Ethical Shampoo

How to find an eco-friendly, cruelty free or vegan brand of shampoo.

In this guide we investigate, score and rank the ethical and environmental record of 77 brands of shampoo

We also look at tax avoidance, palm oil, 'no poo' alternatives and give our recommended buys.

About Ethical Consumer

This is a product 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 company behind the shampoo 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 microbeads? Although these tiny pieces of plastic are now banned in shampoos in the UK, lots of cosmetics companies still use them in other products and elsewhere in the world. They are disastrous for marine life so avoid companies that use microbeads.

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 20) Ratings Categories Positive Scores

Our Analysis

There is nothing quite like a pandemic to put things into perspective. Along with soap, paracetamol, toilet paper and food, shampoo still remains on many peoples’ lockdown shopping lists.

Regular hair washing is advised as a preventative measure to avoid spreading COVID-19 (especially after visiting a space where there is a risk of contamination). But what should we be washing our hair with?
 

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, and the extent of 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 afterward.

You could reduce the amount of shampoo you use, the frequency of your hair washes and the length of your showers. As well as reducing use you can:

  • Avoid ingredients linked to deforestation, such as palm oil. Shampoo brands that are palm oil-free include: Caurnie Soap, Conscious Skincare, Friendly Soap, and Pure Nuff Stuff. For more information on Conscious Skincare head to our Q&A.
  • Seek out organic products or those that have lower ‘foam miles’ – i.e. that contain ingredients that are locally grown and made. Caurnie is a good example here.
  • Ditch the packaging and opt for shampoo bars. Most shampoo comes in plastic bottles which may not be widely recyclable. Seeking naked (without packaging) shampoo bars, shampoo bars wrapped in recyclable cardboard or paper packaging, or shampoo refill options are therefore an effective way to reduce, reuse and recycle. According to Caurnie, shampoo bars are also easier to send in the post.

Palm oil free shampoo

Palm oil and its derivatives are found in a vast number of cosmetics products including shampoo.

How a company sources and traces its palm oil products will affect whether it is linked with the clearing of rainforests and peatlands, and the degree to which its products negatively affect local communities, biodiversity, and climate change.

Our palm oil column in the scoretable above shows which companies receive our best, middle and worst ratings for their palm oil policies and practices.

Shampoo brands that are palm oil free include: Caurnie Soap, Conscious Skincare, Friendly Soap, Honesty and Pure Nuff Stuff.

Companies that source their palm oil more sustainably and get a best Ethical Consumer rating for their palm oil sourcing include: Odylique, Triangle Wholefoods Collective Ltd. (ALTER/ NATIVE), Little Soap Company, Lush, Weleda, A.Vogel, L’Oréal (however Nestlé gets a worst rating), PHB Ethical Beauty, and Badger.

Find out more about palm oil and the cosmetics industry.

image: deforestation palm fruit palm oil shampoo ethical
Palm oil is derived from palm fruit.

Toxic chemicals

The often long and complex ingredients lists of bodycare products – including shampoo – contain a number of ingredients of concern. Parabens, phthalates and triclosan have been selected by Ethical Consumer as important indicators for our own toxics rating.

Best rating Middle rating Worst rating
Attitude Baylis and Harding

Alpecin (owned by Dr Kurt Wolff
Gmbh)

Bentley Organics Beiersdorf Daniel Field
Caurnie Soap PZ Cussons Kao Group
ALTER/NATIVE (Triangle Wholefoods Collective) (t/a Suma Wholefoods)

Davines

Fung Group
Conscious Skincare Pigeon Corp (Earth Friendly Baby) , Estée Lauder
Friendly Soap Lush Clarins
Honesty KMI Brands (Noughty) Henkel AG
Little Soap Company Rolland SRL (O Way) Church & Dwight
L'Occitane Procter & Gamble JAB Cosmetics
Pure Nuff Stuff Yaoh JZ International
Laverana Natura Cosmeticos KKR
Hain Celestial Body Shop L’Occitane International
Essential Care Midsona Walgreens Boots Alliance
Badger Unilever Superdrug
Green People Johnson & Johnson  
Weleda L’Oréal  
A. Vogel    
Colgate-Palmolive    
Neal's Yard    
PHB Beauty    
Faith in Nature    

Since last writing about shampoo, in February 2017, a number of companies have chosen to remove all three ingredients from their cosmetics products, including Suma, Honesty and Colgate-Palmolive.

