Sulfate Free Shampoos : Least and Most Gentle

We have been talking sulfate free shampoos for the past few weeks and finally here is the list that you requested. I have ranked the shampoos that you gave me in order of how harsh they might be. Please do remember that the best way to measure how irritating a shampoo is or how dry it may make your hair feel is to use it. This list is not intended to make you throw out your current shampoo if it has been working for you. This list is purely an assessment on ingredients, not on actual use which is really the ultimate test.

To recap from the last post, the surfactants in sulfate free shampoo are ranked in this order
1.Harshest (similar to sls) - C12-C14 anionic surfactants, olefin sulfonate,soap
2. Medium (similar to sles) - C15+ anionic surfactants with or without a mix of non ionic/zwitterionic surfactants
3.Gentlest (little/no irritation) - Nonionic surfactants, mud in water

 Sulfate Free Shampoo Ingredient Ranking
Likely to be Harsh
(Likely to clean oil very well)
Likely to be Mid-Low Irritating 
(Likely to clean some oil)
Likely to be Gentle
(Likely to have a low level of cleaning)
Trader Joe's Tea TreeTingle
L'Oreal Paris EverStrong Reconstruct
Head organics
Avalon Organics Olive and Grape Seed Moisturizing
Kiehls Amino Acid
Live Clean Exotic Nectar Moroccan Collection  with Argan Oil
Carols Daughter Moni Repairing Sulfate Free 
Ion Inspired by Nature Shampoo
Giovanni Tea Tree Triple Treat
Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Hydrating-Clarifying
Giovanni Smooth as Silk Deep Moisture
Kinky Curly Come Clean
L'Oreal EverPure
Organic Care Systems power build and moisture
urtekram organic aloe vera shampoo
Rusk Shampoo Sensories Calm Guarana & Nourishing Ginger* (*Technically not sulfate free as it contains ALS)
Theraneem scalp therapy
Qhemet Biologics Egyptian Wheatgrass Cleansing Tea
Jane Carter
Jason Jojoba
Jason sea kelp
Jason biotin
Naked Rescue Intensive Care
Nature's Gate Jojoba Revitalizing
Nature's Gate Hemp Nourishing
Aveda Dry Treatment
L'oreal EverSleek
Carols Daughter Tui Moisturizing Sulfate Free
Andalou Naturals
Teanatura ylang shampoo & shower
Teanatura chamomile&mallow
The Body Shop's rainforest moisture
Jessicurl Cleansing Cream
Ren oat and bay conditioning
KeraCare Hydrating/Detangling
Creme of Nature Argan Oil Moisture Shine

Deva Curl No poo

Deva Curl Low poo

Elasta qp creme conditioning

L'Oreal EverCreme Intense Nourishing

Bentonite clay
Rhassoul clay
Terresentials mud wash

Soap based shampoos and shampoo bars fall into the 'harshest' category. However some people do actually find them more gentle than shampoo (depending on how your hair/skin reacts to pH)

Bobeam's Honey Hemp and Green Tea Shampoo Bar
BoBeam's Cheris Hibiscus Moisturising Shampoo Bar
Chagrin Shampoo Bars
KBB's Cool Clarifying shampoo
Shea Moisture African Black Soap
Dr. Bronner's Pepper Mint Soap
Black Soap/African Black Soap
Aubrey Organics Normalizing Shampoo
Everyday Shea Vanilla Mint Shampoo by Allafia
Burt's Bees More Moisture Raspberry and Brazil Nut Shampoo
Shea moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Poo
Shea moisture Organic Coconut and Hibiscus Curl Control Shampoo


  1. Thanks so much for this list, JC! You are awesome:).

    I was wondering if we are sure that the Shea Moisture Retention Shampoo and the Curl & Shine Shampoos are soap based?

    I know for sure the African Black Soap one is, but if I'm not mistaken the other two are decyl glucoside based (a surfactant?), and the Curl & Shine also has Sodium Lactylate something or another.

    I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks again for all your research!

    1. You are correct and no I am not sure whether both of those are soaps or not (Curl control and Retention Poo). The same also goes for Burts Bees which also contains decyl glucoside. Decyl glucoside is a non ionic surfactant (so in essence should have little to no irritation) but it is also soap like because it has pH of around 11 which changes its irritation level. Normally citric acid is added to fix the pH issue but other times it is left fairly alkaline because the surfactant can work just as well. Since I do not know the pH values of these products I thought it would be better to err on the side of caution and place them as soap like.

