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The Best Sulfate Free Shampoo From Madison Reed

by Madison Reed July 22, 2022

low suds shampoo in shower

Image by Madison Reed

You may have heard of sulfates before...or rather, you may have heard of sulfate-free hair color and care. 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), which they are not, there are still plenty of reasons to steer clear of sulfates in your shampoo.

What are sulfates…and what are they doing in shampoos?

Sulfates are chemicals used as cleansing agents. They belong to a class of cleansers called anionic surfactants—which break down oils and 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.  

Why are sulfates bad for your hair?

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 (SLES) 

Ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS)

The first sulfate on the list is the one most commonly 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 can also strip your hair of moisture. Additionally, products containing harsh surfactants like SLS can contribute to color fading. SLS can increase frizz and cause dry hair. In severe instances, SLS can also irritate the scalp, causing redness, dryness and itching. Sulfates can also accelerate color fading in color-treated hair.
For all of the above reasons, we never use sodium lauryl sulfate in our products, opting instead to use sodium laureth sulfate, a gentler alternative.
Daily Moisture - Shampoo

Shop our Sulfate & Paraben Free Shampoo

Gentle for Color Treated Hair

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Are sulfates the same thing as parabens?

No, they are not. However, you may have also heard some negative buzz about parabens. Parabens are a type of preservative mixed into hair care products to help prevent mold and bacteria, ultimately prolonging the shelf life of these products. 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 hair color and care formulas.
Three of the most common parabens also have “paraben” in their name, making them easy to spot—butylparaben, methylparaben, and propylparaben. However, parabens can also be listed as alkyl parahydroxy benzoates, so keep your eyes peeled when you read those ingredient lists.

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 more hydrating, sulfate-free options that make your hair look and feel healthy. 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, it will come as no surprise that we think our NEW ColorSolve™ Customizable Shampoo + Conditioner is the best color-safe shampoo and conditioner set that also happens to be sulfate free. Tested by our own colorists, we’re proud that our shampoo and conditioner are not only sulfate-free but free of parabens.
Our new ColorSolve™ Customizable Hair Care System is designed to respond to the needs of both your hair type and hair color. This sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner set—plus patent-pending Color Depositing Shot—gives your hair exactly what it needs, plus adds vibrancy and reduces color fade. Choose between the following sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners best suited for your hair goals:
Daily Moisture
Total Volume
Frizz Away 
Bond Building 
Bond Building - Aquis Bundle

Is sulfate-free shampoo good for color-treated hair?

The right shampoo can help your color last longer—and stay vibrant and healthy-looking—so choose wisely! Since sulfates can be overly harsh on colored hair, we recommend starting with a sulfate-free shampoo that gently cleanses without stripping color. If you have color-treated hair, you should also look for a shampoo that locks in color to help prevent fading, strengthens your strands, and adds intense hydration.

Is sulfate-free shampoo good for oily hair?

Want squeaky-clean hair that doesn’t feel oily the next day? Switch to sulfate-free shampoo to deeply cleanse your oily hair. Parabens and silicones can also weigh oilier strands down, so you’ll want to opt for a shampoo that’s paraben-free and silicone-free, too.

Is sulfate-free shampoo good for dandruff?

Absolutely! If you have a sensitive and dry scalp that’s prone to dandruff, you’ll want to use sulfate-free shampoos because they are gentler on your skin. Sulfates can over-strip your hair of oils, leaving it dry and prone to dandruff.

Is sulfate-free shampoo good for curly hair?

Sulfate-free shampoo is also the best choice for curly hair. Because of sulfates’ drying qualities, anyone with curly hair will want to make the switch to sulfate-free shampoo to avoid curls getting too dry or too brittle. Sulfate-free shampoo is a better way to cleanse and nourish your curls.

Sulfate-free shampoo vs. clarifying shampoo—what’s the difference?

Sulfate-free shampoos deliver a generally gentler cleanse, removing your scalp and hair of debris and product buildup without stripping natural oils. Clarifying shampoos are cleansing shampoos specifically formulated to clear buildup and remove leftover residue from styling products. But some clarifying shampoos do contain sulfates, so if you do want to use a clarifying shampoo once every few weeks or so, you’ll want to look for a sulfate-free clarifying shampoo for a better detox.
And there you have it—all the reasons to opt for a sulfate-free shampoo that gently cleanses and leaves your hair looking FAB.


Originally published: October 1, 2014

Updated: July 22, 2022