F.A.Q. - What shampoo should I use?
Honestly I need to coin the term "Frequently Asked Rants" because the questions I will be answering require such detailed answers, they deserve their own blog post each.
Okay, by now most of us know not to use shampoo with Sodium Laurel Sulfate or Sodium Laureth Sulfate in it, right? If you don't know that, you do now!
Basically SLS is the main ingredient in dish soap, so when you buy your Pantene with "daily moisture renewal" on the label, you should know that you're buying overpriced glorified dish soap with some conditioning buffers in it. If you're going to wash your hair with that, why not save even more money and just buy the Dawn dish soap?
It's not even your fault. People often fall victim to the assumption that products are as they claim to be on the label. This would be false! Companies can claim their products can do whatever they want, your best defense against false advertising is to ignore the front entirely, read the ingredients on the back label, and then research the listed ingredients. My favorite bible on this subject is A Consumer's Dictionary of Cosmetic Ingredients. [I especially recommend this if you are vegan as it's common for animal products to be labeled as something else, for example "lanolin" is wool oil from sheep.]
Back to Sodium Lauryl Sulfate... SLS is a salt and a surfactant. Salt is bad because it's a drying agent, and anyone who has ever gone to the beach with freshly colored hair has seen this effect first hand. It is a tangible fact that salt water strips your haircolor and dries out your hair. Surfactants are what is put into soap to get sudsy bubbles, which we have been trained by society to think results in a "more better clean" - which, in the case of your hair, would be false! Very false indeed.
We are privileged enough to live in a time & society where things can get a bit too sanitized for our own good. We know that living in an overly sanitized environment breaks down your natural immune system. Something that I'm personally very interested in is a new type of product called probiotic soap which essentially does to your skin the same thing it does to your gut: kills the bad bacteria without destroying the good. I have yet to try some because its pricier, but as someone who suffers from sensitive skin, its a priority on my to-do list.
With that concept in mind, the same is true for your scalp, not so much with bacteria but regarding moisture. I see it time and time again, the people with the driest scalps and the oiliest roots are the ones that wash their hair everyday. Probably using sulfate shampoo but even without that, every day is too frequent to use soap on your scalp.
"But, I go to the gym everyday and get sweaty!" I hear you yell at the screen.
I get it... your hair is sweaty and (you're right) you should not leave that sweat in your hair. But that doesn't mean you have to use shampoo either. Instead, I recommend simply rinsing it with water and/or just using a conditioner. That way you won't leave the sweat in your hair, but you also aren't drying out your scalp unnecessarily.
"But, when I don't use shampoo everyday, my scalp gets super oily!" I hear you quip.
Yes! That's what happens when you dry your scalp out with shampoo every day. Your scalp is outsmarting you, the more you dry out your scalp, the more oil it will produce to compensate... and the vicious cycle continues. Your hair needs to be trained to produce as much oil as it genuinely needs, just like your bangs need to be trained to lay a certain way. I recommend that everyone who is a daily washer go on a "shampoo diet" immediately. And yes, for the first couple of months (possibly even the first 6 months if you've been using sulfates), it will be greasy. During this time you'll likely get better acquainted with available products that are underutilized such as dry shampoo.... but I PROMISE YOU, it is through this dark greasy tunnel that your scalp will finally be able to equalize, end its perpetual oil-production, and reach a normal state that requires shampoo once a week at most.
Personally I don't even use shampoo anymore, I switched to a micellar water cleanser (which I ultimately recommend for everyone but get there in babysteps), which I use maybe once a week if not once every two weeks. My hair texture is fine, the type that would normally complain about needing to be shampooed more often because it gets weighed down easily, but even mine isn't greasy at all. I hardly even use dry shampoo. In fact, I'm more likely to use dry shampoo when my hair is freshly washed, for the texture, than I am before washing. Another thing to note is that after switching to using micellar water cleanser for a month, I used a good gentle sulfate free shampoo ONCE to wash out some bleach, and I got some dry scalp! The shampoo I used never once gave me dry scalp... that proves how efficiently self-regulated my scalp is now.
