Your Search for a Clean Shampoo (That Actually Works) Is Over

Tested and editor approved.

By Hannah Zahner
hair, skin, nails, makeup, scalp care

The clean beauty scene is no longer niche—not by a long shot. It’s never been easier to access well-formulated beauty and skincare products that are created without questionable and controversial ingredients. After all, some of our favorite budget lines can be found at local beauty stores, drugstores, and of course Target (we love Cocokind, Honest Co., and Versed). However, when it comes to hair care and finding the best clean shampoo, things get a bit tricky.

It can be difficult to find products that deliver the shiny, lush hair of our dreams while also skipping ingredients we’d rather avoid.

As I transitioned my products to cleaner ones, my haircare was the last to go (I’m still on the hunt for an amazing, clean, non-aerosol texture spray—hit me in the comments if you have a recommendation!). I’ve tried a lot (and I mean a lot) of clean shampoos & conditioners. Most clean shampoos felt like they left my hair feeling parched and straw-like or they didn’t quite get my roots clean, and sometimes both. After much trial and error, I’ve finally found a handful of shampoos that do deliver! Clean, healthy, shiny, balanced hair without the junk. And as a team of editors that love our clean beauty products, I knew the CS team would have some amazing picks as well, so we rounded them up to share their favorites, too.

Ahead, 11 of the best clean shampoos on the market to make your hair dreams come true–as well as a rundown of the questionable ingredients to avoid.

Ingredients to avoid:

Clean beauty can be tricky to nail down. “Natural” doesn’t always mean well-formulated, and synthetic isn’t always bad. A better question can be, “Is this ingredient safe, and is it effective?” Try to look for products and ingredients that maximize safety while minimizing harm. In general, here are a few ingredients to avoid when looking for a clean shampoo:

  1. Phthalates. These are petroleum-based chemicals used to make plastics more flexible. They’ve been linked to hormone disruptions in both males and females, kidney and liver damage, asthma, diabetes, and more. Since they help fragrances last longer, phthalates are often hidden under “fragrance” or “parfum” and may not be explicitly listed. Look for fragrance-free or disclosures from the brand on where and how they source their fragrances.
  2. ParabensA preservative used to discourage bacteria growth—which is super important, however, parabens are surrounded by controversy as they have been linked to endocrine disruption and skin irritation. Studies have shown that parabens are easily absorbed into the skin and have even been found in traces in bodily tissue. While general opinion is inconclusive, there are safer options for preserving products, but your product is preservative-free, just pay attention to recommended use-by dates.
  3. Sulfates. A type of surfactant used to create a lather and hold on to dirt and oil and carry it away from your hair. That said, sulfates like sodium laureth sulfate (aka ammonium lauryl sulfate) and sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) can strip hair of beneficial moisture and oils. These ingredients can also serve as a skin irritant, causing irritation, dryness, and inflammation in some people with sensitive skin. Sulfates might also increase skin sensitivity and worsen existing conditions like rosacea, eczema, and contact dermatitis.
  4. Polyethylene GlycolsAka PEG is commonly used in beauty products as a penetration enhancer, conditioner, and/or emulsifier. However, it is often contaminated with not-so-great ingredients, like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, both human carcinogens.
  5. SiliconesThey have often been used to give your hair a sleek and shiny look while locking out humidity. While they are safe to use, they may not be the best option long-term for your hair. This seems great, but over time, they can actually make hair look limp and build up. Because silicone is not water-soluble, removing that build-up can be difficult. If you prefer the way silicon makes your hair look, some better, water-soluable options are dimethicone copolyol, stearoxy dimethicone, and behenoxy dimethicone. 

Our Favorite Clean Shampoos

Grown Alchemist Colour Protect Shampoo

Hair type: Color-treated hair, damaged or dry

Ingredients: Plant-based ingredients that are sulfate, paraben, dye, synthetic fragrance, and mineral oil-free. Refillable, BPA-free packaging.

Why We Recommend It: This organic Australian haircare line is not only sulfate, paraben, and chemical-free, I love it for its minimal branding too. My favorite is the Colour Protect formula (I also love their volumizing shampoo!) designed to promote cellular renewal and repair, whilst also cleansing, detoxing, and fortifying the hair. It extends the vibrancy of your hair without stripping color, leaving my roots feeling clean and my ends feeling soft, silky, and shiny. This clean shampoo also works to protect locks from the damaging effects of the sun, UV rays, water, and environmental stresses, too. — Hannah Zahner | Beauty and Wellness Editor

HAIRSTORY New Wash Original

Hair type: All hair types, color-safe

Ingredients: Silicon, phthalate, and paraben-free. No detergents. Full ingredient transparency and fragrance source transparency.

