Finding a Shampoo Free of Chemicals Can Be Difficult, but It Is Possible
Everything we use on our bodies has a potential impact on our health, including our shampoo and conditioner. Have you ever considered that there may be dangerous shampoo chemicals inside your shower? You’ve trusted Mamavation to look into topics like best & worst cookware, best & worst collagen, & best & worst air purifiers, join us as we explore shampoos and conditioners and the ingredients they contain.
We know you don’t have the time needed to investigate the shampoo industry, so Mamavation has done it for you! Scroll down to the very bottom for our product recommendations and if you would like to say thank you, you can donate here.
Disclosure: Content contains affiliate links.
We’re here to bring you the facts about your favorite shampoos and conditioners. Though they’re made out of really common ingredients, commonly doesn’t always mean safe (neither does “natural” products for that matter).
Most are made with strong chemical formulas that can be harsh to your skin and to the environment.
Haircare products like shampoo and conditioner are highly engineered.
They’ve been designed to lather up and leave your hair “squeaky clean”, but that’s not even that good for you!
Dangerous shampoo chemicals will leave your hair stripped of natural oils causing dry hair, which is why we need conditioner to re-moisturize it without leaving it oily.
Build up of these chemicals can also clog and reduce the size of hair follicles, leading to hair loss and damage, especially to sensitive skin.
Achieving the desired cleaning effects, being shelf-stable, and not using any harmful ingredients is a big ask for brands looking to make safer options, but it is possible.
Even many “natural shampoos” and organic shampoos are not 100% pure.
In this post, we’ll review harmful chemicals to avoid in your beauty products and the worst and best shampoo and conditioner brands for healthy, natural hair.
Dangerous Chemicals in Shampoo
Look out for these ingredients in your shampoo.
Fragrance: This is definitely something to look out for. The term “fragrance” can act as a backdoor for all kinds of chemicals to sneak into your products. It’s often applied as an over-arching term for up to 100 ingredients, many of which are toxic to human health. To name a couple of these toxic offenders, phthalates are linked to reproductive and developmental damage, and synthetic fragrances are known to build up in our bodies and linked to hormone disruption.
Surfactants: This is what makes your shampoo lather up with suds. We usually associate soap suds with cleaner hair, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sudsing doesn’t really occur much in nature, so it’s often the result of a chemical reaction or agent. While these chemicals aren’t toxic to humans, they can cause serious irritation and can be really harmful to aquatic life. Given the quantity of shampoo going down the drain every time we wash our hair, we’d prefer to avoid irritation and create a safer environment by choosing better products.
Preservatives: Ever noticed the expiration date on your shampoo? Nope, neither have we. That’s because shampoos are full of preservatives to keep them shelf-stable. They’ll last for a really long time without separating out or going “off”. These preservatives prevent the growth of yeast, mold, bacteria, etc., but because they’re literally designed to kill things, preservatives are tricky and can have a range of toxicity problems for both humans and the environment.
Dangerous Chemicals in Conditioners
Like shampoo, conditioner suffers from many of the same problems when it comes to surfactants, preservatives, and fragrance, but it has one more problematic ingredient category, emulsifiers.
Emulsifiers: Emulsifiers combine oil and water to stop them from separating in your conditioner. They also soften your hair giving you that soft, flowy feeling. But though these emulsifiers, such as siloxanes, are effective, they don’t break down in the environment. This is definitely bad news for aquatic life!
Ingredients to Avoid*:
- Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives:
- DMDM hydantoin
- Imidazolidinyl urea
- Diazolidinyl urea
- Polyoxymethylene urea
- Sodium hydroxymethylglycinate
- 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol (bronopol)
- Sodium Laureth Sulfate
- Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
Mamavation’s SPOTLIGHT: Wellnesse is the Small Shampoo Brand to Try!
Wellnesse is a new brand created by Katie Wells of Wellnessmama.com featured in the image above. Katie has spent years on her shampoo & conditioner formulations perfecting them over the years. Last year, she took her formulations to market with Wellnesse. If you want to direct some of your resources to a small business instead of Amazon, give this brand a try!
Her new line includes shampoo, conditioner, and dry shampoo formulations that have taken her over a decade to perfect.
Each product is human safe, planet safe and work better than conventional alternatives. They are free of all the contaminants we’ve discussed in this post. We’ve also tested out these products personally and they have become some of our favorites! So please try them and support a small business directly.
