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10 best sulphate and paraben-free shampoos and conditioners that are kind to your hair

We’ve found haircare that is gentle on the scalp but still cleanses thoroughly without any residue

Chloë James
Wednesday 11 August 2021 17:08
<p>As a lot of brands are misleading in what constitutes as ‘natural’ haircare, we've tracked down the products that are true to their word</p>

As a lot of brands are misleading in what constitutes as ‘natural’ haircare, we've tracked down the products that are true to their word

Everyone knows the risks of heat styling and excessive colour treatments, but there are much subtler ways you could be damaging your hair. Harsh and drying, parabens and sulphates are the enemies of haircare gurus everywhere, and yet feature in the vast majority of products.

The reason why many people believe it’s best to give parabens and sulphates a miss is that excessive foaming at the scalp strips away the natural oils produced to keep strands healthy, irritates sensitive skin and strips colour from your hair. What might give good results at first can, over time, damage your strands.

The obvious solution is to ditch parabens and sulphates altogether. However, this is easier said than done. As a general guide, your best option is to check for products marked as SLS- or SLES-free. These stand for sodium lauryl sulphate and sodium laureth sulphate, two of the most common sulphates found in hair products – which also happen to be the most irritating.

How we tested

To help you on the path to happier and healthier hair, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best shampoo and conditioner combinations that ditch sulphates, parabens or both.

Without sulphates, it’s tricky to nail the perfect shampoo lather. We wanted one that was gentle on our scalps but thorough enough to cleanse excess product and not leave any residue. We had equally high expectations from our conditioner. It had to hydrate our dried-out strands, but also keep hair bouncy and fresh for days on end. We weren’t asking for much – just a flawless hair care routine.

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The best paraben and sulphate-free shampoo and conditioners for 2021 are:

  • Best overall – Faith in Nature dragon fruit shampoo and conditioner bundle: £9.99, Faithinnature.co.uk
  • Best for greasy hair – Shea Moisture black castor oil shampoo (£12.99) and conditioner (£10.99): Superdrug.com
  • Best for adding shine – Drunk Elephant cocomino shampoo and marula conditioner: £21 each, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best for great-smelling hair – Aveda cherry almond softening shampoo (£13.20) and conditioner (£14.80): Aveda.co.uk
  • Best for reducing dandruff – Klorane peony shampoo (£8) and conditioner (£10): Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for dry hair – Sukin hydrating shampoo and conditioner: £9.95 each, Hollandandbarrett.com
  • Best for frizzy hair – Neal’s Yard revitalising shampoo and conditioner: £7.95 each, Nealsyardremedies.com
  • Best for clarifying your hair – Living Proof triple detox shampoo (£25) and perfect hairday conditioner (£22): Lookfantastic.com
  • Best for curly hair – Briogeo curl charisma shampoo and conditioner: £22.75 each, Cultbeauty.co.uk
  • Best for all hair types – Dr. Paw Paw everybody hair and body wash (£8) and conditioner (£8.95): Beautybay.com

Faith in Nature dragon fruit shampoo and conditioner

Best: Overall

Since launching in 1974, Faith in Nature has established itself as one of the best brands in natural hair care. Not only are all its products vegan, cruelty-free, made with natural ingredients and 100 per cent recyclable, but it remains consistently affordable. We could sing the praises of all its shampoos and conditioners, but our favourite is the dragonfruit formula. The shampoo lathers up quickly and leaves no build-up while the conditioner gave new life to our dry ends. Hair dried soft and silky, but still had plenty of volume. 

Our favourite thing? The scent – it’s addictively sweet and hangs around after you’ve left the shower without being too overpowering. Heaven.

While it’s totally free of parabens and SLS, it’s worth noting that it does contain other sulphates – namely plant-derived ammonium lauryl sulphate. For a more sustainable alternative, you can also purchase the shampoo in bar form (£4.34, Hollandandbarrett.com).

