The Best Sulfate Free Shampoos for Curly Hair
It is difficult at the best of times to manage curly hair. From all the different hacks for easy, overnight curls, to the many, many products available for defining, smoothing, volumizing, and protecting. As a result, it can become a bit confusing for novices and experts of curly hair care alike.
One of the “rules” of curly hair care that has persisted throughout all fads is that you need a good shampoo to truly make a difference in your curly hair journey. Another absolute rule is that shampoo with sulfates is one of the first (if not the first) things to cut out of your daily routine.
We will take this opportunity to go through not only the best sulfate-free shampoos out there, but also why you need a good sulfate-free shampoo for curly hair, and why sulfates are often best left out of shampoos for curly-haired people.
1. Blu Atlas Shampoo
Blu Atlas is a self-care brand made for men, but people of all genders will definitely appreciate this classic curly-hair-friendly shampoo. Although it is not described as formulated specifically for curly hair, this shampoo has a list of ingredients to impress, and is certain to make even the most skeptical person a convert.
Aside from having absolutely no sulfates, this shampoo is full of good, natural ingredients. In fact, even 99% of all ingredients are naturally derived from plants, fruits, or minerals. This includes saw palmetto and vegan biotin for fortification.
In addition to fortifying ingredients, this shampoo is packed full of hydrating and soothing ingredients such as jojoba protein and aloe vera. These ingredients not only help to nourish the hair, but ensure that there are no negative skin reactions, even for those with sensitive skin.
Finally, this shampoo uses only coconut-derived surfactants, which are gentle cleansers able to remove grime and oils from the hair. This shampoo is even gentle enough to act as a daily cleanser, if you have particularly thick curly hair that traps in oils.
2. Garnier Fructis Curl Nourish Shampoo
This moisturizing shampoo is another excellent sulfate-free shampoo that harnesses the power of jojoba. It is also completely silicone free and acts as a gentle cleanser. What makes this shampoo ideal for curly hair is the hydrating nature of the shampoo.
This liquid shampoo is suitable for all curl types and boasts that it can create frizz-resistant, defined curls for up to 48 hours. It gets a lovely coconut scent from the use of coconut oil, as well as jojoba and macadamia oils for hydration.
Altogether, this shampoo acts as a curl-friendly everyday cleanser that can help to lock in moisture and define curls. This is an especially friendly shampoo for those who don’t quite know their curl type, as it is able to work for all curl types equally.
3. John Frieda Frizz Ease Dream Curls Shampoo
This shampoo is a mix between a cream and a liquid, and is suitable for both curly and wavy hair types. Like all shampoos on this list, it is sulfate-free, but this shampoo is also paraben-free.
The main feature of this shampoo is its ability to help detangle and define curls. The thicker and heavier cream formulation is helpful to manage natural curls that often have a degree of frizz. This frizz can often cause uncomfortable knots, while detangling can destroy curl clumps.
Using this shampoo will help to revive limp and lifeless curls, and reshape their natural frizzy nature into volume for beautifully defined and bouncy curls. This shampoo can also help to find defined curls, particularly for wavy hair types.
This shampoo is advertised as suitable for both wavy and curly hair, but may not be suitable for some curl types. In particular, fine hair may struggle with this shampoo due to the heavy nature of the cream, which may cause the curls to be weighed down.
However, if you have thicker, stronger curls, this may be the shampoo for you!
4. Herbal Essences Bio: Renew Sulfate Free Potent Aloe and Hemp Shampoo
This sulfate-free shampoo takes going all-natural one step further! Herbal Essences shampoo products are endorsed by Royal Botanic Gardens, with a certification of real botanical extracts used in their products.
Some of these botanical extracts include aloe and hemp. These ingredients act as hydrating and conditioning agents within the shampoo, which makes it especially well-suited for frizzy hair. As we all know, sometimes curly hair can just be that extra bit frizzy, so this makes it an excellent curly hair shampoo.
Aside from having great frizz control, this shampoo stands out in another way. It is also a color-safe shampoo. This means that it is safe to use on dyed hair, and won’t cause premature fading of the color you worked so hard on.
Finally, this product is especially well suited for drier curls, as it is deliberately formulated with those hydrating ingredients. It is able to nourish and calm dry hair, and make it softer and more manageable.