But I digress... I'm supposed to be talking about shampoos you should use. I'll get to that shortly, but first I still need to mention some things to avoid. Yes, you need a sulfate free shampoo in order to avoid stripping the moisture and color from your hair. But it's not as simple as that. The biggest major beauty brands have ingredients loopholes, things that aren't strictly "Sodium Lauryl Sulfate" but are, in my professional opinion and personal experience, just as bad for color treated hair. The two "Sulfate Free" ingredients to avoid are "Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate" and "Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate". Now, there are tons of articles explaining to consumers that these ingredients are not sulfates and that they are gentler on the hair and non-irritating to sensitive skin. For argument's sake I'll say sure... that's true, it isn't as harsh. But that doesn't make it good for your hair either, as my own experience with these products can attest. I've tried them on my hair when it was not freshly dyed, and more of my color has run out in the water than it did when I shampooed the week before with my normal shampoo. To my professional eye, this tells me it is still stripping my color.... and if it strips my color, its stripping my moisture.
That being said, here are some specific sulfate free shampoos to avoid -
Nature's Gate : I don't know what it is specifically about this sulfate free brand, but I like to refer to it as "Nature's Hellgate" because everyone I've known to use it had incredibly dry & dull hair after. It definitely strips moisture and color from your hair! I laughably call it TOO granola to be color safe. Just because something is natural, doesn't make it gentle. Which reminds me...
DIY Baking Soda / Vinegar method : PLEASE. DO. NOT. DO. THIS. I have met dozens of people who think they are being gentle on their hair and they aren't. I only know 1 out of 50 people who has done this method correctly, and it's because she knows her hair type and did extensive research; she's the exception, not the rule. Most people who try this method aren't able to wash all of the baking soda from their hair. It ends up looking simultaneously dry and greasy and is very dull. (Keep in mind, baking soda paste is what I use to clean my oven.)
Shimmer Lights : Don't be convinced by how much purple is in this shampoo, it's very drying and contains enough sulfates that you will be stripping the blonde toner from the salon out of your hair before it would even show signs of fading with a sulfate free version. Not to mention the breakage that will ensue! Instead, for my blondes instead I recommend investing in a good sulfate free shampoo + a purple toning conditioner, such as Overtone. After all, there are many ways to tone your hair, and it's much better to let conditioner to sit on your hair for 5 minutes than to dry it out with shampoo.
Rusk : This is the sulfate free shampoo I tested out when avoiding harsh shampoo was particularly important as I was dying my hair with permanent black and growing it out. At that time I had been using Bamboo, and it had been at least 10 shampoos since the color was fresh ... I used this once and never touched it again. The water ran black like it was the second shampoo after washing the color out (very bad).
DevaCurl Low-Poo : This one surprised me, because I love Deva Curl 99% of the time, and I highly recommend their No-Poo! Unfortunately the Low-Poo is a different story: while it's sulfate free, low poo just means its low on suds, at least less suds than regular shampoo but definitely more sudsy than their No-Poo. The viscosity reflects these principles, it feels somewhat like their micellar water cleanser and doesn't have a whole lot of bubbles. However when I tried it, I personally felt it dried my hair out more than the other sulfate free shampoo I was using at the time. So honestly I just wouldn't bother... if you are going to spend the money on a salon brand anyway, shop around and I bet you'll find something better out there for you.
Pravana Nevo : This is last because the line is great - it's totally vegan and the packaging is biodegradable. And really, their shampoo is fine to use on your hair health wise. However, in my experience, the shampoo became moldy after a surprisingly short amount of time... so it's just not worth wasting the money on.
