Does Black Hair Need a Clarifying Shampoo?

Girl with natural hair

Rob Cros / Stocksy

You've probably heard of clarifying shampoos, but maybe you thought those kind of cleansers were only for certain hair types—primarily those that suffer from oily buildup. Black hair is usually dry by nature, so perhaps you might have steered clear of a clarifying cleanser, because, who wants to cleanse just to end up with drier hair? It's a rational thought process, but if you use hair products, clarifying shampoo is a good idea. It'll help a great deal in freshening up your tresses, and do well in readying them for styling.

Clarifying shampoos remove product buildup, presenting you with a "clean slate." If your hair is limp and lifeless, looks dull, or doesn't want to hold a style, then it may be weighed down with old product residue, and clarifying should help. To get the details on why adding a clarifying shampoo to your routine could be valuable, we chatting with celebrity hairstylist and salon owner, Annagjid "Kee" Taylor and Ebony Bomani, master cosmetologist and product educator for The Mane Choice.

Meet the Expert

What Does Clarifying Shampoo Do For The Hair?

"I like to think of a clarifying shampoo as boss-level shampoo," says Taylor. "It's designed to strip your hair of product build-up, oils, and grease that won't necessarily come out with your regular, everyday shampoo." You're more likely to need one if you use a lot of product each day, or if you use heavy products. Oil-based products, particularly those containing an ingredient like petroleum (which you shouldn't use in your hair ever, but we forgive you) will quickly adhere themselves to the hair. 

Because of this, they can be difficult to get rid of completely, even with the most diligent shampooing. Clarifiers are designed to remove the buildup that regular cleansers don't, but because clarifying shampoos are so good at removing buildup, they also tend to be extremely drying.

"Most clarifying shampoos will have fewer conditioning agents to cleanse as thoroughly as possible," Bomani says. However, she adds that botanicals like aloe vera, Ginkgo Biloba leaf extract, and rosemary leaf are ideal for thoroughly cleansing natural hair without stripping it. Taylor gives us one more pro-tip. "It's helpful to make sure that the shampoo indicates that it's safe for chemically-treated or colored hair. Even if that doesn't apply to you, it indicates that the formula is gentler and won't be too harsh on the hair." Noted. 

How Often Should Your Clarify?

"If you use a ton of products in your hair care regimen, it is highly beneficial to use a clarifying shampoo," says Bomani. "Since butters, oils, waxes, and other ingredients tend to build up over time; they can keep moisture and essential nutrients from absorbing into the hair, leading to dull looking hair that's more prone to breakage." None of us want that. Bomani recommends implementing a clarifying shampoo into your routine no more than once per week or every two to four weeks depending on your product usage. 

Use them as we've recommended, and your hair shouldn't ever feel weighed down by build-up from old products. Here are 20 of our top clarifying shampoo picks worth trying:

Best for Curly Hair: DevaCurl Buildup Buster Micellar Water Cleansing Serum

Buildup Buster Micellar Water Cleansing Serum
DevaCurl Buildup Buster Micellar Water Cleansing Serum $28
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No matter your hair texture, this cleansing serum will rid the hair of buildup without stripping thanks to its micellar technology.

Best Bar Cleanser for Natural Hair: Bask & Bloom Essentials Rhassoul & Bentonite Clay Shampoo Bar

Bask & Bloom Rhassoul & Bentonite Clay Shampoo Bar
Bask & Bloom Essentials Bask & Bloom Rhassoul & Bentonite Clay Shampoo Bar $14
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If you're curious about a shampoo bar, this clay-based formula will reduce your carbon footprint while you bust that buildup.

Best for Oily Hair: amika Reset Scalp Clarifying Gel Shampoo

Reset Scalp Clarifying Gel Shampoo
Amika Reset Scalp Clarifying Gel Shampoo $25
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Love dry shampoo, or have an oily scalp? This aerosol gel-to-foam shampoo is ideal for post-workout days. 

Best Overall: Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo

Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo
Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo $26
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Made with argan and avocado oils and keratin, this clarifier will reveal clean, healthy hair.

Best for Calming the Scalp: Canviiy ScalpBliss Soothing Scalp Purifying Foam Treatment

Canviiy ScalpBliss Soothing Scalp-Purifying Foam Treatment
Canviiy ScalpBliss Soothing Scalp Purifying Foam Treatment $15
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We all deal with scalp issues from time to time. If you find your scalp is sensitive or flaking, give this 5-7 minute foam treatment a try. Made with scalp-loving ingredients like aloe vera, witch hazel, tea tree, sandalwood and coconut extracts, your scalp will be back to its best self in no time.

Best for Scalp Exfoliation: SOLU Sea Salt Scrub Cleanser

Davines Sea Salt Scrub
Davines SOLU Sea Salt Scrub Cleanser Scrub $42
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Pollution can affect our skin and hair, and this sea salt scrub detoxes the scalp, breaks down buildup, and rinses the week down the drain.

