The Best Shampoo
Good hair days are ahead
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.
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)
The Best Shampoos
Davines Ol Shampoo
Best for Normal to Dry Hair
Living Proof Perfect Hair Day
Best for Oily Hair
Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
Best Drugstore Pick
Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo
Best for Natural Hair (Shampoo)
Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Hydrating Cream Conditioner
Best for Natural Hair (Conditioner)
Giovanni 50:50 Balanced Remoisturizer Duo Set Shampoo Hydrating-Clarifying & Conditioner Hydrating-Calming
Best for Natural Hair
Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo & Conditioner
Best for Natural Hair
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.
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 $16 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.
How We Found the Best Shampoo — or at Least, Tried To
The sheer amount of shampoo is incredible. Sephora alone sells 173 varieties, all of which promise to make your hair its best, brightest, thickest, longest, shiniest, smoothest, and strongest ever. Our starting list topped off at 262, culled from retailers like Sephora, Ulta, and Nordstrom, plus Best Of lists from beauty authorities like Allure, Cosmopolitan, and Refinery29.
Not gonna lie: We were overwhelmed.
At first we thought we could divvy them up by all the different hair types.
Brands try to help you make a decision, labeling their bottles “for curly hair” or “for fine hair” and so on. But according to Jeffrey Lewis, a senior chemist for Aware Products, these targeted shampoos are often high on hype and low on results. “Some of these companies claim that a shampoo is good for fine hair, when in reality they have just changed the fragrance or color in their formulation,” he explains. “More often than not, there’s no actual difference in the shampoo. It’s about marketing appeal and cost savings.”
And, since companies don’t disclose the amounts of individual ingredients in their shampoos, it’s pretty much impossible to know what changes — and by how much — from formula to formula. “Unless you’re the chemist who formulated the shampoo specifically, you’ll just have to guess what each chemical does,” says Lewis. So that was sort of a dead end.
We’re not saying targeted shampoos aren’t worth your time, just that, as one of our experts put it, “They’re all shades of the same thing.”
So we focused on just two types: oily hair and dry hair.
Despite all the ways people describe their hair — thick, fine, curly, color-treated, even “normal” — most everyone falls into one of these two categories. They overlap with just about every hair type. Fine hair, for example, might need an oily hair shampoo to ensure strands don’t get weighed down by grease; likewise, very thick hair might need a shampoo that leaves in more oils and keeps tresses smooth.
This two-part approach will give you a starting place to find the best shampoo for you — but all our top picks will likely work with pretty much any type of hair.
We focused our research and in-shower testing on shampoos for oily or dry hair, and left dual-action products (like shampoo/conditioner hybrids), gender-specific shampoos, and color-centric shampoos behind.
What about natural hair?
Natural hair is amazing and resilient and has a mind of its own. We talked with Maria Antoinette, licensed cosmetologist, beauty expert, and all around natural hair advocate to get her advice on what to look for in a shampoo for natural hair and to share her go-to products.
Maria recommends looking for a shampoo that thoroughly cleanses the hair without stripping it of all it natural oils and avoiding sulfates, silicones, and parabens. “Sulfates strip your hair of all oils, and we know naturals need to retain a certain level of oil to retain length. Silicones coat the hair strand and make it impossible for moisture to get into the hair which in the long run causes breakage and extremely dry hair.”
Maria’s Picks: Best Shampoo for Natural Hair
- Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo ($9) and Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Hydrating Cream Conditioner ($10)
- Giovanni 50:50 Shampoo and Conditioner ($20)
- Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo and Conditioner ($18)
“These are tried and true and have never let me or my curls down!”
We nixed anything with harsh surfactants.
Your scalp, like the rest of your skin, produces sebum (aka oil) to keep skin naturally moisturized. Sebum production goes into overdrive for all sorts of reasons — stress, hormonal imbalances, diet, product overuse — and that’s what generally causes hair to get greasy or “dirty.”
Enter: surfactants. These compounds do the cleaning. One end of a surfactant molecule attaches to oil and the other end attaches to a water molecule. Under a shower’s steady stream, the water molecule pulls the surfactant and oil away from your hair, washing it down the drain. (Surfactants are also what make the shampoo foam up, but according to our experts, suds are just for show — they don’t actually play a part in the cleaning.)
“A good shampoo should have about three surfactants. A primary, which does the main cleaning. A secondary, which boosts foam for visual appeal. And a third, made from something gentler like shea butter, that would decrease the overall harshness of the soaps and conditions the hair.”
