Share on Pinterest

Traditional shampoo is great for keeping your hair and scalp clean on a daily basis, but what about when you feel like you need a deeper clean? That’s where clarifying shampoo comes in.

Hair care experts recommend using a clarifying shampoo to get rid of buildup in your hair. Clarifying shampoo is designed for occasional use only and shouldn’t replace your daily cleanser.

If you think your locks could use some help from dullness and excess buildup, read on to see if clarifying shampoo is a good option for your hair.

Like other types of hair cleansers, clarifying shampoo is made up of between 80 and 90 percent water. The difference is in the active ingredients. What sets clarifying shampoo apart from other cleansers is its level of heavy surfactants.

Surfactants are soap-like ingredients that get rid of residue, grease, and impurities in your hair. These are much stronger than traditional cleansers.

Examples of surfactants and their specific benefits include:

  • Ammonium-sodium lauryl sulfate. This ingredient provides the deepest cleanse. These may be best for extreme hair care product buildup or very oily hair.
  • Chlorides or bromides. These are a milder cleanser, but can help make your hair soft.
  • Cetyl-fatty alcohols. These have milder cleansing effects.

While clarifying shampoo can help get rid of excess buildup, using it too much can have adverse effects.

Using this shampoo more than a couple of times per week can leave your hair feeling dry and dull. You may also see some flyaways and a lot of frizz.

You’ll also want to be careful if you have color-treated hair. That’s because heavy surfactants may damage your hair color. As a rule of thumb, if a clarifying shampoo doesn’t say it’s color-safe on the label, then it’s likely not suitable for color-treated hair.

Dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis are other considerations you might have before choosing a clarifying shampoo. Unless the clarifying shampoo also has ingredients like salicylic acid that can control these types of skin and scalp conditions, then the product may not be suitable.

Surfactants could also inadvertently worsen these conditions by drying out your scalp and making the underlying cells produce more oils.

A clarifying shampoo has virtually the same goals as a hair detox. They both remove residue, minerals, and oils. The key difference lies in the active ingredients.

Hair detox relies primarily on “natural” ingredients, while clarifying shampoos have more synthetic ingredients that can dry out your hair if you overuse them.

Additionally, a hair detox may utilize deep conditioning ingredients, such as olive oil, shea, or bentonite clay. Clarifying treatments generally don’t add moisture to the hair. A hair detox also aims to get rid of environmental toxins.

Clarifying shampoo is designed for use once or twice per week. You can apply it as you would any other shampoo.

  1. Work a small amount in your hands and then apply to your damp scalp, massaging the product until you have a good lather.
  2. Leave in your hair for up to 30 seconds.
  3. Rinse the shampoo out completely before applying conditioner.

It’s important to use conditioner after every shampoo session. Not only does conditioner help keep your hair soft, but it also seals in moisture in the hair cuticle to keep it from drying out.

You don’t have to use any special conditioner after your clarifying shampoo. Simply apply your regular conditioner to your middle and lower locks in an even layer, wait a few seconds, and then rinse.

The type of clarifying shampoo you choose is largely based on your hair type and whether it’s professionally treated at all. You can look at different bottles to see if they’re suitable for dandruff, color-treated hair, or chemically straightened or permed hair.

Shampoos containing larger amounts of surfactants are best if you don’t have any special hair care considerations, including color treatments.

For the deepest clean possible, look for anionic surfactants on the ingredient labels. These include:

  • ammonium lauryl sulfate
  • ammonium laureth sulphate
  • sodium lauryl sulfate
  • sodium stearate
  • alpha-olefin sulfonate

The cost of your clarifying shampoo varies based on whether you pick a drugstore version or a brand-name. It might also be more expensive if you choose versions for color-treated hair.

Clarifying shampoos can range between $5 and $45 on Amazon.

Clarifying shampoo can be a good addition to your hair care routine, but it’s not designed for everyday use. To gain the most benefits, you’ll want to use it in between your regular shampoo days.

For special hair care concerns, such as chemical- or color-treated hair, see your stylist for specific product recommendations. A dermatologist can also help diagnose and treat any underlying scalp conditions affecting your overall hair health.

Healthline and our partners may receive a portion of revenues if you make a purchase using a link above.