If you have dry or sensitive scalp, you may benefit from a sulfate free shampoo. Numerous cosmetics and cleaning products contain sulfate in different forms as a foaming agent. Some of these forms are irritants and may even cause contact dermatitis.
Quick reference list
Below is a quick reference list of my top selections of safe shampoos for different hair types and conditions. Criteria for inclusion in this list are –
- Safe detergents – no sulfate salts, Cocamidopropyl Betaine or Sodium Olefin Sulfonate, all are known to be allergenic, irritating, and might contain unsafe contaminants.
- No parabens or other possibly harmful preservatives. Read more about shampoo preservatives.
- No undisclosed fragrance or color
- High user ratings.
|Purpose||My Top Choice||Comments|
NaturOli Soap Nut
|Very gentle, safe ingredients.|
|Shampoo for kids|
Mixed Chicks Kids Shampoo
|Simple and functional. Does the job!|
|Shampoo for babies|
Burts Bees Baby Bee Shampoo
|Gentle, safe and tear free.|
|Color treated shampoo|
Neuma ReNeu Shampoo
|In addition to gentle cleaning and restoration, this shampoo also contains sunscreen to extend color life time.|
|Keratin treated shampoo|
Miessence Desert Flower Shampoo
|Truly 100% all-natural ingredients. Safe for chemically treated hair, and all hair types. Highly moisturizing for Dry hair. Read more about shampoo for keratin treated hair|
Clairol Shimmer Lights
|Purple shampoo to remove extra tint. Good for hair, messy in the shower! Read more about gray hair shampoo|
|Contains several anti-dandruff ingredients - Ketoconazole, zinc oxide and salicylic acid. Read more about dandruff shampoo|
Pura d’or shampoo
|Synthetic and natural DHT blockers, natural moisturizers and hair conditioners. Read more about hair loss shampoo here.|
Avalon Organics Thickening Shampoo
|Gentle, while thickening and adding volume|
Lemon Tea Tree Shampoo by Desert Essence
|Contains mild detergents to clean and natural astrigents to slow down sebum production. Removes oil without drying. Read more about oily hair shampoo|
Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo
|The list of ingredients is great, although some people didn't like the scent.|
Forms of sulfate that are found in shampoo
In order to find a shampoo without sulfate, you should recognize the different forms in which sulfate may appear on the label.
Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) is the major sulfate forms found in shampoos. I’ve looked at 3 different shampoo products in my house hold and they all had Sodium Laureth Sulfate as the second ingredient after water in the ingredient list. Ingredients in the list are ordered in descending order of concentration, thus SLES is the most predominant chemical in those shampoos. Check out the shampoos in your household and see what you find.
Because SLES is a detergent, it is useful for removing oily residues that are not soluble in water it is very common in soaps, shampoos, cosmetics and also cleaning products. This action, however, may cause additional drying of the hair and the scalp skin. Additional sulfate containing detergents that you may find in shampoos are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Myreth Sulfate or TEA Laureth Sulfate. All of these are doing the same job as SLES, but some of them are slightly gentler on the skin. Yet, if you have sensitive skin, consider using a sulfate free shampoo. Safety information about most of these common shampoo ingredients can be found at Skin Deep Cosmetics Database.
You may sometimes find shampoo that is marketed as SLS free shampoo. Make sure it does not contain other forms of sulfate instead of SLS or SLES.
Reasons to include sulfates in shampoo, and reasons to avoid them
Why do shampoo brands include sulfate detergents in shampoo?
- Price. These detergents are cheap to produce. Alternative, milder detergents are more expensive to produce and will increase the price of the final product. This is the reason it is difficult to find an inexpensive sulfate free shampoo.
- Function. These detergents are very efficient at cleaning oily and dirty hair.
- Foam. Sulfate detergents are excellent lathering reagents. They form a lot of suds, which is what we are used to expect from our shampoos. If you choose to use shampoo that does not contain sulfates, you will most probably get significantly less lathering than what you are used to.
