You’ve likely heard that “sulfate-free” products are a good thing, but what even are sulfates anyway, and why should you consider using sulfate-free body wash?
This post may contain affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if you choose to make a purchase. We only make recommendations that are genuine and meet our ingredient/material safety standards.
What The Heck Are Sulfates?
Sulfates are what we call surfactants. Surfactants are used to create lather and help to help pull oil away from the skin to wash it away. They also help to keep ingredients mixed together. All sulfates are surfactants, but not all surfactants are sulfates. (There are surfactants available that are safer and healthier than sulfates.)
The most common sulfates you’ll see are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). Other common names you might see are Ammonium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Dodecyl Sulfate, and Sodium Coco Sulfate.
Are There Sulfates in Body Wash?
Are Sulfates Bad?
Sulfates have gotten a pretty bad reputation over the past decade. But why?
In order to understand why sulfates have gotten such a bad rap, let’s look at the two most common ones: SLS and SLES.
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) is an irritant. It’s actually used in research studies to induce skin irritation in participants when they are studying something to see if it will help to heal the skin or reduce irritation.
SLS is supposed to be safe as long as it’s:
- a) not kept on the skin for a long period of time, and
- b) not used in high concentrations
This is why SLS and other sulfates are mostly only used in cleansers, toothpaste, and other products that we wash off, as opposed to things that stay on our skin, like lotion.
Skin irritation is really the biggest reason why people may want to stay away from SLS. So far, we do not have any evidence that SLS can cause things like cancer, infertility, blindness, or any long-term, serious health concerns.
Now let’s talk about Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES). SLES was introduced as a miler surfactant than SLS, so it’s less irritating on the skin. That seems like a good thing… at first.
The problem with this chemical is that in order to turn SLS into SLES, it goes through a process called ethoxylation. During this process, two chemicals are used that are known to cause serious health concerns: ethylene oxide, which is known to cause infertility and multiple types of cancer, and 1,4-dioxane, which is a carcinogen.
As an end product, SLES can be contaminated with these two chemicals. However, because they’re not added intentionally, they would never be listed on the ingredient list.
Okay, so what about other sulfates? The problem is that most alternative sulfates just come with the same problems that SLS and SLES do (and many of them actually contain SLS and SLES).
This is why many people choose to go sulfite-free completely.
Why Go Sulfate-Free for Sensitive Skin
Because sulfates can be so irritating, those who have the following skin concerns might benefit from going sulfate-free with their body wash:
- sensitive skin
- dry skin or eczema
- irritated skin
- acne-prone skin
Remember, SLS is said to be “safe” if it’s not kept on the skin and if it’s used at low concentrations. The problem with this is that we don’t actually have any way of determining the concentration of sulfates that are used in a certain product.
Furthermore, there is always some soap that gets left on our skin after we wash, meaning that most of us probably are leaving a certain amount of sulfates on our skin for longer periods of time.
This is what can lead to dryness, redness, acne, etc. for many individuals.
Does “Sulfate-Free” Mean Non-Toxic?
Before we list our recommendations, there’s one more thing to note about sulfate-free body wash. JUST because a certain brand labels its body wash or cleanser as “sulfate-free” does not mean it’s completely safe from all potentially harmful chemicals.
That’s why the brands below are not only free from sulfates, but also things like parabens, formaldehyde, BHT, etc.
P.S. If you’re only interested in the brands available at big box stores like Walmart and Target, just scroll down to the next section!
Our List of the Best Body Washes Without Sulfates, Parabens, or Other Toxic Chemicals
This herb-infused Rosemary Peppermint Body Wash smells amazing. It is pH-balanced and contains aloe very to soothe your skin. It’s also MADE SAFE certified, which means it’s third-party verified to be completely free from any toxins.
The woodsy, citrusy scent of this non-toxic body was is inspired by Northern California. It’s made with skin-nourishing ingredients like aloe vera, along with green and white tea for antioxidants.
True Botanicals’ Nourishing Wash is also MADE SAFE certified.
Piperwai started with a great non-toxic deodorant and has since expanded to body wash. Packaged in an aluminum bottle for easier recycling, this body wash comes in Unscented as well as Ginger + Chamomile. It’s made with mega-moisterizing Moringa oil for hydration.
If you’re looking for a more manly non-toxic body wash, this is it! Dr. Squatch’s non-toxic bar soaps come in scents like “Pin Tar,” “Bay Rum,” and “Cold Brew Cleanse.” They contain lots of natural, good-for-skin oils like olive, coconut, and shea.
The soaps come in “Zero Grit,” “Medium Grit,” and “Heavy Grit,” so that you can choose which level of exfoliation you need.
Follain’s “Everything Soap” has one of the shortest ingredient lists of all the brands listed here. This biodegradable soap comes in a glass jar which you can refill when you run out.
