Do foam free shampoos work at all?

I was having a discussion with my hairstylist recently and we both concluded that foam free shampoos don’t cleanse our hair too well. My hairstylist has a bit of an oily scalp condition like mine so he can commiserate with my gripe that some naturally formulated shampoos just can’t cut the grease out of my hair. In fact, he is against using shampoos that do not foam as he said that such shampoos can cause more grease buildup, which in turn will cause our hair follicles to be blocked over time and eventually leading to hair loss.

Why the need for foam?
Okay, let’s be honest and admit: many of us find that shampoos that produce a copious, lubricious and dense amount of foam cleanse our hair better. The foaming does a better job of removing all dirt and grime. Is it psychological? Maybe. While I do try to avoid using shampoos containing caustic cleansing agents such as Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS) and its close relative Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), but I really need my shampoo to produce foaming suds. My experience with shampoos that do not foam is – neither do they cleanse that well even after a second wash. And while those that foam little can cleanse my scalp, but they usually leave my hair looking rather limp and lacking in volume.

What are the alternatives to SLS and SLES?
Actually, even though most naturally formulated do not contain SLS or SLES, they do contain other foaming agents that are often said to be milder because they are derived from coconut oil, corn or sugar. Examples include:
– Sodium Coco Sulfate
– Sodium Larylglucosides Hydroxypropylsulfonate
– Sodium Trideceth Sulfate
– Sodium Cocoyl Isethionate
– Disodium Coco-Glucoside Tartrate
– Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
– Disodium Laureth Sulfosuccinate
– Disodium Cocoamphodiacete
– Cocamidopropyl Betaine natural coconut oil
– Decyl Glucoside
– Coco Glucoside
– Yucca Foaming Extract
– PEG-80 Sorbitan Laurate

I haven’t researched into each individual ingredient but these are not totally natural and neither are they safer as some of them show up with rather high hazard ratings at EWG. I also find that some naturally formulated shampoos actually contain a few of these surfactants and so it makes me wonder how much gentler are they compared to a shampoo that uses only one surfactant, even if it is SLS or SLES. Maybe some of you have better knowledge in terms of these ingredients can share your thoughts.

What about tear free Shampoos?
Many baby shampoos are labeled as tearless because they are created with surfactants that are milder and less likely to cause irritation. In addition, most of these baby formulas are made with a blend of soothing ingredients like aloe vera, calendula, chamomile or even oats. However, not all formulas are equal. Some tearless shampoos foam better than others. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of purchasing one that does not foam and I’m so peeved. And the thing is, I don’t know if I should be peeved with the company or myself because this is the second time they’ve changed the formula and I did not notice. Well, this is what happens when you run into a shop, grab a bottle and pay for it without examining it carefully. But gosh, why do they need to change formulas so often and still call the product by the same name??? And so I say, it is time to move on to a new product!


  1. pf1123 says:

    Yes, I have the same experience as you.

    I think for shampoo, one with SLS or SLES really works better. And very very cheap. Those non-foaming ones with higher pricing doesn’t work nearly as well.

  2. Berry Mii says:

    hmm… i agree on this. For some reason, the Chagrin Valley shampoo bars don’t work for me. Maybe becuz they don’t foam as much as I like them to.

  3. Swathy says:

    Well, Sesame, I read somewhere (may be Personal Care and Truth) that SLS and SLES are used since ages in the products and there is a regulation on their concentration too. If they are being used in a product which is not kept on the skin for more than 10 minutes, they do not apparently cause any irritation. But, if the product is in contact with the skin for hours together than the concentration has to be less than 0.01% or something. And, SLS and SLES are really very drying for the hair but with proper conditioning that can be overcome. But, yes, the shampoos which foam less do not clean the hair as well. Btw, I do not have any idea about all the other surfactants which you mentioned but regd the tearless shampoos, I basically find that they are no better.
    But, I would say that even soap nuts do not really foam but they do clean the hair well so this theory is not applicable to naturally occurring substances may be.

