Shampoo Showdown: A Sulfate-Free Review

Beauty/Skincare,Featured Article,Healthy Living
May 27, 2011

Is good, clean hair possible without this common cleansing ingredient?

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Wander through the drugstore and you may notice hair care seems to have a new Public Enemy No. 1. How else to explain the influx of “sulfate-free” formulas in the shampoo aisle?

Sodium lauryl sulfate (often shorthanded as “sulfates”) is a detergent and emulsifier widely used in soapless shampoos, and mostly responsible for their sudsing effects.  It was approved for cosmetic use in the 1980s, but dermatologists often warn those with sensitive skin that it’s an irritant.

There’s no medical evidence that sulfates in cosmetic products are harmful. But some people find that they experience less scalp irritation and dryness when using sulfate-free shampoos, which in turn can make hair look and feel healthier. (Some conditioners are marketed as sulfate-free as well, but since sulfates are a cleansing agent, conditioners typically don’t contain them.)

We tested the latest sulfate-free shampoos to see if any convinced us to make the switch. Here’s what we found.

Organix Rejuvenating Cherry Blossom Ginseng Shampoo

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13 oz., $6.99  • Walgreens.com

This shampoo produced one of the best lathers of anything we tested—a trait that’s often sacrificed in the name of a sulfate-free formula. But testers’ evaluations of the product’s cleansing performance ranged from top-notch to total disappointment. This may come down to individual hair types, but it makes it hard to recommend across the board.

It’s a 10 Miracle Moisture Shampoo

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10 oz., $22 • Drugstore.com

Most of the sulfate-free formulas we tried left our hair sufficiently clean for the day, but made it difficult to go 48 hours in between shampoos. This product was the exception, leaving hair residue-free enough to wash every other day when we preferred while maintaining its soft, moisturized feel.

RenPure Organics I Love My Hair Body & Shine Shampoo

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13.5 oz, $6.99 • Walgreens.com

As the least expensive option in our test, ounce for ounce, we weren’t expecting it to be one of the best performers. But this shampoo proved to be a great cleanser. A strong floral scent was a plus for some and a minus for others, but the RenPure line offers a wide range of sulfate-free options, so it’s worth looking for one that suits you.

It’s a 10 left our hair feeling residue-free.

L’Oreal EverSleek Intense Smoothing Shampoo

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8.5 oz, $6.99 • Walgreens.com

L’Oreal was the first major drugstore brand to offer a sulfate-free shampoo, and the company has since expanded the line with multiple formulas, including EverPure and EverStrong. It’s no surprise, then, that we thought this resembled “regular” shampoo more than anything else we tested. It lathered and washed out easily, and left our hair feeling clean. You can’t go wrong with a brand that has clearly refined the formula.

Umberto Beverly Hills Repair Shampoo

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12 oz., $8.99 • Target.com

This shampoo landed solidly in the middle of the pack for us—performing just fine with no major drawbacks, but not knocking us out. For a salon brand, it’s reasonably priced, and now it’s easily accessible at Target.

Samy Fat Hair 0 Calories Thickening Shampoo

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10 oz., $6.97 • walmart.com

We can’t say we weren’t warned by the name, but this product’s consistency was heavier than any other shampoo we tried. As such, it was difficult to work into hair, and most testers said they never felt like they had washed it all out.

Pureology NanoWorks Shampoo with Anti-Fade Complex

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10.1 oz, $50 • Available only at salons; locater at http://www.pureology.com

While this shampoo felt thicker than we’re used to, it performed very well. One tester said it was the only shampoo that gave her that “squeaky clean” feeling that most sulfate-free formulas are missing. Whether it’s worth a price tag more than four times higher than most drugstore brands—that’s up to you to decide.