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5 Signs You’re Due for a Clarifying Shampoo

• Apr 9, 2012

By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care

Clarifying shampoos get a bad reputation for their tendency to dry out the hair. But really, they are just doing their job-lifting stubborn styling and finishing products from the hair! So when should you use a clarifying shampoo?

Most people can benefit from using a clarifying shampoo occasionally. Clarifying shampoos are formulated with a higher surfactant-to-water ratio to deep cleanse the hair. They are designed to lift stubborn residue, products and dirt. Because the focus is on cleaning, they often contain very few emollients and conditioning oils to balance them out.

Clarifying shampoos are usually clear for this reason. Any shampoo can clarify the hair if the surfactant ratio in the formula is sufficient.

You need to use a clarifying shampoo if any of the following scenarios apply to you:

1. Your hair is really oily.

If your hair is naturally oily, then clarifying will be useful to you. It will keep your hair fresh, clean and oil-free and won’t leave you feeling weighed down. Because clarifying shampoos can be drying, always follow them with a light conditioner to soften the hair.

2. You’ve been using lots of oils, heavy conditioners and finishing products.

Products that are not water-soluble, like heavy oils and silicone-based ingredients that are found in everyday conditioners, moisturizers, mousses, gels, serums and hairsprays, can build up on the hair and cause it to feel limp, icky and lifeless. A regular moisturizing shampoo won’t be able to lift these stubborn ingredients. You’ll need to use a clarifying shampoo to remedy this build-up.

3. You’ve been swimming.

Chlorine and salt residue from swimming in pools or hanging out at the beach can really damage your hair if they are not removed promptly. Combine them with sun, and the damage is multiplied. A clarifying shampoo will help you get your hair back to normal after chlorine exposure and will prevent unnecessary damage to the hair.

4. None of your products are working.

When silicone and oils from your hair products build up on your hair, they may cause your favorite shampoos, conditioners and other products to “stop working.” Your shampoo might not lather properly, and your hair might feel weighed down after deep conditioning. The problem is simply product build-up. Whenever products you know are good just stop working, don’t toss them out. Clarify your hair to remove the build-up.

5. It’s been a month since you’ve last used a clarifying shampoo.

Clarifying your hair can be done as a monthly refresher, and it will give your hair a fresh clean slate for products each month. I’ve found that after about a month, my hair begins to get a coated, weighed down feeling. Clarifying at least once a month can remedy this. If you use oily or sticky products like serums, regular oils, gels and heavy pomades frequently throughout the week, then you may find that clarifying weekly is a better option. If your hair is naturally oily, then daily clarifying can be beneficial.

Ladies, how can you tell when your hair needs a clarifying wash?

Audrey Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, health scientist and author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care (available on & Barnes&

For more insight from The Science of Black Hair— relaxed, natural or in between, visit us on the web and on facebook & twitter.

Claude Bouillion & John Wilkinson, The Science of Hair Care, 2nd ed. (Taylor & Francis,1995).

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35 Comments on "5 Signs You’re Due for a Clarifying Shampoo"

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I know it’s time to use a clarifying shampoo when my hair starts to feel like straw.


Can anyone suggest any good Clarifying shampoo’s with minimal harmful ingredients?


I use Suave Daily conditioner, it works great. It DOES NOT dry out your hair as a matter of fact your curls and waves POP!


Trader joe’s Tree Tingle shampoo.


Aubrey Organics?


use clay.
bentonite mixed with water and maybe apple cider vinegar. use it as a mask and it will absorb all the gunk that is built up on your hair.

rinse and follow with apple cider vinegar.


i use Vo5 clarifying shampoo.…its cheap and it works great for my hair.

Sheena M

I use Suave daily clarifying shampoo once every couple of months…


Kinky Curly Come Clean shampoo


Dr. Bronner’s Castile liquid soap. Just dilute 1 part soap and 1 part water or aloe vera juice.


Avalon organics makes a good one.


Hmmm, I don’t think I’ve ever used a ‘clarifying’ shampoo. I usually use Shea Moisture retention shampoo(sulfate-free), and if I feel like I need a deep cleaning I’ll use Herbal Essence’s shampoo for dry or color treated hair(contains sulfate) and it does the trick.


I agree. Never used one. I use beautiful curls moisturizing shampoo, but if I feel I need a really good wash I use Hugo Naturals. It works for me, not changing now 😉


The author of the article did say that ” any shampoo can clarify the hair if the surfactant ratio in the formula is sufficient.” I think brands like Hugo Naturals and Herbal Essences are formulated with Caucasian hair in mind. It might be fine for most with Caucasain hair but I’ve definitely had that ‘stripped’ feeling on my strands even when using a moisturizing shampoo from common drugstore brands.


