How To Use Clarifying Shampoo For Your Healthiest Hair Yet

BIPOC woman in gold jewelry with a bath towel wrapped around her head

@tylauren / Design by Camden Dechert

A clarifying shampoo promises to give your hair a fresh start by removing buildup, and restoring your hair's shine, softness, and manageability. "In a way, it's like a hair detox," says dermatologist Iris Rubin, MD. So what exactly is clarifying shampoo? How often should you use it? And which hair types benefit most from it? We reached out to the experts to get some answers on how clarifying shampoo can help even the sludgiest of strands. Scroll on to learn all you need to know about clarifying shampoos.

Meet the Expert

  • Iris Rubin, MD, is a dermatologist and the founder and chief medical officer of SEEN Haircare. She graduated from Harvard Medical School and specializes in the relationship between hair health and skin health.
  • Melanie Smith is a Creative Master colorist at the Josh Wood Salon in London. She has supported fashion shows for Valentino and Burberry and has over 25 years of experience in the field.
  • Sophia Emmanuel is an IAT-Certified Trichologist and licensed cosmetologist based in New York. 
  • Gina Rivera is a hairstylist and founder of Phenix Salon Suites.

What is Clarifying Shampoo?

Clarifying shampoo removes buildup on your hair like hairsprays, mousses, and gels; minerals in hard water; chlorine and chemicals from swimming pools. This also includes the waxes and moisturizers in some shampoos and conditioners that can leave residue on your hair over time. These deposits can cause hair to appear dull, heavy, greasy, and limp. Your hair might even feel crispy at the ends—a symptom regular hair coloring will exacerbate.

The Benefits of Clarifying Shampoo

  • Removes product buildup on the hair and scalp: "A flaky scalp can sometimes be a sign of product buildup," says Rubin.
  • Helps reset hair back to square one: Once all the gunk is out, your hair will be much closer to its natural feel and appearance.
  • Eliminates tint from chlorine exposure: We are all for a punk-rock-green moment, but not by accident; clarifying shampoo will remove that colorful tinge that regular pool-goers sometimes get.

The Drawbacks

  • Might cause hair dye to fade: Because the idea of a clarifying shampoo is to strip away any deposit on the hair, using one too frequently will make your color wash out faster. Step away from the clarifying shampoo for at least a week after fresh color is applied.
  • Might exacerbate skin conditions: Anyone who has dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis, or eczema should use caution when trying clarifiers.

How to Use Clarifying Shampoo

A clarifying shampoo is no different than any other shampoo, with a few things to note. It won't be the in-and-out-in-five process of a typical shower. "Do three to four shampoos, not just one, and always follow up with a good treatment," suggests master colorist Melanie Smith.

Depending on the amount of buildup and oils on your hair, the shampoo may not lather much, but that doesn't mean it's not working. Rinse very well. Apply again, and this time it should get sudsy. Let the shampoo sit on your head for a minute or two while you take care of other grooming tasks, like shaving your legs. Letting the shampoo sit helps break down and release the product buildup, which is crucial. Then, rinse well again. Follow with a deep conditioner, even if your hair isn't normally dry, to restore moisture, recommends Rubin.

Smith also notes that a DIY approach might not be your best bet when it comes to clarifying. "I'd stay away from at-home remedies," she says. "I'd also steer clear of chemical products not designed for your hair, like detergent."

Hair Type Considerations

Anyone can use and benefit from a clarifying shampoo, but be cautious if your hair is freshly colored or you're trying to stretch between touch-up appointments. Additionally, people with hair prone to dryness (like naturally curly or textured hair) need to limit their use of clarifiers to only when necessary. "For naturally curly or textured hair, use a sulfate-free clarifying shampoo which will clarify the hair without stripping it," trichologist and cosmetologist Emmanuel says. "Malibu C Scalp Wellness ($38) is an option."

How Often to Use Clarifying Shampoos

The answer depends on how much your hair goes through daily. If you use many hair products or have very hard water, you might find it helpful to clarify weekly. Swimmers in the pool daily may need to clarify even more often to banish the greenish tint that chlorine causes over time. But, if you use minimal hair products or have soft water, you might need to clarify every other month. Once a week to once per month is a good general guideline, says Rubin.

Does Clarifying Shampoo Remove Color?

When using a clarifying shampoo, it's important to use a professional product recommended by your stylist. According to hairstylist Gina Rivera, professional clarifying shampoos don't have harsh detergents or ingredients that over-the-counter products contain that contribute to color fading and drying the hair. 

"Clarifying shampoo is not meant for daily use, and using it too frequently could cause color to fade over time," says Rivera, who doesn't recommend using the product after a color service. "I would wait at least four to six weeks post-color to use clarifying shampoo to remove products and medications that can build up on the hair." If you must use a clarifying shampoo on color-treated hair, Rivera emphasizes the importance of hydrating products to keep strands healthy and strong.

"Use a professional hydrating shampoo and conditioner in conjunction with a clarifier to replenish moisture that can be lost after a clarifying treatment," she says.

The Best Clarifying Shampoos

Moroccan Oil Clarifying Shampoo
Morrocan Oil Clarifying Shampoo $26.00

This offering is labeled as color-safe, plus it offers some of the trademark hydration of its namesake, thanks to avocado and argan oils.

Seen Shampoo
SEEN Skin-Caring Shampoo Fragrance-Free $29.00

SEEN's shampoo is formulated without silicones, phthalates, parabens, and comedogenic oils, which can cause buildup. "A double wash with SEEN shampoo can get your hair and scalp squeaky clean with less risk of stripping your natural oils," says Rubin.

Klorane Detox Shampoo
Klorane Detox Shampoo with Aquatic Mint $22.00

Klorane targets an insidious contributor to hair buildup with their detox shampoo—the very air around us. Soothing aquatic mint, lemon, and tea remove pollution particles from hair and provides a very zesty pick-me-up smell in the morning shower.

Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo
Sachajuan Scalp Shampoo $32.00

This shampoo is beloved by people with seborrheic dermatitis (a form of eczema) for its clarifying properties. It is a good choice for anyone with a sensitive scalp who still wants squeaky clean strands.

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