Every natural beauty fan knows the adage “everything you put on your body can potentially impact your health.” The same goes for your shampoo. That’s why we’ve put together a comprehensive guide on how to find the best non toxic shampoo for your morning routine.
The market for shampoo is large and there are many different options to choose from, and they all offer different benefits. It can be a challenge to find one that not only works well, but also doesn’t contain toxic ingredients.
This blog post will help you find the best natural shampoo to suit your needs.
What Exactly is a Non-Toxic Shampoo?
Most people define non-toxic shampoos as not containing any dangerous chemicals. We’ll get into exactly what ingredients to watch out for later, but some of the biggest culprits include fragrances, surfactants (lathering agents), and preservatives.
Shampoos with harsh chemicals can cause scalp irritation, dryness, and hair loss.
But not everyone has the same concerns about their hair care products. Before you start shopping, define what “non-toxic” means to you. Let that guide your decision-making.
We suggest articulating what makes you want a non-toxic shampoo. That way, you’ll have an easier time choosing a shampoo that matches what you’re looking for.
Are Natural Shampoos Really Better for Your Hair?
There’s a ton of variety in the natural shampoo market. Not every non-toxic, natural shampoo will necessarily be a good match for your hair. But avoiding harmful chemicals is never a bad thing.
While playing it safe with your personal care products will certainly pay off in terms of your overall health, it will also generally result in healthier, more beautiful hair. Win-win!
How to Choose the Best Natural Shampoo
Some people assume that just because a shampoo is marketed as all-natural, it’ll instantly be a perfect match for their hair. But everyone’s hair is different and has its own unique needs and problems. No single shampoo will work for everyone. Expect some trial-and-error when switching shampoos.
Let’s also talk about the “natural” elephant in the room. Using the term “natural” is a marketing tactic, not a regulated term. Just because a product claims to be “all-natural” doesn’t mean it’s non-toxic or special in any way.
That’s why you need to do your due diligence when looking for a non-toxic shampoo.
What About “Organic?”
Organic products use natural ingredients instead of synthetic ones. In hair care, that tends to mean brands rely on ingredients like essential oils and plan extracts to replace harsher lab-made chemicals. Unsurprisingly, the terms “organic” and “natural” often overlap. The term “organic” is regulated by the FDA, but only applies to personal care products if the UDSA Organic seal is being used.
What to Watch Out For
- Some brands claim to be “organic” or “natural,” but still add synthetic fragrance or other undesirable ingredients in their formulas.
- Some brands use “non-toxic” as an advertising gimmick to justify higher prices.
Instead of blindly trusting labeling and advertising claims, educate yourself on safe ingredients. (More on this later.)
Before you buy a new shampoo, start by considering your specific hair type, scalp health, hair structure, and hair goals. Shampoo, even quality shampoo, isn’t one-size-fits-all.
You need to shop based on your individual needs to get the best results.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
My specific hair type is:
- Straight hair
- Wavy hair
- Curly hair
- Coily hair
My hair texture is:
My current scalp condition is:
- Dry scalp
- Balanced scalp
- Oily scalp
- Sensitive scalp
- Itchy/flaky scalp
My current hair concern is:
- dry and brittle hair
- frizzy hair
- greasy hair
- damaged hair
- chemically treated hair
- hair loss
- thinning hair
- lacks volume
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Scalp psoriasis
My #1 hair goal is:
- Healthy, shiny hair
- Hair growth
- Preventing hair loss
- Soothing my scalp
- Strengthening my hair
- Nourishing my roots
- Color protection
- Oil control
Find your best natural shampoo according to what values are most important to you.
This will narrow your search considerably and will help ensure you end up choosing a product you are happy with.
- Shampoo bars
- Waterless shampoo
- Essential oils
- Essential oils-free
- Palm oil-free
- 100% certified organic
- Recycled, recyclable, or compostable containers and packaging
- Suitable for the whole family
- 3rd-party certification such as MadeSafe, EWG, USDA Organic, Ecocert, Certified Vegan
Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all right answer. What it really comes down to is:
- Your personal preferences
- Your budget
- Which brands’ products truly live up to their claims
When shopping for the best non-toxic shampoo for your situation, your best resource is your lived experience, your hair, and your values. Start there and you’ll have a much easier time finding the right product for you.