As a result, this shampoo is especially well suited for fine, dry, frizzy curls, although it is also suited for all curl and hair types.
5. Shea Moisture Jamaican Black Caster Oil Shampoo
Shea Moisture has created an excellent sulfate-free shampoo for curly hair. In case you didn’t already know, there are different types of shampoos. The distinctions between these shampoos become especially important for curly hair.
Clarifying shampoos such as this one are more intense cleansers than regular shampoos. They are used less often (for example, once a week, or a few times a month) to remove build-up of products and grime that the more gentle, everyday cleansers miss.
This shampoo has a bevy of excellent ingredients to help it function not only as a clarifying shampoo, but as a hydrating one. These ingredients include organic shea butter, which is a hydrating agent for dry or damaged curls, and can help nourish them to make your curls smoother and stronger.
In addition, it uses ingredients such as peppermint to help draw blood flow to the scalp. This is essential for invigorating the scalp to promote hair health, and hair growth. An additional restorative agent, Jamaican Black Caster Oil, is full of omegas for added shine.
The final stand-out ingredient in this blend is apple cider vinegar. This vinegar is added to help balance the pH levels of the hair and scalp for optimal growth and softness. Altogether, this shampoo can be used to tame curls, and keep frizz under control, while helping to remove product build-up.
6. Umberto Giannini Curl Jelly Wash
This unscented, sulfate-free jelly shampoo is an excellent all-rounder for curly hair. The gentle formula means that it is suitable for most hair types, including both curly hair and wavy hair.
In addition to being completely sulfate free, this product is also free of silicone and parabens. Both of these products are commonly missing in curly hair products, as they often weigh down or destroy curls with harsh cleansing activity. Thus, this product is well-suited for curly hair.
In addition to having none of the bad ingredients, this product is packed with good ones. Its key ingredient is vitamin B5, as the shampoo is infused with this nourishing vitamin. This formula helps to produce a softening effect for curls. The shampoo is also particularly formulated to help define curls, and add bounce to your everyday hairdo.
This product also stands out for being vegan, and cruelty-free. Unlike some other shampoos out there, this product is not tested on animals. Rather, the product is tested on hairstylists, which means it is optimized for use on human hair. In addition, the product contains no animal-derived products for your peace of mind.
Finally, Umberto Giannini is a small business, so you can feel good about helping them grow when you purchase products!
7. Rucker Roots Smoothing Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Another great sulfate-free shampoo for curly hair with an absolutely jam-packed ingredients list is the Rucker Roots Smoothing Sulfate-free shampoo. This is a liquid shampoo suitable for all hair types, which has a wide range of ingredients to help clean and moisturize the hair.
The main ingredients are part of the Rucker Roots Complex, which includes root oils from ginger, turnips, and carrots. In addition to these oils, the ingredient list is also full of shea and cocoa seed butters, argan oil, antioxidants, and vitamins A, C, K, and B.
The impressive ingredient list aside, this shampoo is made for everyone. It is a gentle daily cleanser that can remove build-up from the scalp while maintaining moisture for easier-to-manage hair.
In addition, it is suitable for hair types such as dry, brittle, bleached, oily, frizzy, curly, or even color-treated hair. For all these hair types, this shampoo will act as a hair support solution, to give you shiny and voluminous curls.
This is another small business, so you can feel great about including this shampoo in your everyday routine.
8. Pacifica Beauty Pineapple Curls Defining Shampoo
This shampoo is a gel formula specially formulated for curls of all types. This shampoo is particularly good for someone conscious of their consumption, as it is not only sulfate-free, but also free of parabens, phthalates, cruelty-free, and vegan.
The main purpose of this shampoo is to define curls. This means that it is excellent at hydrating curls to create definition, and uses ingredients such as argan oil, hyaluronic acid, and quinoa. The quinoa, in particular, is full of antioxidants that hold moisture in the hair for optimal hydration.
It also has the key ingredient of pineapple. This ingredient is full of antioxidants and vitamin C. Although pineapple is delicious for eating, the extract can also be used in formulations such as this one to great effect.
