Finding the right shampoo for your hair type is already an uphill battle, but it's arguably even more grueling for those with thicker locks. You need a lather effective enough to reach deep into the roots and give the scalp a proper scrub yet gentle enough to avoid stripping coarser, easily parched strands—an operation not for the faint of heart.
Ever had a wash day that leaves your roots greasy and your lengths bone-dry? Or one that has your entire head looking frizzy? Yeah, you probably haven't found the right cleanser for your thick, dense strands.
If this sounds like you, you've come to the right place: I tested some of the most popular shampoos for thick hair (as someone with a thick 2C mane, I consider myself a target customer). Below, discover which formulas are truly worth the hype.
The best shampoos for thick hair of 2023:
The best shampoos for thick hair of 2023:
How to know if you have thick hair.
Before diving into product recommendations, it helps to determine if you actually have thick locks. You see, people often confuse hair thickness and hair density: Density refers to the number of strands on your scalp, while thickness refers to the size of each actual strand.
If you have high density, your hair appears thick—but that doesn't mean your strands themselves are thick and coarse. You can have a lot of hair on your head, but each individual strand may still be fine (and vice versa).
So how do you measure hair density? Take a front section of your hair and pull it to the side: "If your scalp is very visible, you have low density, but if you can barely see the scalp, you have high density," says hairstylist Sophia Porter. "If you're anywhere in between, that's medium density." If your hair is long enough, you can also try the "ponytail test." Gather your hair into a pony and measure:
- Ponytail circumference is less than 2 inches: Low density
- Ponytail circumference is 2 to 4 inches: Medium density
- Ponytail circumference is more than 4 inches: High density
How we picked:
Sulfates can easily dry out thick strands. You won't find any harsh surfactants in these products.
Sulfate-free formulas might not bubble up quite like traditional shampoos, but that doesn't mean you can't get a good lather out of them. We made sure these picks each provide a beautiful foam.
To make thick hair look fluffy and full, you’ll want to wash with ingredients that nourish the strands and scalp. Dry hair often leads to frizz, which is something those with thicker strands often struggle with.
Testing & testimonials
We tested out products firsthand to see what worked and what didn't. Every single product comes with personal accounts and tips.
mbg's picks for the best shampoos for thick hair of 2023:
Best hydrating: Vegamour HYDR-8 Hydrate and Repair Shampoo
- Ingredients bond to hair without washing away
- Prevents breakage
- Contains fragrance
Key Ingredients:KarmatinMagnolia bark extractAloe vera
Cost per ounce:$4.75
After testing Vegamour’s HYDR-8 Collection for eight weeks, I definitely noticed my hair retaining more moisture in shine. And I’m not alone: According to clinical results from the brand, the shampoo leaves hair 8 times more hydrated and 2.5 times stronger after just one use, with frizz reduction up to 72 hours.
Of course, the blend features Karmatin, Vegamour’s signature vegan alternative to keratin and silicone. The biotechnology-derived ingredient (made from fermented silk protein) creates a mirror image of the amino acids that naturally occur in hair, and it remains attached to strands even after rinsing. It also never leaves your hair stripped dry, thanks to aloe vera, while magnolia bark extract delivers a dose of antioxidants and healthy shine.
Best for shine: Ranavat Regenerative Veda Bond Repair Shampoo
- Super hydrating
- Promotes growth
- Calms the scalp
- May need to rinse & repeat
Key Ingredients:Lotus flower waterHibiscus flower extractAshwagandhaAmla extractJasmine extract
Cost per ounce:$6
If there’s one shampoo I’ll purchase again and again, it’s Ranavat’s Regenerative Veda-Bond Complex. I notice way more shine and much silkier strands when I air-dry, thanks to antioxidant-rich amla and ashwagandha. The brand considers the formula a “champagne lather” which, yes, is as chic as it sounds: It refers to how the blend spreads throughout the hair and produces delicate bubbles to gently cleanse without stripping the scalp.
That said, If you really want a deep clean, you do need to rinse and repeat to truly lift all the gunk. I usually oil my hair on wash days (with Ranavat’s Fortifying Hair Serum), so I do need two rounds of shampoo to make sure my scalp gets a proper scrub. But even with the extra wash, my scalp feels supple and hydrated. I’m also obsessed with the jasmine scent—subtle yet so luxurious.
