Best sulphate free shampoos to protect your hair

·8-min read

In the hunt to evolve beauty routine to ‘clean’ alternatives, there are a few ingredients that have been relegated to the nasties category - one such is sulphates.

As we become more versed on the ingredients lists stickered to beloved bottles in our beauty cabinet, there is a desire to reduce the amount of chemicals in our products, especially for those with sensitive scalps. Our hair goes through a lot chemically, thermally, mechanically, and environmentally and switching to sulphate-free shampoos may be the trick for the fresh, clean, luscious locks of your dreams.

But first, what are sulphates?

Simply put, sulphates are what causes your shampoo to lather. They break down oil, dirt and product residue. It’s a very thorough cleansing agent but that’s not always a good thing as it can also dry out hair, remove natural oils and reduce the vibrancy of dyed locks. Sulphates can remove the pigments from the latter as well as treatments like keratin.

Michael Van Clarke, renowned hairdresser and founder of his eponymous Marylebone-based salon explains, “Sulphates are an effective detergent (surfactant – surface active agent) which helps dissolve grease and dirt and rinses them out easily. This can be good or bad depending on hair or skin type. It’s the most common in use and found in everything from soaps to toothpaste to laundry detergents. But it can be a little harsh for those with sensitive skin.”

He explains the four main types;

  • SLS – Sodium Lauryl Sulphate can be seen either as the harshest or most effective degreaser and creates lots of foam. It also has the smallest molecular structure. This could be unnecessarily harsh on dry hair or sensitive scalps.

  • SLES – Sodium Laureth Sulphate is a much gentler cleanser and has a larger molecular structure.

  • ALS – Ammonium Lauryl Sulphate is gentler still and has the larger more complex molecule which is harder for outer layers of skin to absorb so is seen as much less likely to irritate sensitive skin.

  • SLMI - Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate is derived from coconut oil, is sulphate-free and considered one of the mildest surfactants (cleansers) on the market.

Are sulphate-free shampoos better?

Anabel Kingsley, Trichologist at Philip Kingsley explains, “Sulphate-free shampoos do provide an even gentler cleanse compared to those containing SLES, and so those with certain hair textures or concerns may benefit from using a sulphate-free product (i.e. colour treated, chemically processed or curly, coiled hair). If sulphates are formulated into products correctly, they are fine for use, but as they are less gentle compared to sulphate-free formulas, they can accelerate colour loss and degrade chemical styles, such as keratin treatments, more quickly. Some stronger sulphates can also increase frizz and reduce curl definition in curly hairtypes. Therefore it is important that you choose the right shampoo for your hair texture and concern.”

“Sulphates are effective and safe when used as directed in wash-off cosmetics like shampoo and soap. But stronger ones may leave sensitive hair and skin feeling dry.” Van Clarke adds. In this case, he advises to “Use less (I’ve seen two tablespoons of shampoo used on hair where a teaspoon would be sufficient), opt for a milder sulphatelike SLES or ALS or avoid sulphates altogetherby switching to a milder cleanser.”

We’ve gathered the best sulphate-free shampoo below to give you that salon fresh colour for longer.

Kérastase Discipline Gentle Shampoo for smooth and frizz-free hair

Kérastase products have some of the best scents in the market and this shampoo is no different. It has a great lather (even sans sulphate) and leaves hair feeling soft and smooth. The product is designed for a range of hair types, whether you have thick, curly locks or freshly keratin-treated straight tresses. It’s all about counteracting frizz and the formula is effective is doing so with a trademarked combination of amino-acids, wheat protein, ceramides and a morpho-keratin complex that work in tandem to make your hair more manageable.


£18.80 | FeelUnique

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo

Not only is this formula from Pureology free from sulphates but it is also entirely vegan, while packing an impressive cleansing punch making it wonderful for those with sensitivites. It may be part of the Hydrate range but it’s a godsend to coloured hair, working its magic to keep vibrancy to prolong that salon freshness. It is made up of nourishing ingredients like sage, green tea and jojoba that act as an instant hit of hydration for both the strands and your scalp and will also protect against external aggressors like UV. The fragrance is also lovely with an aromatherapy feel thanks to the inclusion of patchouli, bergamot and lavender. Healthier hair is a wash away.


£15.75 | lookfantastic

Olaplex No 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo

If you haven’t yet heard of Olaplex, allow us to get you up to speed. The salon-favourite has been around for over six years and has gone from strength to strength - becoming a fixture in hairdressers (with a specialised range) and bathroom cabinets the world over. It’s one of the best-selling labels at major retailers and best of all, the products are sulphate-free, vegan and cruelty-free.

