The Best Clean, Natural & Non-Toxic Shampoo
Want healthy, nourished hair? Switch to clean, natural, toxin-free shampoo for a safe yet effective way to wash your hair. We tested and reviewed 16 clean shampoo brands and found the best ones for your whole family.
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I’ve always associated the luxurious lather of my sulfate-laden shampoo with clean hair. It’s no surprise that I wasn’t looking forward to testing sulfate-free shampoo brands. I pictured myself trying to work some watery shampoo formula through my strands and ending up with greasy, stringy, lifeless hair – and I was so wrong!
Clean, natural, organic shampoo – are you confused by the labels?
- A natural shampoo product uses ingredients found in nature, but the claim on a label is not regulated. Keep in mind that ingredients such as lead are natural, but not safe. It’s still up to the consumer to check individual ingredients.
- Clean shampoo products are free from ingredients that are harmful to our health, such as parabens, sulfates, silicones, phthalates and synthetic fragrances. Depending on the brand, clean beauty products may also be free from Diethanolamine (DEA), Triclosan, Formaldehyde, Polyethylene (PEGs), and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). Clean can also be referred to as non-toxic or toxin-free (of course, that doesn’t mean you can ingest them!)
- Organic claims on personal care products (including shampoo) are regulated by The U.S. Department of Agriculture. This term only applies to the agricultural ingredients used in personal care products. The USDA organic seal appears on personal care products certified to be at least 95% organic, and the use of genetically modified organisms is prohibited.
Although free of sulfates, most of the clean shampoo brands I tested had an impressive amount of lather (swapping out sulfates for ingredients like naturally derived surfactants sourced from coconuts). And I loved testing all of the new-to-me scents.
WHY USE CLEAN, NATURAL, NON-TOXIC SHAMPOO?
Your scalp is pretty absorbent…about 4 times more absorbent than the skin on your forearm (1)! A study on hair follicles found that caffeine applied as a solution to the scalp was detected in the bloodstream 5 minutes after application (2). So, anything that you apply to your scalp has the ability to get in your body.
Sulfates (sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth ether sulfate (SLES)), give drugstore shampoo plenty of foamy lather, yet they’re irritating to the scalp. They do a great job of removing dirt and oil from your hair, but in the process, they strip hair of the natural oils that are essential for moisturizing both your hair and scalp.
If you color your hair, sulfates in shampoo strip the color from your strands. Sulfate-free shampoo is recommended by top stylists to protect color.
Silicones in hair care products may trick you into thinking your hair is silky and full of volume. The truth is that silicones clog hair follicles and coat each strand of hair, inhibiting your hair from getting needed moisture.
Clean, natural and organic hair care products (free of sulfates and silicones) are the best way to keep your hair and scalp healthy. Your hair won’t be stripped of the protective oils necessary to moisturize, nourish and repair.
A few other ingredients to avoid in shampoo and hair care products:
- Parabens– Parabens are a type of preservative used to prevent the growth of bacteria and prolong the shelf life of lip balm, deodorant, lotion, and other beauty and personal care products. The most commonly used are methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben and butylparaben. Based on a study conducted at the University of California Berkeley, researchers found that parabens were able to stimulate breast cancer cell growth, even at concentrations 100 times lower than the natural growth factor heregulin. These findings suggest that paraben exposure doesn’t have to be high to lead to cancer growth (3).
- Phthalates- Phthalates are used to increase the flexibility and transparency in plastics. They’re also found in personal care products, and they enhance product absorption, help products stick to your skin and keep fragrance smelling fresh. Researchers speculate that phthalates mimic hormones, interrupting hormone production (4). A 2018 review found that current human exposure to phthalates may have effects on the male reproductive system (5).
- Polyethylene glycol– Polyethylene glycol is used to make personal care products thicker and better able to transport moisture to the skin. The manufacturing process and introduce impurities and by-products, such as ethylene oxides and 1,4-dioxane, which are known carcinogenic materials (6).
- Synthetic fragrance- Synthetic Fragrance may contain carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, allergens, respiratory irritants and neurotoxic chemicals (7). Synthetic musks like galaxolide and tonalide, are linked to hormone disruption (8). Fragrance formulations also contain phthalates, which are hormone disruptors.