  4. sesame says:

    I think SLS or SLES on hair isn’t so bad. Like you mentioned, they’re washed off quickly. I guess they’ve gotten a lot of bad press and most pple who aim for natural products try to avoid them. Also, they’re said to cause hair loss with long term usage due to their caustic nature. Oh well…

    Not so sure about soap nuts…haven’t tried them but could also depend on hair type. Sebum production is too active on my scalp and I need foaming stuff.

  5. sesame says:

    I remember the Chagrin ones I tried did foam some…I think one or two of them did a good job but you know how soap disintegrate over time and become unsightly right?

  6. sesame says:

    I don’t mind so much but of course if I can find a natural one that is foaming, I’ll go for the natural one. I actually imagine for your thick hair that you’ll really need a foaming shampoo or it’ll be hard to cleanse too.

  7. Audris says:

    I’ve been thinking about this. Personally, sillicones would rate higher on the “to avoid” list than the type/ nature of the surfactants, I guess. I was quite obsessed with searching the ingredients on EWG’s website at one point in time but I’ve given up. As you’ve pointed out, several of them do have pretty high hazard ratings.

  8. Raelynn says:

    i’ve been using Yuan Shampoos that my sister got for me when she was visiting her in-laws in taiwan, I like it quite a bit. cleanses well because it foams up well when the hair is wet sufficiently and adequate amount is used. i got comments that my hair looked like it had more volume and not so limp compared to when i was using to a professional salon shampoo.

  9. sesame says:

    I second that. I avoid silicones in my face care and hair care products mostly. But my threshold for haircare products containing this is probably higher.

  10. sesame says:

    Interesting. I haven’t seen them around in the shops I visited. But I’ve been asked to try it so maybe I’ll test it out since you’ve got good experience with it.

  11. fwy says:

    This question has nothing to do with your post. May I know the brand of Probiotic supplements you are taking? Thank you.

  12. Berry Mii says:

    yeah, esp the mud & clay one. it left quite a bit of ‘muddy’ residue on my soap dish as it doesn’t dry completely. ugh.

  13. Berry Mii says:

    I think I saw them in Nutrimax Organic at Golden Landmark. Maybe you can give them a call them to find out if they are selling it.

  14. sesame says:

    It’s Kordel…again. ?

  15. N. says:

    Ive already washed my hair with the same shampoo without making a lot of foam and the second time with foam. Applying it two times. And there is a difference. When it foams the hair is a lot cleaner without a doubt.

  16. fwy says:

    Thank you. You are using the Mega Acidophilus right?

  17. Raelynn says:

    Thank you! i think i saw a singaporean online shopping site that sold it too, but they had a severely limited range of the shampoo..

  18. Swathy says:

    well…debate for SLS and SLES will always be on probably…
    actually soap nuts are naturally occurring fruits…m not sure if they are available in Singapore but the soap nuts are said to control the sebum production too…so give it a try if you get them anytime…

  19. sesame says:

    Yeah, for some shampoos, they don’t foam so much the first time due to the absorption by the grease but once hair is cleaner without the grease, it’ll foam well again.

  20. sesame says:

    Okay, I’ll keep a lookout. I’ve never come across them here.

  21. laura says:

    SLS shampoos are fine for some people. If your hair can handle it, then that’s fine. But some people, like me, who have fine hair, using harsher detergents can really dry out the hair. My hair needs extra gentle care. I use SLS free shampoos but they still foam, a lot of them use the coconut derivative.

    I switch up but I was wondering how often you should switch your shampoo/conditioner? Like every month?

  22. laura says:

    I think it’s more hazerdous going down the drain than it is for our bodies since we won’t absorbe shampoo.

  23. laura says:

    yep, sometimes it takes TWO washes to foam because the hair is so dirty

  24. sesame says:

    I actually rotate every few months in the past, but these days, it’s like every few days. Just alternate with another one I’m using.

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