In addition to a hand and body wash, you can use this gentle, safe formula as a non-toxic pet shampoo, carpet-cleaner, and for hand-washing dishes and delicates.
100% Pure’s Shower Gels and Butter Soap Bars come in a wide variety of scents, whether you’re looking for something more soothing like lavender, or more energizing like grapefruit. Their formulations help to rehydrate thirsty skin with coconut oil, soothing aloe, and mineral-rich red algae. These are Made in the USA, too.
This MADE SAFE Certified and EWG-Verified body wash concentrate will last you a LONG time! In addition to its other non-toxic ingredients, this newborn-safe 2-in-1 shampoo and body wash contains organic chamomile and calendula and is infused with pre- and probiotics.
Earth Mama carries a line of soothing castile soap body washes that are perfect for babies and new parents. These scented and unscented soaps can also be used as regular hand soap and as an all-purpose cleaner as well. It’s gentle yet effective enough that it’s even used in NICUs!
If you’re passionate about drastically reducing your waste, Plaine Products is the non-toxic body wash you’re looking for. It’s organic, hypoallergenic, baby safe, biodegradable, and comes in a reusable and/or returnable aluminum bottle.
[ Related Articles: Sulfate-Free Shampoo & Hair Conditioner // The Best Non-Toxic Hemp Soap & Body Wash Brands ]
Non-Toxic, Sulfate-Free Body Washes You Can Get at Walmart, Target, and Drugstores
Unfortunately, when it comes to personal care products, you have to be aware and careful of greenwashing. There are a lot of brands out there that do NOT use sulfates in their formulations and that market themselves as “green” and “safe,” but still use some other problematic ingredients. Be careful of brands like Aveeno, St. Ives, and Harry’s—many of these brands market themselves as non-toxic and natural, but their ingredient lists are really not great.
Here are the brands we recommend that you can commonly find at drugstores like Walgreens and CVS, along with big box stores like Walmart and Target.
You’ve probably seen Dr. Bronner’s unique labels before. They have a wide range of scents and colors of their castile soap, which comes both in liquid and bar soap versions.
Dr. Bronner’s is one of the safest, healthiest brands of soap you can use. Many of the ingredients are organic and/or Fair Trade certified. Plus, castile soap goes a long way and has so many different uses!
Alaffia is a great option because they have several different types, from Everyday Shea to leave your skin extra nourished, to Authentic African Black Soap with Tea Tree and Mint.
Not only is Alaffia is completely free from all the sulfates, parabens, silicones, synthetic fragrances, etc., but it’s also Fair Trade.
Weleda is a great natural, non-toxic body wash brand that’s been around for a long time. They have a line of body washes that are great for the whole family—from energizing to sensitive skin to sport and more.
Weleda’s natural ingredients are sourced from farming partners around the globe so they can ensure high-quality sourcing and fair wages for farmworkers.
Everyone is another great option for the whole family—they have men’s soap, kids’ soap, and more general scents that are great for everyone (hence the name!). In addition to being free from all the nasties, Everyone’s soap is infused with nourishing plant ingredients like chamomile, aloe vera, white tea, and calendula.
Everyone body wash comes with a handful of third-party certifications, including B Corp and EWG Verified.
You can find a variety of Native Body Washes in Target (including unscented). Just like the rest of the brands on this list, Native’s body wash is free from sulfates, parabens, and other potential toxins.
Another great pick for the little ones in your life! This comes in a variety of gentle and fun scents (including Birthday Cake!) and is made with ingredients like jojoba seed oil, avocado, and cucumber.
This body wash is tear-free, hypoallergenic, dermatologist-tested, and pH-balanced.
Is Dove Sulfate-Free Body Wash Safe?
Dove’s Sensitive Skin Body Wash is one that people commonly ask about. Is it non-toxic? While it does NOT contain sulfates or parabens (which is great!), it unfortunately does contain some other potentially toxic ingredients. These include:
- Fragrance (Companies are legally allowed to include about 4,000 chemicals—some toxic, some not—in their formulations without disclosing it to the consumer. “Fragrance” is a red flag because you have no idea what’s actually in it. However, Dove does say this formula is at least paraben-free, so that’s good.)
- Phenoxyethanol (This is not the worst ingredient ever, but it can be irritating and also contaminated with carcinogens, so it’s not ideal for people with sensitive skin. You can read more here.)
- BHT (Used as a preservative, this ingredient is linked to things like organ system toxicity, skin irritation, infertility, cancer, and more.)
Those who are more likely to buy Dove’s Sensitive Skin Body Wash are probably already dealing with skin concerns of some kind, which is why it’s all the more important to shop from brands that are truly safe. And there are plenty of them—just try out some of the brands above!