Everyone knows the risks of heat styling and excessive colour treatments, but there are much subtler ways you could be damaging your hair. Harsh and drying, parabens and sulphates are the enemies of hair care gurus everywhere and yet feature in the vast majority of products.
There’s a long list of reasons why it’s best to give parabens and sulphates a miss, ranging from the scientifically-proven to the outlandish. At the root of it all, they can serve a purpose. Parabens are used to preserve cosmetics while sulphates are what give shampoo its lather.
However, this is also why it poses such a risk to your hair – excessive foaming at the scalp strips away the natural oils produced to keep strands healthy, irritates sensitive skin and strips colour from your tresses. What might give good results at first can seriously damage your hair over time and, in the worst-case scenario, cause irritation bad enough to trigger hair loss.
The obvious solution is to ditch parabens and sulphates altogether for natural alternatives. However, this is easier said than done. With so many scientific-sounding ingredients on the back of your shampoo and conditioner, it’s tricky to identify which pose less risk to your hair. This is only complicated by the fact that there’s no standard definition of “natural haircare” in the industry.
To help you on the path to happier and healthier hair, we’ve rounded up ten of the best natural shampoo and conditioners out there right now. Natural (by which we mean free of parabens and sulphates) haircare has had a bad rap in the past, sacrificing quality for safer, gentler formulas. Thankfully the industry has come a long way in the past few years and every product on this list not only lives up to but exceeds its paraben and sulphate-filled competitors.
Without sulphates, it’s tricky to nail the perfect shampoo lather. We wanted one that was gentle on our scalps, but thorough enough to cleanse excess product and not leave any residue. We had equally high expectations from our conditioner. It had to hydrate our dried out, mid-winter strands, but also keep hair bouncy and fresh for days on end. We weren’t asking for much – just a flawless hair care routine.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent.
Faith in Nature dragon fruit shampoo and conditioner
Since launching 1974, Faith in Nature has established itself as one of the best brands in natural hair care. Not only are all its products vegan, cruelty-free, made with natural ingredients and 100 per cent recyclable, but it remains consistently affordable. We could sing the praises of all its shampoos and conditioners, but our favourite is the dragonfruit formula. The shampoo lathers up quickly and leaves no buildup while the conditioner gave new life to our dry ends. Hair dried soft and silky, but still had plenty of volume.
Our favourite thing? The scent — it’s addictively sweet and hangs around after you’ve left the shower without being too overpowering. Heaven. For a more sustainable alternative, you can also purchase the shampoo in bar form too.
Buy now £7.99, Faith in Nature
Shea Moisture black castor oil shampoo and conditioner
Black castor oil has gained a glowing reputation in the haircare community, all thanks to its ability to strengthen hair and encourage new growth. It certainly didn’t add several inches overnight, but after two weeks of consistent use, we did see a difference in its condition. Stronger, less greasy and way more manageable, we owed a lot to Shea Moisture’s blend of castor oil, shea butter and apple cider vinegar. While the conditioner was super moisturising, the shampoo is the real standout. Just a small amount got rid of stubborn product buildup, yet it was nowhere near as harsh as other clarifying shampoos. However, those with very dry or fine hair might find it too heavy.
Buy shampoo now £12.99, Superdrug
Buy conditioner now £10.99, Superdrug
Drunk Elephant Cocomino glossing shampoo and Marula cream conditioner
As big fans of Drunk Elephant’s skincare, we were incredibly excited when it branched out to hair last April. We weren’t disappointed — its cocomino shampoo lathers well and left our hair super shiny (in a good, non-greasy way). Make sure you’re thoroughly washing it out though, as it’s quite harsh on the ends. As for the conditioner, it did a good job on reviving our winter-weary hair, especially when left on for five minutes as a deep conditioning treatment. We also loved the scent but anyone with an aversion to the smell of marzipan might want to give these a miss.
Buy shampoo now £21.99, Cult Beauty
Buy conditioner now £21.99, Cult Beauty
Aveda cherry almond softening shampoo and conditioner
If anyone else shares our very niche dream of smelling like a cherry bakewell 24/7, you’re in luck. The cherry and almond scent was the first thing to draw us in to this shampoo and conditioner duo from Aveda, but we stayed for their incredible softening abilities. The smallest dab of the conditioner goes a long way, smoothing out frizz and making our hair easier to tame.
Even more impressively, there was an improvement in the moisture levels of our hair from just using the shampoo alone. Just be sure to give hair a good rinse after use as it has a tendency to cling on tight to your scalp.
