Healthy Shampoo Guide

Written by:

Maia James

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UPDATED: 2018

When I first wrote this post on non-toxic shampoo, I also stopped using shampoo. I was closeted “no-pooer” for a while, and you can read about the no poo method here.

Despite the fact that my hair genuinely looks better when I’m not washing it (see the picture on the left), I can’t seem to stick with it and really miss a nice lather when I’m in the shower.

If you don’t want to skip the suds yourself, you might want to become familiar with the problematic ingredients in conventional—and many of the “natural”—shampoos on the market:

  • Surfactants. All soaps and detergents need a surfactant to be effective (surfactants basically facilitate water’s ability to do its dirt-removing job). Many surfactants found in conventional shampoos–such as sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), cocamidopropyl betaine, and cocamide DEA—come with environmental and human health concerns. Some natural shampoos use these questionable surfactants as well. Safer surfactants that you’ll find in non-toxic shampoos include decyl glucoside and laurel glucoside.
  • Preservatives. To extend shelf life, shampoos typically contain controversial preservatives, such as parabensbenzyl alcohol, methylisothiazolinone, and methylchloroisothiazonlinone. Click any of those hyperlinks to go to our glossary and read all the scary details about these chemicals, which you won’t find in a truly non-toxic shampoo.
  • Fragrance. When we were newlyweds, the lush, floral scent of Biolage lingered in our apartment for hours after my husband took his morning shower. Unfortunately, that strong smell is probably the result of phthalates, which usually hide in “fragrance” or “parfum” in a shampoo ingredients list, unless the label specifically says something like “scented with only essential oils” or “100% natural.” Phthaltes are known hormone disruptors and hard to avoid–but an easy way to slash your exposure is by avoiding scented personal care products. UPDATE: Daylon has found a non-toxic shampoo that he loves!
  • Retinyl Palmitate: Most shampoos on the market contain the probable carcinogen retinyl palmitate, which is a synthetic form of palm oil.
  • Sulfates. Many of our readers ask about sulfate-free shampoos. Most shampoos contain sulfates, which are types of surfactants (see above). A “sulfate-free” shampoo probably doesn’t contain any of the three most common sulfates: Sodium lauryl (SLS), sodium laureth (SLES), and ammonia laureth (ALS). Sulfates can be natural or synthetic, and aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves. SLES is the most concerning sulfate in my opinion, as it is often contaminated with carcinogenic 1-4, dioxane. The same concern exists to a lesser degree about ALS. To make it simple, you can rest assured that all of the Good Stuff below are sulfate-free shampoos.

Good Stuff

The brands listed below represent some of the only non-toxic shampoo out there–they are free of phthalates, parabens, SLES/SLS, and toxic preservatives.

The truth is that my hair looks best using the no poo method, but when I’m too lazy to deal with that, I reach for one of these guys.

Acure Organics Non-Toxic Shampoo

Acure shampoos are available in our online store and cost $9.99 for a 8-ounce bottle. I have found that Acure provides the best lather of the natural bunch, and all of them smell delicious. I use the Moroccan Argan Oil & Stem Cell formula since my hair tends toward being dry.

Cost per ounce: $8.25

Ingredients: Water/eau, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Euterpe Oleracea (Acai) Fruit Extract*, Rubus Fruticosus (Blackberry) Fruit Extract*, Rosa Canina (Rosehips) Fruit Extract*, Punica Granatum (Pomegranate) Fruit Extract*, Calendula Officinalis (Calendula) Flower Extract*, Matricaria Recutita (Chamomile) Flower Extract*, Aspalathus Linearis (Rooibos) Leaf Extract*, Sodium Lauroyl Methyl Isethionate, Betaine, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Glycerin, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Potassium Sorbate, Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil*, Hippophae Rhamnoides (Sea Buckthorn) Seed Oil*, Tocopherol Acetate, Curcubita Pepo (Pumpkin) Seed Oil*, Natural Benzaldehyde, Cinnamomum Aromaticum (Cassia Bark) Oil, Ubiquinone (Coq10), Argania Spinosa Callus (Argan) Culture Extract, Prunus Amygdalus Dulcis (Sweet Almond) Seed Extract. *organic Ingredient

Botanical Therapeutic Tree Essence Shampoo/Body Wash

This shampoo contains no ingredients of concern, and doubles as a body wash. In addition to saponified coconut for a nice lather, Botanical Therapeutics shampoo contains other natural ingredients like apple cider vinegar and extracts of nettle, clover, and olive fruit.