    2. Ok that makes sense. Thanks for explaining:)

    3. I looked at the Shea moisture retention shampoo and they listed aloe juice. I'm not sure but I believe this would lower the pH.

    4. Aloe juice on its own has a low pH (circa 3-4) but there is no way to know if it has an effect because it must be added in sufficient quantities to actually change the pH of 11 that decyl glucoside has. I do agree that it might, but there is no way of knowing. I did ask Shea Moisture to provide the pH of their shampoos, conditioners and leave ins but they did not respond

    5. Thank you! I'm so sorry I took so long to check back here. I'm very glad that you have provided this resource!

    6. I want to add that decyl glucoside is stated on to be very gentle so much that it does not really remove products. This is not good for me since build up is a real issue with my hair but on the flip side harsher shampoos are also too drying. What I am doing right now is clarifying bimonthly or monthly with neutrogena anti-residue (recommended by ktani hair sense blog...we chatted via email), washing once a week or week and a half with giovanni 50:50 diluted, then using Curls cleansing cream the rest of the way. I use mineral only per advice from Ktani, which washes out very easily even jusr with the curls cream cleanser. There us build up from the cleanser though so that is where shampooing less frequently comes in handy.

  2. Thank you for this post, very useful.

    Could you please talk about Polyquaternium (especially 10 and 80) in a post whether they are water soluble or not also if they build up easily on hair ?

    Thanks again

  3. Thanks for this series! While I find most non-sulfate cleansers less effective, nothing irritated my scalp like that Cream of Nature Argan oil cleanser. Would the more gentle shampoos/muds require more mechanical scrubbing to clean the hair/scalp?

    1. Thanks for contributing on the Creme of Nature, it is always good to see a real review. I do not recommend scrubbing the hair or scalp. The more delicate you are, the more you preserve it. If you find that the gentler shampoos do not clean your hair as well then my recommendation is to switch to something in the medium category.

  4. I have relaxed tresses and have been reading your blog for a long time. I appreciate your work and this blog.

    I wanted to comment because I am an 'outlier'. The only shampoo on that list I have used is CON Argan Oil and I was very disappointed. It left my hair feeling stripped.

    I have also recently tried Lush's Honey I Washed the Kids Soap. It was not the best poo, but certainly better than CON AO and others I have used, namely Organix Moroccan Oil shampoo now that I think of it.

    This was an interesting list! :)

    And please forgive any typos!

    Lush Honey I Washed the Kids:

    Honey Water (Mel Aqua) , Propylene Glycol , Rapeseed Oil , Coconut Oil (Brassica napus; Helianthus annuus; Cocos nucifera) , Water (Aqua) , Sodium Lauryl Sulfate , Sodium Stearate , Sodium Hydroxide , Perfume , Beeswax (Cera alba) , Sweet Orange Oil (Citrus dulcis) , Bergamot Oil (Citrus bergamia) , Aloe Vera Extract (Aloe barbadensis) , Sodium Chloride , Gardenia Extract (Gardenia jasminoides) , Titanium Dioxide , *Limonene , *Linalool , *Benzyl Benzoate

    1. Thanks too for your CON review.

      The Lush product you have listed is not sulfate free and actually contains SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate). I don't actually understand the listing - the oil appears before water and you also have sodium hydroxide. It looks like a list to create a soap rather than a shampoo. I am confused lol

    2. Whoops!

      That comment was just to say that I feel a lot like an outlier, CON AO has been on online rave that did not turn out well for me and that even though "Soap based shampoos and shampoo bars fall into the 'harshest' category", Lush's HIWTK Soap was more gentle to my tresses than CON AO. (The fact the the Lush product is not sulfate free does not make it fit the Sulfate Free Table table/conversation perfectly, but I commmented just to share my 'gentle poo' vs. soap experience...)

      I also posted the ingredients so that anyone curious would not have to leave the site.

      Sorry I was confusing!

    3. Oh no worries.

      It was only the ingredient list that confused me (not you writing it, but studying it myself). However, it is my mistake because I thought it was a shampoo but I have just reread and see that it is a soap. It looks like they listed the ingredients that they put into the soap (in actual fact the sodium hydroxide would no longer be in the product, it is just used to convert the oil to soap). If that was a shampoo list it would be seriously odd to have so much oil and sodium hydroxide - so my confusion is now cleared up :)

    4. Can you tell me if sulfate free surfactants actually means sulfste free? I tried Organix argan oil snd shea butter seemed to dry my hair.thanks for your help.

