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6 best clarifying shampoos, according to hair experts

A doctor and two hair stylists recommend the best clarifying shampoos for various hair types and needs, including fine hair, curly hair and dry hair.
Clarifying shampoos can bring to new life to limp hair weighed down by excess products and residue.
Clarifying shampoos can bring to new life to limp hair weighed down by excess products and residue. Amazon

When your hair feels heavy or lifeless, it may be time to try a clarifying shampoo. Unlike regular shampoos, clarifying shampoos are formulated to remove excess buildup or residue on your hair or scalp. They offer a deeper cleanse than a regular shampoo, but are not designed for regular use — if used too frequently, clarifying shampoos might dry your hair and could fade color-treated hair.

Clarifying shampoos are helpful if you use “an extreme amount” of hair styling products, don’t shampoo your hair often or exercise frequently, said hairstylist 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.

As pools open up for the summer, swimmers especially may want to use a clarifying shampoo about once a week to help remove chlorine from their hair, advised Cheung. Chlorine, noted Chicago-based hair stylist Shelly Aguirre of Maxine Salon, can sometimes turn color-treated light colors greenish.

Whether you’re a frequent swimmer or use a dozen products to tame your curls, experts recommend you proceed with caution if you’re introducing a clarifying shampoo to your hair care routine. Most clarifying shampoos are formulated with sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a foaming agent that deep cleans your hair to remove flakes, excess product and dirt from your hair. To avoid drying out your hair, Cheung also recommended incorporating a hair conditioner or hair mask into your routine. (Experts in our guide to leave-in conditioners advised that these post-shower sprays or lotions should also help with general hair hydration).

The experts we consulted say you can expect to see visible results after a handful of washes with a clarifying shampoo. After that, you can “use your best judgment” and reincorporate a clarifying shampoo back into your wash day routine as needed, said Cheung.

Best clarifying shampoos, according to experts

Below, the experts we spoke to share their go-to clarifying shampoos for various hair types, including color-treated hair, curly hair and fine hair. Their picks are sold at personal care chains like Sephora, Dermstore and Ulta as well as Walmart, Amazon and Target.

Best overall clarifying shampoo: Moroccan Oil

Moroccan Oil Clarifying Shampoo

Foster and Cheung are fans of Moroccan Oil’s color-safe clarifying shampoo because it is sulfate-free 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

Neutrogena Anti-Residue Clarifying Shampoo

Neutrogena’s relatively affordable clarifying shampoo boasts a 4.6-star average rating from more than 19,100 reviews on Amazon. Cheung called it a “classic” clarifying shampoo and Foster added that it “removes buildup while leaving the hair very soft.” Cheung also noted that this clarifying shampoo contains sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), a less harsh sulfate than sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), which is more likely to dry out your hair.

Best clarifying shampoo for fine hair: Matrix

Matrix Total Results High Amplify Root Up Wash Shampoo

This clarifying shampoo from Matrix helps remove oil and build-up, which weighs down fine hair, according to Cheung. She also noted that this option 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

Malibu C Un-Do-Goo Shampoo

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

Carol's Daughter Wash Day Shampoo

Foster called this option from Carol’s Daughter a “super hydrating shampoo.” The clarifying shampoo employs micellar water to remove buildup without stripping the hair or leaving it dry and brittle. It is also infused with hydrating aloe vera and earned a 4.4-star average rating from nearly 3,260 reviews on Amazon.

Best cooling clarifying shampoo: Aveda

Aveda Rosemary Mint Purifying Shampoo

As its name suggests, this Aveda clarifying shampoo is made with rosemary and mint, which combined create a cooling and refreshing sensation on the scalp, according to Foster. Aveda’s clarifying shampoo earned a 4.7-star average rating from 680 reviews on Amazon.

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