Anyone who’s ever dealt with an oily scalp knows just how critical a well-formulated shampoo is. Of course, shampoo a staple in most folks’ hair care routines, but for those with greasy roots, using the right product can make all the difference. I should know, I have very fine hair that gets weighed down easily. The second my scalp gets oily, it’s abundantly noticeable.
To find a solution, I’ve been testing out balancing shampoos to see if they can help keep my roots lifted and clean between washes. I will get into the specifics of my testing soon, but as an overview: I looked for shampoos that were cleansing but not stripping, didn’t dry out or damage my strands, were clean and natural, and sulfate-free.
Of my testing, here are the top formulas I’d happily give my stamp of approval.
This uses gentle, yet deep cleaning plant-derived surfactants that breakdown oil and buildup at the roots. I loved how easy the lather worked into the roots, so I could make sure the product got to all the harder to reach places, like the back of the head, where lots of people have buildup.
But what makes this formula uniquely effective is the papaya enzymes. Enzymes break down dead skin cells, offering a very gentle exfoliation. I often experience buildup, but sometimes find scalp scrubs to feel too harsh—this is the perfect inbetween.
Final note: I also love that this helps me stretch the time between washes. Because it’s getting rid of the dead skin cells, I find that I don’t need to shampoo as frequently, since my buildup isn’t as intense.
This has one of the best lathers I’ve ever felt from a sulfate-free shampoo. Truly: You’d mistake it for a conventional shampoo if you didn’t know.
The formula has a smooth consistency and easy slip, so I had no trouble working it throughout my scalp. Often, folks have oily scalps because they’re simply not getting the product to where it needs to go or work it into the roots enough. That’s why a a malleable formula is so important, as it makes application more user friendly.
I found the overall scent to be playful, if young. It has notes of juicy mango, bright citrus, and fresh florals. I didn’t find the scent to linger on the strands, which is a positive for me as I am quite sensitive to overpowering fragrance.
The rinse out isn’t cumbersome, and leaves no residue. About as effortless a cleanse as you can get outside of a professional blowout.
If your oily roots come with irritation, flakes, dandruff, and tenderness, this is the product for you. It gets to work right away, thanks to the cooling sensation.
It’s formulated for daily use, so it’s not a deep clean like others on the list. If you’re looking for a real reset, you may benefit from something that’s more clarifying.
My scalp is fairly sensitive, especially if I have excess buildup from styling products, dry shampoo, or grease. If I go too long between washes, my scalp feels tender. So I love using this when I need something that can help calm the skin, while getting in there and removing debris. A bonus: When I’m using this, I find my hair stays fresher between washes.
I personally don’t suffer from an itchy scalp, but lots of reviewers say it’s the only thing that relieves their uncomfort.
Given I’ve been using rinses for years, I have no problem with the sensorial experience. But if I were to put myself in the shoes of someone new to this, it is a deviation from the norm—and may take some getting used to. “Don’t get your hopes up for a shampoo-like finish because it won’t happen that way, it refreshes the hair but doesn’t make it feel squeaky clean,” notes Frye.
Here’s how it works: After wetting your hair and scalp, use the tip of the bottle to work the product in small sections throughout the hair. Squeeze the bottle gently, so not too much formula comes out. Massage the product into the scalp, and rake it through the strands. Rinse thoroughly after.
Oh, and to note the scent: “I’ll admit the scent is a bit odd given it’s a pretty natural formula with ACV in it. Still, I’d rather have that than a strong artificial fragrance to mask it and potentially irritate the scalp,” says Frye.
The lather is my favorite part of the experience. It’s a dense, soft foam—the kind with tiny bubbles and a rich texture. It’s a treat to apply it all over the scalp. Schneider agrees: “Very impressive lather! It doesn’t take much work at all for it to bubble into a foam.”
When I apply it, I do it exactly as Reavy taught me: I work it throughout my scalp in sections. Lots of folks apply shampoo directly to the crown, which makes it hard to spread out and coat the skin evenly. So when you work in smaller doses in sections
The fragrance is from a combination of essential oils, such as cedarwood, ylang-ylang, and cardamom. It’s elevated, but not overpowering. As Schneider notes, “The fragrance It’s a nice scent! I personally enjoy other shampoo fragrances better (I prefer something fruitier), but it smells clean and fresh.”
If you’re after a big, full-bodied blowout, this is the shampoo to start with. It uses a concentrated combination of plant-derived cleansers that power through oil buildup, dirt, and products. My hair was the cleanest it’s felt in a long time after I tested it.
While I didn’t test it long enough to really judge it, it’s also infused with a caffeine extract. Caffeine is an excellent ingredient for hair growth products, as it stimulates circulation at the root. According to a report in the International Journal of Trichology, caffeine has the ability to stimulate the scalp and provides antioxidant properties, which can help reduce hair shedding.
I also love that the brand uses a natural silicone alternative, that conditions and smoothes the hair—sans damage or buildup. In fact, the brand notes that it can reduce breakage by 51%. When I use it, I notice less hair fragments in my hands post rinse.
There is no regulated definition of “clean” or “natural” in the beauty industry. So it’s really up to brands, publications, and individuals to create their own definition.
Natural ingredients are plant- or mineral-derived and are extracted from natural-world sources. We prioritize natural ingredients when they make sense in the formula, as many botanicals are hugely beneficial for the skin. (A few below!)
But we also understand that lab-derived ingredients can sometimes be the better alternative, as they can be more environmentally friendly and less irritating for the skin. We also believe that “natural” formulas are a spectrum, as it’s very rare that a product is 100% natural—so a natural formula may still contain ingredients that are synthetic.
Clean formulas can include both natural and lab-derived ingredients. Clean ingredients are those that are identified as safe for the skin and overall health as backed by research. Clean formulas tend to be more gentle for skin, as they avoid sensitizing ingredients. We believe that what ingredients are deemed “safe” is an ongoing conversation.