Bottle or Bar? The Shampoo Decision-Making Guide
Shampoo bars originally gained popularity for frequent travelers since they’re easy to pack and don’t spill as often as liquid shampoos. But lately, they’ve picked up steam as an eco-friendly option. Shampoo bars are pretty much what they sound like: a solid version of liquid shampoo. Just wet the bar to activate the ingredients, massage it into wet hair, and rinse like normal.
Advantages of shampoo bars:
- Tend to be more cost-effective than liquid shampoo
- Take up less space in your shower
- Eco-friendly due to reduced plastic usage
- More likely to use natural ingredients
- Come in a variety of formulas to suit all hair types
However, just like with any transition, shampoo bars can take some getting used to. Switching to a shampoo bar often involves a transitional period while your hair gets used to the different method and ingredients. And since using a bar involves rubbing it into your hair, sometimes that can cause tangles for curly or textured hair.
Advantages of liquid shampoo:
- More common, which means more variety in formulas
- More widely available
- Easy to use
In the end, choosing between a liquid or bar shampoo is mostly a matter of preference. Ask yourself these questions to decide which is best for you:
- Which form of shampoo are you more used to?
- How concerned are you about your plastic usage?
- Do you travel often?
Don’t forget that when it comes to quality, what your shampoo is made of is still king. A low-quality shampoo bar full of toxic ingredients won’t be any better for your hair than an equally poor-quality liquid shampoo.
Vet your shampoo’s ingredients whether it comes in a solid or liquid form.
For a more in-depth look at shampoo bars, check out our Clean Zero Waste Shampoo And Conditioner Bars post.
Natural Ingredients You Want in Your Clean Shampoo
We’ve established that marketing claims and buzzwords like “natural” won’t always get you far when you’re shopping for a non-toxic shampoo. The best way to make sure a shampoo meets your standards is to know how to check the label (and to know what to look for).
How to Read Your Shampoo’s Ingredients List
Per the FDA’s requirements, the ingredients on a shampoo bottle are listed in terms of quantity, from highest to lowest. The exceptions to this rule are:
- Any active drug ingredients (this doesn’t normally apply to shampoos)
- Ingredients that make up less than 1% of the formula can be listed in any order
- Color additives can be listed last, regardless of their concentration
- Any ingredients considered a “trade secret” don’t need to be disclosed
Knowing this is important because when shopping for non-toxic or natural shampoos, you want to make sure the bulk of the formula is beneficial ingredients, not fillers. If you choose to shop for shampoos that contain ingredients like color additives, it’s important to know them being listed last doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a negligible amount of color additives in the formula.
High-quality shampoo brands normally list their ingredients by their INCI (International Nomenclature for Cosmetic Ingredients) names, along with their more common names. If you see any ingredients you’re unfamiliar with, look them up.
Common Natural Shampoo Ingredients
Knowing how to read an ingredients list is important, but it’ll only get you so far if you don’t know what ingredients make a non-toxic shampoo a promising candidate. Here are some ingredients you want to see in a shampoo you’re considering buying.
Hydrating (fatty) alcohols (cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, myristyl alcohol, lauryl alcohol, and behenyl alcohol)
Some people balk at discovering alcohols in their shampoo, but hydrating alcohols aren’t necessarily cause for concern. They provide slip, moisture, and a boost of nourishment and are generally derived from fruits, vegetables, and sea botanicals.
Glycerin can benefit all hair types, but particularly curly, thick, frizzy, or damaged hair. It prevents breakage and can help condition a dry scalp.
Often showing up as “hydrolyzed quinoa protein,” quinoa helps protect the hair shaft, improves shine, and attracts moisture. If your hair is curly, quinoa can help encourage your hair to follow its natural curl pattern.
Green tea supports healthy hair growth and delivers valuable nutrition to your strands and follicles – even in shampoo form. It may even help prevent hair loss.
Long known for its soothing qualities, aloe vera is an excellent ingredient to calm itchy scalps. It also deep-cleans oily hair, gently and naturally clarifying (unlike stronger ingredients or lab-created chemicals). Aloe promotes healthy growth as it strengthens and repairs.
Natural shampoos often use fruit extracts and essential oils instead of synthetic ingredients. They tend to be milder, cleaning the hair without disrupting your scalp’s natural oil and pH balance. Marshmallow root, bamboo, ginseng root, and sacred lotus flower extracts are all great places to start.
Herbs and plant extracts
Herbs have been well-known for their healing properties. In shampoo, they offer benefits without irritating the scalp. Neem, nettle, horsetail, and burdock extracts are all good ones to watch for.
