The 17 Best Clarifying Shampoos to Beat Product Buildup

Your itchy scalp will thank you.

women who used a clarifying shampoo
(Image credit: Launchmetrics)

We collect hair products, from leave-in conditioners to hair oils and heat protectants. But when you're caught up in all of these luxurious offerings, it's easy to forget about the bread and butter of haircare: a simple wash. While we have a myriad of go-to shampoos and conditioners stocked in our bathrooms, sometimes we need something a little stronger to wash away the buildup from all those other products. That's where the best clarifying shampoos come in.

"Clarifying shampoo is formulated to cleanse the hair and scalp of buildup and impurities," explains Gretchen Friese, a certified BosleyMD trichologist. The expert notes that clarifying shampoos are "often used by people who are infrequent washers, swimmers, have problems with oily hair, or simply want to refresh their scalp."

Celebrity hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez agrees, noting that clarifying shampoo is especially helpful for those who use many styling products. "Clarifying shampoos use a unique formula that works like a magnet to attract dirt, dissolve it, and flush it away with water," she says. "They're specifically formulated to clear buildup and remove any residue from styling products. It prevents bacterial buildup on the scalp, creates volume, thoroughly removes buildup, restores your hair’s PH, and prepares hair for coloring services."

Ahead, our expert picks for the best clarifying shampoos on the market—plus how to take proper care of your hair while using them.

The Best Clarifying Shampoos

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What to Look For in Clarifying Shampoo

  • Ingredients

Friese breaks down three common ingredients in clarifying shampoos and what makes them advantageous. The first compound she names is ammonium-sodium lauryl sulfate, which provides the deepest cleanse. "This may be best for extreme hair care product buildup or very oily hair," she notes. However, if you have any kind of keratin treatment in your hair—including at-home keratin treatments—"you should stay away from this ingredient as it will strip the treatment from the hair."

For those in need of milder ingredients, she recommends looking for cetyl-fatty alcohols as well as chlorides and bromides. The latter "can help make your hair soft," but isn't great for fine hair.

"You should look for moisturizing ingredients like aloe, seaweed and wheat proteins," Alvarez also adds.

  • Labels

While labels like "color safe" and "sulfate free" float around on clarifying shampoo bottles, master stylist Yvey Valcin notes that you still need to be wary of how your hair will be influenced.

"There’s still often sodium and alcohol in the product, which will look for any moisture in the hair and drain it off," he says.


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How Often to Use a Clarifying Shampoo

For swimmers, people with oily scalps, and those who don't wash their hair often, Alzarez recommends using a clarifying shampoo regularly. Friese agrees, advising people who merely have oily hair to use it about every third wash. If you have naturally dry hair, use it only as needed.

Clarifying Shampoo Aftercare

A good clarifying shampoo treatment should be followed up with a good conditioner. Think of it this way: Your hair has been weakened and it needs some sustenance.

"Imagine you're thirsty and someone makes you run," Valcin explains. "You need to drink water and then take a little time before you start moving again. Let the hair soak in that moisture for a good five minutes and then rinse it out like 90 percent of the way—especially for high-density hair. The best thing to do is a deep conditioning treatment. Soak the hair in some deep conditioner and let the hair drink it up."

Is Clarifying Shampoo Bad For Hair?

While clarifying shampoo isn't necessarily bad for your hair, it's important to use it only when a deep clean is necessary—and to make sure you rehydrate your locks afterward.

“You have to have a reason to use clarifying shampoo," explains Valcin. "Let’s say you’re doing a keratin treatment. It’s important to [preemptively] remove dirt and product buildup, so that would be a good reason to use clarifying shampoo. But let’s say you have virgin hair, you don't use a lot of product, you've never done anything to it. It might strip out the moisture and the nutrients that your scalp produces."

Meet the Experts

Yvey Valcin headshot
Yvey Valcin

Yvey Valcin is a celebrated Master Stylist and Founder of Yvey Salon. Known for his superior cutting technique and unique gift for uncovering the individual beauty within his clients, Yvey has styled top editorial and fashion events such as New York and Paris Fashion Week and was one the highest rated stylist at the flagship Gene Juarez salon in SeattleHis passion for hair extended his training to the most respected names in the beauty industry including: Jacques Dessange Paris, Raffel Pages Barcelona, La Biosthetique Canada, and Bumble and Bumble New York. The combination of his passion and technical skills enables him to bring out the best version of each individual sitting in his chair.

Gretchen Friese
Gretchen Friese

Bosley MD’s Certified Trichologist and go-to education authority on all things hair loss and hair thinning, Gretchen always had a genuine passion for hair care and developed her expertise specifically in hair loss and hair thinning, making it her continued mission to help women and men find solutions to their hair loss concerns.

Gretchen has over 20 years of experience in the beauty industry, from being hands-on behind the chair in salons, to educating consumers on hair loss solutions and stylists about haircutting techniques. In 2016 she received a certification in Trichology/Hair Loss through the United States Trichology Institute.

Cynthia Alvarez, hairstylist
Cynthia Alvarez

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Cynthia Alvarez is a celebrity hairstylist who has worked with clients of all hair types, including Shakira, Alicia Keys, Dascha Polanco, and more.

Gabrielle Ulubay
Beauty Writer

Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, politics, culture, and fashion at Marie Claire and at publications including The New York Times, HuffPost Personal, Bustle, Alma, Muskrat Magazine, O'Bheal, and elsewhere. Her personal essay in The New York Times' Modern Love column kickstarted her professional writing career in 2018, and that piece has since been printed in the 2019 revised edition of the Modern Love book. Having studied history, international relations, and film, she has made films on politics and gender equity in addition to writing about cinema for Film Ireland, University College Cork, and on her personal blog, Before working with Marie Claire, Gabrielle worked in local government, higher education, and sales, and has resided in four countries and counting. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, and spent two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy.

Deeply political, she believes that skincare, haircare, and sexual wellness are central tenets to one's overall health and fights for them to be taken seriously, especially for people of color. She also loves studying makeup as a means of artistic expression, drawing on her experience as an artist in her analysis of beauty trends. She's based in New York City, where she can be found watching movies or running her art business when she isn't writing. Find her on Twitter at @GabrielleUlubay or on Instagram at @gabrielle.ulubay, or follow her art at