FRAGRANCE AND EWG SCORING
Did you know that it’s legal to use the term “fragrance” in a product ingredient list when there may actually be hundreds of chemicals combined in one formula? This practice is totally legal and it’s meant to protect trade secret scent formulas.
The EWG (Environmental Working Group) found that over 3,000 chemicals can be used in fragrance, and one third of those have been flagged as potentially toxic to humans and the environment.
Phthalates are widely used in fragrance as solvents and fixatives to make scents last longer because they’re inexpensive and have no odor. But this chemical can mimic hormones in the human body, posing potential health risks (read more about the health effects from phthalates above).
The good news is that personal product care products don’t need to use phthalates or other harmful chemicals in their fragrance formulations. All of the shampoo brands I tested used either natural fragrance (such as essential oils), no fragrance, or are formulated without phthalates and other harmful chemicals- I double-checked packaging, brand websites, and emailed customer service when I couldn’t find this information.
How does EWG score products? The EWG rates products on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the safest, and 10 being the most concerning. The EWG also marks some products as EWG VERIFIED™, meaning the product meets the strictest ingredient and manufacturing standards. EWG VERIFIED™ products do not contain any ingredients the EWG has identified as unacceptable.
If you visit the EWG website, you’ll notice that products with the term “fragrance” in the ingredient list get a high score, even if the company uses natural fragrance that’s free from phthalates and other harmful chemicals. SO, some of the shampoo brands I’ve listed below have pledged that they are free from phthalates and other harmful chemicals, but they still get high scores for using the term fragrance in their ingredient list.
My suggestion is to look at an individual brand or company and check their philosophy and commitment towards avoiding potentially harmful ingredients like phthalates. Check on their website, directly on the packaging or email customer service. Two of the shampoo brands I tested (and really liked) were fragrance-free, and that may work best if you still have concerns about the term “natural fragrance” on an ingredient label.
CLEAN, NATURAL, NON-TOXIC SHAMPOO TIPS
- If working shampoo through your wet hair feels like a chore (tons of tangles), or your hair always looks weighed down and greasy after shampooing, try applying conditioner to your hair first in the shower, then shampoo after conditioning. My younger daughter uses this “backward” method and it works every time – her hair looks beautiful!
- If your hair looks greasy and weighed down by the afternoon, try working in some natural dry shampoo through the roots. It will give your hair volume and will take care of the greasy look. Find my favorites in my post on natural dry shampoo.
HOW WE TESTED CLEAN, NATURAL, NON-TOXIC SHAMPOO
We tested 16 brands of clean shampoo (free from phthalates, parabens, sulfates, silicones, synthetic fragrance and more chemicals depending on the brand). For reference, I have fine, thin hair that gets greasy if not washed every day. Jeremy has course, dry hair, and he tested most, but not all, of the shampoo brands. Surprisingly, we ended up liking the same brands every time.
Most of the shampoo brands we tested were reasonably priced ($12 and under). We don’t really like to spend a lot of money on shampoo, and my favorite pick (and Jeremy’s) is super budget-friendly!
*Cost was calculated at the time this article was published, and is subject to change. All shampoo ingredients are listed at the end of this post.
Andalou Naturals Shampoo
- Cost: $8.99 for 11.5 fl oz (340 ml) or $0.78 per oz
- Free From: Silicones, sulfates, GMOs. 71% Certified Organic Ingredients.
- EWG score: 4
- My Take: This Andalou Naturals Shampoo smells delightful – like an orange creamsicle. Not only does it smell amazing, it also performs well. The shampoo worked through the knots in my hair pretty easily, and my hair felt light, soft and clean after using. This was my favorite pick. I recommend pairing it with the Andalou Naturals Sunflower and Citrus Brilliant Shine Conditioner – from reviews, the argan oil conditioner is on the super thick side, and the sunflower brilliant shine is the perfect consistency and doesn’t weigh my hair down. I did not have frizzies after using this combination (which I usually get from most shampoo brands). This was Jeremy’s favorite pick too. The citrus oil in this shampoo ranks high with the EWG for skin irritation and allergies. If you have sensitive skin or a sensitive scalp, choose a fragrance-free shampoo like Briogeo or Desert Essence.
- From the Andalou Naturals Website: This Andalou Naturals Shampoo with argan oil & shea is ideal for bringing dry and dull hair back to life without the use of silicones or sulphates. Fruit stem cell complex and omega rich argan oil deeply nourish and condition as moisturizing shea butter supports elasticity, strength, and manageability to help minimize the look of split ends and frizz. This is a fantastic option for those with curly hair as the results are noticeably softer, smoother hair with amazing sheen.
