15 Best Clarifying Shampoos to Remove Residue, Oil, and Buildup

15 Best Clarifying Shampoos to Remove Residue, Oil, and Buildup

by Sue Jones
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Product buildup or a greasy scalp can sabotage an otherwise happy hair day, but adding a clarifying shampoo to your hair care routine can help. The best clarifying shampoos will thoroughly cleanse your hair and scalp, remove excess oil and residue, and leave your hair looking (and feeling) shinier and much, much cleaner. 

How do clarifying shampoos work?

Your average clarifying shampoo will contain two key ingredients: a chelating agent and a surfactant, or cleaning agent. Chelating agents help cleanse the hair of minerals and built-up residue, as they “latch onto metal ions and draw them out of the hair,” Jamie Rosen Manning, MD, FAAD, tells SELF. The surfactant you’ll find in a clarifying shampoo will likely be a sulfate (which is what makes most shampoos lather and generate suds), and they help attract and rinse away oil, Dr. Manning explains.

This combination of ingredients is extremely effective when it comes to deep cleaning hair, but it can strip natural oils that keep hair healthy, and even fade newly dyed hair. If you have colored hair or dry, brittle hair, a sulfate-free clarifying shampoo will be better suited to your needs. Both Dr. Manning and Emily Guo, MD, recommend looking for products that contain activated charcoal or apple cider vinegar, as these will stand in as gentler cleaning agents.

Who might benefit from using a clarifying shampoo?

You might think that clarifying shampoos are mainly useful for people with oily or fine hair (which, for the record, they absolutely are), but Dr. Guo tells SELF that people who regularly use styling products like dry shampoo and those who wash their hair with hard water could benefit from using them too. In both cases, your hair is accumulating residue, either from the products you’re using or the minerals in the water, and that can make your hair feel dull, weighed down, or plain old greasy, Dr. Guo explains. Dr. Manning adds that people who swim in chlorinated pools can also deal with buildup from time to time, so they also may want to consider using a clarifying shampoo. 

On the other hand, if you have dandruff, eczema, or psoriasis, a clarifying shampoo may make the peeling and flaking associated with those conditions worse, Dr. Manning says. You can always talk to your doctor or dermatologist if you’re curious about a product but aren’t sure about its effects. 

How often should you use a clarifying shampoo?

“Clarifying shampoos are occasional use, rather than daily, shampoos,” Dr. Guo says. Dr. Manning echoes this point, stating that you should use a clarifying shampoo sparingly (as little as once every seven to 14 days) and your hair type and texture (straight, wavy, or curly hair)  will help determine how often you should use a clarifying shampoo. If you have oily hair, for example, you’ll probably be able to use a clarifying shampoo more frequently than someone with dehydrated strands. You can think of a clarifying shampoo as more of a reset button than a regular cleanser, one that helps restore your hair’s “innate shine, softness, and brilliance,” Dr. Manning says.

So, while clarifying shampoos as a whole will provide your hair with that kind of healthy reset, the best clarifying shampoo for you will do so without drying out your hair, irritating your scalp, or messing with your hair color. With that in mind, we’ve highlighted a wide range of clarifying shampoos, including some best sellers and expert faves, for a variety of hair types from major brands and retailers like Amazon, Sephora, Neutrogena, and more. Read on for cleaner, bouncier, shinier hair.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

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