Cost per ounce: $1.68

Ingredients: Filtered Aqua, Potassium Cocoate (saponified Cocos nucifera / coconut oil), Potassium Palmate (Saponified Palm Oil), Glycerin (vegetable), Pinus banksiana (pine) extract, Magnesium Chloride (Magnesium Oil), Olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, Medicago sativa (alfalfa) leaf, Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) flower extract, Echinacea purpurea (echinacea) flower extract, Urtica dioca (nettle) leaf extract, Trifolium pratense (clover) flower extract, Acetic Acid (Apple Cider Vinegar), Thuja plicata (red cedar) extract.

Beautycounter Daily Non-Toxic Shampoo

I love the way Beautycounter’s shampoo smells, and it’s solid in the performance department, too. The only ingredient of concern is the sodium benzoate; it’s a food grade preservative that I don’t like in products that I use for my kids, but which I’m okay with in stuff for myself. Beautycounter shampoo has a long ingredients list, and a lot of it is not natural. That said, Beautycounter tests all their products for purity after production, and carefully researches every single thing that goes into their line.

Cost per ounce: $3.12

Ingredients: Grapefruit : Aqua/Water/Eau, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine, Sodium Cocoyl Methyl Isethionate, Glycerin, Citrus Paradisi (Grapefruit) Peel Oil, Sodium Chloride, Glycol Distearate, Panthenol, Coconut Acid, Decyl Glucoside, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Glyceryl Caprylate, Hydroxypropyl Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Isethionate, Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Tetrasodium Glutamate Diacetate, Sclerocarya Birrea Seed Oil, Ximenia Americana Seed Oil, Caprylhydroxamic Acid, Citric Acid, Sodium Hydroxide, Sodium Benzoate, Limonene+,

Carina Organics Non-Toxic Shampoo

Carina Organics daily natural moisturizing shampoo formulated with certified organic plant, vegetable, and fruit extracts. Helps to restore luster, volume, body and shine.

Cost per ounce: $0.99

Ingredients: Citrus: Filtered Aqua, Potassium Cocoate (saponified Cocos nucifera / coconut oil), Glycerin (vegetable), Pinus banksiana (pine) extract, Magnesium Chloride (Magnesium Oil), Olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) flower extract, Urtica dioca (nettle) leaf extract, Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) leaf extract, Trifolium pratense (clover) flower extract, Citrus Tangerina (Tangerine) Oil, Pyrus malus (green apple) extract, Ananas sativus (pineapple) extract, Linum Usitatissimum (Linseed) Seed Oil, Cucurbita pepo (pumpkin) seed oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Persea Gratissima (Avocado) Oil.

Evolvh Shampoo

My new favorite haircare line, and I especially love the UltraShine formula.

Code GIMME15 for 15% off

Cost per ounce: $4.24

Ingredients: Water, Decyl Glucoside*, Disodium Lauryl Sulfosuccinate*, Cocamidopropyl Betaine+, Lauryl Glucoside*, Coco-Glucoside, Seaweed Extract+, Citrus Aurantifolia Oil*, Lecithin*, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil*, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Seed Extract*, Carthamus Tinctorius (Safflower) Seed Oil*, Soy Amino Acids*, Rosa Mosqueta (Rose) Hip Oil*, Viola Tricolor (Wild Pansy) Extract*, Melilotus Offincialis (Sweet Clover) Extract, Prunus Armenica (Apricot) Extract, Hedera Helix (Ivy) Extract*, Symphytum Officinale Leaf Extract+, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract+, Salix Alba (Willow) Bark Extract*, Camellia Oleifera Leaf Extract*, Theobroma Grandiflorum (Cupuacu) Seed Butter*, Vitis Vinifera (Red Grape) Seed Oil*, Nasturtium Officinale (Nasturtium) Extract*, Prunus Percisa Nectarina Fruit (Nectarine) Extract, Passiflora Incarnata Fruit (Passion Flower) Extract, Citrus Grandis (Grapefruit) Peel Oil*, Dehydroacetic Acid*, Benzyl Alcohol*

Green Goo Rosemary & Mint Shampoo

Green Goo has long been one of our favorite brands, and we are thrilled that they’ve branched into haircare! Their shampoo features a blend of coconut oil and other botanicals with no Bad or Sneaky Stuff!

