The Best Shampoo
- March 30, 2018 - We stand behind the methodology of our original review, but we revisited and updated our list of products to account for current trends and keep ingredient lists up-to-date. After testing new products against our originally-featured shampoos, we ended up replacing a few top picks. Our original top pick for normal to dry hair (Davines OI) was ousted by OUAI Repair shampoo for its easier application and smoother results. Living Proof’s Perfect Hair Day shampoo, once our top pick for oily hair, didn’t pass our tests for ingredients this time around; its cousin, Living Proof Full Shampoo, has replaced it.
- January 24, 2018 - In this update, we clarified our methodology and research regarding surfactants. While we are still confident in our top picks, keep an eye out in the coming months for further research and more extensive testing.
The Best Shampoo
- OUAI Repair Shampoo
Best for Normal to Dry Hair
- Living Proof Full Shampoo
Best for Oily Hair
- Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
Best at the Drugstore
- Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo
Good for Natural Hair
- Free & Clear Shampoo
Good for Sensitive Skin
The best shampoo leaves your hair soft, clean, and manageable; it should also make the in-shower experience pleasant, with subtle fragrance and sufficient lather. Much of your shampoo choice is personal and dependent on hair type, but there are two universal truths: A great shampoo uses gentle cleansing ingredients and some moisturizers. We tested 12 popular shampoos with the right ingredients and found five that were universally loved for specific scenarios — one for dry to normal hair, one for oily hair, one drugstore standby, one expert-recommended natural hair pick, and one that’s specifically formulated for sensitive skin.
OUAI Repair Shampoo is effective at getting your hair clean and full of moisturizing ingredients to keep it silky and manageable. Testers with normal to dry hair found that it struck that balance perfectly, and they loved the rich, floral scent that subtly stuck around for a day after use. Those with oily hair adored it just as much, but they felt the need to wash their hair after only a day; their natural oil had returned to the scene quicker than anticipated.
For oily hair, Living Proof Full Shampoo offers a cleansing lift that won’t weigh hair down or allow buildup to return to your roots prematurely. Testers with oily hair liked Living Proof’s light citrus scent and lasting results. Those with dry hair, however, felt it was a tad more drying than they’d prefer.
Drugstore shampoos typically use cheaper, harsher surfactants that have the potential to cause more damage to your hair, but not Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo — with a combination of gentle surfactants and conditioning ingredients, it leaves hair looking shiny and clean. It has a strong flowery scent and won’t leave hair feeling quite as nourished as our other picks, but it’s a solid bet at the drugstore.
We also looked into the unique needs of natural African American hair, analyzed the only shampoo on our list for sensitive skin, and tried out the trending alt-shampoo Hairstory New Wash — the results for those cases are covered below.
How We Found the Best Shampoo
We gathered popular products from retailers and beauty publications.
We knew we wouldn’t be able to test the hundreds of shampoos available, so we started with the basics: Which shampoos have people talking? To create our starting list, we pulled bestsellers from retailers like Sephora, Ulta, Target, and Amazon, plus Best-Of lists from beauty authorities like Refinery29 and ELLE. This left us with 47 varieties, all promising to make your hair its best, brightest, and shiniest self.
We also sorted products into those marketed for “all hair types” versus those for “oily hair,” and chose to ignore all other marketing terminology. There are endless ways people describe hair — thick, fine, curly, color-treated — but most everyone falls into either the dry or oily category. Fine hair, for example, might need an oily hair shampoo to ensure that 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. According to Jeffrey Lewis, a formulations chemist who develops personal care products, the differences among those shampoos are usually more hype than substance. “Some of these companies claim that a shampoo is good for fine hair,” Jeffrey told us, “when in reality they have just changed the fragrance or color in their formulation."
In addition, we stuck to traditional shampoos by leaving out one-off products like dual-action shampoo/conditioners, gender-specific shampoos, color-centric shampoos, dandruff shampoos, and cleansing oils. The one exception we made was for New Wash, a trending product that claims to replace both shampoo and conditioner and has taken over the internet — it’s such a phenomenon that we had to include it on our list for curiosity’s and comparison’s sake.