- Wellnesse Cleansing Shampoo & Nourishing Conditioner (links directly to small biz)
- Wellnesse Soothing Shampoo & Enriching Conditioner for Curly & Wavy Hair** (links directly to small biz)
- Wellnesse Revitalizing Dry Shampoo (links directly to small biz)
- Wellnesse Revitalizing Dry Shampoo for Darker Hair (links directly to small biz)
Mamavation’s Investigation of Shampoo & Conditioner Brands
This post is an update to our 2018 investigation and has included additional brands from 2020. We plan on updating this investigation annually now so if we have missed a brand, please let us know in the comment section. This year we evaluated over 200+ brands, adding over 100 new brands to the list.
Here are some additional investigations you may find yourself looking for soon:
- RELAX! If you are looking for safe hair relaxers, check out our investigation on hair relaxers here. We’ve included shampoo & conditioner brands for coiled & curly hair.
- STYLE! We also have an investigation on all the safest hair styling products (like hairspray and such) you can purchase here.
- COLOR! If you want to color or dye your hair, check out all the best & worst hair color brands here.
- ALL THE THINGS! And if you are interested in ALL our investigations check our ever-expanding list here.
These Shampoo & Conditioner Brands Were Not Our Favorite
These are all products that contain dangerous shampoo chemicals and ingredients that are to be avoided as far as possible, like carcinogens and endocrine disrupters in “fragrance” and at least two other ingredients hazardous to your health. Things you may find in this list include PEGs, parabens, undisclosed fragrance, nitrosamies, surfactants, harsh preservatives, cancer-causing ingredients, & ingredients that may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, etc. We also looked specifically for fragrance-free brands that were marked with a (*) and natural, curly, or coiled friendly brands marked with (**) to help you find them.
- American Crew
- Andre Walker
- Bed Head
- Better Natured
- Brazilian Keratin
- Carol’s Daughter
- Clairol Shampoo Shimmer Lights
- Clean Freak Dry Shampoo
- Creme of Nature Moisturizing Dry Defense Shampoo**
- Design Essentials Honey Creme Moisture Retention Super Detangling Conditioning Shampoo**
- Dove men+care
- EDEN BodyWorks Peppermint Tea Tree Shampoo**
- Equate (head & shoulders copycat)
- Equate Beauty Soothing Keratin Shampoo
- Essence Ultime – now Schwarzkopf Essence Ultime Omega Repair & Moisture Shampoo
- Free & Clear Hair Shampoo | Fragrance, Gluten and Sulfate-Free*
- Garnier Fructis
- Garnier Whole Blends
- Girl+Hair Clarifying Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse**
- Head & Shoulders
- Herbal Essences
- Infusion 23
- It’s A 10
- Jhirmack distinctions
- John Frieda
- Johnson’s Baby Naturals
- Johnson’s Original Baby Wash
- L’Oréal Elvive Original
- L’Oréal Everpure
- Up & Up (Copycat of Johnson’s & Johnson’s) Baby Wash
- Keratin Protein
- Loreal Everpure
- Loreal Original
- Mane ‘N Tail
- Meduluca Sei Bella Rice
- Milelle Organics
- Mixed Chicks Shampoo**
- Moroccan Oil
- Mustela Bebe
- No Nothing Very Sensitive Dry Shampoo
- No Nothing Very Sensitive Moisture Shampoo
- Nonscents Shampoo and Conditioner Set-Truly Unscented & Fragrance-Free*
- Not Your Mother’s: Clean Freak Dry Shampoo
- OGX Extra Strength Damage Remedy + Coconut Miracle Oil Shampoo**
- Old Spice
- Organic Root Stimulator Hair Mayonaise**
- ORS Hair Mayonnaise Conditioning Treatment**
- Pantene Pro-V
- Paul Mitchel
- Pharmaceutical Specialties Free and Clear Shampoo*
- Prose (poor ingredient disclosure)
- PSSSST Dry Shampoo
- Pure Brazillian
- Rausch Chamoille Amaranth
- Ricitos de Oro
- Rizos Curls Hydrating Shampoo**
- Sarah Jane
- Seaweed Unscented Hydrating Moisturizing Shampoo*
- Stonybrook Botanicals Fragrance-Free Unscented Shampoo*
- Suave Essentials
- Suave Professionals
- Suave Professionals for Natural Hair Moisturizing Curl Shampoo**
- tgin Moisture Rich Sulfate Free Shampoo**
- Up & Up (Copycat of Johnson’s & Johnson’s) Baby Wash
- White Rain Kids 3 in 1
- WOW Skin Science – Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo
Shampoos & Conditioners that are Better for Your Health
These products contain some dangerous shampoo chemicals, but they are light years better than the bad category. Here you may find polysorbates, propylene glycol, undisclosed fragrance, and/or plant-based surfactants. We also looked specifically for fragrance-free brands that were marked with a (*) and natural, curly, or coiled friendly brands marked with (**) to help you find them.
