Best shampoo for oily hair – with or without sulfate?

Oily hair is a problem that many of us face. When the hair is greasy, it looks dull and dirty, and is more difficult to style. In addition to the unappealing appearance, oily hair may also increase the chances that your scalp would get infected by harmful organisms and eventually cause other scalp problems such as dandruff or acne. Normally we can remove the grease with a shampoo that contains a detergent. The detergent binds to the grease, and can be easily washed with water. The most common shampoo detergents are sulfate-based (such as SLS and SLES). These are very effective in removing oil from the hair, but are also irritants for some people. Should you consider a sulfate-free alternative for cleaning your oily hair? The best shampoo for oily hair should be useful in cleaning the hair without drying the hair or the scalp. 

What are the reasons for oily hair?

best shampoo for oily hairOverproduction of sebum by the sebaceous gland is the direct reason for oily hair. Sebum is the oily residue that is produced by the skin to serve as a barrier between the body and the environment. This is a good thing, when it is in the correct amount. It protects the body from infections, and some say that it is also used as a natural (partial of course) sunscreen. When sebum is produced in too large amounts, it may act in an opposite way and attract pathogens that cause diseases, such as acne.

Sebum production is regulated by hormones in the body (Tóth et al.). Hence, factors such as life-style, nutrition, age, and other such variables affecting our general health, eventually effect sebum production and the way our skin and hair look.

What are the remedies for oily hair?

If your hair is naturally oily, you can directly affect oil production by changing your lifestyle. Eat better, sleep better, be more relaxed etc. This advice is of course difficult to follow, and I’m guessing you already know that anyway. For a quicker, easier but only short term fixes here are a few tips.

  1. Avoid stripping down your hair from oil – this is counter-intuitive, but removing too much oil will encourage additional oil production.
    1. Use milder shampoo.
    2. Avoid shampooing your hair daily.
    3. Avoid too synthetic moisturizers and conditioners in your shampoo – these will make your hair appear greasier then it really is. Natural moisturizers such as Aloe vera gel and Aragan oil normally do not have this effect.
    4. Use shampoo that contains gentle astringents – these are chemicals that constrict the pores on the scalp, reducing oil release.
    5. Some people recommend dabbing your hair with some baby powder (talcum) to absorb excess oil. If you do so, make sure the white residue doesn’t show on your hair.
    6. Avoid styling products that make your hair “look” oily – these include gels and sprays that make your hair shiny.

Shampoo with or without sulfates?

Sulfate pros

  1. Effective in removing oils from hair.
  2. Lots of suds give nice feeling of cleaning.
  3. Some alternative detergents may be worse. Choose your shampoo carefully.

Sulfate cons

  1. May be too strong, stripping hair from necessary sebum.
  2. Irritant or allergenic for some users.

What is the best shampoo for oily hair?

Reading the list above, we now know that we are looking for a shampoo that has mild detergent, gentle astringents and contain little to no synthetic moisturizers or conditioners. Normally, sulfate detergents are very strong, maybe too strong for our purpose. Let’s look for sulfate-free shampoos, with milder surfactants. My two recommendations are below, but you may need to try several products before you find the best product for you.

Maple Holistics Degrease moisture control shampoo – is reported to actually treat the scalp, and reduce sebum production. It contains mild detergents – Cocamide DEA and Cocamidopropyl Betaine. This shampoo gets excellent reviews from users, but keep in mind that none of the two detergents in this shampoo is completely safe. Some people may be allergic to Cocamidopropyl Betaine. Although this shampoo contains the natural moisturizers Jojoba and Argan Oils, they do not cause increase in oil production or oily look of the hair, and they are very beneficial for the health and natural shine of the hair. Astrigents in this shampoo include lemon oil and French Cypress. Overall, this shampoo is my top recommendation for oily hair, and should be safe for most people.

Lemon Tea Tree Shampoo by Desert Essence is another excellent organic option. This shampoo uses extremely mild detergents – Coco-Glucoside, Sodium Coco-Sulfate, Lauryl Glucoside, and Decyl Glucoside, all of them safe to use with no concerns for allergic reaction, irritation of contamination with unsafe by-products. This shampoo does not foam as much as your normal shampoo because the combination of these mild detergents. As with the Maple Holistics shampoo, this shampoo contains Lemon peel extract which is an astringent. This shampoo also contains two fairly strong moisturizers – Aloe vera gel and plant-derived glycerin. Some people with oily hair may have a problem with this large amount of moisturizers. Overall, this shampoo is certified organic and contains several very beneficial natural oils such as the tea tree oil and lemon tea tree oil to prevent dandruff or bacterial acne, and remove excess oils from the scalp.

What is your favorite shampoo for oily hair?

5 thoughts on “Best shampoo for oily hair – with or without sulfate?

    1. Joleen

      I am looking for a mild, well cleaning and non oily shampoo too. In my experience, glycerin and aloe vera are nasty ingredients for fine hair that gets oily quickly. They make my hair look even more greasy and give a droopy feel that makes me want to wash it again to get the stuff out of it as soon as possible…
      I wonder were too look for a shampoo with mild detergents that still does a good cleaning job and doesn’t contain oils and moisturizers that my hair doesn’t need…

  1. Juan Patchen

    When I originally commented I clicked the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get four emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove me from that service? Thanks!
    Spot on with this write-up, I truly think this website needs much more consideration. I’ll probably be again to read much more, thanks for that info.

  2. Joyce

    Sodium coco sulfate in Lemon Tea Tree Shampoo. Doesn’t this disqualify it from the sulfate-free shampoo list?
    I’ve had keratin treatment, so I really need to watch out for those sulfates.


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