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3 Must Haves For Your Natural Hair Shampoo

By January 27th, 202140 Comments
3 Must Haves For Your Natural Hair Shampoo

by Nicole Harmon of Hair Liberty

In my opinion, your shampoo may be the most important product in your arsenal. I say that because a good shampoo keeps your scalp healthy (which means better hair growth) and makes your hair easier to comb. A bad shampoo will lead to drier hair, scalp irritation, and unstoppable frizz. Your shampoo is truly the first step to smooth, manageable hair. You NEED a good shampoo in your life!

The best shampoos contain:
• Sulfate-free cleansers to prevent excessive dryness and scalp irritation
• Cationic ingredients to condition your hair while you cleanse
• pH adjusters to balance the pH of the shampoo and prevent unnecessary cuticle damage to your hair

Sulfate-free Cleansers

Have you noticed all the “sulfate-free” shampoos popping up? It sounds like classic marketing hype, but there are a few good reasons to avoid sulfate-based cleansers. Every cleansing product, whether it’s shampoo, dish soap or laundry detergent, contains surfactants. Surfactants are the ingredients that allow oil to be dissolved from a dirty surface. If you put dish soap on a pot and leave it to soak, you’re waiting for the surfactants in your dish soap to break up the grease left from your food. Sulfate-based surfactants like sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate have been used in shampoo for many years, but current scientific research has found them to be significantly irritating for the scalp and drying to the hair.

Does that mean your hair will drastically change if you use a “sulfate-free shampoo”? Probably not. Most women are using sulfate-based shampoos because that’s the majority of what’s on the market. Even if a shampoo contains sulfates it can still be formulated to work well for your hair. However, I want you to have the most up to date information and the reality is there are better options for cleansing our naturally dry strands. To find the gentlest shampoos, look for products that contain at least one of the surfactants listed below in the top 5.

Gentle surfactants to look for:

• Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
• Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
• Sodium Lauryl Sulfoacetate
• Sodium Methyl Cocoyl Taurate

Harsh/Drying surfactants to skip:

• Sodium Laureth Sulfate
• Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
• Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate
• Ammonium Laureth Sulfate
• Sodium Myreth Sulfate
Saponified Oils

Conditioners and Cationics

You should condition your hair at every step of your routine…during cleansing, after cleansing, and before styling. It probably seems like shampoo can’t cleanse and condition at the same time, but cosmetic chemistry makes it possible. You know how clothes get stuck together in the dryer and they make a popping sound when you pull them apart? That happens because of something called static charge. Curls and coils naturally have a negative charge that causes constant frizz and fly aways. You can make your hair smoother and easier to comb by choosing a shampoo that contains positively charged conditioning ingredients called “cationics”. The ingredients listed below spread over your hair while you lather the shampoo and they stay locked to your strands while dirt and product residue rinse away. The cationic ingredients in your shampoo will increase the effects of your conditioner.

Cationics to look for in your shampoo (the more the better):
• Amodimethicone
• Guar Hydroxypropyltrimonium Chloride
• Polyquaternium-7
• Polyquaternium-10
• Polyquaternium-11
• Polyquaternium-44
• Polyquaternium-47

pH Adjusters

Is your shampoo pH-balanced? Chances are it is, but does that really matter? The answer is actually yes! The pH value of a liquid tells you whether it’s an acid (like orange juice) or a base (like baking soda mixed with water). pH values below 7 are acids, values above 7 are bases. Skin and hair are made of keratin proteins and all types of protein are sensitive to pH. Our skin and hair can better maintain their natural strength when they are kept at acidic pH values between 4.5 and 6.5. Manufacturers don’t make shampoos with pH values below 4.5, but there are a few shampoos out there that are above 7. When the shampoo is basic instead of acidic, the outer cuticle of your hair will swell excessively when you lather up. When your hair dries later, you’ll be left with the kind of volume you don’t like…stubborn frizz and tangles. Shampoos that are pH balanced help the cuticle resist unnecessary swelling.

Most shampoos sold at drugstores and beauty supplies will be pH balanced. It’s standard practice for manufacturers to add pH adjusters to shampoo. If you’d like to test the pH of your product at home, I recommend Micro Essentials pHydrion plastic pH indicator strips.

Recommended Shampoos
All of these shampoos are sulfate-free and safe for color-treated hair.

BARGAIN BUY – L’Oreal EverCreme Intense Nourishing Shampoo,
$7 for 8.5 oz.
Available at drugstores
You can’t beat the price of this shampoo for the quality. A very small amount of product produces a rich, easy to spread lather. Make sure to look for the word “Intense” on the label.

Giovanni Colorflage Daily Color Defense Shampoo,
$9 for 8.5 oz.
Available at Vitamin Shoppe and
This shampoo contains “copolymers” which help hair dye last longer.

Free Your Mane Sulfate Free Hydrating Shampoo,
$16 for 10.14 oz.
Available at
Free Your Mane products were designed with Type 4 natural hair in mind. This shampoo lathers quickly and contains a high level of conditioners.

