The Best Sulfate Free Shampoo From Madison Reed

by Madison Reed September 01, 2021

low suds shampoo in shower

Image by Madison Reed

You may have heard of sulfates before...rather, you may have heard of sulfate-free. Sulfates have been getting a lot of attention in hair care recently—with good reason. While often misidentified as carcinogens (an agent with the capacity to cause cancer in humans), there are still plenty of reasons to steer clear of sulfates used in shampoo.

What are sulfates…and why are they in shampoo?

In short, sulfates are chemicals used as cleansing agents. They belong to a class of cleansers called anionic surfactants, which break down oils, dirt, and also emulsify to give cleansers their foaming or sudsing action. The purpose of these chemicals in shampoo is to create a lathering effect and to remove oil and dirt from your hair.  

Not all sulfates are created equal

That is, some sulfates should be avoided in shampoo, while others are fine. The main types of sulfates used in shampoo are:

  • Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS)

  • Sodium laureth sulfate, a slightly more mild sulfate

  • Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)

The first sulfate on the list is one of the most common found in shampoos: SLS. SLS is a surfactant, meaning it lowers the surface tension between ingredients and creates the lather often associated with shampoo and other hair products. However, SLS is also known to strip the protein from hair, depleting the hair and scalp of beneficial protective oils. Products containing harsh surfactants like SLS are also known to contribute to color fade. SLS can cause frizziness and dry hair. In severe instances, SLS can also irritate the scalp, causing redness, dryness and itching.

For this reason, we never use sodium lauryl sulfate in our products, opting instead to use sodium laureth sulfate, a gentler alternative. Sodium laureth sulfate is also used in our hair color to ensure a full, even application of color, and total removal of color from the scalp and hair while rinsing.

Madison Reed Color Protecting Shampoo and Conditioner

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Are sulfates the same thing as parabens?

No, they are not. However, you may have also heard some harsh words about parabens. Yes—there are more ingredients to potentially avoid. Parabens are a type of preservative mixed into hair care products to help prevent mold and bacteria, ultimately prolonging the shelf life. We’re still learning what kind of effects parabens can have on people, but for now parabens are considered potential endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors are natural or human-made chemicals that may mimic or interfere with the body's hormones (our endocrine system).While current analysis concludes that they are safe at the levels presently used in other cosmetic products on the market, the long-term impact of parabens continues to be researched, so we do not use parabens in any of our formulas.

Three of the most common parabens also have 'paraben' in their name, making them easy to spot—butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. But parabens can also be listed as alkyl parahydroxy benzoates, so keep your eyes peeled.

Sulfate-free and paraben-free shampoos 

While sulfates have been present since the invention of shampoo, it’s time to move past using it in shampoos simply to boost the sudsy factor, and instead look for sulfate-free options. Sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner are gentler on color-treated hair while still cleansing and nourishing the hair.

While there are many gentle hair care formulas on the market, you shouldn’t be surprised that we think Madison Reed Color Protecting Shampoo + Conditioner is the best color-safe set that happens to also be sulfate-free. Developed by professional hair stylist and colorist, Susan Roberts-Cooper, we’re proud that our shampoo and conditioner are not only sulfate-free but paraben-free.

Madison Reed's ultra-moisturizing, nutrient-rich Color Protecting Shampoo + Conditioner are crafted with care for all hair types—fine hair, natural hair, frizzy hair, and yes, color-treated hair They work up a creamy sudsy lather, with hydrating features sure to moisturize your hair...often not the case with products in the sulfate-free category.

For more reasons we love our shampoo, read about the good-for-your-hair shampoo and conditioner ingredients you’ll find inside. 

Madison Reed Color Protecting Shampoo and Conditioner

Originally published: October 1, 2014

Updated: September 1, 2021