Kinky-Curly’s Come Clean shampoo is my go-to for a deep clean. I only use it every so often, when I feel a lot of product buildup.


same here i love that stuff (when it’s necessary)


Me too! Strips it allllllllllll awaaaaayyyyy.…..rarely use it as I’m 99% protective,mostly a no-poo girl, but if I’ve styled with heavy product, than KCCC is my go to product for effectiveness and of course,I’d rather give my hard earned bucks to a black-owned business.


I’ve recently stopped using any and all synthetic chemicals , so I think for me its when the hair feels heavier.

I clarifying with apple cider vinegar but never tried baking soda .


I also use ACV to remove product buildup and get my scalp clean.


I was wondering if someone would mention ACV. Ever since I discovered that for clarifying it’s been my ish! And the shine and softness it imparts is awesome, too.


this past weekend, i used a deep conditioner/clarifier i made.

betonite, rhassoul, spirulina powder, and coconut oil (had herbs in it too) and water.

misted my hair with apple cider vinegar/water solution and added clay paste.

let sit about an hour. rinsed out. followed with a milder moisturizing shampoo.

my hair is looking amazeballs.

for just clarifying, i would just mix water and bentonite. maybe add a bit of french green clay or rhassoul which don’t draw as much as bentonite.


Do you still need to clarify even if you use shampoo every week? I’m a bit confused!


i shampoo every week and still needed to clarify.

the shampoo i use is not all that strong or deep cleaning.

i approach it the way i approach my skin. even though i cleanse every day, it still benefits from a mask every week or two for deeper cleaning.

after you apply a mask to you skin, all other products work better.


I gave up on the whole no-poo thing a while ago (too much build-up). I ordered two bottles of Devacurl (after I got tired of co-washing) and was still not impressed (waste of $50). I wash my hair weekly with an Aubrey Organics shampoo, BUT — I “soften” it by adding unrefined coconut oil to it. My hair has not only gotten stronger and more beautiful (probably because it’s actually clean), but I’ve been able to retain length better. It just goes to prove that not everything works for everyone.


I usually clarify with Shea Moisture’s African Black Soap or ACV. I am yet to try the Bentonite clay. I usually use the clay for a deep pore cleansing.


even when i was permed i had to use clarifying at least twice a week, and now natural, with about a foot of hair, a minimum of twice a week

i tried to cowash, and it was a joke, my hair needs shampoo

Tiffy Stacey

COSIGN! Great tips! Must post this link to my blog!

I have had so much trouble with my split and damaged ends, i just want to cry, I go get my hair treated like twice a month and when i leave the hair salon my hair looks and feels healthy, but then like 2 wks after my hair looks as if its breaking horribly at the ends, so i went back to the hairstylist and she cut about 3 inches of my split ends and it looked better after that then now it’s looking as if its doing the same thing over again and i wash my hair every week… Read more »

You may need a protein treatment followed by a deep moisturizing conditioning treatment to try to revive your ends. If not a protein treatment, henna treatment may work for you (leave in henna, green tea & mix on for at least 4 hours) and following up with a good moisturizing conditioning treatment (Shea Moisture) and use a creamy leave-in (KK Know today or look up KimmayTube’s leave-in recipe on Youtube for a KK-based PH-balanced leave-in.

Also, do you have a moisturize and seal method? This can be a daily maintenance regimen to help protect your ends.

Hari Ohm

i actually use shielo’s hydrate line of shampoos (which are sulfate free) to wash my hair. It doesnt have any of those harmful ingredients. I used to have the worst hair, and now I ALWAYS get complements when using the shielo shampoo. Worth the price…


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[…] is a great article that explains the importance of clarifying shampoo and how often to […]


[…] SUPER important to clarify and cleanse your hair of all these products to avoid buildup. Here is an article that details the importance of clarifying. But, most importantly, here is the YouTube video for […]


[…] Keep your follicles healthy and avoid build up: Give your hair a blank slate by clarifying (cleansing). This is done less frequently than a typical wash, usually once a month, using a clarifying shampoo, which is usually avoided because it strips hair of moisture but is helpful in removing product build up. Black Girl Long Hair has some tips on determining when you need to clarify. […]


Ya, you are right, i agree with you. These are main causes one should start using clarifying shampoo. I myself had hair buildup problem, also oily hair, which i still have. But i started using clarifying shampoo and it really helped me alot. Now my hair are more healthy and smooth and also looks tidy. I have used Neutrogena anti-residue shampoo and it worked for me.

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