If you know me, you know I'm a huge sucker for hair products, from leave-in conditioners to hair oils to curl-enhancing formulas. But in the midst of all these luxurious options and their propensity for hair growth, moisture, and other advantages, it's easy to forget about the bread and butter of haircare: Washing one's hair. And while we have a myriad of go-to shampoos and conditioners forever stocked in our bathrooms, sometimes we need something a little stronger to wash the buildup from products, sweat, and pollution from our strands. That's where 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. Trichologists, by the way, are medical experts that specialize in hair and scalp health. Friese adds, 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 a lot of 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. "[Clarifying shampoo] is 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 your hair for coloring services."
How Often to Use a Clarifying Shampoo
According to Dr. Friese, "Anyone with dry/damaged hair should use a clarifying shampoo before deep conditioning hair to remove buildup. It will help the conditioner penetrate better." She also says that if you merely notice buildup on your hair or scalp in general, it's a good time to break out the clarifying shampoo.
Alvarez agrees, adding that clarifying shampoo can also help revive dull highlights. She also says it's the right move "when you’ve been using a lot of dry shampoo, when your hair still has residue after washing your hair, [and] if you swim often."
And what does swimming have to do with your hair? Dr. Friese explains, "People who swim often may need to clarify their hair more often to prevent the greenish tinge hair can take on from the chlorine. The same goes for ocean swimmers. A clarifying shampoo can help remove salt buildup on the hair."
For swimmers specifically, as well as those with oily scalps or who don't wash their hair often, Alzarez recommends using a clarifying shampoo regularly, though all people should limit their use of it to "at most, once a week." Dr. Friese agrees, advising that people who merely have oily hair use it "about every third wash to help remove oily buildup on the scalp." For those who have naturally dry hair, meanwhile, Alvarez suggests only using it as needed.
What to Look For in Clarifying Shampoo
So, now you know what clarifying shampoo is and how often you should use it, you're wondering what the best clarifying shampoo is for you. The search can be overwhelming, and it's hard to understand what to look for if you're not a stylist or trichologist, which is why we've done the research for you.
Dr. Friese starts by breaking down three common ingredients in clarifying shampoos and what makes them advantageous, depending on what you need from your product. The first compound she names is ammonium-sodium lauryl sulfate, which "provides the deepest cleanse. These may be best for extreme hair care product buildup or very oily hair. However, if you have any kind of keratin treatment in your hair—" including at-home keratin treatments like creams or leave-ins—"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 out for cetyl-fatty alcohols as well as chlorides and bromides. The latter "can help make your hair soft," but she warns that "people with really fine hair may want to stay away from these ingredients."
Alvarez adds, "You should look for moisturizing ingredients like aloe, seaweed and wheat proteins. You also want to look for a shampoo that has physical exfoliation properties."
In terms of ingredients you should stay away from, Alvarez warns that, for best results, "You should avoid parabens, silicons, sulfates, microplastic, and any animal origin ingredients."
The Best Clarifying Shampoos
- Best Overall Clarifying Shampoo for Buildup: Living Proof Perfect hair Day (PhD) Triple Detox Shampoo
- Best Scalp Scrub: BosleyMD Rejuvenating Scalp Scrub
- Best Clarifying Shampoo for Volume: Acure Curiously Clarifying Shampoo
- Best Clarifying Shampoo for Low-Porosity Hair: Pattern Clarifying Shampoo
- Best Color-Safe Clarifying Shampoo: Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo
Best Overall Clarifying Shampoo for Buildup
This shampoo targets the three most common sources of buildup: haircare products, environmental pollution, and hard water. As a result, it has a near-perfect rating on Sephora's site, with one review calling it "holy grail of detox shampoos." Anyone with any hair type or curl pattern can use this option, as well as those with colored or bleached hair, and it promises to enhance shine from root to tip. Plus, it’s made with effective cleansing ingredients like surfactants, charcoal, and anionic polymers, but is free of harsh silicones, sulfates, and parabens.
Pros: combats pollution; combats effects of hard water
Cons: not color-safe
Customer Review: "This detox shampoo worked wonders on my curly/wavy hair, because I’m always putting product in it. It made my hair feel lighter and softer with just one use. The texture is super creamy." -Sephora
Best Gentle Clarifying Shampoo
This gentle, vegan, cruelty-free shampoo is infused with natural ingredients like lemongrass and argan oil, which effectively cleanse the scalp without ridding it of the natural oils that protect your scalp and strand. Several reviews note that this option was more effective in removing product buildup than other comparable clarifying shampoos, and one person wrote that it gave them volume that "lasted for days." Plus, at under 10 dollars, it comes at a price that truly can’t be beat.
Pros: includes natural ingredients like argan oil; cruelty-free; sulfate-free; paraben-free
Cons: works better in soft water than in hard water
Customer Review: "Probably the best shampoo I've seen thus far. I've been searching for a shampoo that doesn't make my scalp itch and this is it! The smell does take a little to get used to but I really enjoy it now! Also I can go longer than I normally would in between washes." -Target
Best Detoxifying Clarifying Shampoo
Jen Atkin, queen of dry shampoos and style maintenance products, knows the importance of cleansing the hair of buildup, and this product proves it—just ask the thousands of happy customers who’ve made it go viral on social media. Several reviewers comment on how helpful this formula is with combatting bleach damage and highlight-destroying buildup, while another calls this shampoo "the perfect 'reset' when you use the product throughout the week.” Plus, its apple cider vinegar-infused formula supports strong, shiny strands from top to bottom.