And now, specific sulfate free shampoos I recommend -
Alterna Bamboo : All of their shampoos are sulfate free, and I have yet to find a brand I recommend to people more than this one! Their shampoo is super thick and concentrated so you get a lot for what you pay for. My favorite part is their bottle has a rubbery dispenser that prevents shampoo from spilling out even if you've knocked it over (which I do often). I even recommend their Clarifying shampoo as its the most gentle clarifying agent I've found.
DevaCurl Buildup Buster : I switched from Bamboo to this one, and I love it so much! The bottle is designed with a pointy nozzle so you can apply it to your scalp only whilst avoiding your ends. (As an aside, this is the other side of shampooing - it's not only the bottle ingredients but also where it's applied and how often. For years now, I've been telling people to first invest in a good shampoo and water it down yourself, then apply it with a color application bottle or one of those salad dressing bottles from the grocery store... basically, anything with a nozzle.) Anyway this stuff has the volumizing properties of a clarifying shampoo, without stripping the moisture. Frankly, it's magical.
DevaCurl No-Poo : This isn't a shampoo, its a "clenditioner" - aka "cleansing conditioner" - but I'm including it here since it essentially replaces shampoo. I have fine, straight hair and common hair lore might suggest this product isn't meant for my hair type, but even so I still use their heaviest flavor, Decadence. This product is particularly perfect for times your hair is still basically clean but gotten sweaty from the gym.
What's funny is I grew up using the DevaCurl No-Poo 'clenditioning' method myself. I had long hair down to my butt, but it was fine and tangled easily. I would swim all the time, and I hated having to shower after... mostly I hated having to wash my super long hair, a burndon common in young ones. At a young age, maybe 8 or 9, I specifically remember figuring out that shampoo made my hair feel crappy and made it more tangly, whereas conditioner made it feel soft and great! So (to save time and skip to the good part), I stopped shampooing and would only use conditioner. Looking back, it amuses me to to think that, not unlike my childhood dreams of having only dessert for dinner, I was unbeknownst to myself being really onto something.
Anyhoo, to wrap up this frequently asked rant, I would tell my reader not to give up - there are a lot of great sulfate free shampoos out there and finding one is not as hard as it might seem. I think the main things to remember are, first, heed my warnings about the not-sulfate but sulfate-like products. A good rule of thumb is to think to yourself "who is making money off of your buying their drugstore shampoos?" Big brands like Loreal may brand their product "sulfate free" on the front, but they are more likely to put ingredients just as drying in there instead. They don't care if stylists recommend them because, hey, they are available at the drugstore where you don't necessarily have the value of an experienced professional's opinion.
And, on the other side, just because something is a salon quality brand, it is not (as one might think) guaranteed to be sulfate free. I was recently asked if I would be interested in becoming a Matrix educator, but even given some economic incentives, I ultimately decided I could never do it on principle. To do so would make me a hypocrite because they don't offer a single shampoo that is a sulfate free. They are such a big company that they can lose that business of people who know better and respect their hair without even blinking.
The brands I recommend are ones that meet what I term the "luxury hippie" classification: missing all the bad blacklisted ingredients, good salon quality, and gentle on your hair. Brands like Bamboo, DevaCurl, Kevin Murphy. I let people get away with using Pureology although I'm not a fan of their ingredients list which contains the aforementioned three: Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate, & Sodium Lauroyl Sarcosinate. Although I'm not a huge fan of Kevin Murphy shampoo containing Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate either, I'm still going to include it as one of the good ones.
Sigh, I have to pick my battles. If reading this gets you thinking about maybe reading (and researching!) your shampoo ingredients more closely than before then I've done my job. If I can get you to consider washing your hair less (like ALOT less), then I feel like I've not only done my job regarding the health of your hair, but maybe even made tiny little chips in the colossal profit-driven machine of the beauty industry. Hopefully you will start to pay attention to what you're using, and more importantly how often. Then, when you notice your scalp or your hair getting dry or your color fading, you won't feel so clueless as to the cause or helpless about how to balance it out.
And if you still feel clueless, I'm here to help! Feel free to reach out.