The Ultimate Guide to SLS-Free Shampoo


This blog post has certainly been a long time coming!

The last time I wrote about SLS-free products, in particular SLS free shampoo was way back in 2013 with a SLS-Free Shampoo Review post. Since then I've continued to use them and it's been a total of seven years now since I made the switch! So I guess I have a bit of knowledge when it comes to finding the best SLS-free products and sharing the benefits of going SLS-free.

In this post I will try my best to include all the information you may be looking for! From the the best SLS-free shampoo, to the long term benefits and even how to use SLS-free shampoo... because there is a knack to it, believe it or not!

I'm a strong advocate of going SLS-free with all body products and I hope this can be an informative guide to helping you making the right decision and finding products that work for you.

Side note: This is going to be a long one! You may want to pin it for later here to come back to, especially for my shampoo recommendations.


What is Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and why is it in so many shampoos?

Soduim Lauryl Sulfate* is an inexpensive detergent that's found in a large amount or personal hygiene products along with other household cleaning products. The job of SLS's is to breaks surface tension and separates molecules in order to allow better interaction between the product and the surface it's being used on - hair, clothing, kitchen surfaces, teeth - you name it. This friction in turn creates a lather which makes products such as shampoo and toothpaste become more effective cleansers. This is why products can be produced SLS-free and still be affective, however as it's in exchange for more expensive chemicals most brands prefer to opt for cheap SLS's. 

The main problem with Sodium Lauryal Sulfate is that it's a known skin irritant that can cause skin problems to develop and worsen pre-exisiting ones. It can also leave the scalp being dry and stripped and cause dandruff (scalp flaking). In addition to skin irritation, there are many studies that point to residual levels of Sodium Lauryl Sulfate being found in the brain, lungs, liver, and heart - pretty shocking, right? These levels follow the use of SLS used externally on the scalp and skin, and in the mouth as an ingredient in toothpaste. There are also findings that link SLS to hormone imbalance. 

*It goes by so many other names... find them below!

Why I went SLS-free (over 7 years ago!)
I still vividly remember having a scalp reaction to a Garnier shampoo I'd never used before. It contained Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate (which I didn't even know about back then) and within a few hair washes my scalp was left feeling ultra dry, scaly and itchy. I was tempted to start using Head & Shoulders (which actually contains SLS!) but I knew it was a scalp reaction to a product so I decided to do some research online first and seek out a more helpful alternative. This was when I came across articles on SLS-free shampoo and the benefits and I knew I had to pick up my first ever SLS-free shampoo and try it. It tooks a month or two but my scalp returned to normal and in fact I saw the benifits of using SLS-free shampoo in other areas so I continued to use it.

Reasons to go SLS-free
Like me you may be considering trying SLS-free shampoo for the first time due to an allergic reaction or to help a skin condition, such as eczema or psoriasis. But you may just want to make the switch to reduce the amount of harsh chemical absorbed into the body. In a world which we are bombarded with potentially harmful chemicals it may be wise to ditch cheap mass-produced harsh chemicals, especially as there are so many good alternative available. You may also choose to switch to SLS-free shampoo to help with hair loss. 


Long Term Benefits  
When switching any kind of product up or removing an ingredient/chemical from your body the effects aren't instant. So it's really about the long-term effects and benefits. You may see them within 1-2 month or it may take longer dependant on your reason for switching.

Here are the benefits you may experience: Softer & stronger hair, a healthier scalp, improved scalp conditions, improved hair growth, dyed hair will stay vibrant for longer, less harmful ingredients in the body, less harm caused to the environment/marine life, generally free from animal-testing (check bottle), regulated oil-balance in the scalp (can help with greasy-hair problems), no risk of serious eye stinging.

