Skip to main content

Ethical Shampoo

How to find natural, organic, vegan and independent shampoos which are eco friendly.

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 86 brands of shampoo

We also look at palm oil, chemical free shampoo, solid bars versus liquid, shampoo for different hair types, and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a shopping guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.

Learn more about us  →

What to buy

What to look for when buying shampoo

  • Is it organic? This is an easy way to reduce your impact on the environment whilst avoiding most artificial chemicals used in shampoo products.

  • Is it cruelty-free? The Cruelty-Free logo guarantees that the brand is not testing on animals anywhere in the world.

  • Is it vegan? Some shampoos contain unnecessary animal products such as honey and dairy. Seek out vegan brands to avoid links with the animal farming industry.

Subscribe to see which companies we recommend as Best Buys and why 

What not to buy

What to avoid when buying shampoo

  • Does it contain palm oil? At its most unsustainable, palm oil is linked to mass deforestation and serious violations of human rights. Look for brands that are palm oil-free or commit to sourcing palm oil sustainably.

  • Does it contain toxics? The long and complex ingredients lists of shampoo products often include toxic chemicals. These are bad for your health and the health of the environment. 

  • Does the manufacturer use microplastics or liquid polymers? Both will remain in the environment and the consequences are yet unknown.

Subscribe to see which companies to avoid and why

Score table

Updated live from our research database

← Swipe left / right to view table contents →
Brand Score(out of 100) Ratings Categories

Our Analysis

Hair is an incredibly versatile accessory of our appearance and many spend a lot of money on it, with the average household spending 1.9% of their budget on hair and beauty. While the shape of our hair is usually taken care of by a professional, we wash and style it ourselves with a product we choose – usually based on its smell and the claims on its label. 

In this article we discuss what else to pay attention to when choosing shampoo, including potential harmful toxins, the presence of unsustainable palm oil, and packaging.

Whether you're looking for a vegan, organic or chemical free shampoo, in solid form or liquid, there are plenty of options. Our guide features lots of smaller independent companies, as well as the big high street names – with nearly 90 brands in total. And with some brands barely scraping together enough points to score just above zero, this is one product where you can make ethical choices based on your requirements.  

Update: The Body Shop

It was announced in February 2024 that The Body Shop's private equity owners, Aurelius, had called in the administrators which was likely to result in shop closures and job losses. We have therefore removed The Body Shop from this guide until we can be sure that the brand will continue to exist and in what format and if Aurelius will continue to be the owners of a restructured Body Shop.

Environmental impact and eco-friendly shampoos

If you think through the life cycle of shampoo – from the growing or extraction of ingredients to the processing, distribution, packaging, and use – it is the use phase that appears to have the biggest environmental impacts. This will depend on how many times you wash your hair, with how much water, how the water is heated, and where the water goes afterwards. 

So, from an environmental perspective, the less you wash your hair the better!

Organic shampoo

To ensure that the ingredients used to make your shampoo have been produced in a way that minimises damage to the environment and biodiversity, opt for a shampoo that is certified organic. Organic certification ensures that the agricultural ingredients are grown without the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, and GMOs. We have a separate article on ethical labels for organic certification schemes.

As these schemes offer an independent check on a company’s ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims, we have given certified organic products an extra Product Sustainability mark and added an [O] next to their name in the score table. 

Companies that are fully organic received a Company Ethos mark as well. These were:

Are there chemical free shampoos?

For shampoos to be safe to use and to smell nice, most brands add preserving agents and fragrances, some of which can be toxic and polluting. The use of formaldehyde, parabens, triclosan (all synthetic preservatives) and phthalates (in synthetic fragrances) appears to be declining. But too many companies aren’t banning them effectively. Our separate article on toxic chemicals in cosmetics and toiletries has more information about what these chemicals are and why you might want to avoid them.

The following brands got a best for our Pollution & Toxics rating: 

Person with grey hair having hair washed over sink by someone else

Can you avoid animal products in shampoo?

Various animal derivatives, such as glycerin, beeswax, stearic acid, and lanolin, can be found in shampoo products. But there are now a wide range of vegan options available, as highlighted by a [Vg] after the brand name in the score table. And there seem to be more appearing all the time – compared to our last guide in 2020, at least seven more brands offer vegan products.

You can read more about animal products in cosmetics and toiletries in our separate article. 

Are cosmetic and toiletries companies still testing on animals?

Animal testing is still an issue for the global cosmetics industry. To get a best rating, companies were required to have a policy not to test on animals which includes a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals). A more lenient approach was taken with small companies.

