Do Lather & Foam Actually Clean Hair?

Ingredients such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES) are found in about 90% of hair care products according to the Journal of the American College of Toxicology.

While these common sulfates cause our shampoo to foam and bubble up, surprisingly, not all of them effectively clean hair. And after years of marketing gimmicks, it's generally believed that our hair isn't being cleaned unless we see a thick lather. That's why many manufacturers add these foaming agents just for show. However, these harsh chemicals have been known to damage the immune system, and inflame your scalp, leaving it dry, rashy, and irritated.

The Proof Is In The Pudding -- We Mean In The Shampoo & Conditioner

Your hair and scalp act like a sponge and absorb the nutrients that you feed it. So, your shampoo and conditioner should always have the right mix of essential oils, vitamins, natural extracts, and mild cleansers to gently clean your hair and scalp without sulfates while fortifying it with beneficial natural ingredients.

That's why it's critical to find products with the highest-quality ingredients that have been clinically tested, even if it means doing extra research and expanding beyond the common drugstore options. Here's what to look for in an effective, sulfate-free shampoo. 

What to Look for in a Quality Shampoo:

Peppermint, Cedarwood, Tea Tree, Jojoba Seed & Grapefruit Essential Oils

Give your hair moisture and shine while removing dead skin cells, which promotes existing hair growth.*

Fortifying Horsetail, Nettle & Willow Bark Extracts

Help nourish and strengthen hair follicles while removing styling product buildup*

Vitamins B, D, & E

Help keep the scalp hydrated and maintain hair growth.*

Keratin, Soy & Wheat Proteins

Moisturize and protect hair from styling tools and products, while helping strands feel and look stronger.*

Natural Foaming Agents (Cocamidopropyl Hydroxysultaine)

A foaming and anti-static agent derived from the fatty acids in coconut oil, which conditions and helps thicken the appearance of your hair.*

Many people don't understand why their hair is damaged. If you are experiencing an itchy or dry scalp and have noticed hair loss or thinning, you might want to look at what is inside your shampoo and conditioner. Listed below are harmful shampoo ingredients to look out for:

Harmful Shampoo Ingredients:

  • Harsh Sulfates

    SLS and SLES are chemicals reported by the American Journal of Contact Dermatitis to cause irritation. They are added to shampoos because of their cheap and effective bubbling properties.
  • Parabens

    Chemicals including methylparaben, ethylparaben, and propylparaben can be absorbed through your skin and have been linked to breast cancer.12
  • Cocamide DEA

    Found in many products claiming to be natural, the basis of this chemical—coconut oil—seems innocent enough. But scientists tinkered with the ingredient, modifying it into an unnatural, toxic form, and in 2012 California added it to its known carcinogens list.13

Now that we've taken a look at the ingredients we need in our shampoo (and the harmful ingredients we need to avoid!) let's take a look at conditioner.

What to Look for in an Effective Conditioner:

Hydrolyzed Keratin, Soy & Wheat Proteins

Helps keep hair looking and feeling strong, reduces frizz, smooths, and makes your hair shine.*

 Argan, Coconut, Marula & Avocado Essential Oils 

Helps seal hair cuticles, which protects your strands from damage and leaves your hair feeling strong and sleek.*

 Silk Amino Acids

Help nourish hair without weighing it down or causing buildup due to high levels of serine, which has excellent moisture preservation characteristics*

Detangling Agents (Behentrimonium Methosulfate)

Mild and recommended for use in baby products, derived from rapeseed oil, best used for detangling.*

Harmful Conditioner Ingredients:

  • Behentrimonium Chloride

    Also known as Docosyltrimethylammonium chloride, this cheap, harsh chemical can cause skin and eye irritation.19
  • Isopropyl alcohol

    Used in antifreeze, wood finish, and shellac, this strips hair of its natural oils and can cause damage. Avoid this ingredient.
  • Silicones

    While you usually can't avoid them in your styling products, they shouldn't be present when conditioning your hair. They create the illusion of healthy hair when in actuality they clog your pores and dry your hair from the inside out.20

Top 5 Shampoos & Conditioners For 2020

We've compiled a list of what we've found to be the top five products in this category, on the market today.