Why We Recommend It: What I love about Hair Story’s New Wash is that it’s a shampoo and conditioner in one. Free of detergents, it hydrates hair, keeps it healthy, and prevents my scalp from overproducing oil to compensate for a shampoo that would otherwise strip it away. It’s for every hair type, smells amazing, and lasts forever. Say no more. — Riley Reed | Wellness Editor

Davines Love Shampoo

Hair type: Dry, coarse, and frizzy

Ingredients: Sulfate and paraben-free.

Why We Recommend It: I’ve used Davines on and off for years because it’s one of the few smoothing shampoos that actually eliminates frizz without making my hair feel heavy and greasy. The more grey hairs I get, the coarser it seems to be, but I’m loathed to slap too many oils on it for fear of looking like a grease ball, but this shampoo does the trick every time. It’s definitely an investment, but it’s worth it for the results. I also love that it’s made with natural active ingredients and that the brand is heavily focused on sustainability. It’s made with clean energy, essential, and recyclable packaging. So worth it! — Lourdes Avila Uribe | Contributing Editor

G.Tox Himalayan Salt Scalp Scrub Shampoo

Hair type: Clarifying, product build-up

Ingredients: Paraben, petroleum, phthalate, SLS, SLES, PEG, TEA, DEA, silicone, artificial dyes, and fragrance-free. Full fragrance transparency.

Why We Recommend It:

I don’t use a lot of hair products on the regular which helps me avoid too much product buildup, but still, my scalp needs a good scrub every now and then. I love that this product serves both as a scrub and a shampoo, making for an all-in-one easy clean. The salt scrub is oh so satisfying and the light scent is extra refreshing — Hannah Zahner | Beauty and Wellness Editor

I admit I’m a sucker for all things Goop Beauty. Gwyneth’s bath salts? Got ‘em all. Brand new Goop lip balm on the market? I just ordered several. This obsession started with my first love—the G. Tox Himalayan Salt Scrub Shampoo. It goes into your hands like a typical salt scrub and with a little scalp massage, turns into the most refreshing wake-you-up minty scent. I use it twice a week to keep icky shampoo residue at bay, and since the ingredients are so clean, I feel good about my tween daughter using this clean shampoo weekly, too. — Anne Campbell | Contributing Editor

Everist Waterless Shampoo Concentrate

Hair type: All hair types, color-safe

Ingredients: Parabens, sulfate, silicone, dye, synthetic fragrance, and preservative-free.

Why We Recommend It:

Did you know that most shampoos and conditioners are more than 70% water? Not only that but they’re loaded with synthetic chemicals and packed in single-use plastic. For me, investing in a clean shampoo and conditioner isn’t enough. I think there should be a holistic approach to products moving forward, one that considers clean ingredients, environmental impact, and commerce equally! Everist is the first waterless 100% plant-based hair care concentrate—it’s 3x concentrated which equates to a whole bottle of shampoo or conditioner and fits in a 100ml aluminum tube. The cream is activated by the water in your shower and you need to rub it to activate, working from root to tip for at least 30 seconds. It takes a little getting used to at first because we are so conditioned (mind the pun) to think about our products as a liquid instead of a cream, but after a few washes, you get in a rhythm. It’s free from parabens, sulfates, silicones, dyes, synthetic fragrances, and preservatives and their formulas are also color-safe and proudly vegan, and cruelty-free. — Sacha Strebe | Deputy Editor

I have tried a few low waste shampoos, and none have performed like this one! It is a bit of a different experience than your usual pump of liquid shampoo, but it’s surprisingly easy to work through your hair and lathers nicely. After washing, my scalp doesn’t feel tight or dry and my hair is smoothed and soft. I love that it is not just safe ingredients-wise, but that its environmental impact is carefully considered too. Also, it makes for an excellent product to travel with! — Hannah Zahner | Beauty and Wellness Editor

Kevin Murphy Hydrate.Me Wash

Hair type: Dry, curly

Ingredients: Sulphate and paraben-free.