Odele Volumizing Shampoo
- Cost: $11.99 for 13 fl oz (384 ml) or $0.92 per oz
- EWG Score: 4
- Free From: Sulfates, formaldehyde, phthalates, parabens, dyes, synthetic fragrances or any of the 1,328+ cosmetic ingredients banned by the E.U. We are cruelty-free, vegan, allergy-tested and dermatologist-tested.
- My Take: I loved everything about this shampoo (the scent, the way it made my hair feel, the nice lather). It’s one of those brands that gets dinged by the EWG for fragrance (it does state that the fragrance is all natural on the ingredient list). The company pledges to be free from all of the chemicals stated above (including phthalates), and there’s nothing else on the ingredient list that scores high. This shampoo had lots of suds and distributed well through my hair, and had a mild, pleasant smell.
- From the Odele website: Delivers weightless moisture, shine + fullness. Give your hair a boost of volume and take confidence in knowing that this salon-grade shampoo helps hair look and feel thicker over time. Fortified with amino acids to promote hair strength from root to tip, this shampoo cleans, nourishes, and moisturizes without weighing hair down.
- Cost: $9.95 for 16 fl oz (473 ml) or $0.62 per oz
- EWG score: EWG verified
- My Take: This Attitude Shampoo smells just like cardamom, and it infused our whole bedroom and bathroom with a cozy aroma. The shampoo distributed well through my hair, but it wasn’t as moisturizing and hydrating as some of the other shampoo brands I tried. All in all though, I liked the shampoo, and so did Jeremy.
- From the Attitude website: Did you know soya is known to increase hair and skin thickness? Since hair is mostly composed of protein, soya can only help with its high concentration of proteins. Featuring cranberry extract, Attitude Shampoo helps volumize hair, creating thick and shiny locks. You will love its aroma that reminds us of orange and cardamom. EWG Verified™, hypoallergenic and dermatologically-tested, also contains moringa seed extract, known for its antipollution properties.
Juice Organics Shampoo
- Cost: $12.00 for 10 fl oz (300 ml) or $1.20 per oz
- EWG Score: 2
- Free From: Parabens, silicones, phthalates, sulfates, propylene glycol, artificial colors, synthetic fragrance
- My Take: This Juice Organics Shampoo has a floral scent, but it’s not overwhelming. It had a nice lather, but was a little hard working through the tangles. My hair feels clean and soft after using, and even looks fuller. I really like this shampoo and would buy it again.
- From the Juice Beauty website: Achieve the appearance of thicker and fuller looking hair with more body and bounce with this blend of antioxidant rich passion fruit to promote healthy looking locks, and plant proteins to help fortify. Achieves the appearance of thicker and fuller looking hair with antioxidant rich passion fruit and plant proteins. Juice Organics Shampoo nourishes hair with Vitamin B5 and helps fortify hair with plant proteins.
- Cost: $6.11 for 8.5 fl oz (250 ml) or $0.72 per oz
- EWG score: 4
- Free From: Sulfates, Artificial Colors, Parabens, Mineral Oil, Phthalates, DEA, Formaldehyde, Propylene Glycol, Animal By-products*
- My Take: I love Giovanni Shampoo – it distributed well through my hair, had plenty of suds, had a nice mild scent, and made my hair feel clean and light, with lots of volume. Giovanni got dinged on its fragrance score from the EWG (it does state that it’s all natural on the ingredient list). The company pledges to be free from all of the chemicals stated above (including phthalates), and there’s nothing else on the ingredient list that scores high. I would definitely buy this shampoo again.
- From the Giovanni website: Giovanni Shampoo is stretching ahead, revving its horsetail horsepower expanders to maximize volume and life to fine and thinning hair that is limping along through life. This sulfate-free shampoo will not dull, strip color, or damage your hair. It’s color-safe, paraben-free, and cruelty-free. Look in the Ingredients tab for a listing of USDA certified organic ingredients.
Desert Essence Shampoo
- Cost: $15.99 for 8 fl. Oz. (237 ml) or $1.99 per oz
- EWG Score: Not Rated
- Free From: Parabens, Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfates, Phthalates, Artificial Fragrances or Colors, Silicones EDTA, Propylene Glycol, Phosphates or Petroleum Based Ingredients. Certified to NSF Organic Standard.
