Get Crystal Clear on Clarifying Shampoos

Megan Dominion

What’s the difference between a clarifying shampoo and a regular one? In a nutshell: it’s a stronger shampoo. If you’re a curly-haired gal or following the beloved Curly Girl Method, you’ve probably read that sulfates are bad news for hair – especially curly hair. Sulfates primarily act as a foaming agent in shampoo formulas. Some people, especially curlies, feel that sulfates leave your hair feeling dry and you risk losing a lot of moisture you’ve worked so hard to put into your hair.

However! It’s totally safe for even our curlies to use a sulfate shampoo (as required) to clarify or deep-clean their hair. We’re always looking for the best hair care advice, so let’s break it down!

Doesn’t regular shampoo clean my hair?

Regular shampoo does clean your hair, but most contain cheaper sulfates and sodium which are found in most cleaning products – like dishwashing liquid. Cheap sulfates are guilty of drying your hair and scalp, causing some women’s hair to produce even more oil to overcompensate. Have you ever felt that the more you wash your hair, the greasier it gets? That’s sulfates, friends!

Read: our 5 tips on how to prevent your hair getting greasy overnight

What makes clarifying shampoo better than ordinary shampoo?

Basically, clarifying shampoo has fancier & better quality sulfates. The better the quality & strength of the ingredients; the more build-up and impurities it will remove. Clarifying shampoos usually contain anionic surfactants, too. This is an ingredient used by manufacturers that provide most of the detergency and lather in shampoos. Amphoteric surfactants also decrease the irritancy of shampoo formulations. You want to look for these words on the label to ensure that you’re buying a good clarifying shampoo: “Ammonium lauryl sulfate; ammonium laureth sulphate; sodium lauryl sulfate; sodium stearate and alpha-olefin sulfonate.”

We know that it sounds a bit complicated, but you’ll get the hang of it! You’ll be a squeaky-clean pro in no time. Here’s Byrdie’s 14 best Clarifying Shampoos to give you some options to get started.

How do you know if you need a clarifying shampoo, anyway?

  1. If you use heat styling products. The silicone plates on those leave residue on your hair.
  2. If you use dry shampoo. We LOVE dry shampoo, but that magical, life-saving product does come with consequences. Hairdressers can spot the residue on your hair even after numerous washes.
  3. If your hair just won’t listen to you! Are you struggling to style and manage your hair? That could be product build-up that’s affecting your scalp’s pH balance
  4. If your scalp is itchy or you’re suddenly noticing a weird odor or developing dandruff. This could be caused by the alkaline changes in your scalp
  5. If your hair just won’t get clean. Are you washing your hair 2-3 times in the shower but it still doesn’t feel clean? Or do you notice that you have to wash your hair more times, and more often? Time to clarify!
  6. If your hair is generally oily or greasy, especially after swimming.
  7. If your curls won’t curl / coil or twist as nicely as they used to. Or if your curls have lost their bounce. Product build-up and impurities could be weighing your curls down
  8. And finally – if your hair is just a bit dull. A quick clarifying shampoo can really put the bounce back into your locks.

How do I clarify my hair like a pro?

You can re-set your hair with a good clarifying shampoo as often as you feel your hair needs it. We suggest doing a clarifying wash once a month and adjusting this according to your hair’s needs. You’ll feel the difference immediately as all those nasty impurities and build-up disappears down the drain where it belongs. It’s the best feeling!

Simply lather your hair like you would a regular shampoo, but leave the clarifying shampoo in your hair for at least 30 seconds so it gets a chance to really eat away at the impurities and nasties. Then rinse and follow the rest of your hair care routine. That’s it!

Will clarifying shampoo make my hair dry, though?

This could depend on your hair entirely. In general, It works a bit like a hair detox. Your hair might be a tiny bit drier or frizzy after a clarifying wash, and we recommend replacing that moisture lost with products used in the rest of your routine such as a deep conditioner. An added bonus is that you won’t have to wash your hair as often anymore if you’ve been struggling with build up!


Is clarifying okay for curly hair?

Once in a while is totally okay, important for your hair and scalp health, and even Curly Girl Method approved! Clarify your hair as needed. We recommend starting with once a month and adjusting according to your hair’s needs. You’ll soon start to understand how your hair feels and when it needs to be clarified. Say hello to fresher, cleaner and bouncier hair this season.

Megan Dominion

Megan Dominion is SILKUP's Managing Editor. She's been down both the curly hair and skincare rabbit holes many times and loves that there's always something new to learn; a new science, method, product or personal experience.