  5. And there was a Burt's Bees poo I loved as a natural but seemed to tangled my relaxed hair...

  6. Oddly soaps and black soap make my skin feel very dry but like some I find them to be gentle on my hair. Great post ! Maybe will increase the use of rhassoul clay from once to twice a month what do you think ?

    1. I think you can do anything that suits your hair. I love the condition of your hair as it is so you are definitely doing something right :)

    2. It may appears silly but each time you answer me I'm like "ow she's so nice and sweet to me" (weird I know ^-^). I don't know why but I'm afraid of it loosens my hair pattern like henna can do for some people. Well I'll stick with what works for the moment..
      If one day you have the time or interest in doing a post concerning clays on hair (blue, white, pink, green, red...) I will be so happy, I'm still searching infos on the net but I'd like to see if there have been science studies about their effects, uses etc on hair.

      Merci for the time you take to post and to answer us.
      Take care.

  7. Great info that I'll putting to use immediately. Thanks!

  8. You listed most of the L'Oreal "Ever-" line, but I personally found L'Oreal EverCreme to be the most gentle of them. Would you mind finding out which category that one would fall under?

    1. Done - It is in the gentle category, it is actually more conditioner like than shampoo like.

  9. Great post! I recently discovered the mildness of Bentonite clay and don't think I'll use anything else. It's leaves my hair relatively soft, fluffy and easier to detangle. So after many failed attempts of various shampoos I've realized my hair needs the mildest cleansers possible.

  10. Hi, Jc very informative post. Please where would you place Tresemme Naturals Shampoos

    1. Tresemme Naturals is not a sulfate free shampoo. It contains ALS (ammonium lauryl sulfate) and ALES. It would be in the same group as a shampoo with SLS (likely to be harsh).

  11. relatively new to exploring healthy products and have been using shea moisture for my daughter. She has very dry hair to begin with (although im noticing some improvement since ive been moisturizing it) so should I try a less harsh shampoo if the hair is already dry?

  12. jc can I just say you're awesome. As in AWESOME!!!! I've just read every single post you've posted since, well since the very first one, and it is only now that I have decided to write something (proving a tad bit difficult because I'm using my phone). Anywho, I just wantd to let you know this. it took me over a week to get through it all but I'm sooo glad I did!! I'm going into my final year of study at uni doing biology. the plan was to graduate, go to Nigeria for a yr and come back to do a masters in something sciencey (lol) but not really knowing what. however, since being natural for a yr and a half, just starting a ytub channel, and reading this blog, I've decided to actually find a degree course that would allow me to be cosmetics chemist... haven't actually found a suitable course yet with the correct title, but it's out there somewhere- I'll keep u posted! There's so much more I want to say but my phone .... I wish for u all the goodness and success and amazingness and greatness life has to offer you!!!!! This blog has changed my outlook and I'm finally focused. if only I had known as I was applying for uni I wouldn't have done what my parents wanted! But hey such is life.... hugs and kisses to you jc. xx

  13. Hi JC. I love your blog and I think this is one of your most useful posts, for many companies are coming out with sulfate free shampoos that claim to be gentle, but its difficult to tell which is more or less than the others. I was wondering if you could tell me where Queen Helene Royal Curl Stay Clean Shampoo would fall on this chart. The ingredients are as follows:

    Aqua (Water, Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Polyquaternium-7, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Citrus Nobilis (Mandarin Orange) Fruit Extract, MAcrocystis Pyrifera Extract(1), Royal Jelly Extract, Disodium EDTA, Glycerin, Glycol Distearate, Polyquaternium-10, Phenoxyethanol, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Benzyl Benzoate, Hexyl Cinnamal, Linalool, Fragrance (Parfum).


    1. I also want to know the ph of this shampoo.

  14. Have you tried a sulfate shampoo called Pro Naturals Moroccan argan oil shampoo? I use it and it's just brilliant, seriously, I haven't even had frizzy hair since I started. I think it's because of the argan oil, I read that was like the holy grail for hair. It would be nice to see a review on it!