Next, 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, the compounds that do the cleaning. One end of a surfactant molecule attaches to oil and the other 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.”
According to Dr. Dosal, harsh surfactants aren’t going to destroy your hair. In fact, many brands like Oribe that are beloved by the beauty industry use them. But if you have a sensitive or dry scalp to begin with, the chance for irritation increases.
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 and strip from your hair. Surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate have particularly small heads — and thus have the potential to strip far more oil than necessary.
“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 of 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.
To minimize the risk of irritation or over-stripping oils, we cut shampoos with any of the harsh surfactants our experts pointed to, leaning toward gentler formulas.
- Aesop Calming Shampoo
- Aussie Mega Moist Shampoo
- Aveeno Nourish + Moisturize Shampoo
- Bb. Thickening Shampoo
- Biolage Hydrasource Shampoo
- Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Super Moisture Shampoo
- Bumble and bumble. Creme De Coco Shampoo
- Bumble and bumble. Surf Foam Wash Shampoo
- Dove Daily Moisture
- Dove Fortifying Shampoo – Oxygen Charge
- Dove Intensive Repair Shampoo
- Garnier Fructis Sleek & Shine Shampoo
- John Paul Mitchell Systems Lavender Mint Moisturizing Shampoo
- John Paul Mitchell Systems Tea Tree Special Shampoo
- Kerastase Paris Resistance Brain Force Architecte
- Klorane Shampoo with Desert Date
- Klorane Shampoo with Peony
- Neutrogena The Anti-Residue Shampoo
- OGX Argan Oil of Morocco Shampoo
- OGX Biotin & Collagen Shampoo
- OGX Coconut Milk Shampoo
- Ouidad Curl Quencher Moisturizing Shampoo
- Playa Every Day Shampoo
- Redken All Soft Argan Oil Shampoo
- Redken Extreme Strengthening Shampoo
- TRESemme MOisture Rich Shampoo
With 19 shampoos remaining, we looked for ones with expert-endorsed ingredients.
Friendly surfactants aren’t enough to make a great shampoo on their own. Beyond just cleaning your hair, a great shampoo includes ingredients that go the extra mile to nourish it and your scalp. To narrow down our pool for testing, we turned to our panel of experts and asked which of those ingredients they’d recommend we look for in the best shampoo.
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.
Of the 19 remaining shampoos, we looked for those with at least two recommended ingredients. We brought those 12 contenders into the office; it was time to try these formulas for ourselves.
- Art Naturals Argan Oil Shampoo
- Aveda dry remedy moisturizing shampoo
- Bumble and bumble. Bb. Straight Shampoo
- DevaCurl Low-Poo Delight
- DevaCurl Low-Poo Original
- Living proof. Perfect hair Day (PhD) shampoo
- Virtue Recovery Shampoo
Then we lathered up with our 12 finalists.
We had a range of testers use each shampoo — both women and men, with hair that was thick and oily, fine and dry, and everywhere in between. Three reported that their manes were on the dry side, three told us their hair tended to be oily, and the rest felt they were somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. For the first round, we had each person test several products, regardless of what hair type they were marketed toward.
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. Was its smell overpowering? How easily did it foam up and rinse out? How did hair feel after it had finally dried? Was there any truth to shampoos’ marketing?
After washing their hair and using the products they already use on a day-to-day basis, our testers reported back. In the end, most of the shampoos got lackluster comments, like two testers’ verdict that high-end Davines’ OI shampoo made their hair stick out in odd ways the next day. And Briogeo’s gritty, wintergreen-gum-scented product was rejected right off the bat for coming in a baffling pot that gathered water in the shower.
Generally, testers loved a traditional shampoo experience, from squeeze bottles that made for accurate distribution to suds that were easy to distribute and wash out. They appreciated scents that were pleasant but not overwhelming — though that was never a deciding factor.
One thing became clear: What really matters is a shampoo’s results. And there’s a true difference in experience between shampoos for oily versus dry hair. Based on first-round verdicts, we distributed the shampoos again, this time to testers with hair types that corresponded to each shampoo’s claim. For this round, we weighted positive and negative results for testers with the corresponding hair types more strongly.
