-care products, according to Dr. Mitchell, there are effective sulfate-free shampoos out there — if you know where to look. We put on our research hats and interviewed two hairstylists and a dermatologist, then tested dozens of sulfate-free shampoos to the find best, most gentle option. Here’s what passed our rigorous tests.

Best Overall

Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo

What We Love

  • It works well on all hair types to revitalize dry strands and overly-processed or heat-damaged hair.

What We Don’t Love

  • Some users with thin hair find using this shampoo daily can cause shedding.

Probably the most recognizable "O" name — next to Oprah, of course —  Olaplex unsurprisingly tops our list. When it comes to bond-building hair products, the brand makes some of the best. Its patented ingredient, bis-aminopropyl diglycol dimaleate, which works on all hair types and textures, according to Adriano Cattide, the creative director at The Drawing Room in New York City, rebuilds broken bonds as easily as snapping Legos together. Anyone who went through the platinum-blonde craze of 2015 (thanks, Kim K) or any damaging dye job would benefit from Olaplex’s strength. By rehydrating processed hair and making oily strands feel weightless, your hair will look salon-fresh. We’re also fans of Olaplex limiting the use of secondary packaging to help reduce its carbon footprint so you’re sharing your good hair days with the planet.

One downside is multiple reviewers with thin hair said they saw some shedding after using the shampoo every day, so we recommend washing with it once a week to start.

Price at time of publish: $30

Size: 8.5 ounces | Scent: Fresh and light | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Budget

Monday Haircare Smooth Shampoo

What We Love

  • It provides a frizz-free finish and is safe on color-treated hair. 

What We Don’t Love

  • One packaging flaw: the pump takes several pushes to get enough product out of the bottle.

Monday pleases both millennials and Gen-Z all in one product: they made the peppy pink bottle (dare we call it millennial pink?) from recycled plastic, satiating the climate-conscious youth. But Monday’s aesthetic isn’t the only reason this shampoo became a global phenomenon. Monday Smoothing Shampoo gives users salon-quality smoothness and shine for half the price of luxury brands. Reviewers who’ve experienced heat damage, have fine hair, or crave a little extra oomph rave about how it volumizes flat strands.

Since Monday’s formula is color-safe it provides a budget-friendly alternative to pricer color-treatment shampoos. The refreshing and light gardenia fragrance is the chef’s kiss on this fan favorite. One small caveat is the design could be more user-friendly so that it doesn't take several pumps to get enough product out of the bottle.

Price at time of publish: $8

Size: 12 ounces | Scent: Floral | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Splurge

Sisley Paris Hair Rituel Revitalising Volumizing Shampoo

What We Love

  • It uses essential oils to nourish and smooth hair for a luxurious feel. 

What We Don’t Love

  • The shampoo comes out of the tube fast and can cause you to waste extra product.

Say bonjour to fluffy, light, and luxurious hair after using this sulfate-free shampoo from Sisley Paris. Coming from a family-owned French company, the product will make even your quick 10-minute morning shower feel like a spa day. Its formula mixes macadamia, moringa, and other essential oils to rejuvenate and soften the hair. Depending on your hair type, users remark they can go longer between washes after using it — creating the case to spend a little extra since you’ll use it less often. Just be wary of wasting product as the shampoo slips out of the bottle fast.

Price at time of publish: $83

Size: 6.7 ounces | Scent: Shea, camellia, and hazelnut | Cruelty-Free: Yes 

Best Clean

Native Moisturizing Shampoo


What We Love

  • Its simple formula includes citric acid to help balance pH for more moisturized and voluminous hair. 

What We Don’t Love

  • Some reviewers say it starts to leave a residue after a couple of washes.

While there’s no Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants product for hair care, the Native Moisturizing Shampoo comes close. The clean formula works well across a spectrum of hair types to give you a sleeker, shinier mane. Kind of like the RX Bars of shampoo, Native only contains 10 easy-to-understand ingredients. We appreciate that the brand creates its simple formula by thoughtfully choosing plant-derived sources and safer alternatives to harsh ingredients. For example, citric acid provides pH balance and prevents breakage while sealing in natural oils. Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, a naturally derived ingredient from coconut oil, cleanses without irritating the scalp.

