New York Post December 5, 2023

New York Post


We tested the 23 best sulfate free-shampoos for a gentle cleanse: Our review


Shampoos are one of those products where everyone has an opinion. For some, it’s a one-and-done I’ll buy the cheapest bottle at Target-type purchase. For others, it’s a rotisserie-style rotation where the hottest names on beauty shelves and on TikTok are sworn in as part of your haircare routine.

Here’s a little secret: we’re very passionate about our shower routines — and not just because our review to the best shampoos is one of the most popularly clicked-on shopping guides we’ve ever produced.

Whether you’re focusing on hair growth or taming frizz, a quality sulfate-free shampoo is one to integrate into your haircare routine. Plus, there’s one for every hair type: treating gray hair, damaged hair and dandruff.

Enter sulfate shampoos — the select bottles with a “clean” backing and a reputation for gently cleansing the hair.

“Sulfate-free shampoos clean gently with little to no lathering,” Amy Abramite, creative director and stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, told the New York Post. “Benefits are moisture and natural oil retention for healthy hair and scalp. They also extend color or keratin services by not stripping hair as much as a traditional shampoo.”

After months of testing, I corralled the 23 best ones below for you to shop (and, each one is explained pretty much verbatim to how I FaceTime my friends to unveil why a certain shampoo is a “must buy”).

Spoiler alert: all of the ones below have been shared to and with my loved ones, no questions asked.

What are sulfates?

First things first — what are sulfates, and why is everyone talking about them?

According to Abramite, sulfates are detergents in shampoos that eliminate dirt, oil and styling products. “They are responsible for the foaming lather and bubbles that clean the hair and scalp,” she told The Post. “For some, sulfates can be irritating to the scalp or too drying leaving hair frizzy with skin discomfort.”

In contrast to traditional shampoo, a sulfate-free shampoo lathers less with a gentler wash to maintain more natural oil. “This helps cut down on the frizz factor because the hair and scalp is more hydrated,” Abramite adds. 

What are parabens?

“Parabens are preservatives in haircare products that extend the shelf life by stopping bacterial growth,” Abramite explains. In contrast to sulfate-free shampoos, formulations without paraben-free accreditation tend to be a bit more stripping on the hair when used too much.

How often should I use a sulfate-free shampoo?

“Most use a traditional and sulfate-free shampoo in an alternating wash cycle,” Abramite explains. “A sulfate-free shampoo can be used as often as necessary as long as the hair feels clean and not weighed down by buildup” (and, if too much residue occurs, a traditional shampoo can be substituted until the hair feels deeply cleansed, per Abramite).

How we tested

After reviewing dozens of shampoos for at least three months (with the lion’s share of products vigorously tested for as much as three years), I found myself movin’ and groovin’ to a rote rhythm and process. Here’s the criteria I used when testing each one:

  • Viscosity: Before I scare you off with a highly scientific term, this point simply refers to how thick or lightweight the formulation felt in my hands (and then, my hair) once emitted from the tube. Any formulations that were incredibly thick or, on the flipside, far too runny, didn’t make the cut.
  • Scent: Whether a shampoo costs $1 or $100, if it doesn’t smell good — it’s not worth it, IMHO. I made sure to point out which scents instantly transported me to a salon, among all the sulfate-free shampoos that made the cut.
  • Longevity: Of course, how often you wash your hair is dependent on your hair type and thickness. However, I had a confident understanding of which ones seemed to make my hair flat after using a blow-dryer brush to style and which ones held the blowout for at least two days.

On another note, my hair isn’t color-treated. Interestingly enough, I had a hair gloss treatment done on my hair shortly before long-term testing of these shampoos to have a better sense of how they work. Because sulfate-free shampoos are said to help preserve your hair’s color, they tend to work best on color-treated hair and hair that has undergone certain hair treatments, like glazes or glosses.

But, here’s the most important thing I learned, and swear by: you should always rotate your shampoos. My theory (that has seemed to work for years) is to alternate with a sulfate-free shampoo and one with sulfates in it, and then to keep the cycle going. Using a sulfate-free shampoo ad nauseam can dry out your hair, so keep that in mind. Overall, I swear by all of the formulations below and they’re continually on rotation on my shower shelf.

For more, check out our expert-backed reviews to the best dry shampoos, hair conditioners, hair mousses, hair sprays, and leave-in conditioners.

Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos Review


14th Night The Nourishing Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: 14th Night The Nourishing Conditioner ($48)

Once you try the 14th Night The Nourishing Shampoo, you’ll never go back. Kickstarted by a former Vogue beauty expert, this luxury beauty brand has the most delightfully warm scent that integrates pomegranate seed, argan oil, sweet almond, quinoa and pea peptides — a true testament to its “nourishing” name.

The best part? Once you squeeze the shampoo out of its bottle, you’ll find the formulation glistens (and your hair yields the same result). In short, it’s an Amazon beauty product 100% worth the purchase.

Act + Acre Cold Processed Hair Cleanse

  • Pairs well with: Act + Acre Cold Processed Hair Conditioner ($32)

I stumbled upon Act + Acre on Sephora’s website, as the brand was recently added to the retailer’s glossy repertoire. No joke, after using this for the first time, I thought, this completely refreshed my hair. As someone who sometimes experiences dry scalp and product buildup, this is the detox in the bottle that should always be on hand. Not to mention, it smells like a greens smoothie.

For a product that’s void of sulfates, I was impressed by it’s ability to leave my hair hydrated yet refreshed. Say bye-bye to dull hair after using this formulation. Pro tip: pick up its 3% Stem Cell Peptide Scalp Treatment ($120) for an extra boost; though a splurge, it’s my favorite product Act + Acre has dished out.

adwoa beauty Blue Tansy Clarifying Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: adwoa beauty Blue Tansy Reparative Conditioner ($25)

I’ve been using the adwoa beauty Blue Tansy Clarifying Shampoo for years, and it’s one of the best clarifying shampoos I’ve tried. Its gel-like consistency impressively transforms into a sudsy scalp exfoliator, helping to rid your hair of any product buildup from hair mousses and hair sprays you’ve used throughout the week.

It has a barely recognizable scent, which is especially advantageous for more sensitive skin, and is always a nice refresh to use. For only $25 on Amazon and Sephora, it’s one I recommend. However, use this one sparingly as it’s a clarifying shampoo; once or twice a month will do the trick.

amika Mirrorball High Shine + Protect Antioxidant Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: amika Mirrorball High Shine + Protect Antioxidant Conditioner ($25)

If you’re a beauty lover, it only takes one scroll on Instagram or TikTok to understand the brand prestige amika holds. Its Mirrorball High Shine + Protect Antioxidant Shampoo is one of its newer haircare launches and my absolute favorite one yet.

It’s one of the best sulfate-free shampoos I’ve used to help control frizz, the caveat being that it may leave your hair a bit flat with overuse. I recommend this for its delightful scent and gentle cleanse, so long as you make sure to rotate it in your haircare routine with a shampoo containing sulfates to help balance out your hair cleansing.

Aveda botanical repair Strengthening Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Aveda botanical repair Strengthening Conditioner ($46)

Whenever a shampoo claims to repair damage or repair bonds, I’m always hesitant to use it (partly because my hair isn’t “damaged” nor is it too tangled or thick). However, the Aveda botanical repair Strengthening Shampoo is an exception, especially because its plant-powered goodness enlivened my hair strands once I styled it and remained intact for two to three days thereafter.

Not to mention, it contains the brand’s patented pure-fume aroma with certified organic ylang-ylang, rose and marjoram and other pure flower and plant essences.

Cake Beauty The Curl Girl Curl Enhancing Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Cake Beauty The Curl Next Door Curl Enhancing Conditioner ($8)

If you have curly hair and you’re on a budget, the Cake Beauty The Curl Girl Curl Enhancing Shampoo is the formulation for you. Above all else, its ability to gently cleanse the hair while leaving it soft and virtually frizz-free is second to none. Whenever I use this one, I hardly have to use any styling products afterward because of how well it helps define my natural waves and curly front pieces of hair.

dae Signature Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: dae Signature Conditioner ($26)

The dae Signature Shampoo has been a staple in my shampoo collection for years — and one of the first formulations I tried that made me feel like I was scrubbing a salon-scented cleanser into my scalp. It’s especially great for days where your hair is becoming noticeably oily or greasy and it doesn’t make your hair feel dull or dry.

Aside from its efficacy in helping to remove buildup and gently cleanse (as a good sulfate-free shampoo should), its blend of hibiscus flower extract, false daisy extract and moringa seed oil are a trifecta of haircare goodness.

Divi Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Divi Conditioner ($32)

Behold, one of the best shampoos I’ve ever used for a fresher-than-ever cleanse: the Divi Shampoo. I don’t know about you, but mint-scented shampoos are my jam (in all honesty, is there a scent that makes you feel cleaner?) and this one — especially with the brand’s viral Scalp Serum ($43) — is a phenomenal product.