The shampoo uses a patented Bond Maintenance System to repair damage and rebuild broken bonds. They are numbered in chronological order where the Shampoo is No4 and should be followed by the No5 conditioner. Don’t be detered by the size of the bottle, a little goes a long way - even without the lathering agent sulphate. Hair feels puppy soft afterwards - the dream. We’ve definitely noticed less in the way of flyaways and shedding too.


£26 | Cult Beauty

Moroccanoil Hydrating Shampoo

The antioxidant and nutrient-rich ingredient of argan oil takes centre stage in this shampoo to nourish your locks and give it a welcome moisture boost. This formula from Moroccanoil is hard-working with a dreamy scent and a pleasing level of lather, leaving hair feeling squeaky clean no matter if it’s curly, natural or you have extensions. Argan oil is combined with vitamin A and E to smooth out flyaways and counteract dryness.


£16.95 | lookfantastic

Philip Kingsley Pure Colour Anti-Fade Shampoo

This shampoo from the extensive Philip Kingsley range is specifically designed to revive colour-treated hair and keep your dye vibrant for longer (up to 24 washes according to the brand’s lab-controlled tests). The formula has been crafted to really lock in the hue, while fighting frizz and injecting with moisture at the same time. This is achieved through a combination of antioxidant-rich denoxyline that also protects from environmental aggressors and hydrolyzed vegetable protein to fortify your tresses. The product is also cruelty-free, carbon negative and entirely recyclable.

 (Philip Kingsley)
(Philip Kingsley)

From £25.50 | John Lewis

Briogeo Blossom & Bloom Ginseng + Biotin Hair Thickening + Volumizing Shampoo

When it comes to hair growth and strengthening, the ingredient to know is biotin, in the spotlight in this Briogeo ‘poo. This powerhouse is combined with ginger and ginseng that only enhance follicle stimulation and works to transform dull and lifeless locks into the hair of your dreams. It cleanses without stripping and leaves hair smooth no matter what state it started out in: frizzy, damaged, coloured, or chemically treated.


£22.75 | Cult Beauty

Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo

Shea Moisture uses the uber hydrating butter to primarily nourish afro hair. While it’s not suitable for every hair type (it may make thinner, fine locks greasier than usual), for dry, dehydrated and coarse locks, it could be the sweet moisture relief your hair is crying out for. It recruits organic Shea butter and Jamaican Black Castor oil to remove dirt, impurities and product build up but does so without stripping your hair. It’s free from sulphates and is safe for coloured hair, working to strengthen hair and and reduce breakages.

 (Shea Moisture)
(Shea Moisture)

£12.99 | lookfantastic

Color Wow Color Security

Switch up your routine for ‘clean’ formulas like this shampoo from Color Wow. There’s a reason why it’s the brand of choice for top hairstylists like Chris Appleton as it’s a workhorse, protecting all hair types - even those with keratin and extensions - without undoing the treatment or causing them to fall out. Its clean status comes from the fact that it has been formulated without sulphates, silicones, conditioning agents and is both cruelty and gluten free. This is so that the product washes out entirely instead of sticking to the hair and causing filmy residues that will dull your shine. Your whole head will feel so gloriously clean - and isn’t that the point of shampoo?

 (Color Wow)
(Color Wow)

£19.50 | Color Wow

Aveda nutriplenish shampoo deep moisture

Aveda is beloved for its plant-based blends that harness the power of nature to really treat locks to the nutrients that it needs. The vegan formula of the nutriplenish range combines a 94 per cent naturally derived product that include superfoods like the omega-5-rich pomegranate oil, coconut oil and mango butter, all of which combine to intensely nourish your locks. For dry hair, this highly moisturising formula will be a godsend to cleanse without exacerbating your concerns. Effective and luxurious. It even smells delicious.


£27 | Aveda

L’Occitane Gentle & Balance Micellar Shampoo

Whether you have thick and coarse, fine and flyaway, or dry and itchy, L’Occitane’s shampoo will cleanse without weighing down your hair, leaving it fresh, clean and beautifully scented. The micellar technology removes excess sebum, pollution and dirt to restore glossy equilibrium to your locks and scalp, while reinforcing your natural defences. It combines essential oils of lemon, orange, rosemary, chamomile and lavender that combine for a subtle but welcomed olfactory experience.


£19.50 | L’Occitane

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