The best sulphate free shampoos for a gentler clean

Could you benefit from switching up your shampoo?

Sulphate free shampoo Getty Images
(Image credit: 2018 Claudio Lavenia)

Could you benefit from switching up your shampoo?

You may have noticed the words 'sulphate free' splashed across some shampoo bottles, but never really questioned why they need to be left out of some formulas. But the truth is that using the best sulphate free shampoo could help change your life (and your hair!) forever.

While some people may never experience any problems with using 'regular' shampoo, others will really benefit from excluding sulphates. Keep reading to find out what they are and whether you should give them up.

What are sulphates? How do I know if my shampoo contains sulphates?

'Sulphates are a chemical agent used in haircare products to help the shampoo mix effectively with water, to remove dirt and to dilute the hair’s natural oils and the effects of styling products,' explains Antony Rawlings, Redken artist and Creative Director & Manager of Lockonego Kings Road. 'Sulphates create a large amount of foam, which may make you think and feel “cleaner” – however these shampoos aren’t actually doing anything that a non-foaming shampoo would do. If your shampoo is super foamy, you know that its full of them!

'Sulphates can remove too much of the natural oils on the hair and scalp, leading to dryness and irritation. They can also strip out too much hair protein, and can degrade hair colour, making it last for a shorter period of time.'

Is sulphate free shampoo good for coloured hair?

Essentially, if you regularly colour your hair and wash with a shampoo that contains sulphates, you'll find the colour fades faster. 'This is because sulphates work to open the hair cuticle, which when opened, allow the colour to escape quicker,' Rawlings tells us.

'Sulphates can also affect the hair’s natural proteins, which means weaker hair and colour that fades more quickly, so the main benefit of using a sulphate-free shampoo would be to keep the hair colour lasting longer,' he adds. 'Some people with very sensitive scalps may also find their condition improves when eliminating sulphate-containing shampoos.

'Those with very dry or frizzy hair may also want to try a sulphate-free formula, like Redken’s Nature + Science or any of the Pureology ranges, to help retain more of their hair’s natural oils and moisture.'

Why is sulphate free shampoo good for curly hair?

'Sulphates are particularly bad for curly hair as they strip the natural oil that hair produces leaving it dry and brittle and prone to breakage,' explains Michelle Sultan, expert hairstylist and Creative Director & Ambassador for Imbue. 'In order to keep curls, coils and kinks bouncy, the hair needs to be as hydrated as possible – so therefore avoid shampoos with any form of sulphates!

'Most good, reputable shampoos are now labelled and clearly state if they are sulphate-free or not. The words to look out for are laurel sulphates and sodium laureth. If you don’t see a “sulphate-free” tag or label, then avoid! Look for moisture-based shampoos or "low poo" shampoos that are safe to use while following the curly girl method.'

Ready to find out more? Keep reading to shop our favourite sulphate-free shampoos below.

Marie Claire UK Hair Awards 2021 banner

Best sulphate shampoo for coloured hair

Redken Science + Nature Color Extend Magnetics Shampoo, Lookfantastic

sulphate free shampoo Redken Color Extend Science + Nature

As already mentioned, fresh colour can last longer if a sulphate-free shampoo is used, as these ingredients can break down the colour. The Science + Nature Color Extend Shampoo is blended with a majority of natural ingredients, while the 'Magnetic' effect helps your hair to hold on to colour particles and prevent oxidisation, keeping that shade fresher for longer.

Buy now

Best sulphate free shampoo for curly hair

Imbue Curl Liberating Sulphate Free Shampoo, Lookfantastic

sulphate free shampoo Imbue Curl Liberating Sulphate Free Shampoo

A new brand for 2020, Imbue is all about embracing and celebrating all types of curls, from loose s-shaped curls to tight kinks and coils. Not only is it sulphate-free, but it's also suitable for followers of the Curly Girl Method. Be sure to try the Curl Energising Hydration Serum, which adds definition to curls of all shapes and sizes.

Buy now

Best sulphate free shampoo for dry hair

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo, Lookfantastic

sulphate free shampoo for dry hair Pureology Hydrate Shampoo

All of Pureology's excellent shampoos are sulphate-free, and therefore great for coloured hair, but the Hydrate option is a great choice for coloured hair that gets especially dry. Pair with the matching conditioner for a real injection of softness.

Buy now

Scroll through our round up to find your new favourite sulphate-free shampoo. Your hair will thank you for it.

Lucy Abbersteen
Beauty Contributor

Lucy is a freelance beauty editor and contributor at Marie Claire, and has written for titles including Glamour, Refinery29, Popsugar, woman&home and more. She was previously Marie Claire’s junior beauty editor. During her career, she’s covered everything from backstage beauty at fashion week to interviews with famous faces like Drag Race royalty and Little Mix. As for her beauty ethos, she’s a big advocate for not having to spend a fortune on beauty products to get good results, and when she’s not got beauty on the brain you’ll find her reading or hanging out with dogs.