Ingredients: Aqua, *Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera) Leaf Extract, Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate, Coco-Betain, Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate, Sodium Chloride, Glycerin, Lauryl Lactyl Lactate, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, *Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Arginine, Polyglyceryl-4-Caprate, Lactic Acid, *Argania Spinosa (Argan) Kernel Oil, Cococaprylate, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Leaf Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Citrus Aurantium Dulcis (Orange) Fruit Peel Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium) Oil, Abies Sibiricia (Fir) Needle Oil, Caprylic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Cellulose, Guar Hydroxy-Propyltrimonium Chloride, Diheptyl Succinate (and) Capryloyl Glycerin/Sebacic Acid Copolymer, Potassium Sorbate, Xantham Gum.

HiBar Natural Shampoo Bars

These amazing Natural Shampoo Bars contain no sulfates, phthalates, silicones, or parabens. And absolutely no cruelty. Not to mention that they are completely plastic free!

Ingredients: Moisturize: Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate (Coconut Oil*), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Cetearyl Alcohol (Vegetable Based*) Behentrimonium Methosulfate, Stearic Acid (Vegetable Based*), Polyquaternium 7, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Panthenol (Vitamin B5), Cetyl Alcohol (Vegetable Based*), Natural Fragrance (Lime Peel Oil, Orange Peel Oil, Lemon Peel Oil, Grapefruit Peel Oil, Ginger Root Oil), Glyceryl Stearate (Vegetable Based*), Propanediol (Vegetable Based*), Diglycerin, Polyglyceryl-2 Laurate, Mineral Pigment CI 77007. (*Derived Source)

Hugo Naturals Non-Toxic Shampoo

Hugo Naturals shampoos are available at Whole Foods, Amazon, and a variety of natural foods stores for around $10 for 12 ounces. I find that when I use this shampoo I have to wash my hair more frequently.

Cost per ounce: $1.75

Ingredients: AQUA/PURIFIED WATER ,DECYL GLUCOSIDE ,GLYCERIN ,SODIUM COCOYL ISETHIONATE ,COCAMIDOPROPYL HYDROXYSULTAINE ,LAURYL GLUCOSIDE ,SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE ,GUAR HYDROXYPROPYLTRIMONIUM CHLORIDE ,HYDROXYPROPYL GUAR ,PANTHENOL ,CITRIC ACID ,ARGANIA SPINOSA KERNEL OIL ,HYSSOPUS OFFICINALIS EXTRACT ,CANANGA ODORATA FLOWER OIL ,LONICERA CAPRIFOLIUM (HONEYSUCKLE) FLOWER EXTRACT ,LONICERA JAPONICA (HONEYSUCKLE) FLOWER EXTRACT ,GLUCONOLACTONE

Juice Organics Non-Toxic Shampoo

Juice Organics’ line of sulfate-free shampoos contain natural and organic ingredients, none of which rank higher than a 1 on Skin Deep.

A bottle of Juice Organics shampoo costs around $15.

Cost per ounce: $1.50

Ingredients: Organic Aloe barbadensis*, vitis vinifera (organic white grape juice)*, pyrus malus (organic apple juice)*, stearyl alcohol, glyceryl stearate†, stearalkonium chloride, simmondsia chinensis (organic jojoba seed oil)*, helianthus annuus (organic sunflower seed oill)*, cetyl alcohol, panthenol (Vitamin B5), cocos nucifera (coconut extract), moringa pterygosperma seed extract, hydrolyzed soy protein, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, argania spinosa kernel (organic argan oil)*, borago officinalis (organic borage seed oil)*, linum usitatissimum (organic linseed oil)*, saccharum officinarum (sugar cane extract), schinziophyton rautanenii (mongongo kernel oil)

Moon Valley Organics

Moon Valley Organics Herbal Shampoo Bar uses only organic herbal ingredients that clean while preserving the natural moisture of your hair and scalp.

Ingredients: Pink Geranium: Purified water, organic sustainable palm oil, organic safflower oil, organic coconut oil, sodium hydroxide*, organic castor, organic palmarosa oil, moon valley organic calendula, organic nettle and organic horsetail and organic geranium essential oil, and rose kaolin clay.

Plaine

I love Plaine for their commitment to the environment–their bottles are not made of plastic, and better yet, you send them back to be cleaned, sterilized, refilled, and returned to you! The fact that this shampoo is also totally clean (no phthalates, SLES or SLS, or toxic preservatives) makes Plaine shampoo some of the Best Stuff.