Why We Recommend It: The fight to combat dryness and humidity is ever-present in Austin, Texas and thus, I love reaching for a high-quality, sustainable shampoo that will cleanse, nourish, detangle, and prep my hair to retain nutrients for my conditioner. With ringlets like mine, the detangling process is a bear and virtually impossible with most shampoos but Kevin Murphy’s Hydrate Me Wash cuts the 10-minute ordeal in half. It leaves my hair feeling slippery and best of all, it’s so concentrated you only need a dime. Big. Fan. — Riley Reed | Wellness Editor

Le Labo Shampoo

Hair type: All types

Ingredients: Paraben, phthalate, and artificial colorant-free.

Why We Recommend It: I have a thick head of hair already, but paired with tape-in extensions and I feel like the volume doubled overnight. With extensions, the request is that you use hair products that are sulfate & phthalate-free. Enter, the best-smelling hair products I’ve ever used. You know this brand from their best-selling scent that at least someone in your friend group owns (yes, I’m talking about Santal 33) but I’m really digging their hair care and home soaps recently. Anytime I was my hair, which is about 2x week over here, I’m asked what fragrance I’m wearing. Nine times out of 10, it’s the shampoo. — Kelly Krause | Contributor

Innersense Pure Harmony Hairbath

Hair type: All types, fine or thin hair

Ingredients: Phthalate, ethoxylate, sulfate, silicone, 1,4 dioxane, paraben, petro compounds, propylene and butylene glycol, PEG, MEA, TEA, MIA, EDTA artificial dyes, or synthetic fragrances. Organic ingredients.

Why We Recommend It: The first clean shampoo I ever used, that actually worked. This one is an all-time favorite and one of my go-to’s. It’s perfect for giving fine hair moisture without weighing it down, and you don’t have to use 10 pumps to actually get a nice lather. The scent is light and the ingredients are great and organically sourced. I also love their shampoo designed for color-treated hair. — Hannah Zahner | Beauty and Wellness Editor

Kevin Murphy Angel.Wash

Hair type: Fine, color-treated hair

Ingredients:  Sulphate and paraben-free.

Why We Recommend It: When I’m not using Davines I’m almost exclusively using Kevin Murphy products depending. Depending on if my hair is colored or not I cycle through a few of their shampoos, but their Angel Wash is my absolute favorite. It actually leaves my hair feeling voluminous while also smoothing it out which is a near-impossible feat. It’s also the best way to protect hair color from fading or breakage. Best of all, it’s sulfate, paraben, and cruelty-free. — Lourdes Avila Uribe | Contributing Editor

Prose Custom Shampoo

Hair type: All hair types

Ingredients: Phthalate, paraben, sulfate, dye, and mineral oil-free. Can be fragrance-free as well.

Why We Recommend It:

The number one reason I love this shampoo is that you can completely customize the formula to meet your hair’s needs. They also list all their ingredients on the website and give the EGW score of each one. Plus, it is subscription-based so you don’t have to think about ordering your next bottle and you can customize your delivery. I only wash my hair one to two times a week so that’s a really nice feature. I use Prose about two to three times a month when I swap out with my G. Tox Himalayan Salt Scrub Shampoo for a deep scalp clean. — Brandy Joy Smith | Contributor

I am a fan of Prose too! I love that you can customize the shampoo to your hair’s needs (including factors like the water hardness in your area, sun exposure, etc) and that they always formulate without phthalates, parabens, sulfates, dyes, or mineral oils. If you prefer fragrance-free, they also have an option for that (which is my go-to!). Since it’s specifically formulated to my hair’s needs, this shampoo leaves my locks feeling cleaned, yet smoothed. — Hannah Zahner | Beauty and Wellness Editor

Act+Acre Cold Processed Hair Cleanse

Hair Type: All hair types, color-safe

Ingredients: Sulfate, paraben, silicone, phthalate, gluten, and synthetic fragrance-free.

Why We Love It: When I first saw this product pop onto the scene, the name threw me a bit. Was it a treatment? A mask? A shampoo? Once I got my hands on it though, I fell in love. It gently, but effectively cleans without stripping moisture, leaving your hair full and voluminous. It works best with a double cleansing method — the first cleanse removes product buildup so that the second cleanse can get to work and deliver nutrients while purifying the scalp. Work it into a bit of lather in your hands first, before applying it to your hair. — Hannah Zahner | Beauty and Wellness Editor

What is your favorite clean shampoo? Drop it below.

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