Surfactants come in varying degrees of intensity. Take, for instance, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a harsh surfactant that’s popular in self-care products like shampoo because it’s relatively inexpensive. “It’s great for taking stains out of clothes or grease off of dishes,” says dermatologist Dr. Jackie Dosal. “But, it also strips the natural, good oils from your scalp, along with the dirt.”
A Quick Bit of Science What makes a surfactant harsh? It’s all about the size and structure of the molecule. The smaller, more tightly packed its head, the more oil it can attract, stripping it from your hair. Surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate have particularly small heads — and are thus harsher.
But according to Dr. Dosal, harsh surfactants, while often maligned, aren’t really going to destroy your hair. In fact, many brands that are beloved by the beauty industry use them — Oribe is a perfect example. But if you have a sensitive or dry scalp to begin with, the chance for irritation increases.
“For hair that has color or chemical treatments, or is severely dry or damaged, sulfates may cause problems,” adds celebrity hairstylist and owner/founder of Arrojo NYC, Nick Arrojo. Your head and your hair need some oil to stay healthy, and all our experts agreed that there are plenty of less-intense surfactants that will do just as good a job cleaning without stripping every last drop of oil from your scalp.
Surfactants We Cut
Surfactants We Like
Sodium Laureth, Myreth and Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate
Ammonium Lauryl and Laureth Sulfate
Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate
TEA Lauryl Sulfate
Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
Sodium Alkylbenzene Sulfonate
Sodium Lauryl Glucose
Ammonium or Sodium Xylenesulfonate
Sodium Cocoyl Glycinate
AG Hair Colour Care Savour Sulfate-Free Shampoo, AG Hair Smooth Smooth Sulfate-Free Argan & Coconut Shampoo, AG Hair Volume Thikk Wash Volumizing Shampoo, Alberto VO5 Extra Body Volumizing Shampoo, Alberto VO5 Moisture Milks Moisturizing Shampoo Strawberries & Cream, Alberto VO5 Tea Therapy Clarifying Shampoo Vanilla Mint Tea, Aussie Aussome Volume Shampoo, Aussie Mega Moist Shampoo with Pump, Aussie Moist Shampoo, Aussie Total Miracle 7N1 Shampoo, Aveeno Nourish + Soothe Shampoo, Biolage Scalptherapie Normalizing Shampoo, Bumble and Bumble Surf Foam Wash Shampoo, Bumble and Bumble Thickening Shampoo, Bumble and Bumble Tonic Shampoo, Cantu Shea Butter Moisturizing Cream Shampoo, Charles Worthington Results Moisture Seal Shampoo, Charles Worthington Volume & Bounce Shampoo, Clear Complete Scalp Care Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, Clear Scalp & Hair Active Damage Resist Ultra Nourishing Shampoo, Clear Scalp & Hair Beauty Therapy Volumizing Root Boost Nourishing Shampoo, Clear Scalp & Hair Therapy Frizz Control Nourishing Shampoo, Creme of Nature Eden Hydrating Shampoo, Davines Nounou Shampoo, DHC Head Shampoo, Dove Daily Moisture Therapy Shampoo, Dove Go Fresh Therapy Energize Shampoo, Dove Nourishing Oil Care Shampoo, Dove Quench Absolute Shampoo, Dove Shampoo Oxygen Moisture, Enjoy Professional Hair Care Sulfate-Free Luxury Shampoo, Fekkai Apple Cider Clarifying Shampoo, Fekkai Brilliant Glossing Shampoo, Fekkai PRX Reparatives Shampoo, Garnier Fructis Triple Nutrition Fortifying Shampoo, Giovanni Smooth as Silk Deep Moisture Shampoo, Giovanni Smooth as Silk Shampoo, Head & Shoulders Clinical Strength Dandruff and Seborrheic Dermatitis Shampoo, Head & Shoulders Instant Relief Shampoo, Head & Shoulders Smooth & Silky Dandruff Shampoo, Herbal Essences Body Envy Volumizing Shampoo, Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Moisturizing Shampoo, Herbal Essences Honey, I’m Strong Shampoo, Herbal Essences Smooth Collection Shampoo, Herbal Essences Totally Twisted Curls & Waves Shampoo, Infusium 23 Moisture Replenisher Shampoo Avocado & Olive Oil, It’s a 10 Miracle Shampoo Plus Keratin, JASON Tea Tree Scalp Normalizing Shampoo, Jhirmack Silver Plus Ageless Shampoo, Joico Body Luxe Thickening Shampoo, Joico Moisture Recovery Shampoo, Kenra Clarifying Shampoo, Kerastase Bain Oleo-Relax, Kerastase Bain Satin 2, Kerastase Cristalliste Bain Cristal Thick Shampoo, Kerastase Discipline Bain Fluidealiste Shampoo, Kerastase Nutritive Bain Satin 1 