Cost per ounce: $1.88

Ingredients: Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin, Sodium Cocoate, Sodium Safflowerate, Cyamopsis Tetragonoloba (Guar) Gum, Chondrus Crispus Extract, Carrageenan, Camellia Sinensis Seed Oil, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Oryza Sativa (Rice) Bran Oil, Chamomilla Recutita (Matricaria) Flower Extract, Quillaja Saponaria Extract, Carica Papaya (Papaya) Fruit Extract, Ananas Sativus (Pineapple) Fruit Extract, Rosemarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Extract, Tocopherol, Camellia Sinensis Leaf Extract, Gluconolactone (And) Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate.

Scent: Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Oil, Vanilla Planifolia Fruit Extract And Caprylic/Capric Triglyceride, Mentha Arvensis Leaf Oil. 

OR Lavandula Angustifolia Flower Oil, Citrus Aurantium Bergamia (Bergamot) Peel Oil.

Poofy Organics Non-Toxic Shampoo

Poofy makes several shampoos, all of which have a nice short list of ingredients (including some interesting ones like apple cider vinegar and yucca extract). I’ve not tried any Poofy shampoos, so let me know if you have, and how they work!

Cost per ounce: $2.06

Use code: MAIAJAMES for 10% off

Ingredients: Purified Water, Decyl Polyglucose (non-gmo corn), Organic Vegetable Glycerin (soybean, maize or mustard), Organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Yucca Extract, Organic Lemon (Citrus Medica Limonum) Essential Oil, Organic Orange Essential Oil, Organic Lime Essential Oil, Organic Coconut Flavor Extract (organic cane alcohol, natural flavors).  Xanthan Gum (non-gmo corn), Citric Acid (cassava).

Seed Phytonutrients Shampoo

These come in eco-friendly bottles and smell amazing. 

Cost per ounce: $2.47

Ingredients: Water (Aqua), Sodium Laurylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate (Coconut), Glycerin (Vegetable), Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate (Coconut), Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine (Coconut), Sodium Lauryl Glucose Carboxylate (Sugar/Coconut), Disodium Cocoyl Glutamate (Coconut), Citrus Paradisi (Grapefruit) Seed Oil, Hydrolyzed Rice Protein, Hydrolyzed Quinoa, Helianthus Annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil, Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate (Coconut), Lauryl Glucoside (Sugar), Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride (Guar Beans), Xanthan Gum (Sugar), Fragrance (All Natural), Gluconolactone (Glucose Syrup), Potassium Sorbate*, Sodium Benzoate*

Shea Moisture Non-Toxic Shampoo

People ask about Shea Moisture products all the time, and while I wouldn’t call the entire line Good Stuff, I do like their sulfate-free shampoos. These all contain organic ingredients, and not too many of them.

You’ll pay around $12 for a bottle of Shea Moisture shampoo.

Cost per ounce: $0.84

Ingredients: Water, Decyl Glucoside, Sodium Lauroyl Lactylate, Glycol Stearate, Fragrance, Butyrospermum Parkii (Shea) Butter, Panthenol, Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride, Sodium Lauroyl Hydrolyzed Silk, Citric Acid, Stearamide AMP, Melia Azadirachta (Neem) Seed Oil, Brassica Campestris (Rapeseed) Seed Oil, Sodium Phytate, Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Tocopherol, Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis Flower Extract, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice, Glycerin (Vegetable), Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Sodium Benzoate, Caprylyl Glycol, Triethyl Citrate, Benzoic Acid

Bad Stuff

It’s interesting that the expensive brands that you might only find in a salon seem to be among the most toxic shampoos on the market.

A bottle of Frederic Fekkai shampoo, for which I religiously shelled out $30 for years (including during the beginning of my pregnancy—yikes!), contains all the usual suspects: parabensretinyl palmitate, and fragrance (the smell was, in fact, what hooked me). It also has a couple of those nefarious preservatives I mentioned before–methylisothiazolinone and methylchloroisothiazolinone.

Bumble and Bumblec. BoothPhytoFresh, and Nexxus all make shampoos that garner a whopping 9 or 10 on Skin Deep’s toxicity scale.

The lower-end brands (PanteneGarnier FructisSuave) tend to get scores of between 5 and 7 from Skin Deep, containing fragrance, methylisothiazolinone, and methylchloroisothiazolinone, among other chemicals.

Sneaky Stuff

Alterna Hemp with Organics Repair Shampoo sounds, well, alternative, but considering it contains parabensfragranceretinyl palmitatemethylisothiazolinone, and methylchloroisothiazolinone, I’d say it’s pretty mainstream. It gets a 9 from Skin Deep, and the rest of Alterna’s hair products score at least a 6.