- My Take: I really liked this Desert Essence Shampoo. It had a rich foam that distributed easily though my hair and after using it, my hair felt light, airy and clean. My only complaint is that once you’ve used up half the product, the tube is really hard to squeeze. I would still buy this again.
- From the Desert Essence website: Gentle fragrance-free shampoo formulated with Organic Jojoba Oil, Comfrey and Green Tea. Perfect for those of us with scent sensitivities.
Briogeo Aloe + Oat Milk Ultra Soothing shampoo
- Cost: $24 for 8 oz (236 ml) or $3.00 per oz
- EWG Score: not yet rated
- Free From: Harsh Sulfates, Silicones, Phthalates, Parabens, DEA, Artificial Dyes
- My Take: I love the way my hair felt after using this shampoo and conditioner – light, clean, swingy and hydrated. This is a Black owned company, and I’m really impressed with the products I’ve tried so far.
- From the Briogeo website: This shampoo is for those with sensitivities to fragrance, essential oils, lactose, soy, and gluten. It’s a hypoallergenic, dermatologist-approved, vegan, cruelty-free, 99% naturally-derived shampoo that comes in an eco-friendly 100% recyclable bottle and packaging made from 100% post-consumer resin. Briogeo Aloe + Oat Milk Ultra Soothing shampoo is safe for color treated, keratin treated, chemically-treated, and relaxed hair.
- Cost: $5.99 for 12 fl oz (354 ml) (0.50/fl oz) or $0.50 per oz
- EWG Score: 4
- Free From: Sulfates, Parabens, Dyes, Gluten, Phosphates & Phthalates. Our formulas are 100% Vegan and NEVER test on animals. Purezero is a proud member of PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies Program.
- My Take: I really liked the scent of this shampoo. Purezero Shampoo got dinged on its fragrance score from the EWG. The company pledges to be free from all of the chemicals stated above (including phthalates), and there’s nothing else on the ingredient list that scores high. It distributed fairly well through my wet hair, and my hair felt clean, soft and bouncy all day.
- From the Purezero website: Purezero Shampoo infuses your strands and scalp with the Miracle of Morocco, the fabled Argan Oil. Argan Oil is rich in powerful vitamins and protein to your repair your limp and lifeless hair, resulting in silky soft perfection.
Herbal Essences Shampoo
- Cost: $6.75 for 13.5 fl oz (400 ml) or $0.50 per oz
- EWG Score: EWG Verified
- Free From: Sulfates, parabens, colorants, mineral oil, BHA, coal tar dye, DEA, phthalates, paraffins, toluene
- My Take: This shampoo has a strong but pleasant scent. It had a thick lather and made my hair feel clean, soft and bouncy. My only complaint is that I sneezed after using it every time I tried it. My daughter (the one with lots of allergies) tried it and had no problems though.
- From the Herbal Essences website: Our Herbal Essences Shampoo is sulfate free and nourishes dry hair, leaving it silky soft with increased manageability, suppleness, and shine. It’s made with real botanicals that are endorsed by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, a world leading expert on plants. This sulfate-free shampoo is pH-balanced and gentle enough to use every day.
Derma E Shampoo
- Cost: $9.99 for 10 fl oz (296 ml) or $1.00 per oz
- EWG Score: 4
- Free From: Parabens, phthalates, formaldehyde, petroleum, sulfates, mineral oil, artificial colors, artificial fragrance
- My Take: With a minty scent, this Derma E Shampoo left my scalp tingling after my showers. My hair felt soft and clean after using, but it did feel like a little flat by the end of the day. All-in-all, a decent shampoo.
- From the Derma E website: This invigorating shampoo is formulated with a unique blend of naturally-derived proteins, vitamins, and oils to create an effective thickening formula that making hair appear thicker and fuller.
The Seaweed Bath Co. Shampoo
- Cost: $12.99 for 12 fl oz (354 ml) or $1.08 per oz
- EWG score: 2
- Free From: Dyes, parabens, SLS, fragrance, gluten, ammonia, chlorine, glycol solvents, phthalates, formaldehyde, artificial colorants, phosphates or petroleum distillates
- My Take: This shampoo had a nice amount of suds and distributed well through my hair. My hair felt a little flat and a little greasy by the end of the day, but all in all, not too bad.