Carol’s Daughter Chocolat Smoothing Shampoo,
$18 for 8.5 oz.Available at Sephora and
The Chocolat Smoothing Shampoo is the newest and best shampoo in the Carol’s Daughter line. It’s similar to the L’Oreal EverCreme shampoo, but it contains more conditioning ingredients.

CURLS Curliscious Curls Cleansing Cream,
$15 for 8 oz.Available at Target, Sally Beauty, and
This cleansing cream is the best choice for those who prefer to wash daily because it contains very mild cleansers. It’s definitely worth trying if co-washing doesn’t agree with your scalp.

Nicole Harmon is a Cosmetic Chemist and the Founder of She has received rave reviews for her seminars on ethnic hair education and science. She’s on a mission to help the Product Junkies of the world save MONEY, sort through marketing HYPE and buy SMARTER!Hair Liberty (def.): The freedom to rock whatever style you want, whenever you want. Curly, straight, natural, relaxed, whatever! Free yourself!


  • Scriea LcEmpress Estephane says:

    There’s no such thing as over-conditioning African American hair.'

    I would like to know where that information came from?! There is such a thing… I haven't experienced but I know of others who have and their protein level was so below par.

  • laura says:

    For me the best shampoo is one called pro naturals moroccan argan oil. I got itonline at beyas and woooow they make my hair so
    soft and shiny it's unbelievable! Seriously, more people should know about it.

  • Ayisha B says:

    This article is very helpful, especially on those days when I feel like giving up. Thanks!

  • Karo says:

    thank you for the info, I am currently using a great shampoo , it's Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan Oil Hair Shampoo which restores the damaged hair and keeps it soft, shiny and healthy. 😀

  • mangomadness says:

    My staple shampoo is Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention Shampoo. It has wonderful natural ingredients, keeps my scalp clean/healthy and never strips the moisture from my hair strands.

    I use it every 5-7 days. I shampoo–focusing on my scalp–in twisted sections with diluted shampoo applied via a color applicator bottle. This method leads to a clean scalp and less breakage for my medium length, kinky, Afro textured hair.

  • Anonymous says:

    I LOVE Neem Tree Farms shampoo. Yes, I have to order it online but it is totally worth it and it's about $8. It contains no parabens or Sodium laureth sulfates. It's organic and gives me relief from my dry scalp problems.

  • Anonymous says:

    The best shampoo for me is Pro Naturals Moroccan Argan Oil shampoo helped my dry and frizzy hair immensely. The argan oil deeply hydrates my hair and makes the strands more resilient plus frizz is smoothed and shine is increased 🙂

  • Godz Kidz: The Jackson Family Blog says:

    Giovanni 50/50 is irreplacable for me. I am not sure of your criteria, but Giovanni prepares my hair wonderfully for conditioners and my 4.5 pH leave in. No sense in a low pH shampoo if you finish with a high pH leave in.

  • Anonymous says:

    I think Anonymous at May 1, 2012 8:34 AM is on to something.

    I have 4c kinky coily curls and NOTHING – I mean NOTHING has made it feel soft and touchable.

    I noticed splits and split ends recently and the only thing I can think went wrong was leaving DT on for a long time.

    I think my hair is VERY susceptible to HYGRAL FATIGUE, especially when detangling after a DT.

    I am gonna follow the timing instructions on the product from here on out. I am tired of cutting my hair off.

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Anon 11:34a – Thanks for sharing your experience!

    Anon 11:49a – Shampoo bars require an extra step. You can balance the pH of your hair and remove any soap residue by doing a final rinse with 1 cup of ACV mixed with 1 cup of distilled water. Thank you for commenting 🙂

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    X0CurlyHallow0x and Anon 8:34a: Wet hair and conditioned hair are two different things. Leaving the hair wet for days at a time will surely lead to breakage. Thanks for your comments!

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Anon 7:02a, Sulfate-free doesn't mean less cleansing power, it means less drying side effects. But, aside from that, amodimethicone does not build up. Please read this article for more info:
    I hope that helps. Thanks for your comment!

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    DiJah – Thank you for commenting!

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Natural Beauty – I believe you can get a free sample of the CD Chocolat Smoothing Shampoo if you ask for it at the Sephora counter. Enjoy!

    Bryanna – Thanks for sharing what works for you 🙂

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Anon 7:41 and Anon 8:50 – I'm happy you found shampoos that work for you! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Katrina A and Decemberpumpkin – Glad I could help, thank you for commenting!

  • Anonymous says:

    shampoo bars aren't good? 🙁

  • Anonymous says:

    I love, LOVE the Shea moisture organic raw shea butter moisture retention shampoo–it cleanses my scalp without stripping my hair. LOVE IT!

    I have found Giovanni shampoos to be stripping. I want to try the CD Chocolat Smoothing Shampoo next.

