The trick to using sulfate-free shampoos… and my top 5 picks

sulfate-free shampoo, sulphate-free shampoos, Kiehl's Sunflower Color Preserving Shampoo, John Masters Organics Evening Primrose Shampoo for Dry Hair, David Babaii for WildAid Hydrating Moisturizing Shampoo, L'Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Volume Shampoo, MoroccanOil Moisture Repair Shampoo

Maybe I’m an idiot, because after attempting to use sulfate-free shampoos, oh, I don’t know—a dozen times?—I never could figure out the big deal about them… let alone why they were allowed on store shelves.

Let me explain: sulfates are bad in that they can strip colour from your hair. But they’re also a good thing because they produce the lather which—duh—helps spreads the product around and gets your scalp clean. Now I know all these new, sulfate-free shampoos say they contain other types of surfactants that do the job, but when I used them, my hair just did NOT feel clean. And really, that’s the point of this whole process, yes?

Anyway, I FINALLY figured out why these puppies weren’t working for me.

How to Use Sulfate-Free Shampoos

You have to wash twice! Yes, it’s a bit wasteful, but you only need a small amount for the first application. Work it through your scalp, not your ends (and don’t worry that it’s not lathering). Rinse, then apply a bit more shampoo—you can use a more generous size this time. The second application should lather up nicely, leaving your scalp squeaky clean, just like normal shampoo (but better).

I’ve yet to find a scientific explanation for this double-shampoo method through extensive Google searching, but so what? It works. (Who knows, maybe it’s similar to the double-cleansing theory put forth by Dermalogica when they launched PreCleanse.)

The Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos

Wondering which shampoos are sulfate-free? Here are the top ones I’ve tried:

kiehls sunflowershampoo The trick to using sulfate free shampoos... and my top 5 picksKiehl’s Sunflower Color Preserving Shampoo

$25.50 for 250 mL

johnmasters evening primrose shampoo The trick to using sulfate free shampoos... and my top 5 picks

John Masters Organics Evening Primrose Shampoo for Dry Hair

$22.50 for 250 mL

david babaii hydrating shampoo The trick to using sulfate free shampoos... and my top 5 picks

David Babaii for WildAid Hydrating Moisturizing Shampoo

$15.95 for 400 mL

loreal everpure volume shampoo The trick to using sulfate free shampoos... and my top 5 picks

L’Oréal Paris EverPure Sulfate-Free Volume Shampoo

$10.99 for 250 mL

moroccanoil shampoo The trick to using sulfate free shampoos... and my top 5 picksMoroccanoil Moisture Repair Shampoo

$18.50 for 250 mL

(Haven’t tried Moroccanoil yet? Read my review and find out why Moroccanoil is a miracle-worker for any hair type!)

23 Comments

question
Friday, August 13/2010 at 2:36 am

Do you think childrens shampoo would be low in sulfate as well? since it is for kids..

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Thursday, August 19/2010 at 6:26 pm

Yes, I think so – but baby shampoos don’t clean your hair as well. The Beauty Brains did a post on this: http://thebeautybrains.com/2007/08/23/is-sulfate-free-baby-shampoo-good-for-adult-hair/

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Miss Mara
Tuesday, November 9/2010 at 6:45 pm

Pureology has been my go to for sulfite-free shower suds.
You do get quite a good lather; the moisturizing line also leaves you with manageable, soft locks.

Oh, and if you’re a morning conditioner like I am, the peppermint hit off the conditioner is a real wake-me-up with some good tingle action.

I can honestly say, Pureology has meant minimal bad-hair days since I become a user. No lie.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Monday, November 22/2010 at 7:01 pm

Oh my gosh – why did I not remember that Pureology is sulfate-free? Duh – thank you – I can’t believe I missed them. Their stuff is great and produces such a good lather you’d never know they were any different from normal hair products. I actually find them a bit too moisturizing for my hair but that could be because I’ve only tried the range for colour-treated hair… I probably need something more volumizing.

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Vero
Sunday, January 16/2011 at 10:00 pm

I’ve been using Live Clean shampoo and conditioner, which are SLS/Sulfate free, and I honestly can’t tell the difference! I find it cleans just as well (WITHOUT having to shampoo twice), smells great, and leaves my hair beautiful and soft. Not only is it easier on my conscience, but I buy it for about the same price as other drugstore brands, from Pharmaprix! Worth a look…

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, January 26/2011 at 6:40 pm

Good to know! I really need to update this post. Actually the L’Oreal and David Babaii ones really only need one shampoo… it’s Moroccanoil and John Masters that are the worst in terms of lathering.

