Whether it’s styling your hair to get the perfect beachy waves, using shampoo and conditioner a few times a week, blowing it out with a hair dryer and hairspray, even applying a hair mask–hair treatments eventually take a toll on your strands. In fact, one of the main culprits behind dull, lifeless hair is product build-up and over-styling.
If your hair hasn’t been bouncing and behaving lately, regardless of what hair type you have, you might want to give clarifying shampoo a try. Not sure where to start? Just read on for our guide to what clarifying shampoo is, its many hair health benefits, how to use it, and a few of our absolute favorite clarifying shampoos ever. You’ll quickly see why clarifying shampoo is the hair care hero you didn’t know you needed.
We often like to compare clarifying shampoo to a detox smoothie or deep cleanse for your hair. Clarifying shampoo is just like regular shampoo–rinse it, lather it, and repeat if needed–only it contains purifying ingredients that rid your strands of stubborn product build-up, minerals, and impurities. Regular shampoos focus on the surface while clarifying shampoo dig deeper. Whether you have curly hair, straight hair, dense hair, or fine hair, clarifying shampoo is as essential to a healthy hair care routine as detoxifying scrub is to your skincare routine.
You’ll find clarifying shampoo in most drugstores and nearly every hair salon, as hair stylists will often use it on customers’ hair as a kind of hard reset button before the cutting and drying process. Simply put, clarifying shampoo helps get hair back to its most natural, clean state.
You wouldn’t paint your next masterpiece on a used canvas, would you? Think of hair care in the same way. Clarifying shampoo ensures you’re working with a fresh, clean “canvas” the next time you apply hair products, heat tools, or regular environmental factors on your fragile hair.
What sets clarifying shampoo apart from regular shampoo or dry shampoo is that it’s formulated with powerful active ingredients called surfactants–soap-like substances that scrub grease, excess oil, product residue (left behind from shampoo, conditioner, mousse, hairspray, etc.), and minerals (calcium, ions, and other harsh elements that come from the hard water in our shower taps) out of your strands like nobody’s business. As a result, clarifying shampoo leaves your hair softer, more supple, and ready to withstand another round of heat styling and treatments.
Beyond its deep cleansing abilities, however, people use clarifying shampoo for its many other benefits, as well. It can provide an extra volume boost for fine hair, keep blonde hair from turning brassy, and even help prevent hair loss in some cases.
Surfactants are pretty darn powerful, which is why clarifying shampoo is meant to be used only occasionally. Everyday use of clarifying shampoo can strip your hair of its natural oils, leaving your hair drier, limper, and more prone to frizz than when you started. Oily hair types, swimmers, or people who use a lot of hair styling products can most likely get away with once a week use. Dry hair and regular hair types would do best to stick to once a month.
One caveat to note, however: as much as we love clarifying shampoo, it may be too harsh for color-treated hair, folks with dandruff or other scalp-related conditions should double-check the bottle for any potentially irritating ingredients before using.
To use it, all you need to know is the good ol’ rinse, lather, repeat method of regular shampoo. However, always follow-up clarifying shampoo with conditioner to avoid over-drying your hair. It doesn’t need to be any special kind of “clarifying” conditioner (does that even exist?): your favorite, go-to conditioner will do the trick just fine.
Now that we’ve hopefully clarified (sorry, couldn’t resist) any confusion you may have had about the benefits of clarifying shampoo, let’s move on to the fun stuff. Keep scrolling below for our top three favorite clarifying shampoos ever. For a complete list of the best of the best, peep our round-up here.
Think of this clarifying shampoo from R+CO as hair amnesia in a bottle. It will be as if all the hair products, shampooing, conditioning, and blow drying never happened. This gentle cleanser features naturally purifying rosemary leaf extract combined with super moisturizing coconut oil. Antibacterial witch hazel and tea tree oil help break down stubborn hair product build-up, grease, and other impurities.
OUAI HAIRCARE is known to make high-quality hair products that are gentle enough for even the driest, finest hair, and we think this is one of the best shampoos around, hands down. Their signature OUAI Smart Technology hits refresh on hair that’s gone through one too many hairstyles and blowouts. Keratin (the protein naturally found in hair strands) and tamarind seed oil help reinforce tired strands while nourishing natural oils restore much-needed moisture.
You’re going to want this hair-saving salve after your next trip to the pool or beach. This KLORANE clarifying shampoo features ylang-ylang wax–a natural solution for removing salt, sand, chlorine, and other product build-up in a pinch. Transform overworked, greasy hair into fresh, clean hair. After rinsing and lathering, hair feels smooth, detangled, and just like new.
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