What are the reasons to avoid sulfate detergents?
- Irritation. Sulfate detergents cause skin irritation for some people. Not everyone is sensitive to them, but if your scalp is itch, and you don’t have other scalp problems, using sulfate free shampoo may help.
- Unsafe contaminants. Low levels of 1,4 Dioxane may be found in sulfate containing shampoo. This chemical is a probably carcinogen, and is a by-product of the production process of sulfate detergents. Trace levels of this chemical are found in up to 46% of personal care products tested.
Who should use sulfate free shampoo?
Because sulfate is an irritant use a shampoo that does not contain sulfate if
- You have a sensitive skin such as eczema.
- You have dry hair.
- You are experiencing hair loss.
- You dye your hair and would like to maintain the color un-faded for a longer time.
Where can you find sulfate free hair products?
Sulfate free shampoo and conditioner are pretty common nowadays. You can find them in the drugstore, grocery store or online. You can also find them in whole food specialty stores or in beauty salons. When looking for sulfate free hair products make sure the label clearly says “sulfate free”. It is also recommended to look at the ingredient list and check that there are no other forms of sulfates. Sometimes, a product that is labeled “sulfate free” may not contain SLES or SLS, but may contain another form of sulfate. Organic products are more likely to avoid using additional harsh chemicals that may cause skin irritation.
Online retailer that carry sulfate free shampoo and conditioner
Major sulfate free shampoo brands
Some of the major cosmetics brands are making sulfate free hair products. These include L’oreal and Aveeno for example. However, some brands specialize in sulfate free products. These sulfate free shampoo brands often include organic or vegan ingredients and are often also environmentally conscience. Sulfate free shampoo brands include –
- Pureology market their products mostly for colored hair. Products contain anti-oxidants and UVA/UVB sunscreen to protect colored hair from fading. Shampoo products by this brand include – Hydrate and Precious Oil product lines, among others, that are using their “ZeroSulfate” formulations. Unfortunately, although alternative detergents in these shampoos are gentler on hair dye, some of them are not much safer to use than sulfate detergents. Although Pureology claim their products are 100% vegan, these products are mostly made of synthetic ingredients, not all of them are safe, and only little addition of plant extracts, often for fragrance.
- Fundamental Earth have a natural shampoo, that is based on plant extracts. The detergents are saponified olive oil and coconut oil, that cause rich leather and allow cleaning, without the irritation that often accompanies sulfate-based and many other chemically synthesized detergents.
- DermOrganic produce organic hair and skin care products that contain the valuable Argan oil. This rare oil comes from trees grown only in the southwest desert of Morocco, and is produced by cold pressing the seeds.
- John Masters Organics produce sulfate free hair care, skin care and body care organic products. Their products contain mild surfactants and are mostly based on organic ingredients, with very few synthetic or chemically processed ingredients.
- Jonathan Product produces hair care products that are “FREE of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, gluten and mineral oil. 100% vegan”. Their products contain botanicals such as natural oils, exotic butters, vitamin rich fruit, plant and sea extracts to generate products to help maintain great looking, easily manageable and healthy hair.
- Kiss My Face – all shampoos from this company contain no sulfate. These are designed for everyday use (Whenever shampoo), for increased volume (Big Body Shampoo), and for damaged or dry hair (Mistreated Shampoo). All products produced by Kiss My Face contain mostly natural products.
- DevaCurl products are designed to treat curly and damaged hair and are all 100% sulfate, paraben and silicone free. Their hair products are enriched with Vitamin C, orange peel extract and citrus oil to nurture curly or damaged hair. Makes DevaCare Low-Poo Cleanser.
- WEN cleansing conditioners are another way to clean your hair with a sulfate free product. Their system essentially uses the conditioner itself to achieve the cleaning function of a shampoo, coupled with the conditioning function of softening, strengthening and moisturizing. The surfactant in these product is an extremely gentle non-ionic detergent, thus there is no foaming when using these products.