The following brands scored our best rating: 

Molton Brown, Noughty and The Ordinary also got best ratings but their parent companies did not.

Vegan shampoo companies

Many companies sell vegan products among non-vegan ones, including big brands like Wella and L'Oreal. 

But if you want to support fully vegan companies, look out for the following brands which are all owned by fully vegan companies: 

Are there microplastics in shampoo?

Under UK law, shampoo is defined as a ‘rinse-off’ product and should not contain microbeads since the government banned their use in 2018. 

However, some of the companies in this guide also produce ‘leave-on’ cosmetics products that are not subject to this ban. 

Our Microplastics rating looked at all the products a company produces, not just their shampoos. You can read more about plastics in cosmetics, including poorly biodegradable liquid polymers in our separate article. 

Palm oil free shampoo

The unsustainable production of palm oil is one of the biggest threats to the forests and wildlife of areas where it’s grown, like Borneo and Sumatra. Palm oil production is continuing to spread to other countries like the Philippines, Nigeria, and throughout South America.

Deforestation is a major environmental crisis and a leading cause of climate change globally. Some organisations advocate for a complete boycott of palm oil while others point out that it has the highest yield of all oils, therefore whatever it is replaced with will require larger areas to grow.

You can read more about palm oil and the cosmetics industry in our separate article.

What are companies doing about palm oil?

Company approaches to the issue vary hugely, from some providing no information at all about palm oil sourcing (despite listing palm oil derivatives in ingredients lists), to others going to great lengths to reformulate products to avoid using it at all. 

Our palm oil rating for large companies is strict and none got Best. Several small companies avoided palm ingredients altogether, or took significant steps towards avoidance and using only certified ingredients, so got our Best rating.

The table below shows which shampoo brands in our guide use palm oil but still get a best rating, and which are palm oil free.

Palm oil free Caurnie, Conscious Skincare, Ethique, Pure Nuff Stuff
Uses palm oil but scores our best palm oil rating Badger, Eco Warrior, Fill Refill, Friendly Soap, Lavera, Miniml, Odylique, PHB Ethical Beauty, SESI

What is the most eco packaging for shampoo?

In the UK, we throw away 520 million shampoo bottles every year. Common plastic materials used for shampoo bottles go under the code names of PET, PVC, LDPE, MDPE, and HDPE. These are all petrochemical based, although some companies have started using recycled plastic.

There are two ways to avoid plastic packaging (if you wanted to use shampoo at all, that is): you can use solid shampoo bars (make sure they are wrapped in paper, not plastic), or you can go the refill route.

Many brands in this guide offer solid shampoos bars, indicated on the score table. There are two companies that offer ‘naked’, unpackaged bars: Friendly Soap and Lush.

A lot of companies now offer ‘refills’ in soft plastic pouches (which contain less plastic than normal plastic bottles). This may appear like a good option, as choosing them could reportedly save 70% CO2, 65% energy, and 45% water compared to buying the product in a bottle. However, refill pouches are often made from 100% virgin plastic, and are not recyclable or reusable, so we’d advise against this option.

Ideal Manufacturing (the owner of Fill Refill) and Miniml are companies that go beyond this. They have created a closed loop refill system: their bottles can be returned free of charge for them to be washed and refilled again (and again and again). 

Fill Refill and Miniml's products are also available in some zero waste and wholefood shops where you can refill your own containers. Other companies which offer refills in their stores, or supply garden centres and zero waste shops include the Body Shop, Faith in Nature, SESI and Suma (ALTER/NATIVE). 

Is Unilever greenwashing its plastic use?

Greenpeace named Unilever, alongside other major brands, in a 2021 report that said it was playing a key role in driving demand for plastic (and therefore fossil fuels) because of its vast use of single-use plastic packaging in its products. In 2023 Greenpeace also revealed that the company is on track to sell 53bn non-reusable sachets containing anything from sauces to shampoo this year, breaking its commitment to switch away from single-use plastic. It said Unilever is set to miss its pledge to halve its use of virgin plastic by 2025 by nearly a decade. Changing Markets Foundation, a US-based campaign group, found that Unilever had replaced recyclable PET bottles of washing liquid with pouches as part of its push to encourage refills. The pouches were not recyclable and contained only two refills. The throwaway sachets are sold in large quantities to the global south.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating Unilever over concerns that consumers are being misled by the company’s “green” claims such as the use of “vague and broad” claims, unclear statements about recyclability, and natural-looking images and logos such as green leaves.

