Editor's Note
  • 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

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.

Our Picks for the Best Shampoo

Best For
Normal to Dry Hair
OUAI Repair Shampoo
Any hair will feel ultra-nourished and manageable after using this creamy, floral-scented shampoo. But those with oily hair will have to wash their hair again sooner than expected. ($28 for 10 oz; $2.80/oz)

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.

Best For
Oily Hair
Living Proof Full Shampoo
Living Proof
Living Proof provides lift and light cleaning, so oily hair won’t be weighed down. ($26 for 8 oz; $3.25/oz)

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.

At the Drugstore
Aveeno Pure Renewal Shampoo
A standout among its similarly priced peers, Aveeno avoids too-harsh ingredients — it just won’t provide an exceptionally moisturizing or luxurious experience. ($6 for 10.5 oz; $0.29/oz)

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

Good For
Natural Hair
Cantu Shea Butter for Natural Hair Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo
An expert-recommended, tropical-scented option that keeps natural hair fresh without stripping it of natural oils. ($5 for 13.5 oz; $0.37/oz)

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:

Good For
Sensitive Skin
Free & Clear Shampoo
If you don’t mind using something less luxurious, Free & Clear Shampoo keeps things simple — making it a great choice for those with sensitive skin. ($10 for 12 oz; $0.83/oz)

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.

Shampooing 101

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.


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

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