A conditioner made from beer might sound like a total gimmick, but it’s actually pretty genius. Beer’s big three ingredients—barley, hops, and yeast—are rich in hair-nourishing B vitamins, proteins, and natural essential oils. So in place of plain water, the main ingredient in most shampoos, Bröö uses oatmeal porter, and adds in other hydrators like olive oil and shea butter and olive oil. This stuff definitely smells like oatmeal—hardly your standard conditioner scent—but honestly, we thought the aroma was heavenly. More importantly, Bröö made our hair remarkably soft and easy to manage.
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. As a result, today there are hundreds of natural shampoos and conditioners to choose from, many of which perform just as well as — or even better than — their toxin-laden counterparts.
But here’s 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. Whole Foods Market and most health food stores and co-ops have strict standards and don’t allow faux natural products on their shelves. But elsewhere, it’s up to the consumer to know
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.
First, look for specific plant names, such as argan, jojoba, peppermint, and nettle, throughout the ingredients list, as opposed to just one or two tacked onto the end. Also look for specific declarations such as “phthalate-free,” “sulfate-free,” “silicone-free,” and “paraben-free.” And if you see fragrance listed, always make sure it is naturally derived.
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. Here, we give you the 20 best natural shampoos and conditioners.