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When your hair feels heavy or lifeless or when there’s unsightly residue in it and on your scalp, you may want to consider using clarifying shampoos, which experts recommend for their deep cleansing properties and drying formulas. But they’re not designed to replace your regular shampoo — overused, they can dry your hair and could fade color-treated hair.
SKIP AHEAD Best clarifying shampoos
Clarifying shampoos are helpful if you use “an extreme amount” of hair styling products, don’t shampoo often or exercise frequently, said hair stylist Courtney Foster. If you have color-treated hair, you should opt for a gentle, color-safe clarifying shampoo, noted board-certified dermatologist Jessie Cheung, MD.
Swimmers especially may want to use a clarifying shampoo about once a week to help remove chlorine from their hair, advised Cheung — hair stylist Shelly Agurrie of Maxine Salon told us that chlorine can sometimes turn color-treated light colors greenish.
Whatever you use it for, experts recommend moderation with clarifying shampoos: More frequent use can cause dryness because they’re often formulated with sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a surfactant that combines oil- and water-soluble components to help deep clean your strands and remove flakes, styling products and dirt. To avoid that, Cheung advised incorporating a hair conditioner or hair mask into your routine. (We recently gathered expert-recommended leave-in conditioners formulated for various hair textures and densities that you can incorporate into your wash day routine for additional hydration.) The experts we consulted say you can expect to see visible results after a handful of uses. After that, you can “use your best judgment” and reincorporate it back into your wash day routine as necessary, said Cheung.
Best clarifying shampoos, according to experts
Ahead, the experts share their go-to clarifying shampoos for various hair types, including color-treated hair, curly hair and fine hair. Their picks are sold at reputable stores, including Sephora, Dermstore and Ulta as well as Walmart, Amazon and Target.
Best overall clarifying shampoo: Moroccan Oil
Foster and Cheung are fans of this color-safe clarifying shampoo because it is free of sulfates and is formulated with a hydrating and soothing blend of jojoba and avocado oils. It’s also made with argan oil which leaves behind a sweet, nutty aroma. This Moroccan Oil shampoo garnered a 4.6-star average rating from more than 1,220 reviews on Amazon.
Best affordable clarifying shampoo: Neutrogena
This relatively affordable shampoo boasts a 4.6-star average rating from more than 19,100 reviews on Amazon. Cheung called it a “classic” clarifying shampoo and noted it will leave your hair “clean and bouncy” because it contains sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), a “gentler” sulfate compared to SLS. Foster is also a fan of this shampoo and added it “removes buildup while leaving the hair very soft.”
Best clarifying shampoo for curly hair: Oribe
Oribe’s The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo “really performs at the highest level,” said Aguirre. It also received a recommendation from Cheung who noted the foaming mousse-like consistency makes it easier to distribute through “dense” curls. She noted the combination of papaya extract and volcanic ash exfoliate the scalp and soak up excess oil. It earned a 4.7-star average rating from more than 100 reviews on Amazon.
Best clarifying shampoo for fine hair: Matrix
This clarifying shampoo helps remove oil and build-up at the root which weighs down fine hair, according to Cheung. She added it contains salicylic acid to break down oil and unclog hair follicles. Matrix Total Results High Amplify Root Up Wash Shampoo earned a 4.3-star average rating from nearly 50 reviews at Ulta.
Best clarifying shampoo for swimmers: Malibu C
Aguirre called this one of her “favorite” shampoos and said it’s helpful for swimmers who want to remove chlorine from their hair. Malibu C’s vegan clarifying shampoo is made with a mix of conditioning ingredients like glycerin and butylene glycol. It received a 4.7-star average rating from nearly 2,220 reviews on Amazon.
Best clarifying shampoo for dry hair: Carol’s Daughter
Foster called this a “super hydrating shampoo” that employs micellar water to remove buildup without stripping the hair leaving it dry and brittle. It is also infused with soothing and hydrating aloe vera. This Carol’s Daughter shampoo earned a 4.4-star average rating from nearly 3,260 reviews on Amazon.
Best cooling clarifying shampoo: Aveda
As its name suggests, this Aveda clarifying shampoo is made with rosemary and mint, which together leaves behind a cooling and refreshing sensation to the scalp, according to Foster. Aveda’s clarifying shampoo earned a 4.7-star average rating from 680 reviews on Amazon.