ICYMI, certain cleansing agents like sulfates can be pretty damaging to your hair. Although there are so many fabulous products out there that can help prevent breakage and keep dryness at bay, the best way to truly avoid strand casualties is to switch to a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner.
"Sulfates tend to be overly harsh," says Iris Rubin, a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Seen Hair Care. "They can strip away natural oils and be overly drying for the hair. If you suffer from a sensitive, dry scalp, or have curly hair, you should stay away from them. They can also cause color-treated hair to fade more quickly."
If that's not enough to convince you, celebrity hairstylist Ben Talbott also has a bit more bad news when it comes to sulfates: they can also affect your skin. "Exposure to sulfates in high concentrations or for a prolonged period of time can irritate the skin's natural barrier, especially if your skin is on the sensitive side," he says. "They're often contained in products used to clean car engines when they get greased up or to get our dishes squeaky clean, so it’s easy to imagine why they can be too harsh for your hair."
Yikes. As I'm sure most of us would not like ingredients used to clean car engines in our hair, there are (luckily) plenty of other options out there that are sulfate-free. Below, find both Rubin and Talbott's recommendations for the best sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners.
Herbal Essences Honey and Vitamin B Sulfate-Free Shampoo and Conditioner
Talbott loves this budget-conscious set since it's infused with highly moisturizing ingredients like aloe and honey. It also smells divine, featuring a mixture of jasmine and vanilla.
Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo and Conditioner
According to Talbott, this is set is one of the best options for those who would like to smooth any excess frizz. Having won several industry awards, it blocks humidity, balances moisture levels, and repels dirt and oil oh-so-well.
Seen Skin-Caring Shampoo and Conditioner
Rubin formulated these products without harsh agents—they're even gentle enough for daily use. "Although these products are sulfate-free, the [shampoo] still has amazing foam. All Seen products have color-safe formulations, and provide peace of mind since our products are formulated without sulfates, silicones, phthalates, parabens, dyes, and gluten."
Pureology Strength Cure Blonde Purple Shampoo and Conditioner
If you color your hair blonde, this set contains the best sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner you can use. "I love this shampoo," Talbott shares. "It has an incredible smell and is totally vegan. It will keep those blonde tones bright and remove any brassiness. It also helps keep your hair strong. Pureology has a full range for any chemically-treated and colored hair types."
Bread Beauty Supply Gentle Milky Hair Cleanser and Hair Mask
I really can't say enough good things about this sulfate-free set from Bread Beauty Supply. I've used plenty of shampoos and conditioners in my time, but always seem to gravitate back towards these two. They're designed specifically for those with thick, curly hair (right up my alley) and contain soothing ingredients like aloe vera juice and lemon tea tree oil. The Milky Hair Cleanser is incredibly gentle and hydrating yet still always manages to detangle my curls quickly.
Olaplex No. 4 and No. 5 Bond Maintenance Shampoo and Conditioner
For chemically treated, heat-damaged, and processed hair, Talbott always recommends Olaplex—the holy grail. It repairs, hydrates, and helps protect against future damage by relinking broken hair bonds.
Qhemet Biologics Egyptian Wheat Grass Cleansing Tea and Moringa Tree Conditioning Ghee
To be honest, all Qhemet Biologics products are great—especially for those with curls and coils. The cleansing tea and conditioning ghee really put this brand ahead of the pack. These products are lightweight yet deeply moisturizing and are completely SLS-free. The cleansing tea even helps alleviate dandruff and scalp flakes.
Verb Ghost Shampoo and Conditioner
This sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner set is cult-loved for a reason. It's designed with all hair types in mind and contains moringa oil, quinoa protein, and sunflower seed extract to prevent strand breakage. Bonus: it's also color-safe.
Adwoa Beauty Baomint Moisturizing Shampoo and Deep Conditioning Treatment
Adwoa Beauty's sulfate-free shampoo is unique in the way that it deposits natural oils (similar to sebum) within your scalp that nourish and protect it without stripping it. The deep conditioning treatment is perfect for dry, thirsty hair, as it penetrates deeply into the hair shaft after washing.
Love Beauty and Planet Soothe and Nourish Shampoo and Conditioner
This vegan shampoo and conditioner set is one of the best drugstore options out there. It contains hempseed and coconut oil to gently hydrate and soothe the hair shaft. It's also color-safe and great for straight and wavy hair types.
Botanic Hearth Tea Tree Shampoo and Conditioner
If you tend to have a dry, itchy, or flaky scalp, this tea tree oil–infused shampoo and conditioner are for you. They're invigorating, soothing, and gentle enough for daily use.
Hask Repairing Argan Oil Shampoo and Conditioner
Many consider argan somewhat of a miracle oil, as it softens, repairs split ends, and revives dry or damaged strands. Luckily, this shampoo and conditioner from Hask contains all that and is sulfate-free.