What’s more, it’s formulated with a unique blend of amino acids that help strengthen the hair, along with helping to reduce frizz and fight breakage. You’ll also appreciate the soothing after-effects of included ingredient tea tree oil.

Drunk Elephant Cocomino Glossing Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Drunk Elephant Cocomino Marula Cream Conditioner ($27)

If there’s a shampoo you should act fast on, it’s the Drunk Elephant Cocomino Glossing Shampoo. It’s currently sold out on Drunk Elephant’s website and at Sephora, but is still available on Amazon and at Kohl’s.

Why hurry? If you love silky smooth, glossy results — especially great if you love defining your long layers or slicking back your hair after a day or two of unwashed hair — this less-than-$30 treatment will be your BFF. Plus, it’s lightweight when squeezed out of its bottle and doesn’t weigh down your hair.

Gisou Honey Infused Hair Wash

  • Pairs well with: Gisou Honey Infused Conditioner ($34)

Transparently, the Gisou Honey Infused Hair Wash is one I didn’t fall in love with at first. However, with continuous testing, I realized it’s a sulfate-free shampoo worth the buy, simply because it’s extremely gentle and soaks into your scalp well. Plus, its honey scent is to die for.

Alongside the brand’s Honey Infused Hair Oil ($46 to $87) and Honey Infused Leave-In Conditioner ($34), your hair will be on track to the best soothing state imaginable. Plus, it’s one of the best value buys for the money, considering the size of the pump bottle.

JVN Embody Daily Volumizing Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: JVN Embody Volumizing Conditioner ($19)

JVN from “Queer Eye” never disappoints, and his Embody Daily Volumizing Shampoo is one to try if you haven’t already. It’s relatively affordable, considering it’s hailing from a celebrity beauty brand, and it’s one of the best ones I’ve used to target fullness and volume, specifically (so yes, it’s name is right on the money).

Uniquely, it combines caffeine and aloe leaf juice for bounce, soothing properties and a natural shine and carries with it a pleasing scent blend of sandalwood and amber.

L’Oreal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Color Care System Bond Repair Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: L’Oreal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Color Care System Bond Repair Conditioner ($9)

Don’t sleep on the L’Oreal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Color Care System Bond Repair Shampoo — it may be less than $10, but it doesn’t compromise quality. In fact, it smells on-par (and, subjectively, better) than some shampoos I’ve tried that are upwards of $50).

You won’t believe how soft and vivacious your hair will feel after only one use of this formulation. My hair benefited from its “reset effect” (what I call it, anyway) when my hair was really not having a good hair day for one week straight and my ends were needing some serious TLC.

KERASILK Smoothing Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: KERASILK Smoothing Conditioner ($34)

The KERASILK Smoothing Shampoo is the ideal lightweight sulfate-free shampoo on this list that scrubs into your hair like a cloud and smells like a lovely lavender bath. As its name suggests, its smoothing properties are what makes it shine — and, as a result, your hair shine, too — and you’ll appreciate its travel-friendly bottle that I find myself stashing in my duffle bag for weekend trips.

Moroccanoil Hydrating Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner ($25)

Moroccanoil is the one brand I can say, with confidence, I haven’t heard a single person say poor things about. Whether it’s my hairdresser, my boyfriend’s mom, a fellow beauty lover or someone on TikTok, Moroccanoil is always touted with the highest praise — and yes, I do bow down to the brand, too.

Its Hydrating Shampoo is one of the best in class, thanks to its tropical-leaning smell, hair-thickening feel and incredibly soft and bouncy finish. With the brand’s All-in-One Leave-In Conditioner ($30), you’re golden.

For more, check out our Moroccanoil 4-in-1 Blow-Dryer Brush review (it’s simply the best).

Nutrafol Root Purifier Scalp Microbiome Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Nutrafol Strand Defender Lightweight Protective Conditioner ($44)

Nutrafol started out as a hair growth supplements brand that has amassed a near-cult following when used consistently. So, when it unveiled a Root Purifier Scalp Microbiome Shampoo, I was all in.

Even if hair growth isn’t your primary focus or goal, everyone can pretty much benefit from a little boost now and then, right? Its prioritization of hair health starts with its ingredient list — vegan protein, prebiotics and a biosurfectant that gently lathers without stripping — which made me feel like I was receiving a thoughtfully curated formulation when using it. After using this shampoo for about two weeks, I noticed a difference in the quality and thickness of my hair.