Pros: fights build-up; color-safe; cruelty-free; great for oily scalps
Cons: strong smell
Customer Review: "Best shampoo ever. It makes hair and scalp feel super clean. The smell is amazing. If you have oily scalp this is magic." -Sephora
Best Color-Safe Clarifying Shampoo
This is one of my favorite options, from one of my favorite hair and skincare brands. Not only does this product smell incredible (I always liken the scent of Moroccanoil’s products to that of baby powder), but reviewers also write that it's a life-saver for those who have hard water (which can be harsh on hair) running through their faucets. It’s also guaranteed to work on all hair types and curl patterns, and it’s color-safe to boot.
Pros: combats the effects of hard water
Cons: high price for a relatively small bottle
Customer Review: "Absolutely amazing. Made my hair super silky soft. I have very damaged hair and made my hair feel restored almost instantly." -Sephora
Best Volume-Enhancing Clarifying Shampoo
Bumble and Bumble's shampoos and conditioners have long been cult favorites, and with good reason. One review calls this "a really cleansing formula that immediately gets rid of any dirt, oils, and build up." They then write that it "feels so luxurious and keeps my roots voluminous." The vegan formula promises to cleanse excess oil from the scalp, eradicating issues like dandruff, acne, and buildup. It also includes rosemary, a popular natural ingredient that promotes healthy hair growth and smells absolutely fabulous.
Pros: vegan; works well for straight and wavy hair
Cons: contains sulfates; not well-suited for natural hair
Customer Review: "This is a great clarifying shampoo. My scalp gets greasy really quickly, so I wanted to incorporate a product like this into my routine and this shampoo has really done the trick. I just use a bit once a week and a bottle lasts an extremely long time." -Sephora
Best Clarifying Shampoo Scrub
Dr. Friese loves this vegan, cruelty-free product, explaining that its activated charcoal works to "absorb excess oils" and that its "dissolving sugar crystals eliminate dead skin cells." All in all, she says, it's "a great way to refresh the scalp"—and has a refreshing minty scent to boot. Verified customers write that a little goes a long way with this option (so proceed gradually!), and that in addition to alleviating scalp itchiness, redness, and irritation, it also reduces hair loss and shedding.
Pros: exfoliating; supports scalp health
Cons: exfoliating crystals can irritate especially dry or cracked skin on the scalp
Customer Review: "Love this scrub. Smells lightly minty, and scrub granules are just right and gentle on the scalp. Hair feels clean after; safe for sensitive scalps like mine." -Ulta
Best Dandruff-Fighting Clarifying Shampoo
If your scalp is suffering from buildup, greasiness, and bothersome flakes, look no further than this dermatologically tested shampoo. Dr. Friese says that it "is great for those who suffer from dandruff and want to cleanse the scalp of excess oils and flakes." In addition to pyrithione zinc, which aids in eliminating dandruff, the formula also incorporates natural ingredients like pumpkin seed extract, which helps keep levels of DHT (the hormone responsible for pattern hair loss) as low as possible.
Pros: banishes dandruff; formulated with zinc; soothing
Cons: some reviewers complain about poor packaging
Customer Review: " It smelled good, was easy to use and I feel like I did something positive for my hair and scalp." -Walmart
Best Salt Scrub Clarifying Shampoo
"My top choice for a clarifying shampoo is Urban Alchemy Salt Scrub Cleansing Shampoo," says Cynthia Alvarez. "It has a sea salt exfoliator, which deep cleanses the scalp as well as the hair. It also nourishes your hair while preparing it to receive the full benefits of a deep conditioning treatment and/or a conditioner. Another huge plus is that it's gentle yet effective and promotes hair growth!" According to the brand’s instructions, customers should use it about once weekly for best results.
Pros: exfoliating; gentle; made from natural ingredients
Cons: exfoliating salt crystals can irritate especially dry or cracked skin on the scalp
Customer Review: "This shampoo is absolutely incredible. My hair feels so fresh, clean, and light after I use it with the conditioner, too. Would recommend this to EVERYONE for using during the summer to help remove buildup!" -Sally Beauty
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Low-Porosity Hair
Tracee Ellis Ross' popular natural haircare brand, Pattern, curated this shampoo specifically for low porosity, hydration-craving hair so that it can deep clean without stripping the scalp of essential nutrients or healthy natural oils. Several reviews say that the formula doesn't smell too strongly and that it leaves hair feeling soft and moisturized even as it deeply cleanses. It’s perfect for washing hair after taking it out of a protective style, too, with soothing ingredients like matcha green tea, panthenol, and aloe vera.