Aubrey Organics shampoo only contains one bad ingredient, retinol, but Skin Deep gives this synethtic form of vitamin A a whopping 9 out of 10 on its toxicity scale.

Avalon Organics line of shampoos contain benzyl alcohol and sodium benzoate. These aren’t the worst ingredients—so I would call Avalon Okay Stuff to use in a pinch…but not Good Stuff.

Aveeno Active Naturals shampoo is another case of greenwashing, since almost none of the ingredients is natural. Phenoxyethanol and cocamidopropyl betaine make an appearance on this label, but worse is the synthetic fragrance, rated a 9 out of 10 on Skin Deep.

Desert Essence shampoos contain a handful of ingredients that EWG considers moderately concerning–including phenoxyethanol and cocamidopropyl betaine.

Giovvani‘s line of haircare always looks weird to me in Whole Foods–its packaging is much more cheesy salon brand than natural brand, but the ingredients aren’t terrible. Still, none of it is organic, and it’s again got phenoxyethanol and cocamidopropyl betaine, so I still consider it Sneaky Stuff.

Jason Natural Tea Tree Scalp Normalizing Shampoo contains fragrance, retinyl palmitate, cocamidoproply betaine, and benzyl alcohol. It also packs in four more ingredients that Skin Deep considers moderately hazardous: benzyl salicylate, benzyl benzoate, lyral, and hydroxycitronellal. The rest of Jason shampoos are only slightly better, and not any safer than your average drug store brand.

Kiss My Face shampoo isn’t terrible, but it does contain cocamidoproply betaine.

Nature’s Gate Organics Organic Herbal Blends Soothing Shampoo, Tea Tree & Blue Cypress gets a 9 on Skin Deep, thanks to parabens, fragrance, PEG-150 distearate (which earns a 6 from Skin Deep), cocamidopropyl betaine, and diazolidinyl urea. The rest of Nature’s Gate shampoos score a 6 or the occasional 7 on Skin Deep.

Maia, Founder & CEO

Note: This article contains affiliate links or sponsored content, which means that if you make a purchase, we may earn a commission. We only recommend products that meet our strict standards for non-toxicity and that we use (or want to use!) ourselves. Thank you so much for supporting the brands that make Good Stuff! 

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248 responses to “Healthy Shampoo Guide”

  1. Chelsea Avatar
    Chelsea

    I believe I saw you recommended Zatik Naturals shampoo and conditioner at some point, but I can’t find anything about it when I search your site. Is this a brand you recommend? Thank you!

  2. marlene Avatar
    marlene

    Hi: You did an amazing job on the info your provide. Can’t imagine how long it took you to search so many things! I am constantly doing that and now with your help it is easier! Thanks!
    BTW…I tried Free N Clear Shampoo…it is …well…free and clear. Hard to find a shampoo that does not have cocamidoproply betaine and this one does not along with free of other things we hate. I am very careful what I put on my hair/scalp since I had seborrheic dermatitis on my scalp. It was a mild case but it woke me up to all the stuff in shampoos and hair dyes. (I use Naturtint Hair Color….has less chemicals than most)
    Anyway ..thought I would share. Thanks, again and you too “stay sane.”
    Marlene

  3. Jennifer Avatar
    Jennifer

    I am partial to the ‘no poo’ method, only shampoo-ing once or twice per week. My questions are these:
    1) what are good shampoos without any plastics, that are totally eco everything, and biodegradable?
    2) there is no mention here on the website about healthy, eco friendly, good conditioners. Are there any that are also plastic-free, and biodegradable?

    Thanks!

    1. Suzanne Weaver-Goss Avatar
      Suzanne Weaver-Goss

      Hi Jennifer, Great questions. I am also partial to a no poo method. At first I only shampooed weekly but now I don’t use any at all and it seems to work for me, just warm water. We would love to find some shampoos that are free of plastic. Most shampoos and conditioners come in plastic bottles unfortunately.

  4. Alice Avatar
    Alice

    Hello, do you have any recommendations for a ‘healthy’ hair conditioner? I have very dry, frizzy thick hair and have tried numerous products and haven’t found any that have helped me with this issue.

  5. Nereida Avatar
    Nereida

    What about Attitude shampoo?

  6. Nereida Avatar
    Nereida

    Hi
    I’m wondering what your thoughts are on Live clean shampoo. It’s a Canadian brand.

  7. Crystal Avatar

    I just recently started using Sukin products. It’s made in Australia and supposed to be super healthy for your hair. From what I can tell it seems like it has all the “right” stuff in it but I’m still learning. Is this something you could look into?