I’m not the only one to sing its praises. mbg assistant beauty editor, Hannah Frye, also considers it one of her favorites. “When I tested the lab samples of this shampoo and conditioner duo, I immediately started counting down the days until I could get the full-sized bottles,” she says. “Before using this shampoo, I looked at my scalp in the mirror: I saw flakes, dryness, and a bit of irritation—thanks to the seasonal transition. Yet after just one use (I repeat, one single use), my scalp immediately looked and felt better.”
- Fully recyclable packaging
- Fights frizz
- Contains fragrance
Key Ingredients:Marshmallow rootShea butterAvocado oilHydrolyzed keratin
Cost per ounce:$3.20
This shampoo has such a luxurious lather, you won’t even believe it’s sulfate-free. It’s deeply hydrating, with marshmallow root, shea butter, and avocado oil to fight frizz, so it will lift excess oil and grime from your scalp without leaving your lengths parched dry. And like pretty much every Ouai product, the scent is unmatched—the citrus-floral notes linger on my lengths for days.
- Seal Of Acceptance by the National Eczema Association
- Doesn’t lather as well as other options
Key Ingredients:Aloe veraHyaluronic acidPanthenolNiacinamide
Scalp itching like no other? You should make sure you aren’t dealing with dandruff or buildup, but irritation from hair care products is also a common culprit. If you think your wash might be too irritating, create a clean slate with this fragrance-free formula from Nécessaire. The gel includes hyaluronic acid, niacinamide, panthenol, and 10% aloe vera juice, all of which are known for their hydrating and soothing properties.
For the record, I don’t have a very sensitive scalp, but I still like to use this wash whenever I fold a scalp scrub or detox into the mix. That way, I know I won’t overwhelm the skin up top with too many fragrances and potent actives. The minimalist design looks so chic in my shower—I cannot resist a good shower aesthetic.
Best for frizz: Living Proof No Frizz Shampoo
- Blocks humidity
- Contains fragrance
Key Ingredients:Jojoba estersMarine algae polysaccharides
Cost per ounce:$4
The first time I used this shampoo, I audibly gasped at how smooth my locks looked. When Living Proof says “no-frizz,” they really do mean absolutely no frizz—I had zero flyaways in sight.
Granted, I also received a blowout, but the wash does do a lot of the heavy lifting. (Soft, frizz-free hair starts in the shower, after all.) My hair stayed soft and shiny all day long, which is certainly a testament to the formula’s humidity-blocking abilities. The scent, as always, is just divine: I receive so many Your hair smells so good! compliments whenever I use Living Proof.
- 100% botanically sourced fragrance
- Not an everyday option
Key Ingredients:Hydrolyzed rice proteinChelation technologyVelvet flower seed extract
Cost per ounce:$0.92
Those with thick locks likely struggle with greasy roots occasionally, especially if you extend time between wash days. Every once in a while, it’s important to give your scalp a good scrub.
I’ve tried countless clarifying shampoos, yet I always come back to this $12 pick from Odele. It doesn’t provide as much foam as other purifying numbers, but don’t let the lack of bubbles fool you: This sulfate-free shampoo is hard at work ridding your scalp of buildup and gunk. It features a chelation technology to draw out pollutants and minerals (yes, your hair can accrue mineral buildup from hard water!), and the fresh scent will leave you feeling invigorated.
Best strengthening : Pacifica Coco Peptide Damage Care Shampoo
- Works up a good lather
- Contains fragrance
Key Ingredients:Aloe veraPanthenolVegan peptidesCopper peptidesCoconut water
Cost per ounce:$0.83
With high-quality, fermented vegan collagen and copper peptides, panthenol, and a protein-rich complex of quinoa, lentil, and apricot, this formula is the antidote to breakage and split ends—it’s hard to believe this number only costs $10. It also comes in a base of aloe vera juice (it’s the No. 1 ingredient listed) and plant-based surfactants to gently clean your scalp without stripping it dry. Your hair will feel stronger after a single wash (I’m speaking from experience here).