Others have started to remove some of them, including Body Shop, L’Oréal, Natura Cosmeticos, Unilever, and Procter and Gamble. This shift reflects a trend identified in Mintel’s 2019 Women’s Haircare market report: there was an increase in sulphate-free and paraben-free claims on beauty products in 2018.

Companies that receive our best mark for their toxics policies avoid all three toxins. Ones that score a middle have a policy to avoid one or two of the toxins, and companies that score a worst use all three or have no policy.

For more on toxic chemicals in cosmetics and self-care products, head to our feature 'Toxic Beauty'.

Controversial ingredients

Irritant foaming agents

You may also want to avoid the foaming agents sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and its milder form sodium laureth sulphate (SLES), which are known irritants and are often used in shampoos.

However, the Skin Deep website gives SLS and SLES hazard ratings of 1-2 (low hazard) and 1-3 (moderate hazard) respectively, depending on their usage. It states that research studies have found that exposure to the ingredient itself, not the products that contain it, has potential health risks.
 

Microbeads

Under UK law, shampoo, defined as a ‘rinse-off’ product, should not contain microbeads. However, some of the companies in this guide also produce cosmetics products that are not subject to this ban, i.e. products such as make-up that are classified as 'leave on’. All companies’ policies regarding microplastics were therefore assessed by Ethical Consumer.

See our feature The hidden plastics in your cosmetics for more information about our rating and the ethical issues with microplastics.

Shampoo companies that are considered to have positive microplastics policies (that exclude the use of microplastics and non-biodegradable liquid polymers in all products) include Friendly Soap, Hain Celestial, Honesty cosmetics, Laverana, Little Soap Company, Neal’s Yard, Rolland SRL (O Way), Pure Nuff Stuff, Triangle Wholefoods (Suma), and Weleda AG.

All other companies lost a mark under the Pollution and Toxics category as they either had no policy or had a policy that prohibited microbeads only.

Organic shampoos

As discussed in our feature on organic ingredients in cosmetics, greenwashing tactics are widely used within the beauty sector; tricking customers into believing those lengthy ingredients lists are full of ‘natural,’ ‘sustainably sourced’ and organic ingredients.

For example, Unilever has a ‘natural’ line of shampoos called ‘Love Beauty and Planet’ that claim to source fragrance ingredients ethically, from sustainable sources, whilst failing to provide details. And Herbal Essences describes itself as the ‘first natural hair care brand’; defining natural as ‘an ingredient that occurs in nature and has undergone limited chemical or other processing which modifies it from its natural state’.

As certification schemes offer an independent check on a company’s ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ claims, we have given certified organic products an extra Product Sustainability mark in the Ethiscore tables. (Look for the [O] next to the brand names in the scoretable).

Organic certification ensures that the agricultural ingredients used in shampoos are grown using organic growing methods without the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and GMOs.

A wide range of companies now offer shampoo bars, including ALTER/NATIVE (Suma), Caurnie Soap, Friendly Soap, Little Soap Company, Eco Warrior, Lush, Pure Nuff Stuff, Badger, and Faith in Nature. This is indicated in the score table above with ‘bar’ next to the brand name.

In terms of refill options, all of Suma’s bottles use 100% recycled plastic and are 100% recyclable. Five litre refill drums are also available across its entire liquid range. However, some companies are reducing refill options during the COVID-19 pandemic to reduce cross-contamination.

image: eco friendly woman on nature trail with beautiful hair

Vegan and cruelty-free shampoo brands

Although a number of animal derivatives are found in cosmetic products (including honey, beeswax, propolis, milk and lanolin), there are now a wide range of vegan alternatives within the shampoo market – as highlighted by a [Vg] after the brand name in the table.

