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9 best sulphate-free shampoos for sprucing up lacklustre locks

Transform your haircare game with these hardworking formulas

Anna Samson
Monday 17 January 2022 16:32
<p>Sulphates (sometimes known as SLSs or SLESs) can strip your hair and scalp of moisture</p>

Sulphates (sometimes known as SLSs or SLESs) can strip your hair and scalp of moisture

Sulphates and parabens are chemicals present in many popular shampoos. They’re included to help create that delicious foam that many of us associate with a deep clean – however, that doesn’t mean they’re always a good thing. In fact, these ingredients could actually do more harm than good.

Sulphates (sometimes known as SLSs or SLESs) can strip your hair and scalp of moisture, leaving it feeling fragile and dry. They can also damage hair extensions and, if your hair has been dyed, cause colour to fade faster by removing the pigments.

So, it’s no wonder many hairdressers recommend that we ditch sulphate and paraben-laden shampoos for good, and opt for products that offer a deep clean without compromising our hair’s integrity. Luckily, many beauty brands have developed innovative sulphate-free formulas that put hair health first.

There are a number of different options out there, and many of them not only provide a gentler clean and reduce damage, but also help in other ways too. Depending on your hair needs, you can pick a sulphate- and paraben-free free product that will also add volume, tame frizz or even enhance your colour.

How we tested

To help you on the path to happier and healthier hair, we’ve rounded up nine of the best shampoo and conditioner combinations that ditch sulphates, parabens, or both.

Each of these shampoos were tested on long hair that has been colour-treated and tends to feel quite damaged. We tried them out on wet, unwashed hair, and used the recommended amount of product, usually roughly the size of a 50p piece. We rubbed the liquid over our scalp, working it into the roots, before rinsing thoroughly.

The products that impressed us the most created a rich lather and enabled us to give our hair a good scrub. Delicious scents elevated our experience, and it was important that there was no trace of residue, grease or stickiness left behind – the best shampoos left our hair feeling clean, fresh and healthy. Here are the results…

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The best sulphate-free shampoos 2022 are:

  • Best overall sulphate-free shampoo – Davines melu shampoo: £18.50, Feelunique.com
  • Best for coloured hair – Color Wow color security shampoo: £19.50, Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for sensitive scalps – Noughty care taker scalp soothing shampoo: £6.99, Lovenoughty.co.uk
  • Best for curly hair – John Frieda frizz ease dream curls SLS/SLES sulphate free shampoo: £5.99, Boots.com
  • Best for fine hair – Maria Nila pure volume shampoo: £22.15, Sallybeauty.co.uk
  • Best luxury buy – Virtue recovery shampoo: £36, Netaporter.com
  • Best for blondes – Kevin Murphy blonde angel wash: £24, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best for gorgeous smelling hair – Sachajuan thickening shampoo: £19.12, Feelunique.com
  • Best for damaged hair – Moroccanoil moisture repair shampoo: £16.95, Lookfantastic.com

Davines melu shampoo, 250ml

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

From its minimalist packaging to the cornflower blue hue of the product inside, this shampoo is a wonderful choice from the get-go.

We took a dollop of the shampoo, which is thick and creamy, and massaged it through our roots. It produced a soft lather, with delicate bubbles, and it didn’t take long to rinse all of the shampoo out – despite its rich consistency, it didn’t leave any residue behind.

When we dried off our hair, it was left looking silky and noticeably healthier than before. It’s full of active natural ingredients which work to reduce breakage and improve the hair’s flexibility – fantastic if you’re trying to grow your hair longer. However, we think this shampoo would work for a range of different hair types and lengths, especially those who need a little extra care due to damage or dryness.

And, since we are all trying to be a little greener these days, we were happy to see that the ingredients in Davines’s melu shampoo are all vegan, while the packaging is 100 per cent carbon neutral and recyclable.

Color Wow color security shampoo, 250ml

Best: For coloured hair

Rating: 9/10

Whether you opt for grey-coverage, highlights or a quirky shade, colouring your hair does unfortunately cause damage – so it’s important to opt for products that will protect both your strands, and your chosen hue.

Color Wow products are formulated specifically to care for coloured hair, helping to preserve dyes and reduce the impact of chemical treatments. This sulphate-free shampoo is a gentle cleanser that creates a creamy, delicious-smelling foam, making wash days a delight.