Buy shampoo now £16.50, Aveda
Buy conditioner now £18.50 Aveda
Klorane peony shampoo and conditioner
One of the many downsides of winter is the way it irritates the scalp. This shampoo uses peony extract to ease sensitivity and reduce dandruff, promising to provide at least 24 hours of protection after use. Irritation-wise, we saw a big difference after just one wash. Our tester’s scalp was less itchy and fared much better in the cold weather. It took longer to see an impact on dandruff, but a week of consistent use did the trick. On top of tackling our scalp issues, it smoothed out flyaways and locked in moisture. We were slightly less impressed with the conditioner. It had quite a thin consistency so we had to use a lot of product, but did manage to ease the worst of our hair’s dryness.
Buy shampoo now £8, Lookfantastic
Buy conditioner now £10, Lookfantastic
Sukin hydrating shampoo and conditioner
Aimed at those with very dry hair, this duo is infused with shea butter, coconut extract and olive oil to nourish the scalp. It takes a while to work the shampoo into a lather but it left hair clean and shiny and washed out easily. We especially loved the conditioner — it’s tough to formulate a product that’s both deeply conditioning without weighing down hair, but this gives a sleek, lightweight finish. There was no residue or buildup from either product and of all those we tried, these two gave hair the most volume.
Buy shampoo now £9.95, Sukin
Buy conditioner now £9.95, Sukin
Neal’s Yard Remedies revitalising orange flower shampoo and conditioner
Neal’s Yard Remedies excels at making every product feel like a drop of luxury, with this shampoo and conditioner smelling like something right out of a salon. The shampoo is a blend of moringa, camellia, passionflower and neroli, which feel deeply nourishing on the scalp. It lathers quickly, but not so much that you feel at risk of stripping away natural oils, and washes out equally as fast.
There was a real improvement in the shine of our hair and far less frizziness at the scalp. The conditioner is similarly efficient (it also smells incredible) but isn’t powerful enough to make a big difference to very dry or damaged strands.
Buy shampoo now £11.50, Neal’s Yard Remedies
Buy conditioner now £11.50, Neal’s Yard Remedies
Living Proof triple detox shampoo and perfect hair day conditioner
There’s a team of scientists behind Living Proof’s revolutionary line of products, which explains how it always manages to nail every formula. Its shampoo, the triple detox, is the best clarifying product we’ve ever tried. Don’t let the thick, dark consistency scare you – it uses active charcoal, witch hazel and a chelating agent to gently remove buildup from product, pollution and hard water.
Our tester’s hair had never felt so light and clean. While it’s non-stripping, it’s vital you follow up with the conditioner to reduce the risk of dryness. Thankfully the conditioner is a delight too and doesn’t weigh down your new squeaky clean locks. As it’s such a deep clean, we recommend limiting usage of this shampoo to once a week.
Buy shampoo now £25, Living Proof
Buy conditioner now £20, Living Proof
Briogeo curl charisma shampoo and conditioner
Give your curls new life with this specially formulated combination from Brigeo. Both products use rice amino acids to hydrate each strand from the inside out, while the shampoo also brings shea butter and avocado into the mix to soften and enhance your curl pattern.
Our tester found that her curls dried more uniformly than usual, with far less frizz. This mostly comes down to the conditioner, which softened and detangled hair enough to allow for an easy post-shower comb through. Curls also stayed bouncy for longer, letting us go an extra two days between washes. Both products together are an investment, but worth it for anyone struggling to manage wavy or curly styles.
Buy shampoo now £21.50, Cult Beauty
Buy conditioner now £21.50, Cult Beauty
Dr. Paw Paw everybody hair and body wash and hair and body conditioner
There was a time when we would be horrified by using the same product to wash our hair and body, but science has come a long way. This Peta-approved, award-winning entry from Dr. Paw Paw combines papaya, olive oil and coconut oil to hydrate hair and repair it in the long-run.
The texture of the shampoo does feel more like a shower gel, but it works easily into your scalp. Meanwhile, the conditioner can also double up as a decent body moisturiser (but will run out very quickly if you use it for both). Hair felt fresh, hydrated and full of life.
Buy hair and body wash now £8.99, Dr. Paw Paw
Buy hair and body conditioner now £8.99, Dr. Paw Paw
The verdict: Paraben and sulphate free shampoo and conditioners
Not only are they the cheapest products on this list, but the Faith in Nature dragonfruit shampoo and conditioner are the best all-rounders. Our hair looked and smelled amazing after use and we love how easy it is to switch the product out for more sustainable alternatives. To those seeking an option specifically for curly hair, we also recommend the Briogeo curl charisma rice amino + avocado hydrating shampoo and curl defining conditioner, which is a total gamechanger.
For more treats for your tresses, read our review of the best hair mousses