The argan oils are useful for softening and nourishing curls that might be struggling. This is part of where the shampoo gets its power for definition, as it is able to create enriched curls that stand out.
Finally, the discerning consumer will also love this shampoo as the bottle is made of 100% recycled plastic, and even the bottle cap has 25% recycled plastic content.
9. Mixed Chicks Sulfate-Free Shampoo for Colored and Chemically-Treated Hair
Those with natural hair will sometimes choose to use a chemical straightener on their hair for a bit of a change. This shampoo has been explicitly designed so that it is able to be used by those who have natural hair, treated hair, and straight, curly, or wavy hair.
The main feature of this shampoo is that it is both color-safe, and safe for treated hair. Some hair may be susceptible to breakage or damage, and this is particularly true after chemical treatments like dyes or straightening. So a gentle daily cleanser is extremely important to help you maintain the growth of your hair.
In addition to being sulfate-free, this shampoo is packed full of ingredients for healthier hair. This includes almond oil, parathenol, sesame seed oil, aloe vera, avocado oil, and olive oil. Together these function to add shine, strength, encourage new growth, restore pH and scalp health, add moisture, and act as an anti-bacterial.
Although this shampoo has been specially formulated for treated hair, it also works wonders for natural hair. This includes all kinds of curly hair and all curl types. It even works on hair that is in transition throughout your curly hair journey.
This is a mild cleanser suitable for everyday usage, and as such, can help you to manage your hair while remaining light enough to not cause product build-up. Because it is so light, it is even suitable for wavy hair. Finally, it can even work on weaves.
This shampoo has been made for diverse hair types by a diverse array of people. It has been created as part of a multicultural movement to celebrate all things hair, so go support them!
10. Living Proof Curl Shampoo
The final shampoo on our list is Living Proof Curl Shampoo. This is another gentle daily cleanser that is able to remove dirt and grime from everyday life without stripping away essential oils from the hair.
This shampoo is a particularly low-lather shampoo, thanks to its choice of surfactants. It is completely sulfate-free, but is also free from parabens, phthalates, and silicone. This makes it safe for treated hair, dyed hair, and natural hair.
In addition to the excellent gentle cleansing action, this shampoo also works to help detangle. Unlike most shampoos, which can lead to more knot formation during the washing process, this shampoo has a slip formula, which helps to detangle hair without the weight of a conditioner. This lets you detangle right to your roots without weighing your hair down with tons of product.
Living Proof uses the Healthy Curl Complex in its curl products. This is a biomimetic blend of ingredients that helps the hair to form curl clumps, and be strong enough to withstand the daily stressors of styling. This complex acts instantly on your hair, which means you can see results after one wash!
This shampoo is also ethical, as it has been certified cruelty free by PETA.
So, why can’t I use sulfates in my shampoo if I have curly hair?
Long story short, no one is able to tell you whether or not to include an ingredient in your personal hair care routine. However, we will take some time to explain exactly what sulfates are, and why curly hair, in particular, may benefit from shampoos that are sulfate free.
For your shampoo to lather, it must have some form of detergent in it. This is the part of the shampoo that allows for the interaction of water-soluble molecules with water-insoluble molecules.
To simplify a little bit, surfactants (detergents) have both water-loving and water-hating parts to their chemical structure. This means that they are able to interact with both oils (which can’t mix with water, or are insoluble in water), and other molecules that can interact with water.
There are a huge variety of surfactants in the world of chemistry, and not all of them are used for products like hair. However, the most common detergents are sulfates, which are named simply because they have a sulfate at the head of the molecule.
So, why are sulfates considered bad? There has been quite a campaign against sulfate inclusion in shampoo by a wide range of groups, so they can, at times, seem to have an intimidating reputation.
Simply put, sulfates are very efficient cleaners. As a result, they can have a negative impact on hair and scalps that are prone to being dry. In fact, although most shampoos have moisturizing agents to reduce this effect, they have garnered a reputation as damaging to sensitive hair types.
Thus, it is easy to see that sulfates aren’t inherently wrong for your hair. However, many people who have curly hair are prone to having dry, frizzy, or unmanageable curls, especially when beginning their styling routines.