  • Anonymous says:

    "There’s no such thing as over-conditioning African American hair"

    I have 4a african american hair and it was over-conditioned. I followed the directions of so many of these hair experts- co-washed every other day, moisturized with a leave-in spray,oiled and deep conditioned with a heated cap for about an hour– in about a months span of doing this, my hair was BREAKING OFF.

    Why? because it was NEVER DRY! LOL. When I finally left my hair alone and incorporated a normal weekly BASIC routine (wash with african black soap, condition, leave-in conditioner, styler, twist and walk away) my hair started THRIVING AGAIN!

  • X0CurlyHallow0x says:

    My hair is definately Afro american hair & has been over condition when I was co washing n leaving handfuls of conditioner in with that said I love Shea moisture shampoo

  • DiJah says:

    ^^^ that should be Shea Moisture Raw Shea Butter Moisture Retention shampoo***

  • DiJah says:

    My favorite shampoo of all time is Curls Cleansing creme. After every wash my hair is left feeling clean, but not stripped and it makes my curls pop, I love it!
    Shea Moisture raw retention shampoo is a second runner up as well as Keracare naturals cleansing creme. I love all 3

  • Anonymous says:

    @Bryanna: Th e Shea Moisture Restorative line doe not have protein. The Coconut & Hisbiscus line does…

  • Anonymous says:

    Amodimethicone? I'm lost…
    Can a Sulfate-free Cleanser remove this silicone and avoid build-up?

  • Bryanna says:

    The Shea Moisture Coconut & Hisbiscus Curl & Shine Shampoo works WONDERS on my hair. After I used it, I legitimately went and threw my old shampoo in the trash can without noticing it. For some reason, the Restorative line made my hair dry and crunchy; but it may have been the protein in it. But for the majority, The Coconut & Hisbiscus line works ALOT better for me, the shampoo, leave-in, and smoothie work excellently on my hair :). I will be able to use it more for twists when my hair gets longer though.

  • DecemberPumpkin says:

    always on the look out for good shampoos

  • Natural Beauty says:

    I'm going to try the chocolat smoothing shampoo from Carol's Daughter.

  • Anonymous says:

    Anon 7:41 PM… Suave Kids is INCREDIBLE for natural hair! I use it when I don't have time and need a quick cleanse/condition/detangle. It's a miracle in a bottle… I love it!

  • Katrina A says:

    I'm still experimenting with finding a shampoo that I love still this post is right on time.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dispite what ANY site says about shampoo I found that baby shampoo works best for my transitioning hair. About half of my head is natural (thank goodness i don't look like a hot mess during the process) and it works great for both textures!

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Anon 5:27p – Thanks for the info on the names of the Curls products. Don't worry, it doesn't hurt to get the shampoo on your hair when you're using a great product like that. Your applicator bottle technique is a good way to make it last. Thank you for sharing!

  • Anonymous says:

    Very interesting. I might try shampooing the scalp and co-washing the rest. I do have a wash day coming up on Wednesday.

    Nicol C.

  • Chris says:

    I have been useing the EverCreme, it leaves my hair very soft even before I condition

  • Anonymous says:

    Curls has two lines. The Target line shampoo is called the creamy curl cleanser. The premium line shampoo is the Curliscious Curls Cleansing Cream. I have the Target line and it has two of the gentle surfactants and polyquaternium-7. It also has Cocamidopropyl Betaine.

    I have a lot of hair and it is hard for me to not get shampoo on my hair. I put my shampoo into a applicator bottle and add a little water and put the shampoo directly on my scalp. It helps with not using a lot of shampoo.

  • Anonymous says:

    @ Anonymous 3:38pm I was thinking the same thing. How can you leave out Shea Moisture's Moisture Retentiono Shampoo! So afforadable and delicious for our hair!


  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Hey Anon 4:36, I know that's a popular product. It's sulfate-free but it doesn't meet the other criteria as far as conditioning ingredients and pH balance. I hope that helps!

  • Anonymous says:

    How in the world can you leave SHEA MOISTURE ALL NATURAL SULFATE FREE SHAMPOO off the list its only $9.99 and is the

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Hi Davea,I think you'll like the difference you see when you try a shampoo that contains cationic conditioners. Happy shopping!

  • Nicole Harmon says:

    Hey Elaine D! I know what you mean about your scalp needing cleansing before your hair does. Thanks for sharing your technique 🙂

  • Davea says:

    Personally I use Alba Botanica Hawaiian Cocoa Butter shampoo however I came to the conclusion that it was not cleaning my scalp as much as well as I wanted. I tried my sister's Giovanni Tea Tree Oil and it did a much better job. Although I still love the scent of my old shampoo. I have also tried Shea Moisture's shampoo (the yellow one-I have forgotten its name) I am going to do some more shampoo shopping.

  • Elaine D. says:

    Totally agree on keeping the scalp nice and clean. I battled this for a while until I found on weeks I don't need my hair to be washed too…I would just put shampoo along my scalp and co-wash the rest of the hair. I love Aubrey Organics J.A.Y Desert Herb Revitalizing shampoo….

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