Shampoo, Kerastase Resistance Bain Volumifique Thickening Shampoo, Kerastase Specifique Bain Densitive GL Revitalizing Shampoo, Kiehl’s Ultimate Thickening Shampoo, Kiss My Face Whenever Shampoo, L’Oreal Lumino Contrast Shampoo, L’Oreal Volume Filler Thickening Shampoo, Lush Godiva Shampoo, Marc Anthony True Professional Hydrating Coconut Oil & Shea Butter Shampoo, Marc Anthony True Professional Strictly Curls Envy Shampoo, Mark Hill Big It Up! Volume Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Advanced Full Density Shampoo for Thin Hair, Matrix Biolage FIberstrong Shampoo for Fragile Hair, Matrix Biolage Hydrasource Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Hydrotherapie Hydrating Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Normalizing Cleanreset Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Rejuvatherapie Age Rejuvenating Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Scalpsync Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Smoothproof Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Sugar Shine Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Ultra Hydrasource Shampoo, Matrix Biolage Volumebloom Shampoo, Matrix Total Results Mega Sleek Shampoo, Mizani Therasmooth Shampoo, Neutrogena Anti-Residue Shampoo, Neutrogena T-Gel Therapeutic Shampoo, Neutrogena T/Sal Shampoo, Scalp Build-Up Control, Neutrogena Triple Repair Fortifying Shampoo, Nexxus Diametress Luscious Volumizing Shampoo, Nexxus Oil Infinite Shampoo, Nexxus Sleektress Sumptuous Smoothing Shampoo, Nexxus Therappe Luxurious Moisturizing Shampoo, Nizoral A-D Ketoconazole Anti-Dandruff Shampoo, OGX Coconut Miracle Oil Shampoo, OGX Hydrate Plus Repair Shampoo, OGX Shampoo Hydrate + Defrizz Kukui Oil, OGX Shampoo Hydrating Tea Tree Mint, OGX Shampoo Nourishing Coconut Milk, OGX Shampoo Renewing Moroccan Argan Oil, OGX Shampoo Sunkissed Blonde Lemon Highlights, OGX Shampoo Twisted Coconut, OGX Thick & Full Biotin & Collagen Shampoo, OGX Weightless Hydration Coconut Water Shampoo, Oribe Shampoo for Brilliance and Shine, Oribe Shampoo for Moisture & Control, Ouidad Curl Quencher Moisturizing Shampoo, Pantene Expert Collection Age Defy Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Classic Clean Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Full & Strong Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Ice Shine Luminous Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Nature Fusion Smooth Vitality Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Relaxed & Natural Breakage Defense Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Repair & Protect Miracle Repairing Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Sheer Volume Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Smooth & Sleek Anti-Frizz Shampoo, Pantene Pro-V Weekly Deep Cleanse Purifying Shampoo, Paul Mitchell Shampoo One, Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Lemon Sage Thickening Shampoo, Paul Mitchell Tea Tree Special Shampoo, Philip B Russian Amber Imperial Shampoo, Philip B. Peppermint and Avocado Volumizing & Clarifying Shampoo, Phyto Phytheol Intense Dandruff Treatment Shampoo, Phyto Phytocedrat Sebo Regulating Shampoo, Phyto Phytonectar Ultra Nourishing Shampoo, Prell Shampoo Classic, Redken All Soft Shampoo, Redken Beach Envy Volume Texturizing Shampoo, Redken Body Full Shampoo, Redken Clear Moisture Shampoo, Redken Dandruff Shampoo, Redken Diamond Oil Shampoo, Redken Extreme Shampoo, Redken for Men Go Clean Daily Care Shampoo, Redken Fresh Curls Shampoo, Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo, Redken High Rise Volume Lifting Shampoo, Redken Scalp Relief Dandruff Control Shampoo, Redken Smooth Lock Shampoo, Rene Furterer Curbicia Purifying Clay Shampoo, Rene Furterer Volumea Volumizing Shampoo, Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo, Samy Fat Hair “0” Calories Thickening Shampoo, Sebastian Drench Shampoo, Selsun Blue Dandruff Shampoo, Medicated Treatment, Sexy Hair Healthy Sexy Hair Sulfate-Free Soy Moisturizing Shampoo, Shu Uemura Art of Hair Muroto Amplifying Shampoo, Shu Uemura Muroto Volume Pure Lightness Shampoo, Softsheen-Carson Optimum Oil Therapy Ultimate Recovery Shampoo, Suave Naturals Daily Clarifying Shampoo, Suave Naturals Shampoo Refreshing Waterfall Mist, Suave Professionals Almond and Shea Butter Shampoo, Suave Professionals Coconut