- From the Seaweed Bath Co. website: Our Balancing Argan Seaweed Bath Co. Shampoo cleanses and nourishes hair and scalp to achieve healthy moisture and shine. Organic, sustainably-harvested bladderwrack seaweed infuses strands with 65+ vitamins and minerals. Argan oil helps hair maintain healthy moisture and shine. Coconut and avocado oils moisturize hair and scalp. Leaping Bunny Certified, Vegan, Cruelty Free, Gluten Free, Paraben Free, 100% post-consumer recycled plastic bottle.
- Cost: $10.99 for 8.5 fl oz (250 ml) or $1.29 per oz
- EWG Score: 4 (old formulation)
- Free From: sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, parabens, phthalates, silicones, dyes, artificial fragrances, phenoxyethanol, PEGs, DEAs, MEAs, or TEAs, dioxane, polyquaterniums, harsh preservatives
- My Take: This shampoo smelled amazing, like an orange creamsicle. It distributed well through my hair when shampooing. By the end of the day, my hair felt flat, heavy and weighed down.
- From the Broo website: This gentle, sulfate-free, color-safe cleanser smells like someone fresh-squeezed citrus on your head, and leaves your hair clean and ready to be conditioned! Tap the barley in fresh-brewed beer, brimming with B vitamins, for strength and shine. Will you smell like beer? No way!
- Cost: $12.99 for 20.3 fl oz (600 ml) or $0.64 per oz
- EWG score: EWG verified
- Free From: Parabens, sulfates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic polymers.
- My Take: This Everyone Shampoo was a little hard to work through my hair. It slightly reminded me of Castile soap and was not the most hydrating shampoo/conditioner combo. However, my 13 year old daughter tried it and her hair looked great. She loved it and used up the whole bottle.
- From the Everyone website: Turn up the volume on your hair with this uplifting sulfate-free shampoo, made with a refreshing blend of peppermint and orange pure essential oils. Cruelty free.
- Cost: $9.99 for 8 fl oz (236 ml) or $1.25 per oz
- EWG score: 2
- Free From: Parabens, Sulfates, Mineral oil, Petrolatum, Formaldehyde, Cruelty free
- My Take: I didn’t love this shampoo. It reminded me of castile soap. It was slightly harder to work through my hair than most of the other brands I tested, and my hair felt kind of straw-like and in need of moisture (even with the conditioner).
- From the Acure website: If you’re looking for big volume with a minty afterglow, look no further than this Acure Shampoo. Forget the neighbors, turn up the volume with mint & echinacea!
- Cost: $12.99 for 16 fl oz (473 ml) or $0.81 per oz
- EWG score: 4
- Free From: Triclosan, sulfates, formaldehyde, salicylates, parabens, phosphates, SLS, SLES, MEA, DEA, TEA, petroleum-based ingredients, animal by-products, perfumes, dyes or caustics
- My Take: I didn’t love this shampoo. I had a hard time distributing it through my hair. Although my hair felt clean after using, it also felt like straw.
- From the Puracy website: This plant-based shampoo contains a blend of natural cleansers, botanical extracts, and vegetable emollients. By not attaching anything artificial to the hair (like silicone), hair is allowed to naturally absorb moisture & become fortified, which helps prevent the buildup of dirt, grease, and other damaging conditions.
- Cost: $25 for 8.5 oz (250 ml) or $2.94 per oz
- EWG score: no EWG rating
- Free From: Sulfates, gluten, parabens, propylene glycol, silicones, phthalates
- My Take: Although this shampoo left my hair feeling wonderful and looking great, I couldn’t get past the scent (not my style). Whether you like a scent or not is very personal, so you may love it. Jeremy did not like the scent, to the point that he wanted me to shower. My younger daughter didn’t care for the smell, but my older daughter thought it smelled fine. Even after washing my hair with a different shampoo, the scent lingered. I would suggest buying a sample before getting a full bottle to test the scent.
- From the Evolvh website: Known as the “no brainer” clean haircare shampoo, it’s the most effective sulfate free, gluten free and vegan shampoo available. This beloved and best selling shampoo normalizes hair – adapts to what you need most. A custom blend of nourishing antioxidants, plus amino and fatty acids work from within to give you your best healthy hair ever.
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