  15. This post is amazing! How would you classified SHIKAKAI powder and SOAPNUTs?

  16. I'm just curious why Renpure Organics never appears on any of these lists. I use their Argan Oil line and I would love to know how they stack up to others without trying them all. :)

  17. What about Aubrey organics island naturals or the Honeysuckle shampoo?

    1. Aubrey Organics are soap like shampoos

  18. What's your opinion of the following?

    Evo Gluttony Shampoo
    Ingredients: Aqua, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Sodium Lauroamphoacetate, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Cocamide DEA, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Polyquaternium-10, Cocamide MEA, Methyl Gluceth-20, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Wheat Starch, VP/DMAPA Acrylates Copolymer, PEG-12 Dimethicone, Parfum, Phenoxyethanol, Dehydroacetic Acid, Benzoic Acid, Hexyl cinnamal, Lyral, Citronellol, Linalool, Benzyl Salicylate, Alpha-Isomethyl lonone, Limonene.

    Kevin Murphy Angel Wash
    Ingredients: Water (Aqua)(Eau), Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropylamine Oxide, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Glycol Distearate Phenoxyethanol (and) Ethylhexylglycerin, Fragrance, Polyquaternium-7, Polyquaternium-11, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein PG-Propyl Silanetroil, Polyquaternium-55, Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate, Decyl Glucoside, Lauryl Alcohol, Cinnamidopropyltrimonium Chloride, Butylene Glycol (and) Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Extract, Wheat Amino Acids, Hydrolyzed Oat Protein, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Oats, Hydrolyzed Soy Protein, Superoxide Dismutase Melanin, Ascorbic Acid, Malic Acid, Tocopheryl Acetate, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Certified Organic Lavender Extract, Certified Organic Chamomile Extract, Certified Organic Rose Hips Extract, Citric Acid, Ext. Violet #2, D&C Red #33, FD&C Blue #1, Geraniol, Benzyl Benzoate, d- Limonene


    1. Kevin Murphy Angel Wash (and the accompanying conditioner) are the best shampoo & conditioner I've ever used. Gentle, lovely for waves, non-drying, natural ingredients. My daughter is a hair stylist and sge recommended it to me. Also, the scent is mild. I'm highly sensitive with scents and my scalp. Use very little every few days.

  19. Hi can you please place Alba Hawaiian shampoo and conditioner to this list? Thank you! Love the blogs!!!

  20. Hello,

    I believe through misinformation about product content and a bad stylist my hair is over proteinized. My hair is dry and in some spots has raised cuticle. I have tried many sulfate free, PH balanced, silicone free, paraben free natural shampoos and conditioners most of which were supposed to be protein free but had hidden proteins or ingredients that act or promote protein in the hair. NOTHING has worked. Can you please suggest a remedy.

    I have wavy, fine, color treated hair.

    Thank you

  21. What about Acure Oragnics shampoos?

  22. I've been reading your blog for the last couple of hours. I love it! I was wondering about both the Proclaim brand from Sally's Beauty Supply and the Organix Ginger & Awapuhi shampoos/conditioners. They are supposed to be sulfate free. Was just wondering where they might lay in the chart.

  23. Hi! I recently stumbled across your blog & I have always thought it important to have a more scientific understanding of hair in relation to care especially with so much misinformation out there.

    I was wondering in the list above if the Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus is soap based? I don't have to much trouble with this shampoo because I do use a lot of product & oil on my hair so it probably helps remove buildup. However I was thinking about making my own homemade shampoo from natural products, & I wondered how shea moisture (since they're organic) preserve the products & get the suds. I really would prefer to mix things in larger batches since I'm always on the go & it'd be a hassle to mix product every time I needed to wash, but there is no credible information anywhere as far as long term preservation naturally from what I've seen.

  24. What a great chart! Thanks for sharing this valuable information. I'll be sure to pass this along. After reviewing some of the discussion, I think it's so critical for us to make it a habit to carefully read product labels and ingredients off of certain shampoo products. Just that very step can prevent us from allowing toxic ingredients like sodium lauryl sulfate, synthetic fragrances, and other chemicals to enter into our hair and skin.

  25. Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this!
    In other hand, I'm kind of sad because today I've just got the EverPure Sulphate free shampoo. I was washing my hair and I noticed that it lathers quite a lot for an SLS free shampoo and I felt my hair a bit dry after washing.

    If I knew this, I would get the EverCreme Intense Nourishing instead.

    I had The Body Shop's Rainforest moisture shampoo and I couldn't hate a shampoo as much as this one... Even though I insisted on using it for almost 2 months, it made my hair super dry and all tangled up. I end up throwing away the rest of the bottle because my hair definitely hated it.

    I tried another free SLS shampoo, which was L'Oreal Delicate Color Shampoo and my hair seemed to handle it better :)

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge! Best wishes

  26. What about Marulagold intelligent shampoo?
    Thanks !!


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