Odele Volumizing Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Odele Volumizing Conditioner ($12)

I tell so many people IRL to purchase the Odele Volumizing Shampoo. For the gargantuan bottle, fresh scent and less-than-$15 price tag, you simply can’t go wrong. It never weighs down my hair, looks nice on your shower shelf (a #bonus if there ever was one) and helped my roots look vivacious and healthy whenever I would blow dry my hair.

OGX Nourishing+ Coconut Milk Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: OGX Nourishing+ Coconut Milk Conditioner ($6)

After months of using the OGX Nourishing+ Coconut Milk Shampoo, I still can’t believe it’s less than $10. If you love the scent of coconuts, that’ll draw you to this product, most of all. While it’s a gentle-cleansing, sulfate-free shampoo, it’s not one I use too regularly. But, I do think it’s effective, a great option if you’re on a budget and a wonderful solution to the question, What’s a quick way to make my hair smell good?

OUAI Medium Hair Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: OUAI Medium Hair Conditioner ($32)

I still remember the day I first tried OUAI. The honest truth? My jaw dropped as I was blow drying my hair because it was leaving my hair frizz-free and unbelievably soft. Its Medium Hair Shampoo is a great option for me (side note: the brand also carries shampoos for fine and thick hair, too) and is a miracle-worker when used with the brand’s Leave-In Conditioner ($30). Buy now, thank me later.

Raw Sugar Living The Grow Pro Vegan Biotin Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Raw Sugar Living The Grow Pro Vegan Biotin Conditioner ($12)

The Raw Sugar Living The Grow Pro Vegan Biotin Shampoo is another affordable shampoo that’s void of sulfates, smells fruity and fresh and is a sharp solution for thinner hair that you want to render in to a fuller state. You can opt to buy a two-pack on Amazon for less than $25 (a surefire score) or pick it up from the brand’s website or at Target as well.

If you’ve been concerned with subtle hair shedding or hair loss, I find that this sulfate-free shampoo is a wonderful option. I don’t find much shedding when I’m in the shower or comb through my hair afterward, and it’s something I noticed right off the bat.

Redken Frizz Dismiss Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: Redken Frizz Dismiss Conditioner ($25)

It’s taken me quite a while to hop on the Redken bandwagon, but I’m so happy I did. The Redken Frizz Dismiss Shampoo is one of the best to remove frizz (and when I say remove frizz, I basically mean to remove all frizz).

However, like the amika Mirrorball High Shine + Protect Antioxidant Shampoo on this list, it tends to leave the hair flat with overuse, so be sure to integrate it with other sulfate-containing shampoos and treatments. Aside from that, its fresh scent and hydrating charm make it worth the buy.

amika Normcore Signature Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: amika Normcore Signature Conditioner ($23)

The amika Normcore Signature Shampoo has remained one of my all-time favorite shampoos for years. Seriously, I was using it a little too much (though there’s nothing wrong with sticking to a product you love — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).

Like all of the brand’s products, it’s beloved for its alluring scent you can’t help but love. It’s a product you simply have to try at least once and is incredible when followed with amika’s Soulfood Nourishing Mask ($30) every once in a while.

JVN Nurture Hydrating Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: JVN Nurture Hydrating Conditioner ($21)

Ah, the JVN Nurture Hydrating Shampoo is one we need a moment to discuss. I always use it with the brand’s Nurture Intense Hydration Mask ($34) and the combo is undoubtedly my favorite duo when my hair is feeling so dry, I don’t know what to do with it.

Fun fact: I had the opportunity to speak with JVN in person about this shampoo ( a real pinch-me moment, especially as a full-time beauty product tester) and he said it was formulated with keratin alternatives and amino acids to naturally lift up and moisturize the hair. Genius.

L’Oreal Paris Ever Pure Sulfate-Free Moisture Shampoo

  • Pairs well with: L’Oreal Paris Ever Pure Sulfate-Free Moisture Conditioner ($10)

I’ll just come out and say it — the L’Oreal Paris Ever Pure Sulfate-Free Moisture Shampoo is my favorite drugstore shampoo. Once you smell it, disperse it and scrub it into your hair, you’ll feel like you’re using a luxury treatment on your hair (#addtocart), and its addition of rosemary is a nice touch. Though more research has to be had, the herb is said to be a catalyst for hair growth.