Shea Moisture black castor oil shampoo and conditioner

Best: For greasy hair

Buy shampoo now £12.99, Superdrug.com

Buy conditioner now £10.99, Superdrug.com

Black castor oil has gained a glowing reputation in the haircare community, all thanks to its ability to strengthen hair and encourage new growth. It certainly didn’t add several inches overnight, but after two weeks of consistent use, we did see a difference in condition. Stronger, less greasy and way more manageable, we owed a lot to Shea Moisture’s blend of castor oil, shea butter and apple cider vinegar.

While the conditioner was super moisturising, the shampoo is the real standout. Just a small amount got rid of stubborn product build-up, yet it was nowhere near as harsh as other clarifying shampoos. However, those with very dry or fine hair might find it too heavy. It also contains no parabens or sulphates.

Drunk Elephant cocomino glossing shampoo and Marula cream conditioner

Best: For adding shine

Buy shampoo now £21, Cultbeauty.co.uk

Buy conditioner now £21, Cultbeauty.co.uk

As big fans of Drunk Elephant’s skincare, we were incredibly excited when it branched out to hair last April. We weren’t disappointed – its cocomino shampoo lathers well and left our hair super shiny (in a good, non-greasy way). Make sure you’re thoroughly washing it out though, as it’s quite harsh on the ends.

As for the conditioner, it did a good job of reviving our weary hair, especially when left on for five minutes as a deep conditioning treatment. We also loved the scent but anyone with an aversion to the smell of marzipan might want to give them a miss. They’re also both free of parabens and sulphates.

Aveda cherry almond softening shampoo and conditioner

Best: For great-smelling hair

Buy shampoo now £13.20, Aveda.co.uk

Buy conditioner now £14.80, Aveda.co.uk

If anyone else shares our very niche dream of smelling like a cherry bakewell 24/7, you’re in luck. The cherry and almond scent was the first thing to draw us in to this shampoo and conditioner duo from Aveda, but we stayed for their incredible softening abilities. The smallest dab of the conditioner goes a long way, smoothing out frizz and making our hair easier to tame.

Even more impressively, there was an improvement in the moisture levels of our hair from just using the shampoo alone. Just be sure to give hair a good rinse after use as it has a tendency to cling on tight to your scalp.

This duo is free of parabens and SLS, but the shampoo does contain ammonium lauryl sulphate.

Klorane peony shampoo and conditioner

Best: For reducing dandruff

Buy shampoo now £8, Lookfantastic.com

Buy conditioner now £10, Lookfantastic.com

One of the many downsides of winter is the way it irritates the scalp. This shampoo uses peony extract to ease sensitivity and reduce dandruff, promising to provide at least 24 hours of protection after use. Irritation-wise, we saw a big difference after just one wash. Our tester’s scalp was less itchy and fared much better in the cold weather. It took longer to see an impact on dandruff, but a week of consistent use did the trick. On top of tackling our scalp issues, it smoothed out flyaways and locked in moisture.

We were slightly less impressed with the conditioner. It had quite a thin consistency so we had to use a lot of product, but it did manage to ease the worst of our hair’s dryness.

The pair is free from parabens and SLS, but it does contain sodium laureth and zinc coceth sulphate.

Sukin hydrating shampoo and conditioner

Best: For dry hair

Buy shampoo now £9.95, Hollandandbarrett.com

Buy conditioner now £9.95, Hollandandbarrett.com

Aimed at those with very dry hair, this duo is infused with shea butter, coconut extract and olive oil to nourish the scalp. It takes a while to work the shampoo into a lather but it left hair clean and shiny and washed out easily. We especially loved the conditioner – it’s tough to formulate a product that’s both deeply conditioning without weighing down hair, but this gives a sleek, lightweight finish. There was no residue or build-up from either product and of all those we tried, these two gave hair the most volume. They are also free from both parabens and sulphates.

