Which Sulfate-Free Shampoo Is Best to Use on African-American Hair?

Sulfate-free shampoos are less drying to African-American hair than other shampoos.

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Shampoos with sulfates can be hard on your hair. African-American tresses need lots of TLC since they tend to be drier and more fragile than other hair types. Battering your strands with sulfate-containing shampoo can leave your mane more parched than the Sahara Desert. So which sulfate-free brand should you snag? Beauty experts have a number of picks.


The website Hair Finder describes sulfates as surfactants that attract surface oil and dirt and wash them away. Because a surfactant breaks down the tension on the surface of water, the shampoo spreads super fast in water, allowing it to better penetrate the grease in your hair and give you a deeper clean. If your shampoo makes lots of lovely suds when you lather up, it likely contains sulfates. Sulfate-free shampoos are those containing no sodium lauryl sulfate, or SLS, according to “Good Housekeeping” magazine. These are go-to products for black gals because they’re gentler and less drying than those with sulfates. “O, The Oprah Magazine” notes that sulfates can also irritate your skin and eyes, although rumors that they cause cancer have been debunked.


In addition the non-drying benefits, the Divine Caroline website reports that sulfate-free shampoos will leave your strands soft, radiant and easier to manage. You’ll also say goodbye to stinging eyes. When a “Good Housekeeping” editor took sulfate-free brands for a test drive, she deemed them milder and not as irritating to her eyes. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be walking around with not-so-clean hair. The Black Naps website reports that sulfate-free brands will still remove buildup, while causing less dryness.

Best Bets

In “Essence” magazine’s 2011 beauty awards, Macadamia Oil Rejuvenating Shampoo won the prize for best sulfate-free shampoo. The magazine also likes L’Oreal EverStrong Sulfate-Free Reconstruct Shampoo, while “InStyle” magazine gives the thumbs-up to the sulfate-free shampoo by L’Anza. Are you rocking hair extensions? “Essence” reports KeraCare Gentle Cleansing Shampoo will keep your add-ons clean without drying sulfates. Plus, the application tip won’t loosen your cornrows or faux hair. A win-win!


If you miss the suds of a sulfate-free brand, no need to leave your old shampoo in the dust. Black Naps suggests limiting sulfate-free products without going totally over to the no-sulfate side. The website indicates that dryness is usually caused by overusing sulfate-containing shampoos. And don’t forget to moisturize. No need to fret if your shampoo and conditioner aren’t the same brand. Mixing brands is fine, according to “O.” You’ll still see lustrous, silky results without a split end or frizzy strand in sight.

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