We massaged it into our scalp and noticed that it removed dirt and build-up from using hair styling products. After blow-drying, we found that our hair was soft to the touch and even looked shinier than usual.

This shampoo would be particularly good for shades that are prone to fading, such as rainbow brights, reds and deep brunettes. And, after a trip to the salon, it’s definitely worth the investment – think of it like insurance for your new hair.

Noughty care taker scalp soothing shampoo, 250ml

Best: For sensitive scalps

Rating: 9/10

If you suffer from a dry, itchy scalp, making the switch to a sulphate-free shampoo could definitely be a smart decision. This shampoo from Noughty is not only free from sulphates, but the 97 per cent natural formula has also said goodbye to silicones, parabens and several other irritants.

We applied the shampoo to our scalp, taking care to disperse it all over our head, and found that it bloomed plenty of tiny bubbles. Those hoping for some heavenly scents will be left waiting, but for good reason – strong fragrances can make itchy scalps even less happy.

The shampoo contains bisabolol, a plant-based ingredient, and oatmeal extract to soothe the skin and restore balance. This might take time, and you may need to use it a few times before feeling the results. However, after using it for a few days, and swapping hot water for cooler water, we did find that our skin did indeed feel calmer and less sensitive – an excellent result for a very reasonably priced product.

John Frieda frizz ease dream curls SLS/SLES sulphate free shampoo, 250ml

Best: For curly hair

Rating: 8/10

Although sulphates can be damaging to all hair types, many hairdressers recommend that people with curly hair are particularly wary of them (check out the Curly Girl Method if you’re not already clued up on it). A sulphate-free haircare routine is a great way to help keep your curls and waves under control.

The John Frieda frizz ease range has been around for almost 30 years, and is unparalleled when it comes to budget-friendly products that tame wayward hair. This shampoo, along with its sister conditioner (£5.99, Boots.com), certainly lives up to its long heritage.

We took a dollop of the product, and applied it to our wet hair, rubbing it until a light foam appeared. After washing, our hair felt clean, but it hadn’t been stripped down – rather, it felt as if it had been gently cleansed.

We allowed our hair to dry naturally and found that our waves looked healthy, and even a little bouncy, with a good level of definition. Plus, the usual fuzziness was dramatically reduced, thanks to the shampoo’s inclusion of rosehip oil which adds moisture without weighing the hair down.

Maria Nila pure volume shampoo, 350ml

Best: For fine hair

Rating: 8/10

Maria Nila is fast becoming a cult favourite in the beauty world, and for good reason – the Stockholm brand’s all-vegan products are both effective and a joy to use. This pastel pink bottle is sure to cheer up your bathroom shelves, and the formula inside makes a great foundation for a body-boosting haircare routine.

The rose-coloured shampoo is a little thinner in consistency than other shampoos, so we were careful when dispensing it into our hands. However, its viscosity allowed us to easily spread it around our scalp, and move it around our head. The foam created is light and fluffy, and smells lightly fruity.

After rinsing off, we allowed our hair to dry naturally, and were pleased to see that it looked voluminous and healthy. There wasn’t a hint of greasiness, and our hair even felt a little bit stronger – a major bonus for hair that sometimes feels a little fragile.

Virtue recovery shampoo, 350ml

Best: Luxury buy

Rating: 8/10

Virtue’s recovery shampoo is a deluxe buy full of reparative ingredients that aims to transform lacklustre hair. It not only contains quinoa and grapefruit extract, but is also packed with the brand’s patented human keratin technology, which adds protein to repair hair strand-by-strand.

This shampoo’s packaging is reminiscent of a high-end moisturiser – it even feels luxurious as you squeeze it. We didn’t need to use too much as this rich formula is very thick, almost like toffee both in colour and consistency.

Rubbing it into our hair, we found that it foamed up a little less than regular shampoos, but given its density, this wasn’t surprising. It feels more akin to a cleansing treatment than a daily wash, and this is the perfect way to add a sense of indulgence to your haircare routine. We think it will work especially well for fine to medium hair that needs some TLC, thanks to its strengthening properties.

Luxury like this doesn’t come cheap – but if you want to treat yourself (or a loved-one) to an excellent product that will really protect your hair’s integrity first, then this is the way to do it.

