Natural shampoos and conditioners have come a long way from the runny, earthy-smelling, tough-to-rinse-out substances that they used to be. Formulators have found innovative ways to use plant-derived ingredients in place of harsh sulfates, formaldehyde-emitting preservatives, endocrine-disrupting phthalates, and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
The catch: When shopping for natural hair care, you can't take the term natural at face value. Companies can legally use phrases like "herb-infused" or talk up the drop of "natural" açaí juice in their shampoos, even though their products are pretty much just chemical cocktails. That means you have to read the ingredients list. By law, everything that's in a product must be listed; however, certain named ingredients sometimes harbor unspecified toxins. For example, synthetic fragrance, listed simply as fragrance or parfum, often contains phthalates, while imidazolidinyl urea and DMDM hydantoin can both release cancer-causing formaldehyde.
Since finding safe, effective natural shampoos and conditioners can be a daunting task, we dove in and did the work for you. We rounded up nearly 100 natural products, went through their ingredients list with a fine-toothed comb, tossed out those that had any toxic or even questionable ingredients, and then put the rest to the test to find out which ones worked best.