Our curly-haired friends may want to complete the set with the Native Moisturizing Conditioner, but many users with thin and straight hair agree the shampoo works well on its own. We’d start by using it every other day if you’re a daily hair washer because some found it left a little residue when used frequently.

Price at time of publish: $10

Size: 16.5 ounces | Scent: Coconut and vanilla | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Curly Hair

Kérastase Curl Manifesto Shampoo


What We Love

  • The product’s main ingredient, Manuka honey, keeps curls hydrated and moisturized.

What We Don’t Love

  • The shampoo’s fragrance could be too strong for some users.

If your brush has accidentally gotten caught while taming your curls (and, well, broken because of it) — think: Mia Thermopolis’s makeover — we think it’s safe to assume that you need a new haircare routine. The Kerastase Curl Manifesto Shampoo shines by striking the balance between decreasing frizz without weighing down your curls, thanks to the buzzy ingredient Manuka honey, which Raven Hurtado, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago says “helps keep the curls hydrated and manageable.” Because “curly hair needs lots of moisture to stay defined,” she adds, you can’t just rely on your conditioner and post-shower products to do it all for you. Having this hydration boost from your shampoo will do wonders for your curls. We just wish it didn’t have as strong of a fragrance (or a fragrance-free version) because it might be overwhelming to anyone sensitive to scents.

Price at time of publish: $38

Size: 8.5 ounces | Scent: Florals and honey | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Colored Hair

Oribe Shampoo for Beautiful Color


What We Love

  • It lengthens the life of your color-treated hair and makes it appear shiny and healthier.

What We Don’t Love

  • It gently cleanses, so oilier hair types, might not find it effective enough.

We’re all envious of the well-maintained, liquid-like locks of the Hadid sisters, but anyone who colors their hair knows how much of a battle it is to keep color-treated hair from becoming brittle and dry. And Cattide and Hurtado agree that shampoos with sulfates actually amplify this issue. Not only does the sulfate-free Oribe shampoo extend the life of your dye, but it also gives it a noticeable gloss. “Oribe Shampoo for Beautiful Color adds a shine that’ll make your color last longer and protects the color from fading,” says Hurtado. “Your hair will feel soft and touchable.” Although it sits at a higher price point, users find they only need a small amount of product per use. But anyone with oily hair might not find it effective enough because it provides a very gentle cleanse.

Price at time of publish: $46

Size: 8.5 ounces | Scent: Fresh and light | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Oily Hair

Ouai Detox Shampoo

What We Love

  • Ouai uses apple cider vinegar to clear away product buildup without removing natural oils from hair.

What We Don’t Love

  • Dry scalps might find this too harsh.

My roommate has some of the bounciest, most frizz-free curls I’ve seen, so when I spotted this on her shelf, I figured it had to be good. Her hair holds up through humidity and fall rain, crediting this shampoo for helping her through. Like other reviewers mention, she says after washing her hair with this sulfate-free shampoo, hair feels lightweight and cleansed of the buildup caused by serums, hairspray, and dry shampoo used throughout the week.  

Despite being sulfate-free, your hair will still feel thoroughly cleansed, especially for those with oily scalps who need a tougher scrub. The included apple cider vinegar works to clarify, while keratin strengthens strands. It might be too harsh, though, if your scalp typically feels dry, so opt for another one on this list if that’s the case.

Price at time of publish: $30

Size: 10 ounces | Scent: Rose, bergamot, lychee, and white musk | Cruelty-Free: Yes

 Finally, A Clarifying Shampoo That Doesn't Dry the Hell Out of My Hair

Best for Detangling

Design Essentials Almond & Avocado Moisturizing & Detangling Sulfate-Free Shampoo


What We Love

  • It uses almond and avocado, plant-based ingredients, to detangle hair without breakage.