Because this transition phase can be difficult enough for the hair, including a harsh cleanser with sulfate detergents, can sometimes cause the hair to become overly dry and results in loss of curl clumps, and more unmanageable hair.
This is why it is often recommended to people starting their curly hair journey to try shampoos with less harsh surfactants that aren’t sulfates. We provided the list above to help you find sulfate-free shampoos for all hair types and situations!
So, now we know why curly hair is better off without sulfates (at least to give it a try!). Let’s see what we should be doing to our hair instead.
A key tip for curly hair relates to being able to keep your hair hydrated. One of the best ways to do this is by creating wash schedules, where you make sure not to wash your hair too often.
Curly hair is very prone to being dry, which is why it struggles with harsh chemical cleaners like sulfates. However, even gentle cleansers can be difficult for curly hair if used too often. It is suitable for curly hair to go without being washed daily, and for some even weekly.
You should always make sure to wash your hair at least once every two to three weeks, so that you don’t get problems with your scalp. Any more frequently than that is completely up to your own discretion.
Although many of the shampoos listed above say that they are suitable for daily use, that just means that you can use them every day if that is what is best for your hair. None of those shampoos need to be used daily in order to have an optimal effect.
Although you may have heard of a good facial moisturizer being an essential self-care item, good moisture in your hair is also essential. Because curly hair is dry, it is important to condition all of your hair.
Other hair types can end up with a build-up of product on the scalp that makes it look greasy. However, people with curly hair need that extra product in order to soften up the hair, especially when they have just used shampoo on their roots.
If you do end up with a build-up of product over time, you can also try using a clarifying shampoo in order to clear up any of that product.
In addition to using conditioners and a gentle shampoo, so you don’t dry out your hair, you can also use leave-in conditioners or other styling products to help retain moisture in your hair. Try looking for ingredients like the ones listed above. These hydrating ingredients will help to keep those curls nice and moisturized.
Look after your scalp
An added unfortunate side effect of washing your hair less than you are used to, or even having more products than you usually do, is that it can cause dandruff. Aside from being embarrassing if people notice, it can actually have side effects on your hair.
Dandruff shampoo can be especially drying, because it is usually trying to remove the overproduction of oils on the scalp. As a result, it drys out the scalp and your hair, trying to solve the problem.
In addition, if you start using different products than you usually do, you may end up having a reaction on the skin of your scalp (especially if you have sensitive skin!). This may look like dandruff, but won’t be solved by anti-dandruff shampoo because it isn’t caused by your head being too oily.
The best thing to do with dandruff shampoo is to apply it to your hair and let it sit for the recommended amount of time, then use a moisturizing shampoo on the rest of your hair. You can also go see a dermatologist if the problem persists, because it might be something else causing flaking skin.
Curly hair is especially prone to knots and tangles, and can be so frustrating to deal with. Although your hair may look great without being brushed, knots and tangles can also cause problems like headaches or pain on the scalp from the hair pulling.
Thus, make sure you detangle your hair. The best way to do this to not destroy your curl clumps and make your hair frizzy is to detangle with wet hair and leave-in conditioner. Try detangling with a wide tooth comb, or a special brush for curly hair. You can also work in small sections (if you can separate them from the knots!) so you are only working on one problem at a time.
Although we are told to put sunscreen on all throughout our lives, it is rarely mentioned to protect our hair from the damaging effects of the sun. Ultraviolet light can cause sunburn, but it can also make your hair dry out.
To protect your hair, it is best to use something like a hat (or, if you truly don’t want to wear a hat, at least a moisturizer).
Waking up with bedhead after hours of careful styling is a unique sort of pain. To avoid it, try protecting your hair during your sleeping hours.
Some of the best products to use can include pillowcases or head coverings with frictionless fabrics (such as silk fabrics). Ordinary pillowcases generally are made of cotton, which is able to catch the barbs in curly hair and cause friction, frizz, and breakage.
Using these products is the best way to protect your hair, but if you don’t have any on hand, pulling your hair into a protective sleep style can also help to reduce frizz and breakage. This can be easily achieved by using a loose ponytail high up on the head (pineapple), or a braid. Be careful to make all sleep styles loose enough not to cause discomfort over time.
Hopefully, this guide will help you to care for your curly hair better over time!