The 13 Best Sulfate-Free Shampoos For Color-Treated Hair
As someone who has been coloring her hair for—oh, let's just say a while!—I know how vital upkeep is. And a good shampoo-and-conditioner combo can be make or break for vibrant, lasting color.
Of course, the opposite is true, too: If you use a lesser-quality product, you run the risk of stripping your hue and further damaging your hair.
See, the process of coloring your hair works by opening up the hair shaft so you can either deposit pigment (as is the case with darkening or changing the tone) or remove pigment (as is the case with bleaching or lightening). This means two things for color maintenance. The first is that this process can be hard on hair. You have to treat it with extra hydration and strengthening nutrients. You should also skip drying sulfates, too, as these will speed up your color's natural fading process.
The second is that the color can fade or tinge pretty easily, so you need something that's going to help protect the pigment and keep it from picking up unwanted undertones. And as an old hair colorist adage goes, why spend all that money on hair color if you're not going to tend to it properly? So if you do dye your hair, I encourage you to find the highest-quality option that fits within your budget (don't worry: there are good shampoos at every price point).
Here, I rounded up my favorites as someone with decades of hair-coloring experience—who happens to know a thing or two about cosmetic ingredients, too.
- Best for color retention: EVOLVh SmartColor Color Protecting Shampoo
- Best budget: Acure Unicorn Shimmer Color Wellness Shampoo
- Best for damaged hair: Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo
- Best for daily washing: dae Daily Shampoo
- Best with keratin: Virtue Recovery Shampoo
- Best gentle formula: Innersense Color Awakening Hair Bath
- Best for balance: AG Hair Natural Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo
- Best with hydration: JVN Undamage Strengthening Shampoo
- Best sulfate-free: Kristin Ess The One Signature Shampoo
- Best for blondes: dpHUE Cool Blonde Shampoo
- Best for damage protection: Joico Defy Damage Protective Shampoo
- Best for vibrant color: FEKKAI Technician Color Shampoo
- Best for oily hair: Maui Moisture Color Protection + Sea Minerals Shampoo
How I Picked
We look for key nutrients and science backed ingredients to keep hair healthy.
Skip drying sulfates and unnecessary preservatives.
Some ingredients are worth paying for. Others, not so much.
We're mindful about what happens to packing when a product is used, and what ingredients go down the drain.
EVOLVh SmartColor Color Protecting Shampoo
This clean formula helps color retention, reduces frizz, and tends to breakage. Kiwi seed oil is a lightweight hydrator that also has free-radical-fighting antioxidants. Soy amino acids fortify the cuticle. And avocado oil cushions the hair, reducing physical wear and tear during the wash process.
SmartColor Protecting Shampoo, EVOLVh ($34) Amazon.com, Credo.com
Acure Unicorn Shimmer Color Wellness Shampoo
For good color vibes, reach for this rose-quartz-infused formula. But don't worry; it also includes plenty of healthy hair actives. For example: sunflower seed extract for moisture, rose geranium flowers for antioxidants, rose petal oil as an emollient, and a slew of other essential oils that make hair look vibrant.
Unicorn Shimmer Color Wellness Shampoo, Acure ($12) Amazon.com
Olaplex No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo
You simply can't have a list of products for color-treated hair and not include Olaplex. Their outstanding proprietary is shown to reduce damage and strengthen hair by relinking broken bonds. (Making it also great for heat damage.) For color this is excellent because not only does it help repair any hair shaft injury that happened during the dyeing process—but healthy strands reflect light better, making your overall color look more beautiful.
No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo Olaplex ($28)
dae Daily Shampoo
Color-care and daily-wash approved, this contains a trio of desert plants known for their hydration and longevity. First up there's a hibiscus flower extract that can aid in gentle, natural cleansing of the hair and scalp (read: nonstripping), then it layers in aloe vera, which is a humectant rich in vitamins and minerals to restore strength and hydration. Finally, there's false daisy extract, which can actually help an irritated scalp, too.
Daily Shampoo, dae ($24) Sephora.com
Virtue Recovery Shampoo
Virtue is an all-time favorite brand for this beauty editor: It's almost impossible to describe how soft and nurtured your hair will feel after washing until you try it with your own hands. The star of the show is their innovative keratin, which is identical to the keratin that makes up 90% of human hair. It repaves and refills keratin, repairing damaged hair with each use. It also contains hydrolyzed quinoa, baobab seed oil, and grapefruit extract.
