The Best Shampoos

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. We tested 12 popular shampoos with the right ingredients and found five that were universally loved for specific scenarios.

The 5 Best Shampoos

Best for
Normal to Dry Hair

OUAI Repair Shampoo
OUAI
Hair will feel ultra-nourished and manageable after using this creamy, floral-scented shampoo.
Pros
Moisturizing ingredients
Smoothness
Rich lather
Cons
Marketing hype for similar products
Fragrance
Not ideal for oily hair

Why we chose it

Moisturizing ingredients

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.

Smoothness

One tester’s gushing comment sums up 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.

Rich lather

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.

Points to consider

Marketing hype for similar products

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 near-indistinguishable results for our testers. It also costs about 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.

Fragrance

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 tester 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.

Not ideal for oily hair

While OUAI smoothed out all hair types, 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.

Best for
Oily Hair

Living Proof Full Shampoo
Living Proof
Provides lift and light cleaning, so oily hair won’t be weighed down.
Pros
No residue buildup
Long-lasting results
Traditional scent and bottle
Cons
Less foam
Not enough moisturizers for dry hair

Why we chose it

No residue buildup

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.

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.”

Long-lasting results

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.

Traditional scent and bottle

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.

Points to consider

Less foam

Though Living Proof delivers a "traditional" shampoo experience in almost every way, its creamy, gel-like product does produce less foam than a typical shampoo. It's not a deal breaker, but those who are used to a lot of lather may find it unnatural to apply.

Not enough moisturizers for dry hair

The reason this shampoo 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. Even if you have naturally oily hair, we recommend buying a good conditioner to use alongside Living Proof.


Best at the Drugstore

Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
Aveeno
Avoids too-harsh ingredients — but it won’t provide an exceptionally moisturizing or luxurious experience.
Pros
No harsh surfactants
Leaves hair shiny
Cons
Requires conditioner
Fragrance

Why we chose it

No harsh surfactants

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 shampoos were widely available at drugstores, and just two made it past the harsh-surfactant cut: Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo 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.

Leaves hair shiny

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. That clean feeling lasted a while, too, allowing users to go for more than a day without washing their hair.

Points to consider

Requires conditioner

One tester made it clear that Aveeno “had to be followed up with a generous dose of conditioner” in order to feel nourishing. It’s a budget-friendly option worth considering; just be sure you have a good conditioner to rely on.

Fragrance

Rather than a light citrus or rich floral smell like our other top picks, Aveeno has a strong, classic shampoo scent (read: soapy and flowery). It’s not necessarily unpleasant, but it does not have the subtle olfactory appeal of OUAI or Living Proof.

Good for
Natural Hair

Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo
Cantu
Keeps natural hair fresh without stripping it of natural oils.
Pros
Expert-recommended
Scent
Cons
Not for every type of natural hair

Why we chose it

Expert-recommended

Maria Antoinette, licensed cosmetologist, beauty expert, and all-around natural hair advocate, advised going for formulas that don’t include sulfates, silicones, or parabens for natural hair. “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.” Cantu Shea Butter shampoo has the right ingredient deck and is one of her go-tos, along with its companion conditioner.

Scent

Cantu contains ingredients that strengthen hair, but it also makes for a pleasant in-shower experience. Packaged in a traditional squeeze bottle, the creamy gel smells like a just-made piña colada.

Points to consider

Not for every type of natural hair

As with any kind of shampoo, you may have to try a few different brands before finding your perfect fit. If you don't like how your hair feels after using Cantu, Antoinette also mentioned these two standbys:

Good for
Sensitive Skin

Free & Clear Shampoo
Free & Clear
Keeps things simple — making it a great choice for those with sensitive skin.
Pros
Widely recommended
Price
Cons
No fragrance

Why we chose it

Widely recommended

If you’re sensitive to fragrances or suffer from eczema or dryness, our experts suggested Free & Clear Shampoo. It’s fragrance-free and is widely recommended by dermatologists for anyone who reacts to dye, fragrance, parabens, or harsh surfactants.

Price

Free & Clear is one of our cheapest picks, ringing in around $10 for a 12-ounce bottle and available in multi-packs.

Points to consider

No fragrance

While our testers agreed that Free & Clear did the trick in terms of cleaning, they weren’t particularly excited about it — its no-nonsense, sterile scent makes you realize why most shampoo companies add fragrance.

How to Find the Right Shampoo for You

Determine hair type

“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 stylist Marco Santini, owner of Ion Studio in New York City. 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.

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.

Note seasonal changes

Your hair changes 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.

Consider 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 the hair cream Hairstory New Wash. The idea behind hair creams is replacing surfactants with fatty acids to lift away excess sebum; they also replace 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.”

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.

Lather-Comparison-for-Shampoo

Aveeno (left) produces a traditional shampoo lathering experience; New Wash (right) remains lotion-consistency.

Shampoos FAQ

What’s the best way to wash 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.)

How often should I wash my hair?

Like all great questions, this one has a simple answer: It depends. If you wash it every day, you may be washing too much. Even if your hair is oily, washing daily will dry out your scalp, stimulating the sebaceous gland to produce more oil. Generally, if your hair and skin are fairly normal, you probably only need to wash it once or twice a week, according to a Columbia University blog. But that may vary depending on your ethnic background and hair type. Thick, curly hair needs less washing than fine hair because the oils produced by the scalp don’t travel down the hair strands as readily as they do with fine, straight hair. If you’re unsure of how often to wash your hair, we suggest you talk to your stylist.

So is it bad to wash my hair daily?

Not really, though your hair may dry out more quickly than if you washed less frequently. If you do feel the need to wash your hair every day, we recommend a gentle shampoo with no harsh surfactants, like one of our top picks, followed by a conditioner. Or consider using a dry shampoo in between shampoos to refresh your hair and scalp without a full wash.

What makes a surfactant harsh?

It’s all about the size and structure of the surfactant 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.

The directions say 'lather, rinse, repeat.' Do I really need to repeat?

Probably not. Today’s shampoos are effective enough that a single wash is enough to get out the majority of oils, dead skin cells, and other detritus that collects on hair and scalp. If your hair is normal and you’re washing regularly, a single lathering session is all you need.

The Best Shampoos: Summed Up

OUAI Repair Shampoo
Living Proof Full Shampoo
Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair
Free & Clear Shampoo
Best for
Normal to dry hair
Oily hair
At the drugstore
Natural hair
Sensitive skin
Price
$28.00
$18.09
$11.94
$4.97
$9.99
Price per oz.
$2.80
$2.26
$0.57
$0.37
$0.83
Safe for dyed/permed hair
Scent
Light, floral
Mild, citrus
Floral/soapy
Fruity, fresh, and clean
None

Our Other Hair Care Reviews

Want a great head of hair? Who doesn’t? We’ve got you covered, no matter what you’re looking for. Check out these reviews to find the best hair care products on the market:

You might also like