Hair Washing Tips 
With a lack of foam some SLS-free shampoos can take a bit of getting use to so perseverance is key here, along with a few tricks! Firstly, it's important that the hair is completely soaked through with water and that your shampoo is distributed through the hair from the scalp to the length and the end of the hair evenly. Then, with your fingers tips work up a lather against your scalp. The foam/lather generally won't be as thick as you are use to but go with it. Once you have created a lather throughout the hair then it's time to thoroughly rinse it. If your hair still doesn't feel clean then you can repeat the washing process again with slightly less shampoo this time, but as long as you have used enough in the first place and created a light foam this shouldn't be the case.

It's also worth noting that if you are use to using standard shampoo that contains sulfates then you will be use to the feeling of shampoo stripping your hair and scalp of it's natural oils, that very clean/dried out feel. However, if your hair feels and looks continuously greasy or limp after a week of use it could be that the SLS-free shampoo just isn't good enough or right for your hair type, so before giving up give another SLS-free shampoo a try.

You can find my favourite SLS-free shampoos towards to bottom of this post. I highly recommend them and find them as good as any standard shampoo, if not better.

How to read ingredient lists
This is a tricky one because most of us don't bother to flip a product over and assess the ingredients. With all shampoos and bath/shower products Aqua (water) should be first on the list and then most likely Sodium Lauryl Sulphate also spelt Sulfate*. The lower down on the list the smaller amount the product contains for all ingredients. So if you realise that your absolutely favourite shampoo contains SLS but it's mid-way in the ingredients list (kind of unlikely, but still!) then you may want to still use it - it all depends on your reason for avoiding SLS's. 

Don't be fooled into thinking a shampoo labelled 'natural' or 'organic' won't contain SLS. These terms get used far too often, so still check the ingredients list on the back of the product.

*Can also appear as - Sodium Dodecyl Sulphate, Lauryl Sodium Sulphate, Sodium n-Dodecyl Sulphate, Lauryl Sulphate Sodium Salt, Ammoinum Lauryl Sulphte.


My Favourite SLS-Free Shampoos  

Annoyingly SLS-free shampoo ranges come and go. In the UK Naked SLS-Free shampoo were a very popular choice, however the brand has since gone under! So it's best to look towards large haircare brands that are more reliable. My three favourite SLS-shampoo lines come from TIGI, L'Oreal and OGX. All of these brands also offer quite a lot of standard shampoos which contains SLS so it's important to check the ingredients before buying!

L'Oreal Hair Expertise Ultra Rich Replenishing and Taming Shampoo
£6.29/250ml Boots/Superdrug
This has been a staple shampoo of mine for years now. Unlike most shampoos this is a creamy white formula that looks more like a conditioner than a shampoo. It also smells more like a luxury high-end shampoo, reminding me of Estee Lauder Sensuous fragrance, which was totally unexpected. For a SLS-free shampoo it foams incredibly well but with more of a lather that's created with micro bubbles, again this feels pretty luxurious for the price tag! This is ideal for anyone with dried out/over processed/damaged hair that's in need of a nourishing shampoo.

L'Oreal Paris Elvive Extraordinary Oil Low Shampoo 
£6.99/400ml Boots 
A recent launch from L'Oreal here and something totally new to UK stores! I recently wrote about I was initially sceptical of this shampoo after reading how to use it, however I didn't have anything to worry about! Unlike other shampoos, even ones free from sulfates, this is a thick cream cleanser that you massage into the scalp and hair and leave for 3 minutes. It doesn't foam in anyway but cleanses just as well, without stripping natural oils from the hair. I wouldn't personally suggest switching to this from a standard shampoo unless you like the idea of a no-foaming product, as it does take some getting use to! I'd also say it's only good for dry hair types as it's very nourishing. A really good options if you want to be much kinder to your hair and scalp! Also available: L'Oreal Paris Elvive Colour Protect Low Shampoo.

The Body Shop Rainforest Moisture Shampoo
£5.00/250ml The Body Shop 
Another accessible and budget SLS-free shampoo, which is also available in a 60ml travel size, ideal for sulphate-users going on holiday! This slightly thick clear gel formula foams up pretty well and is a nice one to use in the summer months as it has a wonderful tropical scent, that I can't get enough of. Another one good for dry hair types  but for oily hair I'd recommend trying The Body Shop Rainforest Balance Shampoo. Side note - With all SLS-free shampoo reviews on product pages I find there's a higher level of negative reviews from non SLS-free users that generally bought the shampoo without the knowledge it was sulfate-free and feel disappointed with the less foaming ascent!

