Why Your Shampoo Should be Simpler

Written by: Jean Godfrey-June


Updated: July 21, 2022

The bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from shampoo and conditioner—from conditioners intended to work as cleansers to the many moisturizing/shine-enhancing/frizz-fighting ingredients that get mixed into them—are not necessarily good for your hair. Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on a “naturally” branded (though not-at-all clean or nontoxic, by goop standards) cleansing shampoo that appears to have been causing significant hair loss. The article highlighted the lack of oversight the FDA has over the beauty industry, and the challenges customers faced in understanding what was happening to them.

For Gail Federici, the article underscored a problem she’s been thinking about—and formulating against—for years. “All of a sudden, the penny dropped,” says Federici, who co-founded the brand John Freida and, more recently, Color Wow: a sulfate-free haircare line specifically for colored hair. (Color Wow also makes a truly incredible hair powder that camouflages roots better than anything besides actual hair-color.)

“We, the makers of shampoos—and I’m including myself in this category, because we did it a great deal back in the day at John Freida—have been putting extra stuff into shampoo for years,” she says. “Everything from panthenol, to conditioners, silicones, and pearlizing agents to make hair shinier, all sorts of beneficial-sounding things that have nothing to do with cleansing your hair—or, more importantly here, your scalp.” As technology improved, formulas designed so that the extra ingredients in hair products would stick to the hair (and scalp) more effectively became the order of the day. “No matter how ‘beneficial’ these kinds of ingredients might be to your hair, they’re 180-degrees opposite what a shampoo is supposed to do, which is cleanse,” says Federici. “On the scalp, I believe they can block the hair follicle, and impede growth.”

Phillip Kingsley, the famous trichologist who introduced the idea of treating the scalp with at least as much care as the hair itself, often talked about the problem of not adequately cleansing the scalp and the serious effects it could have on hair growth. (His best tip in that regard is incredibly simple and useful: Make sure you get your hair really, super-wet before you shampoo, and really, really rinse it out. You’ll be amazed at the difference in how your hair looks, let alone the health of your scalp.)

Part of the reason there’s so much conditioning, frizz-tamping, texturizing stuff in shampoo is because the detergents used in conventional shampoos are often so harsh, explains Federici. “The detergents in most shampoos are drying and damaging to hair in general, but they’re really awful for colored hair. They leech and fade the color,” she says. “So you can understand how we got the idea to add all that moisturizing, shine-enhancing stuff back in there, to try to add back in what the sulfates were taking away. And something like a conditioner-as-shampoo makes sense when you first hear about it. But the problem is, if it sits there on your scalp, and doesn’t rinse off, which these things are designed not to do, I believe it can really cause problems.”

No-sulfate formulas, clearly, are a great place to start, since you won’t strip out as many of your hair’s natural (shine-enhancing, texture-creating, color-protecting) oils in the first place. Beyond that, avoid formulas promising to do things you’d expect from a styling product (smoothing, straightening, deep conditioning, etc.). Clean formulas, including all the ones in goop’s Clean Beauty Shop, are an easy shortcut, as most of the ingredients that provide the advanced “benefits”, particularly those designed to stick to your hair, are toxic anyway.

Whether your hair’s healthy and natural or if you color or otherwise chemically treat it, a gently moisturizing, no-sulfate shampoo is the best thing for it. “There needs to be a shampoo revolution,” says Federici. “Conditioner and styling products are great things, but they belong on your hair, not massaged into your scalp.”

Our favorite clean shampoos easily and completely rinse out of your hair, without sulfates and without all the extra load of chemical “benefits” some conventional shampoos deposit onto your scalp, leaving your hair truly clean, soft, naturally shiny, and healthy.

Lavett & Chin Hair Wash

goop, $38

Made with geranium, spearmint, rosemary, and black spruce oils, this works-for-every-hair-type cleanser is gentle but thorough, leaving hair soft and silky. It works with your own natural oils to balance the scalp and stimulate hair follicles. Plus, it feels and smells amazing.

Reverie Nude Shampoo

goop, $38

This luxurious cleansing cream is perfect every day for all hair types, especially color-treated. Made with sweet almond, neroli, grapefruit, sandalwood, and patchouli oils, it’s incredibly gentle yet cleanses thoroughly, leaving hair beautifully silky and shiny.

Rahua Shampoo

goop, $34

Sustainably sourced from deep in the Amazon, the hair-nourishing Rahua and Ungurahua oils that create the base for this shampoo have been used by indigenous women to treat hair for centuries. Combined with coconut and shea butter, quinoa extract and Palo Santo (“holy wood”), it leaves your hair utterly cleansed, revitalized, healthy, and shiny. In the shower, the light lather and delicate scent create a soothing aromatherapeutic experience.

Once you’ve rinsed the shampoo away, absolutely use conditioner to add more shine, elasticity, bounce, and texture—but don’t rub it into your scalp.

Beautycounter Rinse Everyday Conditioner

goop, $26

This weightless formula is meant to prep hair with a nourishing mix of vitamins and fatty acids to better handle everyday stressors. It’s lightly scented, too, which is pretty essential for a conditioner.

Reverie Nude Conditioner

goop, $40

A brilliant every day cream rinse, this super-hydrator is made with sweet almond oil, zinc, neroli, vanilla, cardamom, and a host of other amazing essential oils. It leaves hair bouncy, manageable, and gleaming with health.

Lavette & Chin Hair Moisturizer/Conditioner

goop, $36

A luxurious mix of coconut oil, rice extract, spirulina, rosemary, geranium and fennel, this ultra-nourishing hydrator seriously increases shine and manageability, leaving hair smoother, softer and healthier. It smells and feels fantastic, and works brilliantly for everyday.

Related: Natural Shampoo That Works