Recently, sulfates—the dirt-and-oil-grabbing detergents that also sadly wash your healthy shiny hair oils away with them—have become the enemy of even mainstream shampoos. (I mean, who hasn't seen a "sulfate-free" ad?)
But there are other really good reasons to inspect the chemically-laced label of your hair-care products more closely, too. Even if you're happy with the way your hair looks.
"Most conventional hair care is extremely unnatural, only giving you the illusion that your hair is healthy."
"Most conventional hair care is extremely unnatural, and filled with hundreds of synthetic and harmful ingredients," says Josh Rosebrook, a hair-care expert who founded of his namesake natural beauty line as an antidote.
The second crazy part? These ingredients "only give you the illusion that your hair is healthy," he says.
Silicones, dimethicones, and polymers—which are essentially plastics—are great example. They act like lacquer on the hair shaft, adding back a (faux) gloss where sulfates have removed your natural oils. It's a vicious circle of strip natural oils, add fake gloss.
But plant-based hair products don't work this way. And as Rosebrook describes it, they lead to shiny, happy hair that's actually being fed what it needs in order to function as its best bouncing-and-behaving self. (Fact: Well+Good editors have tested countless natural shampoos and conditioners and our tresses are looking great, if we do say so ourselves.)
What do you need to know to get truly healthy hair? Keep reading for the most essential shampoo, conditioner, and hair styling product intel.
1. Choosing a healthier shampoo
What's wrong with your shampoo? Most drugstore and professional, high-end shampoos are made of harsh detergents, synthetic foam boosters, and toxic artificial fragrance and do nothing for the health of your scalp and follicles.
"Shampoo commonly has sulfates (also known as SLS or SLES), a detergent on the Dirty Dozen list that's irritating to the scalp and carries hormone-disrupting chemicals," says Rosebrook. "They also typically contain synthetics to offset the effects of other harsh ingredients in the formula, which isn't good for the body long-term."
If you're worried that natural alternatives won't do the trick of really cleansing, no need. "Effective organic shampoos contain active plant ingredients that work to revive and stimulate the follicle," he adds. "And a truly gentle, non-toxic shampoo is always going to help preserve hair color longer." Win-win.
Instead try these shampoos:
"I fell in love with Rahua shampoo ($34) in 2010 when we were testing it for the first Detox Market pop-up," says founder Romain Gaillard, who now curates products for his three stores. "The performance and the scent are amazing. My wife loves their Volumizing Shampoo to repair her colored hair."
Reverie Nude Shampoo ($38) is a cult-fave natural shampoo that's "a very gentle formulation that works for all hair types," says Guillard.
2. Choosing a healthier conditioner
What's wrong with your conditioner? Many use polymers, dimethicone, and silicones (which are essentially plastics—yes, plastic!) that coat your hair to make it look shiny and feel soft. Needless to say, that's not the same thing as making your hair actually shiny and soft.
Ingredients like Polyquaternium 10, which bind to your hair, can also bind to your body and give you back acne as you rinse them out.
Plus, says Rosebrook, "these are not biodegradable, can cause build-up on the hair, and lead to breakage of your strands," he explains. "So it's damaging your hair and pollutes our water."
Instead try these conditioners:
"Yarok Feed Your Volume Conditioner ($14) is absolutely outstanding," says Gaillard. "It works so well for fine hair, too, and the scent is really great."
"Rare Elements Essential Conditioner ($48) is an ultra-rich, concentrated formula that works particularly well for damaged hair," says Gaillard. "The founder had a salon in Beverly Hills and put 10 years into it. Pro tip: a little goes a long way, and you can let it sit longer, almost like a mask."
3. Choosing a healthier hair spray
What's wrong with your hairspray? Most are filled with super-drying alcohol and other chemicals that are dangerous to be inhaled regularly.
Remember the days of yore when salons sprayed Aqua Net hair spray in excess without a second thought? Yeah, that wasn't healthy for the environment or your granny. "Your typical hair spray contains petrochemical polymers and artificial fragrance, which you shouldn't be breathing," says Rosebrook.
"Other toxic culprits are dioxane and VOCs—which you'll see as ethyl acetate or isopropyl alcohol." Dioxane, fun fact, is a known carcinogen and an endocrine-disruptor, and has scary high score of 8 on EWG.
That's not to say all your updos now have to suffer the fate of falling flat as soon as you leave your house—natural ingredients can do the trick of keeping your hairstyle put together, too.
Instead try these hair sprays:
"Josh Rosebrook puts so much attention into sourcing ingredients and product formulations," says Gaillard. This spray uses non-gmo yucca, a plant starch, for hold. "Josh Rosebrook Firm Hold Hairspray ($22) is safe for use on a daily basis—it works so well, it's non-sticky, and non-toxic."
"Briogeo Blossom & Bloom Ginseng + Biotin Volumizing Blow Dry Spray ($20) is not a bit sticky, and contains ginger, which promotes strong, healthy hair."
For help cleaning up your makeup bag, check out the 3 most important cosmetics swaps to make first and these are the 3 key skin-care swaps for a more natural beauty regimen. These are Well+Good's top stories on getting great hair.
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