The shampoos that rose above the rest gave results that were perfect for testers’ hair types: Oily-haired testers wanted lift and lasting freshness, and normal- and dry-haired users wanted luxury and moisturization above all else. Two contenders tempted those testers to google price points and replace their current go-to again and again, and they became our top picks. In addition, we found a pleasant-smelling drugstore pick, plus two options that are great for natural hair and people with sensitive skin.
Remember, what leaves hair glossy and gorgeous on one person could leave locks limp on the next — our top picks were universally approved by everyone who used them, but worked best for the specific hair types we mention. If you’re on the hunt for a new shampoo, these picks are the perfect place to start.
The 12 Shampoos We Tested
- Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
- Briogeo Scalp Revival Charcoal and Coconut Micro-Exfoliating Shampoo
- Davines OI Shampoo
- Frederic Fekkai The Ultimate One Restore Shampoo
- Hairstory New Wash
- Living Proof Full Shampoo
- Moroccanoil Extra Volume Shampoo
- Oribe Shampoo for Moisture and Control
- OUAI Curl Shampoo
- OUAI Repair Shampoo
- Pureology Hydrate Shampoo
- Vanicream Free & Clear Shampoo
Our Picks for the Best Shampoo
OUAI Repair Shampoo is full of moisturizing ingredients, making it an excellent choice for people with normal to dry hair. Expert-preferred basics like glycerin and panthenol have starring roles in its ingredient deck, and extras like sunflower seed extract and hydrolyzed linseed extract lend a hydrating assist. Our testers took notice, and consistently commented on how smooth and manageable their hair felt after it dried.
One tester’s gushing comment sums up the the general feelings surrounding OUAI’s hydrating effect: “Loved the results of this one! It helped define and control my curls, and it made my hair so shiny and smooth — I loved running my fingers through it.” All testers experienced this smoothness regardless of hair type, though naturally oily hair tended to return to its oily state more quickly. This may not be an issue if you wash your hair every day, but it’s why we specifically recommend it for normal to dry hair.
OUAI also offers a luxe experience in the shower, where testers were equally as pleased with its high-end, minimalist packaging and thick texture. The creamy, beige shampoo is substantial enough to quickly rub into a rich lather, making it easy to work the right amount into your roots and to know when you’ve rinsed all the product out.
Before you buy, we do have a few caveats. For one, OUAI has a similar product on the market, OUAI Curl Shampoo, which we also tested. Though it’s marketed toward people with curly hair, it yielded pretty much identical results for our testers. It also costs the same, smells similar, and boasts identical ingredients through the first nine listed. Because the products are so similar, we opted to recommend the one that doesn’t try to corner a specific hair type, though it could be worth a try if you have curly hair.
Another consideration is OUAI’s fragrance. Testers were enamored with the fresh, floral scent; one tester even remarked that the perfect amount stuck around into the next day. No testers said it was overpowering by any means, but if you’re ultra-sensitive to smells, you might prefer fragrance-free Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin. If floral scents just aren’t your thing, Pureology Hydrate Shampoo also gave testers great results — though they reported it to be a bit less moisturizing — and smells more like herbal essential oils.
Living Proof advertises its Full Shampoo as “ideal for fine, flat hair” and claims that it provides lift and banishes residue long-term. One tester practically echoed the hype, saying it left her hair “soft and feather-light,” and that it “rinsed totally clean and didn't leave any buildup after multiple uses.” If you have oily hair that craves those results, look no further.
What truly makes Living Proof a boon for testers with oily hair is the longevity of those lifting, grease-free results. While dry-hair-friendly OUAI left their locks feeling heavy a day later, Living Proof kept it manageable and clean long past the next day — a huge time saver, especially if you’re someone who styles their hair regularly.
Though it yields unique results, the reported overall experience using Living Proof was relatively standard — which testers liked. Its ergonomic bottle and light, “tropical citrus” scent fared much better with testers than totally novel or bold products. Briogeo’s non-traditional tub of gritty, grey goop, for example, made some testers squirm. Rubbing Living Proof’s creamy, gel-like product does produce less foam than what a traditional shampoo might, but testers didn’t feel like they needed to use more product than normal to feel clean.