OGX Shampoo (always check the ingredients)
£6.99/385ml Boots
OGX (formally Organix) has without a doubt the largest accessible range of SLS-free products. However, it's important to state that not all OGX shampoos are free from the chemical, so it's important to check the ingredients list before buying. Not only do these offer a large amount for the money for they offer shampoos for all different hair types, and with some gorgeous scents! Out of the huge amount shampoos from OGX I've tried in the past few years my favourite has to be the OGX Hyrate + Defrizz Kukui Oil Shampoo, as de-frizzing shampoos are hard to come by and it simply works well. OGX is a staple shampoo brand for me now. 

A'Kin Lemongrass Shampoo 
£8.00/225ml Look Fantastic 
Lastly, a more organic option that not only avoid SLS's but all other nasties that can be found in haircare products. Due to this fact this is one of the more watery formulas I've used and one of the least foaming shampoos, however it does still cleanse the hair well. A good option if you are trying to cut down on how many chemicals you are using or if you have a scalp condition. 

Other SLS-Free Products to switch to and why

Shower Gel/Bubble Bath
If you've switched to SLS-free shampoo due to a non-localised skin condition then switching to sls-free foaming bath/shower products goes hand in hand. There are so many good options available now that still foams and come in different scents, so you definitely aren't missing out by making the switch. Also for anyone with dry skin sls-free shower/bath products can make a huge difference. Recommended product: Dr Organic Body Washes

Face Wash/Soap-free Soap 
Ideal for anyone with sensitive skin or anyonee that finds regular face washes to leave the skin feeling tight or stripped. There really are some harsh chemical filled facial washes on the market that work against the skin and not with it. I'd suggest opting for a SLS-free face wash that are also free from alcohol or a soap-free soap. Recommended products: Avene Extremely Gentle Cleanser, Sebamed Cleansing Bar

Hand Wash 
Switching to SLS-free liquid hand wash is ideal for anyone that washes their hands frequently as it's just kinder and less drying to the skin. However, I'd highly recommend switching to SLS-soap or hand wash if you have dermatitis. SLS-free hand wash is inexpensive and can be found in most supermarkets these days. Recommended products: Dr Bronner's Organic Liquid Soap, Faith in Nature Hand Wash 

If it foams it contains SLS. So yes, Toothpaste does contain it, in fact 99% of supermarket toothpastes contain SLS! This is fine for most but if you are prone to mouth ulcers it may actually be part of the cause or be an irritant to them. When stressed I often develop mouth ulcers so I now use a different SLS-free toothpaste and it really makes a difference. SLS can also be found in mouthwash so it's worth checking the ingredients list of the one you use. Recommend products: Sensodyne Proanamel Toothpaste & Jason Kids Only Strawberry Toothpaste (because kids always swallow toothpaste!)

Baby bath products 
Now I'm definitely not a SLS-free activist but if I was I would be campaigning against the use of Sulfates in baby bubble bath products. Babies skin is so fragile that I haven't a clue why brands would feel the need to include SLS based ingredients in their products... actually I do, it's cheaper! Whether your baby has a skin condition or you just want to opt for more natural products then changing to SLS-free bath products is a must. Recommended products - Burt's Bees Baby Bee Bubble Bath or anything from Big Green Smile

Washing Detergent
If you suffer from an irritating skin condition you definitely want to be switching your washing powder to something natural that is free from SLS. It can make a huge difference at night with bedding and even with your clothing if you have a skin condition, allergies or sensitive skin. Recommended product - Ecover Zero Laundry Liquid

Okay, I think I've covered everything here and lived up to my Ultimate Guide to SLS-Free claim!

If you have any questions feel free to leave them below and I will make sure to reply! 

Fee xo.
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