The Best Shampoo

Good hair days are ahead

The 30-Second Review

Every chemist, dermatologist, and hair stylist we spoke with agreed: Shampoo is personal. Yes, gentle cleansing surfactants are better than harsh ones, and moisturizers like coconut oil and aloe vera extract are beneficial for most hair types, but the only way to find your best shampoo is to try it. To give you a place to start, we had 20 people test seven shampoos and found three that were universally approved.

Best for Normal to Dry Hair

Like all our top picks, Oi uses gentle surfactants, but it also has roucou oil and sunflower seed oil to protect hair from UV damage, improve texture, and boost shine. Our testers found the formula sudsed up well while washing; rinsed out easily; and left hair feeling light, manageable, and silky. ($30 for 9 oz)

Best for Oily Hair

Gentle surfactants and nothing more. Ideal for hair that produces enough oil on its own. ($25 for 8 oz)

Best Drugstore Pick

Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
Our favorite of the very few drugstore brands without harsh surfactants. ($6 for 10.5 oz)

First the bad news: There’s really no such thing as one best shampoo. No matter how closely you scour a shampoo’s ingredients label, there’s no way to know how its unique formulation is going to react with your hair once it’s on your head. You’re going to have to try it to find out. That’s just the way it is.

But the good news is that the stakes are low. “No single shampoo is going to be perfect or terrible,” explains stylist Marco Santini, owner of Ion Studio in New York City. Even the “wrong” shampoo isn’t really going to damage anything. As long as it cleans your hair (and, more importantly, your scalp) without stripping, drying, or weighing it down, the rest is personal preference. If you like the way your hair looks after you’ve washed it, then that’s the shampoo for you.

Group shot for Best Shampoo

Our favorites are Davines Oi Shampoo for dry hair and Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Shampoo for oily hair, but the truth is both will likely work for most hair types; they both feature gentle surfactants to cleanse without eliminating too much of hair’s good oils. (So, no harsh sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate, aka SLS and SLES.) The Davines adds in a few extra hydrating oils to help keep frizzed-out hair hydrated, while Living Proof’s no-frills formula is focused on cleansing — nothing more.

Both these picks are on the more expensive side: $30 for about 9 oz of Davines and $25 for 8 oz of Living Proof. If you’ve got budget on the brain, Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo is a solid choice. It’s about $6 for 10 oz at most drugstores, and while none of our testers found it “hair-transforming,” they also didn’t have any complaints.

Our Picks for the Best Shampoo

Best for Normal to Dry Hair

Davines Ol Shampoo Its gentle surfactants and moisturizing oils left our testers' hair feeling soft, manageable, and silky — with no residue.

Davines Oi Shampoo markets itself for “all kinds of hair,” and after rave reviews from users with lots of different hair types (not to mention high-end hair salons around the world), we’re inclined to believe it. Refinery29 even gave it its 2015 beauty innovator award, agreeing that it “played the best with many hair types: color-treated, textured, fine, thick, heat-damaged.” But, with two moisturizing oils included in its formulation, we made it our pick for dry hair over oily.

Like all our top picks, it uses gentler surfactants including sodium lauroyl sarcosinate and sodium lauryl sulfoacetate; it’s also paraben-free. Oi’s “something extra” ingredient is roucou oil (listed as bixa orellana seed extract on the label), a beta-carotene-charged derivative of the achiote plant, which teams up with sunflower seed oil to protect hair from UV damage, improve texture, and boost shine.

Granted, our experts warn not to get too enamored by those oils. Even though she agrees that they’re nice to have in any shampoo, Padua reminds us “these soothing, moisturizing extracts are added in such trace amounts; plus shampoo is a rinse-off product,” meaning most of it goes right down the drain.

Close-up of Davines Shampoo

All our testers found that it sudsed up a lot while washing, but rinsed out easily, leaving hair light, soft, and manageable — with no residue. One tester, who typically uses a drugstore 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner felt she still craved conditioner after her hair had air dried — Davines isn’t that moisturizing. But for all our testers, it left hair silkier than Carol’s Daughter Monoi Repairing Sulfate-Free Shampoo, another great shampoo for dry hair we tried, but didn’t love quite as much.

