Hair-Styling

When and How to Use a Clarifying Shampoo

Do you ever wash your hair with your go-to shampoo only to have your hair still feeling slimy and filmy after you’ve blown it out? Even if you lather, rinse, repeat, your shampoo might not be able to do its job because of the buildup of oils, styling products, and dry shampoo on your scalp.


Thankfully there’s an easy solution. Enter: clarifying shampoo. These use a deep-cleansing formula that’s designed to cut through buildup to fully clean hair. Ahead, experts share the right way to use clarifying shampoo, including when and how to use one.





What is a clarifying shampoo?

To put it plainly, a clarifying shampoo deeply cleanses the scalp and hair to remove excess buildup and oils.


“They offer a deeper cleanse than a regular shampoo as they contain surfactants, which are ingredients that work by breaking down and removing residue, oil, and impurities,” says Dr. Ramya Garlapati, a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skin Medicinals. “They are not designed for regular use and shouldn’t replace your regular shampoo, but rather they should be used as a supplemental product when you need a deeper cleanse.”



When to use a clarifying shampoo

If your hair starts to feel and/or look heavy or weighed down, it could be time to use a clarifying shampoo. This can be the result of using a number of hairstyle products on a regular basis. “If the buildup is more serious, you can actually feel the products on your hair strand,” says Shelly Aguirre, a stylist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.


Excessive scalp buildup can be a seasonal issue, too. Those who swim a lot may experience slimy strands from chlorine. “Another reason to clarify would be if you’ve spent time in a pool and your hair may pick up a greenish hue,” Aguirre explains. “This tends to happen more visibly with blonder hair. Not to say it doesn’t happen with darker color, it just might not be as noticeable.”





What are the side effects of using a clarifying shampoo?

Since clarifying shampoos do some serious deep cleaning, they can strip the hair, and certain hair types may be affected more than others. “Some clarifying shampoos are made with harsh ingredients, such as sulfates, that can strip the natural oil (sebum) from the scalp and strands,” says Dr. Isfahan Chambers-Harris, a trichologist, Ph.D. Scientist, and founder of Alodia Hair Care. “This can affect the hair and scalp, causing irritation and dryness — particularly with curlier hair types.”


The drying nature of these formulas may make them too harsh for those with inflammatory scalp conditions. “It [clarifying shampoo] can also worsen certain scalp conditions such as psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis, and eczema,” says Dr. Garlapati. If you have any of these conditions, consult with a board-certified dermatologist before incorporating a clarifying shampoo into your haircare routine.


Finally, if you have color-treated hair, use clarifying shampoos with caution as they may cause fading. Aguirre recommends talking to your stylist before using one to access whether it’s safe for your hair color.



How to use a clarifying shampoo:

All three experts agree that how often you use a clarifying shampoo can vary based on the cause and level of your buildup, along with your hair texture. As a general rule of thumb, they can be used once a week to once a month.


“You’ll know it’s time to use a clarifying shampoo when you notice your hair starts to feel heavy or weighted down, or if your hair has a gritty feeling from being coated with hair products,” says Dr. Garlapati.


A clarifying shampoo is used just like any other shampoo: you lather it on the scalp and massage it in for a few minutes before rinsing it out. It’s important to use a hydrating conditioner afterwards to help restore and seal in moisture.



Clarifying shampoos to try

Olaplex No.4C Bond Maintenance Clarifying Shampoo

Courtesy of Sephora



This Olaplex shampoo works to remove product buildup, excess oils, and water minerals from the hair while simultaneously strengthening strands with its proprietary bond-repairing technology.


To shop: $30; sephora.com



Alodia Hair Care Nourish & Heal Organic Black Soap Wash

Courtesy of Alodia



Dr. Isfahan Chambers-Harris says Alodia’s Organic Black Soap Wash can be used as a clarifying shampoo and it doesn’t dry out hair. “You want to wash your hair and scalp one to two times and then proceed to a deep conditioning masque or conditioner,” she says.


To shop: $16; alodiahaircare.com


Ouai Detox Shampoo

Courtesy of Sephora



Ouai’s Detox Shampoo does the unthinkable: it removes product buildup, excess oil, and both hard water deposits and impurities without leaving hair stripped. In addition to purifying chelating agents, the formula includes exfoliating and shine-boosting apple cider vinegar and smoothing hydrolyzed keratin.


To shop: $30; sephora.com


MoroccanOil Clarifying Shampoo

Courtesy of Sephora



This color-safe shampoo clarifies weighed-down hair and leaves it soft and smooth. It’s all thanks to MoroccanOil’s signature Argan oil, a nourishing ingredient that helps restore moisture in the hair.


To shop: $26; sephora.com