What We Don’t Love

  • It works best when paired with the matching conditioner, which means buying more products.

We welcome any product that adds time back to our beauty routine, especially if it means passing the painful step of brushing out knotty hair. Cattide recommends this sulfate-free shampoo from Design Essentials because “it uses the power of natural almond and avocado to gently detangle your curls and cleanse them without stripping away natural oil from your delicate strands,” Cattide says. “In fact, the folks over at Design Essentials claim this shampoo can save you 30 minutes of detangling time.” Keep in mind users found the best results when they use this shampoo alongside the matching conditioner.

Price at time of publish: $13

Size: 12 ounces | Scent: Fresh and light | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Shampoo Bar

Garnier Whole Blends Hydrating Shampoo Bar


What We Love

  • It’s a climate-friendly option that lathers well and conditions hair.

What We Don’t Love

  • You’ll get fewer washes using a bar versus rinsing with a liquid shampoo.

For anyone ecoconscious, try a shampoo bar. We like this one from Garnier. Not only is it free of plastic packaging, but also  Garnier formulates it with 94 percent plant-based ingredients like honey, oat milk, and ginger as an alternative to fossil-derived ingredients.

Despite being a bar, the shampoo still lathers nicely for a deep clean. Aloe vera leaves hair feeling soft and smelling fresh. At an affordable price, it’s a great way to make your carbon footprint smaller and budget bigger. If this is your first time using a bar, though, be aware you probably won’t get as many washes as you would with bottled shampoo.

Price at time of publish: $8

Size: 2 ounces | Scent: Aloe Vera | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Coily Hair

Curls Dynasty Cocoa Mint Moisture Rich Shampoo

What We Love

  • The use of plant oils hydrate and protect those with delicate, coily hair.

What We Don’t Love

  • It takes more product than we’d like to get a lather going.

Those with type 4 hair know the importance of keeping their tight, defined ringlets moisturized and protected. Since coily hair is prone to brittleness, using sulfates leads to drying out and damaging delicate strands. As a brand designed for women transitioning to natural hair, Curls Dynasty focuses on creating products that support your curls.

This one uses plant oils, like aloe and coconut, alongside shea and cocoa butter to save hair from breakage. It hydrates hair for springier, less breakable, and more voluminous coils. We only wish it took less product to see a sudsy lather.

Price at time of publish: $13

Size: 8 ounces | Scent: Mint | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best Anti-Dandruff

Jupiter Balancing Shampoo


What We Love

  • It minimizes dandruff, soothes irritated scalps, and creates shiner, bouncier hair. 

What We Don’t Love

  • Using this shampoo requires patience — it may take a week or two to see results.

If you’re already prone to having a dry, itchy scalp, using shampoos with sulfates could remove natural oils and cause more damage. But very few sulfate-free shampoos address dandruff, except for Jupiter’s Balancing Shampoo, which is why we think it's a great choice for those seeking an effective dandruff shampoo. It flushes out flakes by using zinc pyrithione, a medicated active ingredient proven to kill bacteria that contributes to itchy scalps. On top of reducing dandruff, the product also helps with breakage and creates shinier and more moisturized hair thanks to the key ingredient of coconut oil. While you might not see an instant difference after using the shampoo one time, we think the wait is worth the results.

Price at time of publish: $25

Size: 9.5 ounces | Scented: Mint, vanilla, rosemary, sage, tangerine, and lavender | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Daily Use

Davines OI Shampoo


What We Love

  • Daily hair washers can use this without worrying about removing oils from their hair from frequent washing.

What We Don’t Love

  • For those used to lighter shampoo scents, the cologne-like fragrance is unexpected.  