Davines Oi has a few flaws. Its packaging, while lovely and minimalist, features a screw cap instead of a pump or a squeeze top — a silly detail that makes a surprisingly big difference when you’re trying not to lose any shampoo between the bottle and your scalp. (How do you replace the cap after you’ve poured the product onto your hand?!) Less minimalist is its scent, a powdery floral that some of our testers described as overpowering, and that lingers even after hair is dry. Is it a deal breaker? Probably only if you’re super sensitive to smells; if that’s the case, you might prefer the totally scentless Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin.

Best for Oily Hair

Living Proof Perfect Hair Day A simple formula that's spot on for oily hair: gentle surfactants and nothing else. It left our testers' hair feeling ultra clean, but not totally stripped.

If you naturally produce a lot of sebum and you want to avoid adding more oil to the equation, a no-frills formula is a great place to start. Living Proof’s Perfect Hair Day Shampoo (PhD for short) includes gentle surfactants (methyl cocoyl and decyl glucoside), no parabens or phthalates, no oils or extracts — honestly, not a whole lot else. This 2014 Allure Best of Beauty award winner has a really simple formula, and that’s exactly why we like it for oily hair.

In the shower, PhD has a light fruity scent: noticeable when you’re scrubbing, but goes away pretty rapidly afterward. It creates a gratifying amount of suds, rinses out easily, and leaves hair feeling smooth and ultra-clean — but not totally stripped. Unlike some oily-hair products that eliminate oil so efficiently that they can leave hair feeling more like straw than silk, you could easily use PhD every day if you wanted to. Another beauty industry favorite we tested was Phyto’s Phytheol Oily Hair Purifying Shampoo, and even though it uses gentle surfactants, our testers found it too intense for everyday use, preferring it instead as an occasional item in the rotation to help eliminate excess build-up.

Close-up of Living Proof Shampoo

The only problem we have with it is its price tag — $25 for 8 fluid ounces, which is about the same as Davines. You could argue you only use a little bit a few times a week; if you can practice great portion control, that might also soften the blow. Still squeamish about the price? One expert we chatted with suggested alternating expensive shampoo with a drugstore version to extend the life of the pricier product.

Best Drugstore Pick

Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo We only found 3 drugstore brands without harsh surfactants and Aveeno was our favorite. It left our testers' hair shiny and manageable.

Finding a great drugstore shampoo was tougher than we expected. The reason companies use harsh surfactants like SLS in their products is because they’re cheap — the cheaper the shampoo, the more likely they’ll include those harsh ingredients. In fact, out of the 96 gentle-surfactant shampoos we found, Aveeno was one of the only drugstore brands available (L’Oréal and Burt’s Bees were the others).

Close-up of Aveeno Shampoo

While none of our testers felt like Pure Renewal was “hair-transforming,” we liked that it lathered up well and left all hair types shiny and manageable, thanks to a combination of hydrating glycerin and a slippery silicone called dimethicone. It has a strong, classic shampoo smell (read: super flowery), but for around $6 a bottle for 10 oz, we couldn’t find anything to really complain about.

Other Shampoos to Consider

Free & Clear Shampoo If you like your shampoo without the scents, Free & Clear Shampoo keeps things simple — making it a great choice for those with sensitive skin.

If you’re sensitive to fragrances, our three top picks might be tough for you. If that’s the case, our experts suggested Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin ($9 for 12 oz). It’s got absolutely no fragrance and is widely recommended by dermatologists for anyone who reacts to dye, fragrance, parabens, or harsh surfactants. Our testers weren’t particularly excited about it — its no-nonsense, sterile scent makes you realize why most shampoo companies add fragrance, and it’s also missing that satisfying lather — but they all agreed that it did the trick in terms of cleaning.

There are also options if daily (or even weekly!) shampooing isn’t your style. More and more people have been experimenting with shampoo alternatives; some go months, or even years, without washing their hair. Some try cleansing with baking soda or apple cider vinegar. Many use dry shampoo to extend the timeline between washing. Proponents call it the “no ‘poo” method, and like that it keeps natural oils in hair and shampoo bottles out of landfills.

Hairstory New Wash This isn't a shampoo; it's a hair cream. It has the consistency of lotion and should be used only once or twice a week. Our testers liked it, but said it was definitely a different experience. If you're looking to seriously shake up your routine, give it a try.