Best for Protective Style Cleansing: Alodia Nourish & Heal Organic Black Soap Wash

alodia hair care black soap
Alodia Hair Care Nourish & Heal Organic Black Soap Wash $14
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Formulated with organic, raw black soap, and unique ingredients like vitamin-C rich plantains, you can guarantee a balancing wash that can help with dermatitis, alopecia, and other scalp disorders.

Best Small Batch Clarifier: Jim and Henry Nine Organic Hair Cleanse

Nine Organic Hair Cleanse
Jim & Henry Nine Organic Hair Cleanse $22
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We love a sensory shampoo experience, and the signature blend of essential oils in this organic shampoo made with natural hair in mind will give you the best of both worlds.

Best Post-Swim Shampoo: Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo

Ouidad Water Works
Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo $18
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Swimming is excellent exercise, but it can take a toll on your hair, especially if you're spending a lot of time in a chlorine-filled pool. Made with a blend of lemon, grapefruit and orange flower extracts, this shampoo helps rinse away the chlorine and saltwater and is a color-safe option.

Best for Chronically Dry Hair: SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Shampoo

SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo
SheaMoisture Jamaican Black Castor Oil Strengthen & Restore Shampoo $12
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Chronically dry hair can't risk being stripped by an overzealous cleanser. Infused with black castor oil and shea butter, this will help keep even the most dehydrated hair hydrated.

Best for Colored Hair: Christophe Robin Clarifying Shampoo with Chamomile & Cornflower

Clarifying Shampoo with Camomile and Cornflower
Christophe Robin Clarifying Shampoo with Camomile and Cornflower $34
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Treating color-treated hair with care is essential, and this shampoo chamomile and cornflower-based cleanser is gentle enough to be used more than once per week.

Best Budget: Cantu Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo

Cantu Sulfate- Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo
Cantu Sulfate-Free Cleansing Cream Shampoo $5
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Drugstore products that work are the best. The sulfate-free formula breaks down buildup and won't strip the hair of its natural oils.

Best Strength-Building Shampoo: OUAI Detox Shampoo

Detox Shampoo
OUAI Detox Shampoo $30
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With a nearly five-star review, the apple cider vinegar-based shampoo works on a range of hair types. With ingredients like hydrolyzed keratin to keep frizz at bay and ACV to remove buildup and balance, this cleanser is a winner.

Most Versatile Shampoo: DPHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse 

dpHUE ACV Hair Wash
dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse $35
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Here we have another color-friendly ACV rinse, that will keep your hair and scalp looking and feeling its best.

Best Fragrance-Free Shampoo: CurlMix Pure Aloe Vera Shampoo Fragrance-Free

Pure Aloe Vera Shampoo Fragrance-Free
CurlMix Pure Aloe Vera Shampoo Fragrance-Free $18
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Sensitivity to fragrance is relatively common. Thankfully CurlMix made a fragrance-free hydrating, clarifying cleanser with aloe to help cleanse and balance curly hair types.

Best Sustainable Shampoo: Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo

Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo
Aveda Rosemary Mint Shampoo $17
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A clarifying shampoo that stimulates the scalp is the perfect recipe for healthy, clean hair. With 96% of the formula's ingredients derived naturally, your conscience and hair will feel great.

Best Clarifying Co-Wash: Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Avocado + Quinoa Co-Wash

Be Gentle, Be Kind avocado + quinoa co-wash
Briogeo Be Gentle, Be Kind Avocado + Quinoa Co-Wash $32
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Co-washing doesn't necessarily mean you can't get a buildup-free result. Not only does this formula breakdown buildup, but you can detangle as you cleanse as well.

Best Protective Style Shampoo: GIRL + HAIR CLEAR+ Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Hair Rinse

Girl + Hair Refresh
Girl + Hair CLEAR+ Apple Cider Vinegar Clarifying Rinse $13
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Washing your hair even when it's in a protective style is essential to maintain healthy hair and retaining length. The nozzle on the ACV-based rinse makes it easy to cleanse even those tough to reach spots.

Best Foam Clarifying Shampoo: Oribe The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo

The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo
Oribe The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo $44
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Volcanic ash, sea kelp extract, green tea extract, and eucalyptus give this shampoo the elevated experience you'd expect from Oribe, while the ingredients work to cleanse all hair types.

Best Clarifying Shampoo for Breakage Prone Hair: The Mane Choice Ancient Egyptian Anti-Breakage & Repair Antidote Shampoo

The Mane Choice Breakage and Repair Shampoo
The Mane Choice Ancient Egyptian Anti-Breakage & Repair Antidote Shampoo $16
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Adding a clarifying cleanser to your routine doesn't mean the formula can't be packed with hydrating oils. Made with kalahari oil, oleaster oil, mongongo oil, and baobab oil, nourished, clean hair is just a wash away.

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