Sulphate-free shampoo: everything you need to know

A must-have in your shower caddy or just another marketing ploy? What’s the deal with sulphate-free shampoos and do you really need one?

Sulphate-free shampoos are seriously popular. Nip down to your local Boots or supermarket aisle and you’ll find the sulphate-free hair care section booming. Not to mention the thousands of fancy products online. 

But while we’re often bombarded with ingredients to avoid – do you really know what sulphates are? And what are the actual benefits of using a sulphate-free formula? 

Before you add that sulphate-free shampoo to your basket, here’s everything you need to know.

What are sulphates?   

So, what are sulphates and why would you want to buy sulphate-free? In a nutshell, sulphates are common foaming agents that are found in shampoos (and other foaming washes like cleansers, shaving gel and shower wash) in order to create a bubbly, foaming texture.

The most common sulphates are sodium laurel sulfate – often labelled SLS – and sodium laureth ether sulfate (SLES). These chemicals are known as surfactants, and are great at removing dirt and oils from the skin and hair.

How do sulphates work?

In the most basic sense, the molecules have a water-loving end and a water-hating end. Think of it like a tadpole – the oil-soluble head traps oils, dirt and grease, before rinsing it away off of the water-soluble tail.

So… what’s the problem? Well, the ‘tadpole head’ can get trapped in the skin and cause irritation – leading to scalp issues and dryness. Because the molecules are so robust, they can’t differentiate between excess oil and natural sebum, so they can accidentally strip too much oil out of the hair, leaving it dry, brittle and susceptible to damage.

While some people believe that sulphates do affect colour fade, this isn’t proven. In fact, simply washing your hair with water can affect colour fade – so if you’re conscious of losing your colour vibrancy too quickly, try and cut down on how often you wash your hair, and always wear a swimming cap if you’re exposed to water regularly.

What are the benefits of using sulphate-free shampoo?

While sulphate-free shampoos aren’t a must for everyone – there are a lot of benefits to using sulphate-free formula. The most common benefits include:

  • Reduced scalp irritation
  • Reduced frizz
  • Reduced irritation of skin around the hair (neck, back, hairline acne)
  • Leaves hair softer and more conditioned
  • Leaves curly hair more intact

What is the best sulphate-free shampoo?

Now that you’re clued up on what sulphates are, you’re going to want to know which are the best sulphate-free shampoos out there. Keep scrolling for Stylist’s pick of the best sulphate-free shampoo:

  • Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Matcha + Apple Replenishing Superfood Shampoo

    Packed full of antioxidants and ultra-nourishing fruit extracts, this sulfate free shampoo is like a superfood smoothie for your hair – encouraging hair growth and restorative hydration.

    Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Matcha + Apple Replenishing Superfood Shampoo, £24

    buy now

  • Bleach London Sulph Obsessed Shampoo

    Budget friendly and blimmin’ good – this sulphate-free shampoo is perfect for dry, damaged and bleached hair types.

    Bleach London Sulph Obsessed Shampoo, £6.50

    buy now

  • Percy & Reed Anti-Dandruff I’m No Flake Shampoo

    If your scalp is feeling itchy, sensitive and all around a bit irritated right now, this is the shampoo for you. Aloe vera and chamomile help to soothe the scalp whilst the sulphate-free formula helps reduce any dryness.

    Percy & Reed Anti-Dandruff I’m No Flake Shampoo, £20

    buy now

  • Ouai Haircare Clean Shampoo

    This ultra-gentle shampoo helps to cleanse and hydrate in one. Plus, it smells ah-mazing.

    Ouai Haircare Clean Shampoo, £22

    buy now

  • R+Co Dallas Biotin Thickening Shampoo

    Packed with hair-boosting biotin and strengthening coconut oil, this is a great sulphate-free option for fine hair types in need of some va-va-voom.

    R+Co Dallas Biotin Thickening Shampoo, £24

    buy now

  • Aveda Damage Remedy Restructuring Shampoo

    Formulated without sulfates to minimise irritation, this gentle shampoo cleanses while it moisturises helping to repair dry, damaged and chemically-treated hair.

    Aveda Damage Remedy Restructuring Shampoo, £19.60

    buy now

  • We Are Paradoxx Super Natural Shampoo

    We Are Paradoxx’s range of shampoos are not only SLS and SLES free – but 100% vegan, 90% plastic-free and as sustainable and eco-friendly as they can be. Big brownie points.

    We Are Paradoxx Super Natural Shampoo, £18

    buy now

  • Redken Nature + Science All Soft Shampoo

    Perfect for dry and brittle hair types, this sulphate-free shampoo leaves hair seriously soft and silky. Plus, the packaging is made from 94% post-consumer recycled plastic.

    Redken Nature + Science All Soft Shampoo, £18.50 

    buy now

Image credits: Getty

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