Kevin Murphy blonde angel wash, 250ml

Best: For blondes

Rating: 9/10

Purple shampoo is an excellent way to maintain your blonde hair, and this offering from Kevin Murphy is one of the best out there.

The pearlescent formula shimmers under the light, and is bursting with a sweet fragrance that is never overpowering. We applied it to our hair and left it to work its magic for around three minutes. Not only is it free from sulphates, which can damage already brittle blonde hair, but it also contains shea butter, meaning that it deeply hydrates while it tones your strands.

The result is hair that looks like we stepped straight out of the salon. Gone are the tell-tale yellow tones that show how long it’s been since we last visited the hairdresser, and in their place are cool, platinum highlights that are shiny and natural-looking. We recommend investing in a bottle and using it once a week, or every three to four washes, to keep your blonde looking brilliant.

Sachajuan thickening shampoo, 250ml

Best: For gorgeous smelling hair

Rating: 9/10

With its deep, coffee-coloured bottle and minimalist white label, this shampoo from Swedish brand Sachajuan is a truly stylish pick. In place of the sulphates, this shampoo contains ocean silk which is said to nourish and protect the hair. It also contains UV and heat protectants to further promote hair health and keep it in excellent condition.

We used a generous dollop of the formula to wash our locks, and found that it foamed up well. The fresh, energising scent means this shampoo is a great way to start the day, and our hair was left feeling wonderfully clean.

After rinsing and drying, our hair felt plumper than usual, and it was a good way to prep our tresses for a voluminous style. It stayed in place and didn’t fall flat, even hours later. And, as an added bonus, the scent lasted all day – with each swish of our hair providing a subtle burst of fragrance.

Moroccanoil moisture repair shampoo, 250ml

Best: For dry hair

Rating: 9/10

Moroccanoil is known for its line of products infused with argan oil, which has been used for centuries to hydrate wayward tresses. The sulphate-free moisture repair shampoo is infused with the hero ingredient, and is a great choice for hair-wash day if your strands are prone to feeling parched.

The silky formula has the same scent Moroccanoil devotees will associate with the brand, and we were pleased to see how well it foamed up on our scalp. After working it through our hair and rinsing, we found that it had cleaned well without compromising on hydration – a very welcome result.

We dried off our hair and noticed that it felt smoother than usual, with fewer flyaways and a glossy quality. It might be a little too intense for those with thin hair, but thick hair will drink up this nourishing product. And, for even better results, you can couple the shampoo with the equally hard-working Moroccanoil moisture repair conditioner.

Sulphate-free shampoo FAQs

What does a sulphate-free shampoo actually do?

This type of shampoo works much like any other regular formula but the ingredient list is where you’ll find the most differences. Unlike some shampoos, they do not contain sulphates – ingredients that are used to preserve cosmetics and give shampoo its lather.

While they might sound harmless, sulphates ingredients can cause the natural oils from your scalp, which help to keep strands healthy, to be stripped, and even cause some skin irritation.

How can I tell if my shampoo is sulphate-free?

The majority of the time, if a shampoo is sulphate-free, then it will say so on the packaging. But, if you want to be extra sure, the best thing to do is double check the label for the two most common sulphates found in shampoos: sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES).

You can also look out for the following ingredients: lauryl sulfoacetate sodium, lauroyl isethionate and sodium lauroyl taurate.

Should I use sulphate-free shampoo on hair extensions?

This is largely dependent on whether your extensions are made from synthetic hair or natural hair.

If it's synthetic hair, then you should use a clarifying shampoo that will help remove build-up of products, grime and smells. However, if they’re made from human hair, then a sulphate-free shampoo is best as it will be more gentle.

The verdict: Sulphate-free shampoos

Davines’s melu shampoo is a great formula that leaves hair feeling lovely and clean, and would work well for many hair types. Those looking for hydration will love the Moroccanoil moisture repair shampoo, which is an intensively moisturising shampoo, while the Noughty care taker scalp soothing shampoo is purse-friendly pick that gently cleanses for a super fresh finish.

Voucher codes

For the latest discounts on hair care and other beauty buys, try the links below:

For more treats for your tresses, read our review of the best shampoos for grey hair that hydrate and tone brassy locks

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