Unilever owns main big-name shampoo brands including Alberto Balsam, Bedhead, Dove, Love Beauty & Planet, Simple, Sunsilk, TRESemmé, and VO5.

Solid bars vs liquid shampoo

While there is no definite answer to how long they last (as this depends on many factors, such as the length and density of your hair), companies claim that a shampoo bar lasts for approximately 50-60 washes. A 250 ml liquid shampoo is said to last for about 20-25 washes.

Prices vary a lot but shampoo bars from the top of our table start at around £3 (organic ones at about £10) – about the same price as a bottle of brand leader Head & Shoulders. Organic liquid shampoos also start at around £10.

So, from an environmental and economic perspective it is probably worth going with solid shampoo. But if bars are not for you, there are a number of ethical companies offering liquid shampoos.

What shampoo is best for different hair types?

Three quarters of hair types are not straight, and since it has become evident that curly hair needs different treatment, shampoos for curly hair have penetrated the market too. This is no surprise. Curly girls have a lot of spending power. Research shows that consumers with textured hair are willing to spend more on products than their straight-haired counterparts.

Afro hair, specifically, tends to be much coarser, curlier, and thicker and due to this, drier than most other hair types. While Black adult women in the UK account for 10% of hair care spend (although make up only 2% of the adult population), only 1% of them buy hair care products at supermarkets. The majority of Black British women shop at independents.

A couple of decades ago, the chemical, semi-permanent straightening of Afro hair was on the rise. Today, the combination of the Black Lives Matter movement and an increase in understanding about curly and kinky hair has led to increased innovation in the curly hair product industry. Several companies in this guide now offer shampoos for Afro hair and at least half of the companies have some kind of variation for curly hair (frizz tamer, curl enhancer, etc).

Shampoo for grey hair

Natural (as opposed to dyed) grey hair has a different texture to pigmented hair. Grey hair can feel coarser and more wiry because as hair loses its pigment the follicle doesn't produce as much oil. Many people swear by the softening effect of a cider vinegar rinse. Just a teaspoon or a splash into about 250 ml water in a jug, is enough to rinse through a head of short hair.

Washing with conditioner

If you use both shampoo and conditioner, you might want to think about only using one product. Washing with conditioner alone has its roots in the world of curly hair – a hair type that is generally more prone to dryness than straight hair.

The right conditioner allows for cleansing, while keeping the natural oils of the hair. It is thought that conditioner washing may also require less frequent hair washing, hence reducing its environmental impact.

Conditioners are generally made by the same companies that sell shampoo. Looking at our score table, you should be able to choose one that aligns with your ethics while caring appropriately for your hair.

The curly girl method

Photo of Sorcha
Sorcha and her lovely curls

One of Ethical Consumer's coop members, Sorcha Perris told us about her journey to the curly girl method:

"When I was younger, I always hated my curly hair. I’d wake up at the crack of dawn and spend hours straightening it or putting it up in a curl-hiding hairstyle. When I finally decided to embrace my curls as a teenager, I’d often feel insecure about the frizz that came along with them. I’d wash and style my hair pretty much every day. I can’t remember when I first heard about the curly girl method but, about four years ago, I ditched the shampoo and now only use conditioner with no sulphates or parabens. I’ve found it so much better for my curls. I also rarely brush my hair, I’ll just comb through with my fingers in the shower. I’ve found that a solution of apple cider vinegar, rosemary and water in a spray bottle can bring some life back to the curls and help with frizz, so I don’t have to wash my hair as much. Now I rarely wash my hair more than once a week and it looks and feels so much better – I can’t recommend this method enough!"

The abbreviations in the score table indicate the following: [O] = organic [V] = vegan

This guide features in Ethical Consumer Magazine 206

Additional research by Francesca de la Torre.

Company profile

Wella is majority owned by KKR & Co (as well as Coty Inc maintaining a significant share). 

KKR is a multi-billion investment company. As well as its stake in Wella it owns Upfield, the company behind spread brands like Flora and Bertolli which is aiming to become entirely plant based. KKR also holds investments in a number of fossil fuel companies including oilfield and pipeline companies. In 2021, it was criticised for investing in a company which produced tear gas. KKR’s subsidiaries located in tax havens number in the hundreds.

Want to know more?

If you want to find out detailed information about a company and more about its ethical rating, then click on a brand name in the Score table. 

This information is reserved for subscribers only. Don't miss out, become a subscriber today.