The 13 Best-Smelling, Cruelty-Free, and Vegan Shampoos to Try, Rinse, and Repeat.
If you’re looking for a reason to wash your hair every day, how about this: an aromatherapy session that cleanses your hair and your soul.
The best-smelling shampoos on this list are loaded with clean, natural, and cruelty-free ingredients that are gentler on your hair and scalp, and provide an olfactory explosion to tickle your senses.
So, clear out your shower caddy and get ready to rinse your hair care routine with these best-smelling natural shampoos.
What’s in a scent?
If you’re not yet a label reader, there’s good reason to start. What we put on our bodies, we put in them.
And while hair care brands can lure us in with clever marketing and buzz words, there can be little substance to those claims—just a lot of foam and bubbles. And that’s a problem when it comes to the quality of the shampoo ingredients. One of the biggest issues mucking up your shower time? Scents.
There’s a reason shampoos and other personal care products smell sort of like things but not exactly like them. These are synthetic fragrances, made in laboratories to smell like natural substances, or sometimes, like something else entirely, like “fresh scent." And, as the saying goes, follow your nose—because where there are synthetic fragrances, there are typically lots of other synthetic ingredients, too—many of which are harmful to human health and damaging to the planet.
Many of the chemicals in synthetic fragrances come from petrochemicals—the same stuff you put in your car (unless you drive a plug-in!). These petrochemicals have been linked to endocrine disruption, metabolic disorders, reproductive issues, and even some forms of cancer.
Other types of fragrance can come from natural ingredients—typically essential oils. These are derived from botanicals—flowers, barks, peels, and other plant matter that may be growing in your own yard.
Phthalates in shampoo
In order to extend the life of a scent, a petrochemical family called phthalates (“tha-lates”) are added to fragrances. According to environmentalist organization the David Suzuki Foundation, phthalates have been linked to a whole host of issues including “early puberty in girls, reduced sperm count in men, and reproductive defects in the developing male fetus (when the mother is exposed during pregnancy).” This is why the European Commission on Endocrine Disruption has listed DEP as a Category 1 priority substance.
Phthalate metabolites are also associated with obesity and insulin resistance in men, notes Suzuki. “As well, Health Canada notes evidence suggesting that exposure to phthalates may cause liver and kidney failure in young children when products containing phthalates are sucked or chewed for extended periods.”
Diethyl phthalate, or DEP, is most commonly used to extend the scents in cosmetic and personal care products.
According to Suzuki, this phthalate doesn’t just post-human health risks. It’s listed as a Priority and Toxic Pollutant under the U.S. Clean Water Act because of evidence that it can be toxic to wildlife and the environment.
Suzuki also warns of another fragrance that can sound natural: musk. “Synthetic musks used in fragrances are of particular concern from an ecological perspective,” the Foundation’s website notes.
“Several of musk compounds are persistent in the environment and build up (bioaccumulate) in the fatty tissue of aquatic organisms. Measurable levels of synthetic musks are found in fish in the Great Lakes and the levels in sediment are increasing. Environment Canada has categorized several synthetic musks as persistent, bioaccumulative, and/or toxic, and others as human health priorities.”
What’s on a shampoo label?
Fragrance is a secret sauce—quite literally. And scent formulations—Coco Chanel’s No.5 for example—are protected as proprietary information.
The reason these are so heavily guarded is that scents, like recipes, are the lifeblood of a brand. They’re what makes it unique. It’s why Heinz is synonymous with ketchup and why the Coca-Cola recipe is still a tightly guarded secret.
If a formulation is leaked, anyone can replicate it. There are certainly knock-offs that come close. But they’re never quite the real thing.
This is also why labels will often say “fragrance," “natural fragrance," or “synthetic fragrance.” And because the phthalates and other chemicals are attached to the scents themselves, brands don’t need to disclose their presence, either.
Brands that use pure essential oils, though, do need to list their ingredients, according to the FDA. They will list these out typically both by the Latin and English name.
That doesn’t mean products that contain essential oils don’t also contain synthetic fragrance. But it can be a good indicator that the product is likely cleaner and contains no or few synthetics.
It’s also important to note that even while essential oils are naturally derived, that doesn’t mean they don’t pose health risks. Some can be irritating to skin and eyes and may cause allergic reactions.
Cruelty-Free shampoos vs. Vegan shampoos
Shampoo, like a number of personal care products, can be subjected to animal testing. But a growing number of brands are foregoing this step, using ingredients they say are safe enough to avoid the testing process. The FDA’s Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act, does not require animal testing to prove efficacy or safety.
An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 animals are tested on each year for cosmetic ingredient safety.