Rinsing the shampoo out was straightforward, too. Once successfully rinsed, hair reaches a literally squeaky clean state that testers with oily hair found refreshing and reassuring — no product was going to stay behind and leave buildup. Yet, it wasn’t so squeaky clean that it got testers’ fingers tangled, unlike other shampoos “for all hair types” (like The Ultimate One by Frédéric Fekkai).
The reason this one works so well for oily hair is that, while it contains moisturizing ingredients, it’s not chock-full of them. That’s likely why one tester, who self-identifies as someone with dry hair, felt that Living Proof gave her hair a “rougher” feel than she desired. That said, we do recommend buying a good conditioner to use alongside Living Proof, even if you have naturally oily hair.
Finding a great drugstore shampoo was tough. 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 our original list, 15 were widely available at drugstores, and just two made it past the harsh-surfactant cut: Aveeno and Free & Clear. Aveeno’s other shampoo on our list didn’t even make it past the cut, and it’s billed as the brand’s “Nourish + Moisturize” shampoo.
While none of our testers felt like Aveeno Pure Renewal was “hair-transforming” like our other picks — one tester called it, simply, “unexceptional” — it lathered up well and left all hair types shiny and manageable. One tester made it clear, though, that it “had to be followed up with a generous dose of conditioner” in order to feel nourishing at all. And rather than a light citrus or rich floral smell like our other top picks, it has a strong, classic shampoo scent (read: soapy and flowery). For around $6 per 10.5 oz bottle, and slightly cheaper in multipacks, it’s a budget-friendly option worth considering; just be sure you have a good conditioner to rely on.
Other Shampoos to Consider
Natural hair is amazing and resilient and has a mind of its own. Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo has expert-preferred ingredients that discourage breakage and lend natural hair some extra care. Bonus: It smells like a just-made piña colada.
Maria Antoinette, licensed cosmetologist, beauty expert, and all around natural hair advocate, advised going for formulas that don’t include sulfates, silicones, or parabens. “Sulfates strip your hair of all oils, and we know naturals need to retain a certain level of oil to retain length,” Antoinette told us. “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.” Cantu’s Shea Butter shampoo has the right ingredient deck and is one of her go-tos, along with its companion conditioner — you can find both at drugstores and on Amazon. If you have natural hair and want to shop around, Antoinette also mentioned these two standbys:
- Giovanni 50:50 Shampoo and Conditioner ($14.50)
- Trader Joe's Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo and Conditioner ($19)
If you’re sensitive to fragrances, our experts suggested Free & Clear Shampoo for Sensitive Skin ($9 per 12 oz bottle and available in multipacks). It’s fragrance-free 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 — but they all agreed that it did the trick in terms of cleaning.
Your shampoo choice really matters with extremely dry hair.
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 blonde, 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.
Regardless of hair type, Santini recommends trying out each new shampoo for two to three weeks. That prolonged period, he says, is the only way you’ll be able to tell the subtle differences in how your hair looks. 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.
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.
But some people are ditching shampoo altogether.
There are also options if daily (or even weekly!) shampooing isn’t your style. More and more people have been experimenting with shampoo alternatives that are supposed to be gentler on hair. 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, keeping natural oils in hair and shampoo bottles out of landfills.
Perhaps the most popular non-shampoo shampoo of the moment is Hairstory New Wash, originally launched by Bumble and Bumble founder Michael Gordon in 2013. 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.”
Some testers liked the way Hairstory New Wash 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, leave for a bit, and then wash off. There’s no lather, no rinse-repeat.
One Reviews.com staff member has been using New Wash for years and swears by it — she’s even a loyal member of the subscription service that regularly sends big bags of the stuff to refill your bottle. If you’re looking for something new and trendy to turn your shower routine on its head (or if you’re sick of washing your hair every other day), Hairstory could be your new go-to.
Our Shampoo Review: Summed Up