We were curious about the trend — especially another new variation called hair creams, like Hairstory New Wash and Sachajuan Hair Cleansing Cream, which was recommended by Santini. The idea behind hair creams is replacing shampoo surfactants with fatty acids to lift away excess sebum; their formulation also replaces conditioner. “I only wash my hair maybe once a week,” says Santini. “But if you like to wash every day or every other day, I recommend you use shampoo once or twice a week and then cleansing cream on the days in between. It’s much gentler but still gives you that clean feeling.”

A few of our testers checked Hairstory New Wash out, and liked the way it left their hair feeling lightweight — but they were also the first to admit that it was a very different experience in the shower. It pumps out with the consistency of lotion, which you then rub into your scalp, wait for a bit, and then wash off. There’s no lather; there’s no rinse-repeat. If you’re looking for something to seriously shake up your shower routine, hair creams are the way to go.

Close-up of Hairstory Shampoo

Hairstory New Wash’s lotion-like consistency took a little getting used to.

Did You Know?

Extremely dry hair? That’s the only time your shampoo really matters.

You’ll usually know if you have it. Bleached, dyed, chemically relaxed — hair can also just naturally be very dry and brittle. “The only time a shampoo will be really wrong for you is if you have extremely dry, damaged hair and you use something drying” says Santini. For everyone else, “it’s not that your hair will look terrible if you use the wrong shampoo,” he explains. “It just might not look its absolute best.” For example, if you have very fine hair and use a product meant for people with very dry hair, you might notice the formula weighing it down.

If you’re not on an extreme end of the oily-dry spectrum, your hair type might be a little trickier to define. Oily hair tends to get greasy easily and often; dry hair might frizz even on a humid summer day. But something as simple as color-treating can be a curveball. If you’ve gone from brunette to platinum blond, the hair itself will be delicate, but your scalp is still going to produce the same amount of sebum. What then? Your hair stylist will have the best recommendations for how to care for your unique hair.

It’s more important to wash your head than your hair.

Your scalp is where sebum develops and builds up, and unless your hair is quite short, that “dirtiness” will never really reach much beyond your roots. Lars Skjoth, founder of hair growth clinic Harklinikken, actually recommends pre-coating the ends of longer hair with conditioner to make sure it won’t get mixed into your shampooing ritual. (Likewise, it’s more important to condition your hair and skip your scalp.)

Your hair can change with the seasons.

Or at least, it might seem to. The same head of hair will often feel dry and crackly in winter months, then sweat-slicked and greasy in the summer.

It has more to do with your scalp and skin then your hair itself. Super-dry air in the winter evaporates moisture from your skin faster, so the natural oils don’t have as much time to work their way into your hair. On humid summer days, you’ll sweat more, use more product, wear your hair up off your neck and trap sebum at the roots — the list goes on. Trying different shampoos for different needs is the best way to keep your hair looking fresh.

The Bottom Line

You’re only at-risk for doing serious shampoo-related damage if you have extremely dry hair and use a harsh shampoo. Go with a gentler surfactant and you’ll be fine. Then, stop your search when you like how your hair looks.

Take Action

Davines Ol Shampoo Gentle surfactants and a few beneficial oils that didn't weigh our tester's hair down. Start here if you have normal to dry hair.

Try a lot of shampoos to find the one(s!) for you. Stylist Santini says he personally keeps at least five shampoos in his shower at any given time. Worried about breaking the bank? Department stores and beauty supply stores will often have sample sizes you can try out for free.

Try each shampoo out for two to three weeks. Santini says that prolonged period is the only way you’ll be able to tell the subtle differences in how your hair looks. He warns that unless it’s truly “wrong” for your hair, nearly every shampoo will seem great in the first week because it’s changing things up. But by two weeks in, you’ll actually be able to decide if you think your hair looks better or worse than before.

For most, shampooing every other day is probably best. According to Skjoth, an overly oily scalp is a good breeding ground for yeast and fungus, which can lead to itchiness and dandruff. “Keeping your scalp clean — while protecting the drier, bottom part of your hair — can make a great difference in your overall hair health.” Maria Antoinette agrees, “a clean scalp promotes healthy hair growth and clean hair promotes length retention.” She recommends shampooing natural hair once every week or two. “If you have an active life and want to refresh your curls, try co-washing (washing with conditioner) in between shampoos.”