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What Is the Main Ingredient in Shampoo? | A Detailed Guide

Taking care of your hair is probably an important part of your life. Using the right shampoo can make your hair soft, shiny, and healthy, However, it is important to know which shampoo is best for your hair

This leads some people to ask, “What is the main ingredient in shampoo? Knowing the ingredients can help you choose the right shampoo for your hair type.

Shampoo’s Main Ingredients: A Summary

For most shampoos, the main ingredient is water. However, there are other ingredients that are typically in shampoos, including sulfates, silicones, zinc pyrithione, parabens, and more.

The specific ingredients depend on the intended use of the shampoo, so they will vary. In addition, some companies create shampoo that is free of parabens, sulfates, and other chemical ingredients.

When you are choosing a shampoo, you probably want to know what is in it and how it helps your hair. You may have questions, such as:

  • What is the main ingredient in shampoo?
  • What are the ingredients in shampoos?
  • Are any ingredients bad for you?
  • What ingredients are in chemical-free shampoos?

We wanted to get to the bottom of these questions, so we have done the research. Continue reading to learn what you need to know about the ingredients in shampoo.

What Is the Main Ingredient in Shampoo?

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The main ingredient in shampoo is water. Water also makes up most of the formula, and it is essential to blend all of the other ingredients together. Water is also a hydrating ingredient.

Most shampoos are around 80% water, which surprises some people because when you shower, you have plenty of water. Waterless (aka dry) shampoo does exist, and it is a fine powder that activates into a foam when you put water on it.

It also is free of chemicals that can damage your hair. One of the reasons why this is possible is that without water, the shampoo doesn’t need preservatives to extend its life.

However, if you are buying regular shampoo, water is the main ingredient and it is what blends all of the other ingredients in the shampoo.

What Are the Other Ingredients in Shampoos?

Most shampoos have similar ingredients. They may have unique ingredients to try to stand out, but the basic ingredients are the same. Take a look at those that are most common:


One of the main ingredients in shampoo is sulfates. They are what makes the shampoo lather to deep clean your hair. There are a lot of concerns about sulfates today, as they can dry your hair out.

Sulfates are surfactants, so they attract water and oil. They lift dirt from your hair, and they make your hair feel clean. When sulfates were first made, they were detergents.

One of the most common is sodium lauryl sulfate (also called SLS), which has been used since the 1930s. They are considered safe by the FDA, but they are so effective that they can dry out your hair and scalp. They also can cause irritation for people with sensitive scalps.


Another common ingredient in shampoos is silicone of some kind. When you look through the list of ingredients, those that end in the suffix “-cone” are silicones. They help make your hair smooth and silky, and they combat frizz.

Glycol Distearate

Another common ingredient is glycol distearate, which is what gives shampoo a pearl-like finish. It is used for conditioning, as well as a thickening agent. The FDA finds it safe, and it does leave your hair smoother and softer.

It helps hold oil and water together, and it prolongs the shelf life of the shampoo. It is a compound of glycol and stearic acid, and it is commonly found in many shampoos.

Sodium Chloride

You probably know sodium chloride as salt. It is an important mineral for people, as it pulls moisture out. It is used in shampoos as a thickening agent, and it does a great job for people with oily hair.

However, if your hair is already dry, it can dry it out further.

This is a safe ingredient in shampoo, but you may need to take a break from it after certain treatments, such as a keratin straightening treatment. It is also a great cleaning agent, and it lifts dirt from your hair.


This ingredient is what helps keep the insoluble solid ingredient in shampoo suspended in the liquid. It also prevents the oils in the shampoo from separating from the water.

This is important, as around 80% of shampoo is water. It is considered to be safe to use, but it does have low toxic and irritation potential from its chemical properties. Some people might be sensitive to it.


Parabens are preservatives that allow your shampoo to last. They preserve the quality of the shampoo, and they have been used for more than a hundred years. Parabens can be absorbed through your skin, and they can cause irritation and dry your hair and scalp.

Are Any Ingredients Bad for You?

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All of the ingredients in shampoo are FDA-approved to be safe for use in shampoo. However, as people are more concerned about being healthier and avoiding any chemicals, they are looking for shampoos that are free of certain ingredients.

People with sensitive skin or damaged hair avoid sulfates, as they dry out the hair. Parabens are the preservative that prevents bacteria growth, and it can be absorbed and mimic hormones such as estrogen.

Sodium chloride can make a sensitive scalp itchy and dry. People will try to avoid these ingredients. They may add to damage or dry hair out, but they are considered safe.

Read Next: What Is the Ingredient in Shampoo That Causes Hair Loss?

Frequently Asked Questions

What ingredients are in chemical-free shampoo?

When you choose a chemical-free shampoo, you will get natural ingredients that are sourced from plants. The shampoo may not lather as much, but it can still clean effectively.

How long does shampoo last?

Shampoo lasts anywhere from 12 to 18 months. However, this is only possible because of the parabens that preserve it. If you choose a paraben-free shampoo, it won’t last as long.

So, What Are the Main Ingredients in Shampoo?

For most shampoos, the main ingredient is water. There are other ingredients that are commonly used to clean, smooth, defrizz, and condition your hair.

Some of the ingredients are chemicals that help the shampoo do what it is designed to do, and it is important to understand the ingredients you are using.

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