Plant oils like coconut, argan, and jojoba are all popular choices in hair products thanks to their moisturizing and shine-enhancing qualities.
Panthenol has a similar chemical structure to alcohol and, like hydrating alcohols, it hydrates and smooths hair.
Because every essential oil is derived from a different source, they all offer different benefits. Look for essentials that offer the benefits you need most. We recommend lavender (for scalp health), peppermint (to increase circulation and hair growth), and rosemary (to improve hair thickness and encourage growth).
Even with high-end brands, we don’t recommend taking marketing claims at face-value. If you’re considering buying a shampoo that contains a long list of plant extracts and essential oils, research each ingredient’s benefits so you know you’re getting what you pay for.
Anatomy of a Great Shampoo
A good non-toxic shampoo will generally have a wide spectrum of natural ingredients so you get the best of what every ingredient has to offer. As a case study, let’s take a look at Carina Organics Citrus Daily Moisturizing Shampoo.
|Filtered Aqua||For pure, gentle cleansing.|
|Potassium Cocoate (saponified Cocos nucifera / coconut oil)||For moisture. Coconut oil is one of the most common go-to hair care ingredients for a reason. It provides rich, lasting plant-based moisture to keep hair strong and silky-soft.|
|Glycerin (vegetable)||To prevent breakage.|
|Pinus banksiana (pine) extract||For antioxidants, which repair damage from free radicals and provide protection from everyday pollutants and harmful environmental chemicals.|
|Magnesium Chloride (magnesium oil)||To increase protein production and reduce inflammation. This enzyme and mineral regulator helps regulate calcium build-up in your hair, which can be especially helpful if you’re concerned about hair loss or a receding hairline.|
|Olea europaea (olive) fruit oil||For lightweight moisture and softness.|
|Matricaria chamomilla (chamomile) flower extract||To soothe irritation.|
|Urtica dioca (nettle) leaf extract||To stimulate re-growth.|
|Taraxacum officinale (dandelion) leaf extract||To encourage healthy growth.|
|Trifolium pratense (clover) flower extract||For scalp health. Healthy hair starts from the scalp. By nourishing your hair at the source, this formula sets the stage for hair that’s easier to tame and take care of.|
|Citrus Tangerina (tangerine) oil||To balance sebum production. This prevents hair from getting too oily.|
|Pyrus malus (green apple) extract||To increase keratin production, an essential building block to thick, strong hair that resists breakage.|
|Ananas sativus (pineapple) extract||For vitamin C to promote growth. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant, which offers protection and repair from free radicals and sun damage.|
|Linum Usitatissimum (linseed) seed oil||To relieve dandruff and prevent flaking.|
|Cucurbita pepo (pumpkin) seed oil||To nourish hair follicles for healthy, lasting growth and length.|
|Helianthus Annuus (sunflower) seed oil||For light moisture. Using a variety of oils helps prevent the moisturizing formula from getting too heavy and weighing down the roots.|
|Persea Gratissima (avocado) oil||To moisturize, repair, and strengthen the hair shaft. This is crucial for maintaining long, healthy hair and protecting it from damage.|
Avoid These Undesirable and Harsh Chemicals Normally Found in Traditional Shampoos
One of the best parts of non-toxic, natural shampoos isn’t what they contain, but what they don’t contain – toxins and harsh chemicals. For optimal hair health, avoid the following ingredients.
- Synthetic fragrances (fragrance, parfum)
- Mineral oil (paraffinum liquidum, paraffinum, cera microcristallina, petrolatum, mineral oil, paraffin waxes)
- Sulfates – Sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS), Ammonium lauryl sulphate (ALS), Sodium laureth sulphate (SLeS), Ammonium laureth sulphate (ALeS)
- Good alternatives to sulfates (cocamidopropyl betaine, cocamidopropyl hydroxysultaine, sodium cocoyl isethionate and cocamidopropylamine oxide)
- Polyethylene glycols (PEGs)
- Parabens (butylparaben, isobutylparaben, propylparaben, methylparaben, and ethylparaben)
- Artificial dyes and colorants
- Lye (sodium hydroxide, calcium hydroxide, magnesium hydroxide or lithium hydroxide), is found particularly in hair care products targeted towards Black women, including shampoo)
- Parabens (methylparaben, ethylparaben, propylparaben, butylparaben, heptylparaben, isobutylparaben, isopropylparaben and benzylparaben)
- Formaldehyde (imidazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, methenamine, quarternium-15)
- Denatured alcohols
- Coal tar
- Silicones (end in -cone, -conol, -col, or -xane)
- Cetearyl Methicone
- Cetyl Dimethicone
- Stearyl Dimethicone
- Silicones alternatives (behentrimonium methosulfate, distearyldimonium chloride, behentrimonium chloride, polyquaternium 55, cetrimonium bromide, or dicetyldimonium chloride)
Best Non Toxic Shampoo Recommendations
No shampoo is one-size-fits-all, but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from the trial and error of others.
