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Why Using a Clarifying Shampoo Is Key for Thick, Healthy Hair, Plus the Best Ones To Use

Experts share how often you should be using one of these deep-cleaning formulas

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Do you ever feel like your hair isn’t really clean, even after you’ve washed it? Maybe you still feel waxy product on your strands or extra oil on your scalp. You’re not crazy — sometimes our regular shampoo just doesn’t cut it, especially if we go days between washes or have been sweating a bit more than usual (hello, summer). Enter: Clarifying shampoo. These build-up removers, scalp-loving suds work overtime to deliver truly clean, residue-free hair. Here, how they work, who should use them and the best clarifying shampoos on the market, backed by top hairstylists.

What is clarifying shampoo?

Clarifying shampoo is essentially a more intense version of your regular shampoo. It’s designed to target the scalp, making it extra clean and free of product build up, sweat and dirt. “Clarifying shampoo is strong shampoo that removes buildup in order to detox and refresh your scalp,” says Rae Ann Cotto, Colorist at NYC THE TEAM Hair Salon. “It’s meant to cleanse dirt and oils due to a range of things from sweat from a workout to one too many days between regular shampoo time.”

When we have build up on the scalp, the rest of our hair can greatly suffer. Oils, product and sweat can clog the hair follicles, which can lead to hair loss, dandruff and an array of other problems. A happy scalp equals happy hair, so it’s important to treat it with a little extra TLC.

Related: Are You Double Shampooing? Here’s Why Experts Say You Should for a Deep Cleanse

Who should use a clarifying shampoo?

woman washing hair
gilaxia/Getty

Overall, most people can benefit from using a clarifying shampoo, says Cotto. “I recommend all of my clients to use a clarifying shampoo 1-2 times per month.” However, you may need increase that number or not use at all, in certain cases: “If you are someone who works out more than four days a week, then I suggest every other week,” she notes. Or if you have a keratin treatment “then you only want to use it when you’re going to the salon to refresh your keratin.” And if you’re dealing with thinning hair, a clarifying shampoo deeply cleanses the scalp, removing product buildup, dead skin cells, dirt, oil and other impurities that can clog hair follicles and stall hair growth. So clearing the pathway keeps follicles healthy to promote growth.

Further, clarifying shampoos typically work on most hair types, but those with a more oily-prone scalp can benefit even more from using one. Cotto compares it to skincare: Just like there are certain cleansers for normal to oily skin, there are different shampoos oily scalps should be using. “Clarifying shampoos work the best on fine-, medium- or heavy-density hair and normal to semi-oily scalp (think normal to combination skin),” she explains.

A word of caution, however, according to Cotto: “Be very careful to not overuse the clarifying shampoo! Overusing the shampoo can dry out your scalp and cause your body to produce more oil…. even for my oily scalp clients, this can make your situation worse! The irony is you should be using an oil shampoo instead of clarifying to detox your scalp.” That’s why it’s recommended to use a clarifying shampoo no more than once a week or once every other week.

Related: How to Get Rid of Scalp Acne According to Top Dermatologists

The 7 best clarifying shampoos

Cotto gave us her favorite clarifying shampoos for different concerns and hair types, and we included a few of our favorites for good measure.

Best overall clarifying shampoo

shu eumura Gentle Radiance Clarifying Shampoo for All Scalp & Hair Types
shu eumura/Sephora

shu eumura Gentle Radiance Clarifying Shampoo for All Scalp & Hair Types

Cotto likes this one because although it does do a deep clean, it doesn’t leave hair feeling dry or stripped. “[It’s a] lightweight [formula] that doesn’t make the hair feel stripped or dry,” she says.

Best clarifying shampoo for fine, thinning hair

Nutrafol Root Purifier Scalp Shampoo for Thinning Hair
Nutrafol/Sephora

Nutrafol Root Purifier Scalp Shampoo for Thinning Hair

For those of us dealing with thinning hair, this root purifier is gentle but still delivers a deep cleanse. It’s also hydrating and won’t overstrip your strands or scalp.

Related: 11 Best Hair Growth Products for Women Over 50 to Treat Thinning, According to Hair Loss Experts

Best clarifying shampoo for dry hair

shu eumura Delicate Comfort Clarifying Shampoo for Dry Scalp & Hair
shu eumura/Sephora

shu eumura Delicate Comfort Clarifying Shampoo for Dry Scalp & Hair

Made with Japanese Onsen-inspired Ferments, which provide UV protection, heat-activated antioxidants and essential minerals, and Japanese cherry blossom, which also contains antioxidants and minerals, this pick for dry hair “removes dirt, oil and buildup while moisturizing and hydrating the hair,” says Cotto.

Best drugstore clarifying shampoo

Kristin Ess Hair Deep Clean Clarifying Shampoo
Kristin Ess/Target

Kristin Ess Hair Deep Clean Clarifying Shampoo

You truly can’t beat the price of this deep cleanser. For just $12, your scalp will feel squeaky clean and free of residue and mineral build-up.

Best clarifying shampoo for textured hair

Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo
Ouidad

Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo

The brand is known to be “the curl experts,” so it’s no surprise Ouidad made Cotto’s list for textured hair. Plus, it gets bonus points for being free of silicones, parabens, mineral oil, phthalates, petroleum and gluten, per the brand’s website.

Best clarifying shampoo for oily hair

shu eumura Pure Serenity Clarifying Shampoo for Oily Scalp and Hair
shu eumura/Sephora

shu eumura Pure Serenity Clarifying Shampoo for Oily Scalp and Hair

Cotto recommends this for those with oily-prone hair. It’s made with antioxidants and multivitamins to gently rid hair of that excess oil.

Best clarifying shampoo for color-treated hair

Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo
Redken

Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo

This clarifying shampoo by Redken is safe for color-treated hair, so there’s no worry of color drastically fading or dulling after you leave the salon or dye your hair at home.


See more hair care tips:

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