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c giles lawson
Sunday, February 13/2011 at 12:42 pm

I have fine curly hair, which like most curly hair can be very dry. I also color it. I swear by Deva Curls No Poo Shampoo. I do not need to wash twice and I only wash my hair about every 5 days, though I do rinse and condition daily. If you like a bit of lather, Deva Curl also makes Lo Poo Shampoo.

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Melanie
Saturday, May 7/2011 at 5:13 am

I absolutely LOVE Pureology hydrate shampoo and conditioner. It is my go-to, FAVORITE in terms of haircare. I have noticed that my color isn’t stripping as easily and that my hair feels lighter and more managable. I adore this line!!!

http://www.pinkteddylove.blogspot.com

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Shira
Tuesday, June 28/2011 at 5:32 pm

What do you think about organix?

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Emma
Wednesday, June 29/2011 at 1:19 am

I use the Moroccanoil shampoo and really like it, and I’ve never had to shampoo twice. I was told by an acquaintance who works for the company that you have to make sure your hair is soaking wet before you apply the shampoo (just from the roots to about the middle of your head). As long as I do that, I find it lathers up well. I also use the conditioner (for this, you squeeze all the water out of your hair and apply it just to the ends) and my hair comes out clean and soft every time!

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Jenna
Saturday, July 2/2011 at 8:57 pm

For me, sulfate-free shampoos are a must. After a bit of experimentation, I found that SLS and SLES actually aggravate my sensitive scalp and make dandruff even worse! When my former fave sulfate free line changed their formulation and it didn’t agree with my hair, I had to do some more searching to find a new one, and tried the Body Shop and Lush dandruff shampoos which do contain sulfates – never again! They instantly made my scalp more sensitive, itchy and flaky. Luckily I found a new line (made by a local Australian company, Beauty and the Bees) which works wonderfully. I’ve never felt the need to wash twice with my sulfate free shampoos though! Thats a new one! (And I have reasonably thick hair). It does take a few weeks for your hair/scalp to normalise after switching from Sulfate to non sulfate products though, perhaps thats what you’ve experienced? I also don’t use a conditioner with mine – just a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a litre of water as the last rinse after the shower.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, July 24/2011 at 9:45 pm

The Body Shop has a new sulfate-free line, at least here in Canada: http://www.thebodyshop.ca/en/new-products/new-hair-products/rainforest-shine-shampoo.aspx

I like the idea of an ACV rinse – my colourist actually recommended that (well in a product by Rene Furterer). I feel like I need the conditioner on my colour-treated hair though… it gets really tangly, so I wouldn’t be able to run a comb through it otherwise.

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Jenna
Wednesday, January 25/2012 at 4:41 am

I’m getting good at this whole posting-on-years-old-threads thing aren’t I?
The wet combing issue isn’t a problem for me anymore, I find with the combination of the beer and honey shampoo and the ACV my hair doesn’t tangle (even after wrapping it in a towel), and I can just section and blow dry with my fingers. Mind you, we have completely opposite hair – mine is thick (layering and thinning are essential for headache prevention from hair weight!), dark and uncoloured!

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Bev
Friday, July 8/2011 at 6:19 pm

Hi. I use to have beautiful naturally ‘silver’ hair. But in the last few years, it has become yellow-ish and very unattractive. I’ve tried several at-home treatments to bleach out the yellow, including some blue shampoos, but nothing is working. Do you have any suggestions? Really would appreciate some help here. I’m 73.
Thanks.

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Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Sunday, July 24/2011 at 8:10 pm

Hi Bev – blue or violet shampoo is a good idea… I would also consider investing in a shower filter as it could be the mineral deposits in the water causing the colour change. Here is a good article with some additional tips: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/id/QAA400170
You might also consider either #4 or #5 here: http://beautyeditor.ca/2011/04/05/brassy-hair-you-has-it-but-here-are-5-neat-things-that-can-help-restore-your-formerly-blondelicious-locks/

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Jennifer
Saturday, August 27/2011 at 2:54 pm

Sulfates are a surfactant, and in layman’s terms (with as little complicated chemistry language as possible) and surfactants help increase the surface area of water. This basically means that water is able to spread more and cut through things that would otherwise oppose the spread of water, i.e. oil. Our scalp and skin are loaded with natural oils, which is why sulfates are added. Sulfates however, are very harsh to our skin, and cause it to enter a viscious cycle in which our skin releases more oils to combat the sudden and harsh drying effect they have. This means your skin is working twice as hard to moisturize itself, and you notice it on days where you don’t wash with a sulfate product and realize you’re feeling really greasy.