Pros: great for natural hair; moisturizing
Cons: not as well- suited for straight or greasy hair
Customer Review: "I love this, I use it with a scalp brush and it helped clear my dandruff that I'd been suffering with for years." -Ulta
Best Dirt-Fighting Clarifying Shampoo
In this formula, eucalyptus oil and burdock extract work together to rid the hair and scalp of excess oil and pollution that could cause skin irritation and limp hair. In line with Dr. Friese's expertise, verified customers warn that this shampoo is too drying for everyday use, but it's fantastic for once-weekly or as-needed deep cleanses. For best results, use the formula to give yourself a deep, thorough scalp massage with the tips of your fingers while in the shower.
Pros: fight pollution; great for sweat and dirt buildup (think: post-workout)
Cons: can be drying
Best Keratin-Infused Clarifying Shampoo
If you’re struggling with frizz as a result of hard water, pollution, and product buildup, consider this shampoo from Virtue. It contains a number of healing ingredients like coconut fatty acids, hops extract, and charcoal powder, but its allstar component is alpha Keratin 60ku, a healing protein identical to the keratin that makes up 90 percent of human hair. Thus, the influx of protein that this shampoo provides restores damaged strands with every use. One promising review reads, "My hair didn’t feel dried out or straw-like, like with most purifying shampoos."
Pros: suited for all hair types (coily, curly, wavy, straight); clinically tested; free of sulfates and phthalates; well-suited for thin hair
Cons: not as suited for thick hair
Customer Review: "My hair is bleached, so not just any shampoo will do it for me. This purifies my scalp and cleanses the hair strand, preparing it for conditioning...It does not leave it brittle." -Sephora
Best Root-to-Tip Repairing Clarifying Shampoo
Just because you're going to town on your scalp, doesn't mean your ends should suffer. This product is a cult favorite in France for both its delightful lemon cream scent and its effectiveness. One reviewer writes that it "easily" cleanses her greasy hair and scalp. Plus, it’s color-safe and cruelty-free, and its formula is free of harsh, harmful ingredients like tar, sulfates, phthalates, parabens, petrochemicals, mineral oil, silicone, and talc. Just be sure that when you’re using it, you scrub thoroughly and for enough time so that it lathers properly.
Pros: cruelty-free; color-safe
Cons: high price point; contains sulfates
Customer Review: "A must for anyone with fine, flyaway hair and greasy roots. This brand has cult status in France, and deservedly so. Unlike other reviewers on this page, the shampoo foams up nicely for me. It cleans the hair thoroughly without stripping it of all its natural oils. My hair is left squeaky clean and very shiny." -Nordstrom
Best Charcoal-Infused Clarifying Shampoo
If you love the lightweight feeling your hair has after a blowout appointment at Drybar, you'll adore this charcoal infused shampoo that the brand released for at-home use. Customer after customer writes that this vegetable protein-infused product cleanses strands from root to tip, so you can feel like you’ve just left the hair salon without ever budging from the comfort of your home. Plus, it’s remarkably affordable, and its impurity-banishing formula is free of any parabens, sulfates, phthalates, or gluten.
Pros: affordable; free of gluten, parabens, sulfates, and phthalates
Cons: can be very drying for curly and low-porosity hair
Customer Review: "Smells greats, leaves your hair feeling deep-cleaned and isn't drying. I use this once a week and can feel a huge difference in my hair after I use it." -Nordstrom
Best Shine-Enhancing Clarifying Shampoo
Reviewers say that this product is particularly helpful for those dealing with hard water, along with those who use hair products (particularly dry shampoo, mousse, and leave-in conditioner) often and consequently deal with a lot of buildup at their roots. One review that stands out is a woman with natural hair who says that this shampoo heals her "over processed" hair without damaging her extensions or drying out her moisture-loving coils. It’s also developed using 100 percent clean energy, and its packaging is completely recyclable.
Pros: works well on all hair types and textures; works on extensions; works well with hard water
Cons: high price point for a relatively small bottle
Customer Review: "I love this shampoo SO MUCH. I have low-porosity curly hair and I can get a lot of buildup. Every shampoo I used before made my hair feel super brittle and rough after using it and I would only use conditioner sometimes because of that but this shampoo literally feels like I used conditioner. It leaves my hair feeling super soft and silky and my scalp clear. It also smells SO GOOD." -Davines
Best Scalp-Resetting Clarifying Shampoo
If your scalp feels itchy from product buildup, this cruelty-free shampoo not only removes buildup but also soothes the scalp with natural ingredients like aloe vera. Reviewers warn, however, that, like all clarifying shampoo, this isn't meant for everyday use. One customer raves that the product is perfect for their curly hair but notes that "a little goes a long way." It works on all hair types, from pin-straight to natural hair, and is free of parabens, gluten, and sulfates.
Pros: color-safe; works with curly hair
Cons: drying, so it needs to be used in moderation; doesn't lather very much
Customer Review: "I use a lot of products on my hair, so by the end of week I can tell the weight and dullness in my hair. After I wash my hair I can tell how much lighter and cleaner my hair feels." -Verb
Meet the Experts
Gretchen Friese is a certified trichologist and trichology consultant. After working in the hair industry in Los Angeles for over 20 years, she relocated to Denver, where she now works with Foushee SalonSpa and Element 5.
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.