Shampoo Alternatives for Natural Hair

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Most would agree that wash day rolls around way too often. But a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Cleansing your hair is necessary. What we too often find though, is regular shampoos are filled with harsh detergents/sulfates, chemicals, drying alcohols, and non-soluble silicones that can result in breakage, overly dry, stripped, and tangled hair. Some naturals, no matter what they use on their hair, it turns out great. But for many others, using a run of the mill shampoo is out of the question. Fear not, there are many shampoo alternatives for natural hair that can leave your strands feeling clean but not stripped.


Natural clays are an especially great option for kinky, curly, and coily hair, as they cleanse without stripping the hair, add shine, and help to clump curls. There are quite a few clays available to experiment with including green clay, kaolin clay, and more but we’ll focus on the two most recognized, available, and effective clays used for cleansing natural hair:

  • Bentonite clay– volcanic ash that has been deposited in sea water. The clay is negatively charged, but when activated by liquid, attracts positively charged ions, impurities and toxins and binds to them making the elimination of these toxins possible. Sodium bentonite clay is best suited for external uses such as hair care.
  • Rhasshoul clay – also known as Red Clay, Ghasshoul Clay, or Moroccan Clay is harvested from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. It is incredibly rich in minerals and is renowned for its absorptive properties in removing impurities.

Benefits of Clays

  • Absorbs impurities to remove product build up, dirt, and toxins
  • Won’t strip hair
  • Nourishes hair with essential minerals and vitamins
  • Conditions and moisturizers
  • Aids certain scalp conditions, such as eczema, dry scalp, dandruff
  • Adds volume and curl definition (makes your curls pop)

Read more on these clays (including recipes, and usage) here: bentonite clay, rhassoul clay.


Conditioner washing better known as cowashing has been around for quite some time. It’s the answer to frequent shampoo washing that can leave your hair feeling dry and damaged. Cowashing is simply washing your hair with conditioner. Conditioners, contain gentle cleansers that aren’t damaging like those in shampoos. Cowashing also utilizes your natural oils in the process to cleanse and condition.

Benefits of Cowashing

  • Cleanses without stripping
  • Provides softness and manageability
  • Promotes moisture and makes hair smoother
  • Enhances texture
  • Reduces frizz
  • Aids in detangling

You can opt to use a daily conditioner that you probably already have on hand or you can check out the new cleansing conditioners that are specifically designed for this purpose. One to try is Jessicurl Hair Cleansing Cream. The frequency at which you cowash is up to you. Some do it every day, depending on hair length, physical activity, and style. While others practice it once or twice a week. The choice is yours. No matter how often you do it, there a few do’s and dont’s to be aware of:

  • Do use a shampoo (sulfate-free) occasionally to clarify your hair. Most will find once or twice a month works best. Build up on hair and scalp is a normal occurrence and needs to be removed regularly to promote hair health and length retention.
  • Do use a generous amount of conditioner on your hair when cowashing (as you are both cleansing and conditioning).
  • Do take the time, when cowashing your hair, to massage the conditioner into the scalp and throughout the length of your hair.
  • Don’t use conditioners with non-soluble silicones as they can not be removed in the cowashing process
  • Don’t cowash if you have a scalp condition such as dermatitis, dandruff, etc., as cowashing can make the problem worse.

Sulfate-free Shampoos

Ok. There are those among us that just love shampoo. There’s no reason to make a sacrifice. There are many sulfate-free shampoos available that will gently cleanse your hair. Sulfates are harsh detergents used in shampoo that are responsible for the lather. Their sole purpose is to strip hair of build up from oils, products, and dirt.  But their inclusion in shampoos can be harmful to our natural curls that require more moisture and oil to maintain elasticity and prevent breakage. The two most popular sulfates are sodium laureth sulfate and sodium lauryl sulfate, but there are others including ammonium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and sodium myreth sulfate.  Try to avoid these ingredients in your cleansing products and shampoos.

Because sulfate-free shampoos don’t use the harsh detergents mentioned above, they won’t create that same sudsy lather that you’re used to but they are definitely doing the job of cleansing your hair.

Benefits of Sulfate-free Shampoo

  • Retains hair’s natural oils
  • Gently cleanses hair and removes buildup
  • Prolongs hair color (won’t strip color from strands)
  • Reduces the chance of inflammation and irritation
  • Promotes moisture retention

Roots to Curls has a vast array of sulfate-free shampoos. Visit our cleansing section and find one that’s right for you.

Have you tried any of these shampoo alternatives for natural hair? What’s been your experience with them?

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