Neal’s Yard revitalising orange flower shampoo and conditioner

Best: For frizzy hair

Buy shampoo now £7.95, Nealsyardremedies.com

Buy conditioner now £7.95, Nealsyardremedies.com

Neal’s Yard Remedies excels at making every product feel like a drop of luxury, with this shampoo and conditioner smelling like something right out of a salon. The shampoo is a blend of moringa, camellia, passionflower and neroli, which feel deeply nourishing on the scalp. It lathers quickly, but not so much that you feel at risk of stripping away natural oils, and washes out equally as fast.

There was a real improvement in the shine of our hair and far less frizziness at the scalp. The conditioner is similarly efficient (it also smells incredible) but isn’t powerful enough to make a big difference to very dry or damaged strands. Although free of parabens and SLS, the shampoo does contain ammonium lauryl sulphate.

Living Proof triple detox shampoo and perfect hairday conditioner

Best: For clarifying your hair

Buy shampoo now £25, Lookfantastic.com

Buy conditioner now £22, Lookfantastic.com

There’s a team of scientists behind Living Proof’s revolutionary line of products, which explains how it always manages to nail every formula. Its shampoo, the triple detox, is the best clarifying product we’ve ever tried. Don’t let the thick, dark consistency scare you – it uses active charcoal, witch hazel and a chelating agent to gently remove buildup from product, pollution and hard water.

Our tester’s hair had never felt so light and clean. While it’s non-stripping, it’s vital you follow up with the conditioner to reduce the risk of dryness. Thankfully the conditioner is a delight too and doesn’t weigh down your new squeaky clean locks. As it’s such a deep clean, we recommend limiting usage of this shampoo to once a week. It’s also free from parabens, SLS and SLES.

Briogeo curl charisma shampoo and conditioner

Best: For curly hair

Buy shampoo now £22.75, Cultbeauty.co.uk

Buy conditioner now £22.75, Cultbeauty.co.uk

Give your curls new life with this specially formulated combination from Brigeo. Both products use rice amino acids to hydrate each strand from the inside out, while the shampoo also brings shea butter and avocado into the mix to soften and enhance your curl pattern. 

Our tester found that her curls dried more uniformly than usual, with far less frizz. This mostly comes down to the conditioner, which softened and detangled hair enough to allow for an easy post-shower comb through. Curls also stayed bouncy for longer, letting us go an extra two days between washes. Both products together are an investment, but worth it for anyone struggling to manage wavy or curly styles – and they are both free from parabens and sulphates (despite the name, behentrimonium methosulphate is a non-sulphate).

Dr. Paw Paw everybody hair and body wash and conditioner

Best: For all hair types

Buy hair and body wash now £8, Beautybay.com

Buy hair and body conditioner now £8.95, Beautybay.com

There was a time when we would be horrified by using the same product to wash our hair and body, but science has come a long way. This Peta-approved, award-winning entry from Dr. Paw Paw combines papaya, olive oil and coconut oil to hydrate hair and repair it in the long-run. 

The texture of the shampoo does feel more like a shower gel, but it works easily into your scalp. Meanwhile, the conditioner can also double up as a decent body moisturiser (but will run out very quickly if you use it for both). Hair felt fresh, hydrated and full of life, and both the shampoo and conditioner are free from parabens and sulphates.

Paraben and sulphate-free shampoo and conditioners FAQs

What does a paraben and 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 parabens or sulphates – ingredients that are used to preserve cosmetics and give shampoo its lather.

While they might sound harmless, these 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: Paraben and sulphate-free shampoo and conditioners

Not only are they the cheapest products on this list, but the Faith in Nature dragonfruit shampoo and conditioner are the best all-rounders. Our hair looked and smelled amazing after use and we love how easy it is to switch the product out for more sustainable alternatives. To those seeking an option specifically for curly hair, we also recommend the Briogeo curl charisma rice amino and avocado hydrating shampoo and curl defining conditioner, which is a total gamechanger.

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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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