Oil Infusion Shampoo, Suave Professionals Healthy Curls Shampoo, Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Smoothing Shampoo, Suave Professionals Men Shampoo, Suave Professionals Moroccan Infusion Shine Shampoo, Ted Gibson Daily Cleanse Shampoo, Thicker Fuller Hair Revitalizing Shampoo, TIGI Bed Head Urban Antidotes Recovery Shampoo, TIGI Bed Head Urban Antidotes Resurrection Shampoo, TIGI S Factor Serious Shampoo, TRESemme 24 Hour Body Healthy Volume Shampoo, TRESemme Platinum Strength Shampoo, Vidal Sassoon Cherry Almond Classic Clean Shampoo, Viviscal Gorgeous Growth Densifying Shampoo, Wella Brilliance Shampoo for Coarse Hair, Wella Brilliance Shampoo for Fine/Normal Hair, Wella Luxe Oil Keratin Protect Shampoo, Wella Professionals Enrich Shampoo, Zydot Ultra Clean Shampoo
But that still left us with 96 gentle cleansing shampoos.
So we turned to our panel of experts and asked what ingredients they’d recommend we look for in the best shampoo in addition to friendly surfactants.
Melissa Padua, an R&D cosmetic chemist, suggests:
- Panthenol: For repairing, thickening, and strengthening damaged hair. It reduces split ends and increases the tensile strength of the hair
- Hydrolyzed silk and/or wheat proteins: To strengthen hair against breakage and repair it from the inside out.
- Glycerin: A humectant to help moisturize hair.
- Green tea extract: It has a high polyphenol content, giving it antioxidant and healing properties.
- Aloe vera extract: For its natural moisturizing ability and because it can be soothing to sensitive skin and scalps.
Arrojo, who has formulated his own line of products, added a few additional go-tos:
- Coconut oil: A great natural emollient that smoothes and softens hair.
- Shea butter: Another great healing emollient.
- Agave leaf extract: To add moisture.
- Sesame seed oil: Which promotes a healthy scalp.
- Vitamin E: To protect hair from damage. Vitamin E is found in lots of natural oils, including macadamia seed oil.
We tallied up the shampoos with a variety of these ingredients (75 had at least one) and hand-picked some to try out ourselves. Our experts signed off on six, nosed out a sneaky harsh surfactant on a seventh, and recommended their own go-tos that fit our criteria, including Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin.
Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
Carol’s Daughter Monoi Repairing Sulfate-Free Shampoo
Davines Oi Shampoo
Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin
Fresh Seaberry Revitalizing Shampoo
Living Proof Perfect Hair Day (PhD) Shampoo
Phyto Phytheol Oily Hair Purifying Shampoo
We got into the shower and lathered up.
We had 20 people perform blind tests of each shampoo in showers across the country — both women and men, with hair that was color-treated and oily, thick and dry, and everywhere in between. About six of our testers self-described their hair as straight-up greasy. Eight reported their manes were on the dry side, and the rest felt they were somewhere along the spectrum. One tester even said her hair oscillated between dry and oily depending on the day.
Our goal in this hands-on testing was to get a sense of how each shampoo worked in real life for different types of people. Did it create a satisfying amount of suds? Was its smell overpowering? How easily did it foam up and rinse out? How did hair feel after it had finally dried?
After washing their hair (but not conditioning it) our testers reported back. Remember, what leaves hair glossy and gorgeous on one person could leave locks limp on the next — but all our top picks were universally approved by everyone who used them. If you’re on the hunt for a new shampoo, these picks are the perfect place to start.
Our Picks for the Best Shampoo
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.
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.
The only problem we have with it is its price tag — $16 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.
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).
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
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.
Hairstory New Wash’s lotion-like consistency took a little getting used to.
Best Shampoo: Summed Up
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.
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.”