Without sulfates, the cleansing agents need a bit more work to do the job (a 2nd wash) but ultimately this is far less damaging to our skin than loading it with chemicals. Our skin absorbs everything we put on it, if it didn’t there wouldn’t be medicinal patches. Therefore, try not to load your skin with too many harmful chemicals, because in the end they’re being absorbed into your body. Sulfates and parabens are some of the worst we can put on our skin, so I look for sulfate free and paraben free shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, cosmetics, and sunblock.

I’m going to try that Kiehl’s shampoo now, still haven’t found one I love.

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Stephanie
Friday, October 21/2011 at 9:17 pm

I have tried several sulfate-free shampoos and have only found 2 that don;t make my hair thinner (confirmed by my husband who also has noticed his hair getting thinner). They were Renpure ($6) and Rusk Sensories Wellness ($17). The thinning ones were Tres Semme, Everyday 365 from Whole Foods, and Organix. I’d like try to try Pureology, but can’t justify the price.

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Mason
Friday, December 2/2011 at 1:55 pm

Sulfate does more than strip the oil from your hair it is a big irritant and it makes your hair excessively hard over time. I have ezema and it took almost two years to determine what was effecting my scalp. When I stopped using shampoos with sulfate the problem went away. Also, almost every single bottle on any shelf contains sulfate except for a few. Why do you think most companies would use something that strips the moisture from your hair if the product is for hair? They should use ingredients that are healthy for your hair. Sulfate is included in most products because it is CHEAP!!!! These companies are in business to make money and to make a great profit. Most of the products are tested on ANIMALS but don’t you think our hair is slightly different than animals when most of them live outside?

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Francesco
Friday, December 23/2011 at 1:06 am

At the beginning of the article I thought the ignorance of people on both sides of the fence as professional’s and as a client. I can clearly see how professional’s do not do their job instructing how to use product.
Cleansing hair with or without sulfates is the same as how one cleanses their hands. However I have been using a sulfate free shampoo system since the year 2000. They can be better if you know what to look for. The product has to be applied and massaged through to breakdown what is on the skin of the hands. Hair is the same only you must massage the shampoo through the hair and let it set on the hair at least a couple of minutes for it to breakdown the soiled hair and scalp. If, you have more hair that equates to more product. Less hair less product. The scalp is the most important. If, that environment is still dirty then needless to say it will build up more dirt, perspiration, pollution, etc. This is part of the reason people have always hated and were afraid of conditioners. Yes, conditioners did have larger molecules, but not today. However, it is always the practice of cleansing well that starts the process of a good hair day or not.
So remember, product knowledge starting with shampooing helps everyone that sits in the chair. So, even if that person does write articles and comes in contact with beauty professionals on a daily basis that does not make an individual an authority on what product is better then another. Maybe, we have to stop thinking so much about being in a hurry and more about how much time the function needs in order to perform well.

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Katie J
Thursday, December 29/2011 at 6:12 pm

In the UK there’s LOVEA shampoo with Argan Oil – it’s paraben and sulfate free, my hair is so shiny i’m addicted to using it. It’s the same price as ordinary shampoo (about £5 a bottle). I found it at mypure.co.uk (word wide delivery) there are some other products to try but that is the shampoo I like best.

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Chris
Monday, February 13/2012 at 1:01 pm

Hey Michelle,
Thank you for comparing these shampoos. Even though the article is a bit old I took your advice and tried the “Pureology PureVolume Shampoo” and it works fine . I’ve observed that my hair atleast stopped thinning and obviously lesser hair fall. But the damage done by those sulfate shampoos that I used for years is still there . I can see my scalp when I stand under the sun. I’ve been trying to find a good thickening shampoo and I saw good reviews on ulta.com about Samy salon fat hair thickening shampoo but I doubt those reviews. So as usual, I want the advice of an expert :D, do you know if there are any good thickening sulfate free shampoos out there in the market?
Thank you again.
Chris

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Charley
Monday, May 21/2012 at 1:43 pm

It’s a good thing you’ve listed the ones you’ve tried. There are several disadvantages of sulfate free shampoos and I’m no longer willing to risk damaging my hair and scalp. When I first learned of sls free shampoos, I was reluctant to make the switch ‘cos I really loved the lather sulfate shampoos produced. But the health of my hair comes first. The fact that some companies are still producing shampoos with sulfates means that many people are still using ‘em. Goodluck to those people.

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Lisa west
Wednesday, July 3/2013 at 9:23 pm

I love that the whole premise of this is to repeat. Don’t the directions for like every shampoo say lather, rinse, repeat. Even with sulfate based shampoo. lol. Still I’ve never had a problem with my hair feeling clean after using sulfate free shampoo and like most people I don’t follow the directions. I usually use organix.

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