In fact, the number of shampoo products marketed as vegan appears to have increased since we last wrote about shampoo in 2017, suggesting an increased demand for vegan products.

Vegan products are now offered by Suma, Baylis and Harding, Bentley Organics, Caurnie Soap, Conscious Skincare, Daniel Field, Earth Friendly Baby, Friendly Soap, Honesty, Little Soap Company, Lush, Noughty, Pure Nuff Stuff, Yaoh, Lavera, Avalon, Odylique, Badger, Green People, Weleda, Urtekram, Inecto, PHB Ethical Beauty, Attitude, Sante, Love Beauty and Planet, Neal's Yard, and Faith in Nature.

You may also wish to buy from a totally vegan company. Vegan shampoo brands made by vegan companies include: Caurnie, Daniel Field, Friendly Soap, Honesty, Little Soap Company, Yaoh, and Faith in Nature.

Animal testing

As highlighted in our feature on animal testing and REACH, animal testing is common in the cosmetics industry. We have therefore rated the animal testing policies of all companies in this guide. Companies will score a best rating if they have a policy not to test on animals.

This policy would include a fixed cut-off date (a date after which none of their products or ingredients will have been tested on animals). In addition, we would not expect them to be selling into markets (e.g. China) where product animal testing is required by law.

Best rating Middle rating Worst rating

Triangle Wholefoods (Suma)

Baylis and Harding

Alpecin (owned by Dr Kurt Wolff Gmbh)

Caurnie Soap

Bentley Organics Pigeon Corp (Earth Friendly Baby)

Conscious Skincare

Fung Group Kao Group

Daniel Field

Laverana KMI Brands (Noughty)

Davines

Quebec Inc Rolland SRL (O Way)

Friendly Soap

A.Vogel Procter & Gamble

Honesty

  PZ Cussons

Little Soap Company

  Estée Lauder

Lush

  Clarins

PHB  Ethical Beauty

  Henkel AG

Pure Nuff Stuff

  Church & Dwight

Yaoh Ltd

  JZ International

Hain Celestial

  Colgate-Palmolive Co

Essential Care (Organics)

  L’Occitane International

Badger

  Unilever

Green People

  Walgreens Boots Alliance

Natura Cosmeticos

  Superdrug

Body Shop

  Johnson & Johnson

Weleda

  L’Oréal/ Nestlé

Midsona

   

Neal’s Yard

   

Faith in Nature

   
Although Molton Brown gets a best rating, its parent company – the Kao Group – receive a worst rating for their animal testing policy.    

Shifting towards no-poo

A lockdown and time of physical distancing is a great opportunity for experimenting with hair washing (or not).  We asked you, our readers, for your experiences of living without commercial shampoo products and your top tips for going no poo and using natural alternatives.

We received over 100 responses, 77% of which had tried going without commercial shampoo products with varying levels of success. Some of your stories, along with top tips are shared below.

Nicola Bray: My husband and my two boys (8 and 11) don't use any products on their hair, they just rinse with water and have done so for the last 4 or so

years. I thought their hair would look greasy and horrid, that I'd feel like a slummy mummy with smelly boys!! but I've been really surprised by how lovely their hair is, and the barber always says how healthy their hair is and is surprised when I say they don't use shampoo. Despite all this I haven't quite had the confidence to do this for myself and I still use Faith in Nature refillable shampoo! My top tip is: Start with your kids as they don't care so much what happens!

Usha:

I have tried soapnuts with great results. Simmer 4-5 soapnuts in 500ml water for 15-20 minutes. While still hot, add a tablespoon for bicarbonate soda (this will dissolve in the water only when it is hot).

Use about half a glass of water to wash hair. Spread evenly through scalp and scrub with hands – it will foam! Then leave in the scalp for a couple of minutes.