Best for volume : AG Care Balance Apple Cider Vinegar Sulfate-Free Shampoo
- 98% naturally derived
- Promotes shine
- Contains essential oils, if you’re sensitive to those
Key Ingredients:PanthenolPea peptidesApple cider vinegarRosemary leaf extract
Cost per ounce:$0.42
If you have thick hair that easily gets weighed down, try adding apple cider vinegar into your hair care arsenal. It effectively purifies the scalp—thanks to those acidic properties—which removes the weight from excess grime to give you more lift at the root. Hello, volume! Not to mention, the ingredient brings your hair's pH levels back down and seals the cuticle shut, which helps reduce frizz and enhance shine.
Plus, it has panthenol, which hairstylist and Authentic Beauty Concept advocate Justin Toves-Vincilione, says is A+ for volume: “Almost every volumizing shampoo will contain one specific ingredient, and that is panthenol," he notes. "Panthenol is a humectant that ultimately attracts moisture into the hair strand making it look more plump and voluminous while also allowing the hair to respond much better to blow-dry styling.”
When I use AG Care’s ACV-infused formula, I can really tell how lightweight my strands feel post-wash. I’d also be remiss not to call out its 98% plant-based and naturally derived ingredient list and refill pouches.
Best for h air growth: Michiru Senburi Extract & Silk Protein Sufate-Free Fullness Shampoo
- Provides a good lather
- Cleans without stripping strands
- Visibly thickens hair
- Contains fragrance
Key Ingredients:PanthenolNiacinamideSenburi extractSilk proteinsCoconut oil
Not only does this shampoo encourage healthier hair growth, with silk protein and Japanese-sourced senburi extract, but it also includes flexible polymers to create bond structures between your strands, which noticeably thickens hair with every wash. It also generates a very good lather, which is a feat for most sulfate-free formulas.
After using it, I definitely noticed my scalp feeling lighter and more refreshed—yet still hydrated and comfortable. And at $15 for such high-quality ingredients, it’s definitely a steal.
Best for colored hair: Authentic Beauty Concept Glow Cleanser
- Brightens strands
- Aids detangling
- Contains fragrance
Key Ingredients:Date fruit extractCinnamon bark extractGuar extract
Cost per ounce:$2.21
Use the wrong shampoo, and your gorgeous color will fade faster than you can say balayage. Ingredients like sulfates, alcohols, and even purifying agents like salicylic acid or charcoal, can strip the dye right off your strands. That said, if you’re looking for a deep clean, you can find effective options that actually enhance your hue.
Date fruit extract and cinnamon ensure bright, condition strands, sealing the cuticle and reducing frizz. It also features cationic Guar extract as a silicone replacement, so you achieve soft, silky shine without the buildup.
Best for curls: Function Of Beauty Custom Wavy Hair Shampoo Base
- Customizable formula
- Contains silicones, if you stay away from those
Key Ingredients:Fermented rice waterGlycerin
Cost per ounce:$0.91
This customizable shampoo starts with a base of fermented rice water, then offers multiple “booster shots” you can pour in the bottle to achieve various hair goals, like shine, strengthening, anti-frizz, and curl definition.
I have 2C waves—with a few proper curls tousled here and there—so I snagged the wavy hair base, but the brand also has a curly concoction with chia extract for true spirals. FYI, it does contain dimethicone, which is something to call out: We’re not against silicones entirely (aside from cyclic silicones) since they can offer tons of silky shine, but they also have the potential to cause buildup. Some people love ‘em for the aesthetics! Just make sure to sub in a clarifying shampoo every once in a while to ensure you don’t accumulate too much gunk.
How to choose.
Curious how to vet your own products? Consider the below as you browse the shampoo aisle:
Your styling routine.
Healthy hair always starts in the shower, but depending on your preferred styling methods, you may want to go with one shampoo over another. When it comes to styling (be it using hot tools or an air-dry), "Your shampoo and conditioner can either work for you or against you," says Toves-Vincilione.
For example: "If you want to air-dry your thick hair, you'll want to use replenishing and smoothing hair care. These shampoos and conditioners usually have natural ingredients like coconut oil, jojoba oil, and shea," Toves-Vincilione adds.
"When it comes to thick hair, think about using a thick product to match," Toves-Vincilione adds. "Test out the consistency of the product before you use it. The thicker the product, the more likely it is for your thick hair to respond well." With shampoo, you may want to consider goopier gels than watery, serum-like formulas.