Recovery Shampoo, Virtue ($40) Amazon.com, Sephora.com
Innersense Color Awakening Hair Bath
A very gentle shampoo, this formula contains a host of ingredients that can nurture dry hair and add shine. A few of our favorites? There's hydrolyzed quinoa protein to help restore strength. For lipids and hydration, there's shea butter, pumpkin seed oil, cucumber, and avocado oil. And finally, it contains antioxidants from green tea and mangos. Just to name a few.
Color Awakening Hairbath, Innersense ($28) Amazon.com, Credo.com
JVN Undamage Strengthening Shampoo
A safe bet for those with color-treated hair is to opt for repairing shampoos (look for buzzwords like "damage," "strengthening," and so on). And this new option does wonders for frayed and worn strands. We particularly love the plant-derived squalane and hemisqualane, which are natural silicone alternatives that not only give hair that silky slip but improve the health in the process. Opt for this option if you are silicone-avoidant.
Undamage Strengthening Shampoo, JVN ($18) Amazon.com, Sephora.com
AG Hair Natural Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo
Apple cider vinegar is excellent for hair care, as it can balance the pH of the scalp and close the cuticle for high shine. (There's a reason ACV rinses are so popular!) This shampoo infuses organic ACV, as well as organic aloe vera and argan oil to hydrate and condition the strands.
Natural Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo AG Hair ($32) Amazon.com, Macy's.com
dpHue Cool Blonde Shampoo
For platinum blondes who loathe warm undertones, you'll want a purple shampoo (check out our guide to using purple shampoos here). These cancel out yellow hues in blond, so your hair is the light, silvery blond of your dreams. This high-pigment number also includes antioxidant-rich hibiscus extract and strengthening silk amino acids.
Kristin Ess The One Signature Shampoo
A delightful blend of avocado, sunflower seed, and castor seed oils make the base for this color-safe wash. Additionally, it folds in mango seed butter (which is chock-full of lipids for some deep hydration) and botanical extracts for antioxidant protection. We also adore this for the lush lather, even though it's sulfate-free.
The One Signature Shampoo, Kristin Ess ($11) Amazon.com, Ulta.com
Joico Defy Damage Protective Shampoo
Here, we have a tested formula that helps you maintain 90% of your hues. How? We suspect it has something to do with the moringa seed oil, a botanical that is rich in vitamins A, E, zinc, and silica—all of which are fundamental to hair health. Additionally, it has arginine, an amino acid that encourages strong hair bonds.
Defy Damage Protective Shampoo, Joico ($22) Amazon.com, Ulta.com
FEKKAI Technician Color Shampoo
This brand from the famed hairstylist offers natural plant extracts to improve color with use. (Not only that, but it's great for any kind of over-processed strands, such as keratin treatments and heat-treated.) The star ingredient is a proprietary environmental protection complex that features vitamin B5, a star emollient.
Technician Color Shampoo, FEKKAI ($24) Ulta.com
Maui Moisture Color Protection + Sea Minerals Shampoo
This number is fueled with minerals and sea plants for hair health. There's sea kelp and algae, two ingredients that are equal parts hydrating and inflammation-fighting. The minerals fortify and strengthen hair, without weighing skin down.
Color Protection + Sea Minerals Shampoo, Maui Moisture ($7) Amazon.com, Walmart.com
mbg's review process
At mbg, high standards are earned—and there are no shortcuts. Our beauty editors stay up to date on the latest ingredient research and innovation. It's a dynamic, continuously evolving space, and it's important we look into the science so we can make informed choices about which formulas earn our stamp of approval (figuratively speaking).
Our high standards also come from testing products—many, many products. Our editors and writers rigorously test and research the products featured in our roundups to offer you the best, most informed recommendations. When we write reviews, you can trust we spend quality time with the formulas: We don't simply rave about products we've slathered on the back of our hand. We endorse products we've tried and loved.
Learn more about our testing process and clean beauty standards here.
Alexandra Engler is the beauty director at mindbodygreen and host of the beauty podcast Clean Beauty School. Previously, she's held beauty roles at Harper's Bazaar, Marie Claire, SELF, and Cosmopolitan; her byline has appeared in Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Allure.com. In her current role, she covers all the latest trends in the clean and natural beauty space, as well as lifestyle topics, such as travel. She received her journalism degree from Marquette University, graduating first in the department. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.