- Alikay Naturals Caribbean Coconut Milk Shampoo**
- Baomint Moisturizing Shampoo**
- Burt’s Bees
- Curly Qs Coconut Dream Moisturizing Conditioner**
- Dessert Essence
- Drunk Elephant
- Earth Science
- Earth Science Fragrance-Free*
- Fresh Monster Haircare
- Galvin & Galvin London
- Genedor Beauty Superfruit Antioxidant Shampoo**
- Honeyderw:Ethnic Hair Shampoo for Thick and Curly Hair**
- Jane Carter Solution Moisture Nourishing Shampoo**
- Keratin Protein
- Kevin Murphy
- L’Oréal Professional
- Matrix Biolage
- O Way
- Oyin Handmade Ginger Mint Co-Wash**
- Pacifica Coconut Power Strong & Long Moisturizing Shampoo
- Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl and Shine Shampoo**
- Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus co-wash**
- Shea Moisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl and shine conditioner**
- Shu Umera – Oil Shampoo**
- So Cozy 3 in 1 Kids Shampoo/Conditioner & Body Wash
- Tree To Tub: Ultra Gentle Fragrance-Free Shampoo*
Shampoos & Conditioners that are Best for Your Health
These sulfate-free shampoo brands also do not contain added phthalates or parabens. They may contain preservatives, but not ones I’m concerned about. If you are looking for shampoo free of chemicals, you should feel comfortable using just about any of the products on this list. Most rely on natural ingredients like essential oils, coconut oil, argan oil, tea tree oil, shea butter, aloe vera, to provide cleansing and moisture to various hair types. In addition to being free of harsh chemicals, most of these brands are also cruelty-free and/or eco-friendly and most are made from organic ingredients. We also looked specifically for fragrance-free brands that were marked with a (*) and natural, curly, or coiled friendly brands marked with (**) to help you find them.
- 100 Percent Pure Yuzu & Pomelo glossing shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- 100 Percent Honey & Virgin Coconut Shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- 100 percent Pure Kelp & Mint Volumizing Shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- 100 Percent Burdock & Neem Healthy Scalp Shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- 100 Percent Grow More Shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- 100 Percent Repair Shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- 100 Percent Moisture Drench Shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- 100 Percent Glossing Shampoo (links directly to small biz, not Amazon)
- Acure Mega Moisture 100% Pure Argan Oil & Pumpkin Shampoo
- Alaffia Everyday Coconut Shampoo
- Alafia Babies & Kids Shea Shampoo & Body Wash
- Andalou Naturals Argan Oil and Shea Moisture Rich Shampoo and Conditioner
- AnnMarie Sweet Sunrise Shampoo (links directly to small biz, use code “15forYOU” for 15% off full sizes)
- AnnMarie Intensive Hair Mask with Murumuru Butter (links directly to small biz, use code “15forYOU” for 15% off full sizes)
- Aromatic Rosemary Scalp Cleansing Shampoo
- Aromatica Tea Tree Purifying Shampoo
- Attitude Super Leaves, Hypoallergenic Moisture Rich Shampoo
- ATTITUDE Shampoo for Sensitive Skin, Extra Gentle & Volumizing Unscented Shampoo*
- Attitude Little Leaves, Hypoallergenic 2-in-1 Shampoo & Body Wash, Vanilla & Pear
- Avalon Organics Lavender Nourishing Shampoo
- Babyganics Fragrance-Free Baby Shampoo*
- Baja Baby Shampoo & Lotion
- Be Green Dry Shampoo
- Billie Floof Dry Shampoo
- Boyzzz Scent Free Combo Wash
- Burt’s Bees Baby Shampoo & Wash, Fragrance-Free*
- California Baby Chamomile & Mint Body Wash & Shampoo
- Camille Rose Naturals Moroccan Pear Conditioner**
- Carina Organics Citrus Daily Moisturizing Shampoo
- Carina Organics Unscented Dandruff Flake Removal Shampoo*
- Clean Kids Naturally Shampoo
- Conscious Skincare