While it's always important to peek at ingredient lists, the branding can help you discover the overall gist. Read: Shampoos marketed as "smoothing" often contain more butters and oils, while "strengthening" formulas contain a higher dose of keratin-building proteins.
Shampoos and conditioners will often come in a handy set and be geared toward a single hair goal, be it smoothing, strengthening, etc. Don't buy into the paired marketing. "Sometimes I recommend that my clients pair a volumizing shampoo with a smoothing conditioner," says Toves-Vincilione. "This will help your hair feel more balanced and manageable without weighing it down."
We generally recommend opting for sulfate-free formulas, but consider the other ingredients in the bottle: Does it have clarifying essential oils? Rich butters? Fragrance? Depending on your scalp type and curl pattern, other ingredients may strike your fancy. On the flip side, you may want to avoid certain players in the name of a lush, full mane (mainly for those with sensitive scalps and/or super-dry lengths).
As a general rule: "If you're trying to enhance your thick hair and density, you'll want to go with hair care that has nourishing ingredients that make it easy for you to detangle, blow-dry and finish your hair care routine," says Toves-Vincilione.
How to wash thick hair.
While everyone will ultimately follow a different shampoo schedule, thicker hair does generally require a greater scrub.
"Thick hair can be deceiving, and while you may experience a good lather, oftentimes it doesn't reach the root area in the back or on the crown," says Toves-Vincilione. "This will cause unwanted oil buildup, so it is important to apply an adequate amount of shampoo to thicker hair." Yes, thicker hair does often need more shampoo to achieve a deep clean. Just make sure to remain gentle as you scrub—use your fingertips, not your nails, to work up a lather.
"You'll also want to intentionally place shampoo in hard-to-reach areas before building up a lather to make sure you are evenly cleansing all areas," Toves-Vincilione adds. Perhaps add a scalp brush into the mix to really work up some foam and make sure you effectively scrub all the surface area.
Does thicker hair need more shampoo?
"Yes. Oftentimes the amount of shampoo that is used is based on personal preference, but in general, thicker hair requires more shampoo for adequate coverage," says triple board-certified dermatologist Mamina Turegano, M.D.
Toves-Vincilone agrees: "Of course, more hair per square inch of scalp means that the amount of shampoo will need to be increased to properly cleanse."
How often should you wash thick hair?
The answer isn't so simple, and it actually has nothing to do with hair density. "It really just comes down to education: Learn about the different factors at play when it comes to your scalp and hair health, then you can adjust your behaviors based on that," certified trichologist Shab Reslan previously told mbg.
Consider factors like dandruff and buildup, your curl pattern, activity level, and weather (to name a few) to build your own shampoo schedule. You can find a full breakdown here to determine how often you should wash.
What's the difference between thickening and volumizing shampoo?
"Thickening shampoo is an incredible product to introduce into your routine if you have very fine and flat hair," says Toves-Vincilone. "This type of product works to propel proteins and other fortifying ingredients in and onto the cuticle of the hair, making each strand appear and even feel fuller and thicker."
But volumizing shampoo is a little different, he adds. "A volumizing shampoo will provide varying results, depending on the hair type it's used on and usually works best in preparation for a volumizing hair styling routine, such as a blowout or roller set," he says.
Is thick hair more healthy?
"Not necessarily," notes Turegano. "Genetics play a huge role in the thickness of the hair shaft. Having said that, nutrients, vitamins, and scalp care can contribute to increasing hair thickness."
Hair density, too, is genetic. After all, it's not like you can add hair strands to each of your hair follicles. However, you can increase the appearance of denser hair.
So what is the best shampoo for thick hair? Well, it ultimately depends on your individual goals. If you're looking for a fabulous lather that rivals traditional, sulfate-laden shampoos, Ouai's formula foams up like no other. If frizz and humidity are your main gripes, Living Proof's No-Frizz collection is your best bet. Still, if there's one bottle I come back to time and again, it's Ranavat's Veda Bond Complex Shampoo—for me, the hydration and shine are unmatched.
Looking for a conditioner to pair with your new cleanser? See here for our most beloved options.