Rinse out with water. Then rinse the hair with a glass of warm water mixed  with a 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar and a couple of drops of essential oil (I use rosemary or lavender). The hair will then feel so smooth!

Leave the vinegar solution in the hair (the smell will evaporate very quickly, although your bathroom may smell a bit like a chip shop).

My top tips: Wash your hair less. Try and wash your hair every five days or once a week only. After a couple of weeks your hair will adapt and produce less grease.

Kevin Eckersley:

Some years ago, when living in the countryside, I started to wash my (long) hair only with water, I think for about six months or so. After a couple of weeks, my hair seemed to find a balance and I never thought about using any soap ever again.

However, I moved to the city and my hair began to look and feel dirty and after a few comments and an itchy head, I used shampoo again and the rinsing water was a grey dirty colour. I assume then that if you live in a city where there is more pollution and particulates, you're going to need some soap.

My top tip: live where the air is cleaner!

Kirsty Drury:

About eight years ago I dropped out of a long career in fashion and beauty media.

Once the blinkers came off, thanks to a romantic relationship with an environmental activist, I began to see the beauty industry for what it is – parasitic, feeding off fear, low self-esteem and competitiveness among women.

I began to realise that it sells us a problem (‘dirty’/frizzy/limp/greasy hair) and a solution – a product full of toxic chemicals that dries the scalp and hair, stripping away the natural oils and then offering the solution of a conditioner to replace them.

If you’re concerned about greasy hair (which is often a reaction of the scalp to over washing by producing more oil) wait until the weekend or you have some holiday time before trying a new hair cleansing method.

Be patient. As your scalp becomes accustomed to the new routine you will find that you wash your hair much less often. I do mine once every 10 days to two weeks. I have used bicarbonate of soda and apple cider vinegar for over five years. I use two tablespoons of bicarb to one litre of warm water and pour it over my head a quarter litre at a time whilst massaging the scalp and squeezing it through the length.

I then add two tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar to one litre of warm water and do the same, leaving it in for a couple of minutes whilst I shower.

Bethan Griffiths:

What nobody tells you is that there is an 'adjustment period'. I swapped to shampoo bars. It never occurred to me that my hair and scalp would have to adjust from the chemical stripping that had been going on

Tax avoidance

At a time when the NHS and other public services are under huge strain, it is ethically absurd to think that corporates can still avoid paying a fair rate of tax. Ethical Consumer calls on the UK Government to urgently tackle systemic tax avoidance and ban government contracts with companies engaged in tax avoidance.

For those seeking shampoo, we advise boycotting companies that receive Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for the likely use of tax avoidance practices. These include: Procter and Gamble, Hain Celestial, Natura Cosmeticos, Clarins, Walgreen Boots Alliance, Johnson and Johnson, Nestlé, L’Oréal, Church and Dwight, JZ International, the Fung Group, Kao Group, Estée Lauder, Colgate- Palmolive, L'Occitane International, JAB Cosmetics, KKR, CK Hutchison and Unilever.

Companies that score a middle Ethical Consumer rating for the likely use of tax avoidance strategies include PZ Cussons and Henkel AG.

Company profile

Estée Lauder and its subsidiaries are listed on the Grab Your Wallet campaign website as companies to avoid due to their support of the Trump administration. Ron Lauder, who sits on Estée Lauder's board, is reported to have given $100,000 to Trump Victory in 2017.

In addition, Estée Lauder was one of the world’s 30 biggest cosmetics and personal care companies investigated by Greenpeace East Asia (GEA) over its commitment to tackling the issue of microbeads in its products. Estée Lauder did not give a deadline for removing microbeads, nor did it provide any detail on what it planned to use as an alternative. GEA urged Estée Lauder to commit to a deadline and apply this globally across all its products and markets.

On the other end of the spectrum Neal's Yard has never used plastic microbeads in any of its scrubs and polishes and has, alongside Greenpeace and Fauna & Flora International, lobbied the UK government to #BanTheBead".

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. 

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