If you have fine or excessively oily hair that needs a daily rinsing, Cattide recommends the OI shampoo from Davines. It uses roucou oil, a plant-based ingredient in many of OI’s products, to rebuild damaged hair and protect it from environmental factors like pollution. Antioxidants moisturize the hair to smooth, shine and volumize. Anyone with thin hair will be impressed with how weightless this product feels — it makes fine strands feel thicker and more manageable without additional weight.

FYI: If you’re used to lighter shampoo scents, know the roucou oil gives this one a heavier, cologne-like fragrance. 

Price at time of publish: $36

Size: 9.47 ounces | Scent: Musky, floral, earthy | Cruelty-Free: Yes

Best for Taming Frizz

Ouidad Advanced Climate Control Defrizzing Shampoo


What We Love

  • Reduces frizz and helps define curls using a silk-defined protein. 

What We Don’t Love

  • It can feel a little heavy on your hair compared with the other shampoos on this list.

Between living in the South for most of my life and having can’t-be-tamed curls, I call frizz my frenemy. I’ve long been a fan of the Ouidad Climate Control Heat & Humidity Gel, so I was thrilled to discover an accompanying shampoo from the same line that’s sulfate-free and effective. Ouidad uses sericin, a silk-derived protein, to tame frizz and fix flyaways. Ouidad also incorporates a dedicated UV filter into the formula to protect against the outside grime we deal with every day. We love that it fixes the frizz, but would prefer it if the product didn’t feel slightly heavy on our hair.

Price at time of publish: $24

Size: 8.5 ounces | Fragrance: Florals, Rose, Mandarin, Orange, and Lemon | Cruelty-Free: Yes

What to Keep in Mind

Sulfate-free formula

Shampoo contains two types of sulfates: sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate. Dr. Mitchell tells us to look for Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), and Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) on product labels when we're browsing the beauty aisle as the main ones to avoid. You should keep an eye out for shampoos with plant-derived surfactants such as palm and coconut.

Adjustment Period

Unlike the immediate results of a new curling iron, patience is a virtue for many hair products. If you’re new to using sulfate-free shampoos and don’t notice the results after one wash, give it a grace period before leaving a one-star review. As Hurtado says, “Your scalp and hair need time to adjust and recognize a new formula which is very normal. Switching to a sulfate-free shampoo can take a little time—almost near 2-4 weeks to adjust." She adds you will know the shampoo is working when your hair feels soft and clean and your scalp doesn’t feel irritated, dry, or itchy.

Your Questions, Answered

Is sulfate-free shampoo better for your hair?

The short answer is yes. Cattide tells us that sulfate-free shampoos don’t strip the hair of the natural oils they need to stay moisturized and healthy. He also adds, “Sulfates can leave an unwanted film behind, so a sulfate-free shampoo is a cleaner, more natural alternative.”

Who will benefit from a sulfate-free shampoo?

“I’d recommend using sulfate-free shampoo if your skin is sensitive, your scalp is dry, if you’re struggling with frizz, if you have color-treated hair, and also after keratins,” says Hurtado. Additionally, if you wash your hair often you could benefit from using a sulfate-free option since it will need natural oils to stay healthy between washings. According to Dr. Mitchell, individuals with rosacea, eczema, or contact dermatitis should consider switching to sulfate-free products.

Do sulfate free-shampoos clean your hair as well as those with sulfates?

According to Hurtado, sulfate-free shampoo and shampoos with sulfates both clean hair. “The difference is shampoos with sulfates have ingredients that are strong and can be harsh that’ll potentially dry out hair and cause a dry scalp,” says Hurtado. Cattide adds many sulfate-free shampoos don’t lather as well as you’re used to, so it’s not always easy to tell when you’ve washed your hair well enough. However satisfying it may be to see, foam isn’t necessary for adequate cleaning.

Why Shop With Us

Irene Richardson is a writer with over five years of experience covering fashion and beauty trends. For this story, she researched dozens of shampoos, read reviews, and consulted Dr. Hope Mitchell, a licensed dermatologist, and expert hair stylists Adriano Cattide and Raven Hurtado. Out of the 13 products on this list, she’s personally used five.