- Derma E Restoring Moisturizing Shampoo
- Dr. Bronner’s
- Ein Love Natural All in One Shampoo
- EO Sulfate-Free Tea Tree Shampoo
- Ethique Shampoo Bar
- Ethique Shampoo Bar: Unscented*
- Everyone Kids Foaming Shampoo
- Everyone Soap 3 in 1 Shampoo
- Evolvh Organic Ultrashine Moisture Shampoo
- Farm Grain Organic Enzyme Shampoo
- Farma Dorsh Go Organic
- Hair Print Chelating Shampoo
- Hair Print Jasmine Silk Hair Masque
- Healthy Nest Baby Shampoo
- Henna Guys Color Enhancing Hair Mask**
- Herbal Essences Bio Renew
- Honest Company Truly Calming Lavender Shampoo
- Honest Company Purely Simple Fragrance-Free Shampoo + Body Wash*
- Honest Company Pure Sensitive Fragrance-Free Conditioner*
- Inna Organic Lemon Tea Tree for Oily Hair Shampoo
- Innersense Organic Beauty Color Radiance Conditioner
- Jason’s Natural Products Normalizing Treatment Shampoo
- Jason Fragrance-Free Shampoo*
- Joe’s Tree Tingle (Trader Joes) Shampoo
- John Master’s Organic Shampoo & Conditioner
- Kinky Curly Knot Today Conditioner**
- Kinky Curly Knot Today Natural Leave-in Conditioner**
- Kinky-Curly Knot Today Shampoo**
- Lemongrass Shampoo
- LifeVantage Shampoo
- Loma Nourishing Shampoo & Conditioner
- Love Hair Shampoo
- Lowen’s Natural Skincare is Betta
- Lulu Organics UNSCENTED Powder/Dry Shampoo*
- Max Green Alchemy Scalp Rescue Shampoo
- Mielle Organics Detangling Co-Wash**
- Mill Creek Biotin Shampoo
- Moerie Shampoo
- Morocco Method Volcanoic Dry Shampoo
- Naturelle Fragrance-Free Shampoo*
- New Wash Deep Kit with Cleanser & Conditioner
- Nine Naturals Shampoo
- Now Solutions Shampoo
- Norwex Shampoo
- Organic Sprout Leave-IN Conditioner**
- OKAY | Black Jamaican Castor Oil Shampoo**
- Paul Penders Men’s Shampoo
- Paul Penders Women’s Shampoo
- Phillip Adam Fragrance-Free Shampoo*
- Pleni Naturals Child Shampoo
- Pura D’Or Scalp Therapy Shampoo & Conditioner**
- Pure Haven Sweet Orange Shampoo
- Pure Haven Super Greens Shampoo
- Pure Haven Charcoal Detox Shampoo
- Pure Haven Dry Shampoo
- PUUR Ingrid Wash Duet
- Qet Botanicals Powder Shampoo
- Radico Color Me Organic Hair Powder
- Rejuva Minerals Hair Powder
- Shea Moisture Adult
- Shea Moisture Baby Shampoo**
- Shea Moisture Raw Manuka Honey and Mafura Oil Shampoo**
- Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter conditioner**
- Soap For Goodness Sake Shampoo Bar
- The Big Green 23 Shampoo
- The Seaweed Bath Co. Balancing Shampoo
- ThinkBaby Baby Shampoo & Body Wash
- ThinkSport Safe Shampoo
- True Botanicals Shampoo*
- VITA Cosmetics Shampoo
- Wellnesse Cleansing Shampoo & Nourishing Conditioner (link direct to small biz)
- Wellnesse Soothing Shampoo & Enriching Conditioner for Curly & Wavy Hair** (link direct to small biz)
- Wellnesse Revitalizing Dry Shampoo (link direct to small biz)
- Wellnesse Revitalizing Dry Shampoo for Darker Hair (link direct to small biz)
- Whamisa Organic Seeds Subacid Hair Shampoo
- Whiff Peppermint Shampoo Bar
- Whiff Shampoo Bar Unscented*
We hope this list will help you make informed decisions about chemical-free shampoos you can feel safe switching to. For more information on how to avoid hormone-disrupting chemicals in your personal care products, pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!).
About the Author
Leah Segedie is a consumer watchdog, author, entrepreneur, environmental activist, and mother of three boys.
She wrote Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, & Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!) in 2018. She’s consistently been featured in the media for the past 15 years in media outlets like ABC, CBS, CNN, Yahoo, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Reader’s Digest, Ladies Home Journal, Shape Magazine, Fitness Magazine to name a few.
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