But being cruelty-free doesn’t always mean the product is vegan. This can be confusing for shoppers. Cruelty-free generally means the final product or its ingredients weren’t tested on animals. But it does not mean animal ingredients aren’t in shampoos.
What ingredients in shampoos come from animals? These can be proteins from dairy or silk, or bee products like honey. In those cases, the product would not be vegan, but could still be cruelty-free.
Cruelty-free products can also contain harsh chemical ingredients such as phthalates in artificial fragrances.
Fortunately, there are plenty of effective shampoos that are both cruelty-free and vegan. And they smell incredible, too.
Here are the best-smelling cruelty-free and vegan shampoos.
This coconut amino acid blend with vitamin B5 will leave your hair softer, shinier, and all around healthier. And its scent will take you to a paradisiacal island far-far away.
With aloe vera, shea butter, avocado oil, and olive oil Giovanni’s 2chic Shampoo will not only replenish dull, dry, and brittle strands, it will make your head smell like a spring garden.
Yarok will feed your volume and your confidence that shampoo can be clean, effective, and smell great. It uses a blend of natural botanicals, vitamins, minerals, and essential oils to treat the hair and scalp while adding body. Get a whiff of the sweet citrus scent as you rinse away your troubles.
Providing lasting moisture to leave hair soft, manageable and read to go. This hydrating shampoo by Acure gets its scent from omega-fatty-rich argan and pumpkin oils, with a little sweet lift from chamomile. It’ll remind you of baby shampoo for a soft and relaxing wash. Great for frizzy and dry hair, and the perfect post-beach summer escape.
Double-up on the Wow with WOW’s apple cider vinegar shampoo. It will leave your hair so shiny you’ll stop in front of the mirror to notice.
But the scent! The scent is where it’s at here. This one is reminiscent of Herbal Essences but without the synthetic ingredients. Repair damage, cleanse your scalp, revitalize, and detoxify with this perfectly balancing shampoo.
Invigorate your scalp with this rosemary-scented vegan shampoo rich in argan oil that helps to restore hair and enhance growth. Aloe soothes a dry and irritated scalp, and organic ingredients ensure you’re only putting the best on and in your head. Hydrate, rinse, and repeat.
A shampoo bar? Yep. Ethique’s unique shampoo bar is equal to three bottles of the liquid stuff! Use it shampoo or shave, or both.
Scented with citrus and mint, this Ethique shampoo bar lathers, cleanses, and helps rehydrate your hair while keeping plastic out of the landfill.
Lots of shampoos market themselves as “herbal”. There’s something about running through a field of fresh lavender or sage that conjures clean and pure.
But not all brands deliver on this promise. Nature’s Gate does. This herbal shampoo is truly herbal with sage and lavender, chamomile, nettles, and rosemary giving it a pure scent that uplifts while it gives your hare a delicate refresh.
Just the word “Hawaii” brings wafts of goodness, even if you’ve never been to the islands. Alba can help take you to that paradise in the Pacific with its fruity, dreamy, coconut-ginger scent. The rich coconut base provides that island scent and it also delivers penetrating moisture to every strand leaving hair silky and soft.
The freshly scented Olaplex No. 4 is made to repair damaged hair, reduce frizz and flyaways, and keep breakage to a minimum. It does all that and more without using 50 of the worst chemicals in other shampoos. It’s free of sulfates, parabens, phthalates, and more.
If you’re a morning showerer, the Botanic Hearth peppermint shampoo is a must. Peppermint is demanding, in all the right ways.
This one gets a kick from tea tree, too. Both are good for scalp health, keeping the dandruff at bay. The scent will perk you up so much you not even need that second cup of coffee.
Smell like the flower garden you are with Pacifica’s Rose Water shampoo. This clarifying shampoo is formulated without sulfates, SLS, parabens, phthalates, or mineral oil. The rose water helps to moisturize and lock in the shine while you smell like a fresh garden-picked bouquet.
This herbal, sweet, and refreshing hair cleanser gently cleans and conditions. Key ingredients like buriti superfruit, moisturizing tucuma butter, and coconut work to strengthen, prolong hair color, improve moisture, and add radiance. Shop the Hair Cleanser and Styling Cream duo available in our Loba Mane Bundle.
We love this one in particular because it’s pH-balanced, gentle on all hair types (even color-treated hair), and it's plastic free! Use the Oh My Garden Shampoo Bar to protect your color, repair damaged and dry hair, and give your beautiful mane its very own spring cleaning.
Please note: A product appearing in our blog is not an official Kinder Beauty endorsement. While every product we feature in an article is cruelty-free and vegan, these products do not necessarily meet all of our strict brand standards for curation in one of our boxes.
Jill Ettinger is an LA-based writer and editor focused on vegan and cruelty-free living.
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