And while the market is saturated with many products, here are some of the top-rated ones that won’t damage your hair or strip it of color!
Natural Shampoo Brands
Rahua – Rahua’s shampoo line is packed full of Symbiotic ingredients derived from the Amazon Rainforest. They offer a variety of options for different hair types. Our favorite part? Every shampoo in their line is color-safe, so you don’t have to worry about sacrificing vibrant color for healthy, natural hair.
Josh Rosebrook – This brand’s Nourish and Balance shampoos won Elle’s award for Best Clarifying Shampoo of 2021. Aloe and gentle natural cleansers clean away excess oil and impurities, while plant oils and herbal infusions reintroduce healthy moisture, soothe the scalp, and increase circulation to encourage follicle health.
Butter Me Up Organics – Always a favorite, Butter Me Up Organics’s daily shampoo combines castile soap with organic conditioning ingredients. Their dry shampoo is made without butane (and we love the convenient shaker bottle).
Living Libations – Their Seabuckthorn Shampoo and True Blue Spirulina Shampoo use naturally-derived ingredients from the sea to gently cleanse and hydrate.
Annmarie Sweet Sunrise Shampoo – We love an herbal shampoo that cleanses without stripping away hair’s natural oils. And that’s exactly what this pick does.
Innersense – This brand’s line offers options for every hair need, including dry shampoo and color-safe options. Ingredients like quinoa, rice extracts, shea butter, coconut oil, and avocado oil cleanse, nourish, and moisturize, leaving hair balanced and healthy.
Carina Organics – Carina Organics’ entire line focuses on gentle plant-based botanicals. They even have baby bath products, which tells you how safe and clean their ingredients lists are.
Hairstory New Wash Shampoos – Hairstory’s shampoos are made without detergents and are designed to go longer between washes, which we love. They offer a reduced-plastic refill club, making them a great option if you want to reduce your plastic use, but can’t make bar shampoos work for you.
Natures Paradise – Complete with natural scents and food-grade ingredients, Natures Paradise is about as natural and non-toxic as you can get. Expect a few weeks’ detox while your hair gets used to the formula.
Terressentials Pure Earth Hair Wash – If you’re looking for a gentler alternative to traditional shampoo, Terressentials Organic is a fantastic option. Choose from 4 scents or a fragrance-free version.
100% Pure Shampoos – 100% Pure’s line makes it easy to find a formula that addresses your hair concerns, no matter what they are. Their formulas include ingredients like burdock, kelp, and coconut.
Moondust Hair Wash Waterless Shampoo – This Allure Best of Beauty 2020 winner eliminates water from its ingredient list for a compact, eco-friendly shampoo packed with beneficial ingredients like rice protein and aloe. It comes in scented and unscented options.
Shampoo For Black Hair
Big Hair CLEAN SLS Free Shampoo – This UK brand delivers a truly SLS-free shampoo that’s safe for curly, kinky, and coily hair. Their gentle formula includes aloe, shea butter seed oil, panthenol, and a handful of essential oils for a well-rounded wash that’s moisturizing and safe for sensitive scalps. And it smells amazing.
Swish – Sulphate-Free Shampoo – This sulphate-free UK brand uses aloe and citrus essential oils to gently cleanse, removing build-up without stripping away moisture or your hair’s natural oils. And it’s eczema-safe!
Melanin Haircare African Black Soap Reviving Shampoo – Aside from being visually striking (thanks to the charcoal powder), this shampoo’s formula packs a serious punch with shea butter, glycerin, cocoa seed butter, peppermint oil, and more.
Zero-Waste Shampoo Bars
- Garner’s Garden
- Jr. Liggett’s Old Fashioned Shampoo Bars
- Viori Shampoo Bars
- Wildcrafted Collection by Unwrapped Life
- The Yellow Bird Shampoo Bars
- Soap & Salve Shampoo Bars
- HiBAR Shampoo bars
- Ethique Shampoo Bars
- Faith in Nature Shampoo Bars