To help us provide you with free impartial advice, we may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more

Best sulphate-free shampoo 2023: Fewer chemicals, better hair

For long-lasting hair colour and to protect delicate hair from moisture loss, our pick of the best sulphate-free shampoos work a treat

You may have noticed a trend in recent years towards shampoos and other hair-care products being produced without sulphates. Sulphates, such as sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), are a cleansing agent often used in soaps, shower gels and shampoos to create a creamy, foaming lather that helps lift dirt and grease.

On many hair types, sulphates cause no issues at all; but it’s a different story for those with delicate scalps, damaged or colour-treated hair. In this instance, these foaming ingredients can prove drying, and can also strip dyed hair of its new colour. The Curly Girl method of caring for naturally curly hair (more on that below) also recommends that you avoid shampoos and conditioners containing sulphates. For these reasons, you’ll find an increasing number of alternative formulas available to gently cleanse and care for hair that are void of sulphates.

Read on for our guide to choosing the best sulphate-free shampoos for your hair type and texture, after which you can discover our favourite sulphate-free shampoos for every budget.

Best sulphate-free shampoos: At a glance

How to choose the best sulphate-free shampoo for you

What are sulphates?

Sulphates are a group of chemicals known as surfactants – ingredients that bind to oil to help remove sticky, greasy dirt and sebum and lift it away into water. They also create that distinctive bubbly lather you’ll find in hair, body and household cleansers from shampoos and bubble bath to washing-up liquid.

Sulphates aren’t necessarily the enemy. In fact, some hair and scalp types will actively benefit at least an occasional wash with a lathering sulphate-based shampoo to remove large amounts of grease, dirt or product build-up. However, their effectiveness can often result in stripping the hair’s natural moisture, which can be a concern for those with hair that’s already dehydrated. For those who colour their hair, the lather can also lift away dye, especially from the roots where we most often shampoo first.

READ NEXT: The best hair dryers to buy

How do sulphate-free shampoos cleanse hair?

Instead of using foaming surfactants, sulphate-free shampoos often use natural seed and plant oils (coconut oil is a common ingredient) and amino acids to gently coax dirt away from the surface of the hair. 

Note that sulphate-free shampoos will create very little foam, so, if you’re used to lathering up your shampoo in the shower, this may feel very different to begin. To use your sulphate-free shampoo, you’ll need to work the product into hair a little more physically, taking your time to massage the shampoo into roots and mids, and rinsing out carefully thereafter. You may also find that two applications of sulphate-free shampoo are required to achieve a more “clean” feel. Similar to double-cleansing the skin, the first application will remove dirt and product buildup, while the second will cleanse away any remaining residue.

If you use a lot of styling products, then you may find you still need an occasional wash with a regular sulphate-containing shampoo to remove any stubborn buildup.

Should I avoid sulphates in my haircare?

Some hair types naturally tend to dryness; this can be true of fine hair, as well as curly and coily hair, where the spiral in each hair shaft can leave the hair cuticle open, causing natural moisture to escape from the hair. For this reason, the Curly Girl method recommends avoiding sulphates in shampoo and other haircare products altogether.

Bleached and chemically straightened hair can also be dryer after processing. If you find sulphate-containing shampoos leave your hair feeling dry and frizzy, you might like to try switching to a gentler sulphate-free shampoo. Dyed and colour-treated hair will prefer washing with a low-lather sulphate-free shampoo that won’t strip dye molecules from the hair, and so will help preserve the colour for longer.

Delicate scalps can also benefit from sulphate-free shampoos. If you suffer from eczema or a sensitive, flaky scalp, a sulphate-free shampoo may prove kinder to your scalp. Note that young children are unlikely to need the strong cleansing of a sulphate-based shampoo, making a sulphate-free option better for delicate young skin.

How we test sulphate-free shampoos

At Expert Reviews, we know that the best way to test a product is to use it ourselves. As such, we test all the sulphate-free shampoos we review by using each formula on our own Type 3 hair – and, where possible, we also test on a second hair type.

We start by considering each formula’s active ingredients and the method of cleansing, and note whether a shampoo is free of silicones and parabens. Following the directions of use accurately, we assess the feel of the hair immediately after use and once hair has dried naturally, noting the cleanliness of the hair and scalp (some low-lather shampoos may require two washes for a fully clean feeling). As well as taking into account the amount of product required for one wash, we consider how soft and smooth the hair feels – plus the shine and its condition – on the day of use and the day after. Finally, we review the scent and overall pleasantness of each formula.

READ NEXT: Best oil for hair growth

Best sulphate-free shampoos you can buy in 2023

1. OGX Damage Remedy+ Coconut Miracle Oil Shampoo: Best sulphate-free shampoo for curly hair

Price when reviewed: £7.99 | Check price at Boots Coconut oil is a popular ingredient in products made for curly hair, since it both cleanses and adds vital moisture without weighing down delicate curls. This strengthening and repairing shampoo from stylist-led brand OGX has a wonderful fresh coconut fragrance and leaves curly hair soft, silky and full of bounce.

