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).

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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

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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.


[…] 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. […]


[…] 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 […]


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


Many thanks for one more edu­ca­tion­al web-site. The best place alto­geth­er dif­fer­ent may per­haps I get that sort of infor­ma­tion devel­oped in a very excel­lent way? For sale quest that we are just today con­cen­trat­ing on, and i have already been with the view out per­tain­ing to such infor­ma­tion.

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…

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.

Tiffy Stacey

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


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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