Although it feels thick in the bottle, OGX’s shampoo achieves a rich, gentle lather that will leave the hair and scalp feeling clean and refreshed. Sulphate- and paraben-free, Coconut Miracle is an excellent value choice for dehydrated hair in need of some extra care. Follow with the conditioner in the same range for a nourishing boost of moisture.

Key details – Bottle size: 385ml

2. Pureology Hydrate shampoo: Best sulphate-free shampoo for dry hair

Price when reviewed: £19 | Check price at LookfantasticIf your hair is feeling a little parched, Pureology’s hydrating shampoo with calming sage, green tea and nourishing jojoba oil could be just the ticket. The rich and creamy vegan formula is gentle enough to be used multiple times a week, and it does a great job at cleansing the scalp and hydrating hair. Work the deliciously lavender-scented shampoo through the lengths and ends for hydrated hair that’s shiny and full of life.

Hydrate shampoo is also colour-safe and perfect for use on bleached and coloured tresses that need an extra bit of moisture. For even more hydration and shine, follow with the counterpart conditioner.

Key details – Bottle size: 266ml

3. Kérastase Discipline Bain Fluidealiste Shampoo: Best sulphate-free shampoo for colour-treated hair

Price when reviewed: £22 | Check price at Amazon Kérastase’s colour-safe and nourishing shampoo will moisturise and strengthen coloured hair, helping to seal the hair cuticle to keep hair smooth, shiny and frizz-free – even in humid weather. The shampoo has a light, floral fragrance and contains pro-keratin to strengthen hair from the inside out.

With its gentle, creamy lather that leaves hair feeling soft, shiny and cared-for, it’s a great option for hair that’s been colour-treated and is in need of a little extra TLC. One wash leaves hair feeling clean for at least a couple of days, so Bain Fluidealiste is also great for dryer hair if you’re looking to reduce the number of days in the week you wash your hair.

Key details – Bottle size: 250ml

4. Childs Farm Shampoo Strawberry & Organic Mint: Best sulphate-free shampoo for children

Price when reviewed: £4.50 | Check price at BootsThis luscious-smelling shampoo with strawberry and mint is suitable for all hair types, including delicate baby hair and scalps. The gentle formula with natural corn and coconut oils cleanses, softens and detangles hair. Suitable for even the most sensitive and eczema-prone skins, Childs Farm’s shampoo is free of parabens, artificial colour and fragrance, and it won’t cause tears if a splash gets into eyes. Hair feels soft and clean after washing, and easy to brush or comb. Follow with the light conditioner for extra detangling power.

Key details – Bottle size: 250ml

Check price at Boots

5. Bouclème Curl Cleanser: Best sulphate-free shampoo for afro-textured hair

Price when reviewed: £15 | Check price at Boots Formulated specifically for Type 3 and 4 coils, Bouclème’s all-natural hair cleanser is made with sea-salt, nourishing coconut and argan oils, and hydrating aloe vera water to gently cleanse without stripping curly hair’s natural oils. The cleansing wash is silicone- and sulphate-free and suitable for the Curly Girl method of haircare.

Creamy and non-foaming like a co-wash product, Bouclème’s hair cleanser refreshes the scalp and leaves hair feeling soft, glossy and tangle-free – and without any hint of stickiness. Follow with Bouclème’s curl conditioner and curl cream for maximum hydration and bouncy results.

Key details – Bottle size: 300ml

6. Ethique Sorbet Solid Shampoo Bar: Best sulphate-free solid shampoo

Price when reviewed: £12 | Check price at EthiqueNew Zealand-based beauty company Ethique has been carbon neutral and working to reduce plastic waste worldwide since 2012. The company is celebrating its 10th birthday this year with this delicious-smelling solid bar shampoo.

The Sorbet solid shampoo bar is formulated with nourishing mango butter, peach kernel oil and strengthening rice protein and is suitable for normal to dry hair. It leaves hair soft, shiny and with a delightful fruity scent.

Key details – Pack size: 110g

Check price at Ethique

7. Ffør Re:Balance Shampoo: Best sulphate-free shampoo for sensitive, flaky scalps

Price when reviewed: £18 | Check price at Ffør

If you have a sensitive scalp that’s prone to irritation, flaking and itching, this calming shampoo from sustainable hair-care brand Ffør is great for gentle cleansing that will reduce inflammation and rebalance the scalp’s natural production of sebum. A soothing combination of natural peppermint and lemongrass is great for reducing irritation, while natural sunflower seed oil nourishes the scalp. The shampoo lathers gently and leaves the scalp with a pleasant tingling sensation and fresh, minty fragrance.

To use, apply a handful to wet hair and massage thoroughly through to ends, then rinse and follow with a gentle conditioner. Ffør’s products are vegan, cruelty-free and sustainably packaged, so you can feel good about doing your bit for the planet as well as caring for your hair and scalp.

Key details – Bottle size: 300ml

Check price at Ffør

Read more

Best Buys