Our hair goes through a lot, thanks to blow drying, styling products, dry shampoo, coloring or just the general environmental factors we face going about our daily lives. All of this can seriously impact your hair health, leading to those infuriating instances where no matter how well you lather, rinse and repeat, your hair is still greasy, limp and heavy.
That’s likely due to excess build-up and residue, which your usual shampoo and conditioner simply isn’t equipped the handle. Don’t fret, though, as that doesn’t mean that you’ll have to live with lackluster and flat hair for the rest of time. Instead, you should consider using a clarifying shampoo, which deeply cleanses to get rid of the product built-up and oil that your usual products just aren’t able to combat. But what, exactly, is a clarifying shampoo, and how should you use one?
Think of a clarifying shampoo as a major deep clean for your hair. A clarifying shampoo is a “super cleanser that is specifically formulated to remove even the most stubborn residue that an everyday shampoo or cleanser can leave behind,” haircare expert Philip B. (and founder of the eponymous line) told Observer. It’s like a “detox for scalp and hair, that deep cleans the base for a fresher and cleaner scalp and hair canvas.”
“Clarifying shampoos lift and eliminate foreign debris, dirt, build-up, natural oils, environmental sludge, emulsifiers and products like oil, wax or silicone,” Philip B. explained. “It even works to eliminate pollution and nicotine from the scalp and strands.”
I don’t usually use many excess hair products, and usually skip blow drying for air drying. Even so, there are times where my hair simply doesn’t feel right, and is lackluster, flat and oily within hours of a fresh wash. I recently realized that those aforementioned bad hair days are usually after I’ve been traveling and washing my hair with hard
“Generally, your hair will speak to you when it’s time for a clarifying boost,” Philip B. said. “It will not style properly, and the hair texture will feel gummy or stick; roots will be heavy and flat, and hair will appear dull or have a grey hue. It may also feel greasy by the scalp, but lackluster and lifeless as you go down the shaft with super brittle and ‘crispy’ ends.”
There are different ways to use clarifying shampoo (each formula usually has different steps, so make sure to check the bottle), but the one universal rule is not to overdo it. While everyone’s hair is unique, Philip B. advises the average person to clarify about once or twice a month, though if you use a lot of hair products or always have to wash your hair in hard
Below, see the best clarifying shampoos for when your hair needs a refresh.
All products featured are independently selected by Observer editors. When you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission that supports our work.
Fekkai Apple Cider Detox Shampoo
I’ve always loved Fekkai products, so for my first foray into clarifying shampoo, I felt comfortable using their Apple Cider Detox. It’s one of the more gentle detoxifying formulas, and my hair didn’t feel dry afterwards. The ACV helps soothe and restore your hair balance, while washing away build-up and impurities. It also has pomegranate seed oil to protect and support hair barrier (yup, that’s a thing!), as well as vitamin b5 to aid in heat protection. It’s clean and vegan, plus safe and gentle enough for color-treated or keratin-treated hair.
Living Proof Triple Detox Shampoo
Don’t be concerned about the somewhat unexpected creamy grey shade of this shampoo; it’s due to the activated charcoal, which helps absorb the excess oil. It’s non-stripping and color-safe, and works to remove build-up residue from products, pollution and hard water, while also adding shine and hydration. Indeed, it conveniently comes with a hard water test strip, so you can test out the shower conditions you’re working with prior to using the treatment. After using it (leave it on for a minute or two if you’re focused on removing that hard water build-up), follow up with your favorite conditioner.
Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo
This deep-cleansing, color-safe shampoo will detox your scalp and work to remove all that build-up that’s causing your limp and greasy mane. It’s packed with argan and avocado oil, keratin, lavender and chamomile and jojoba extract, which nourish and hydrate your hair while also detoxing.
Philip B. Peppermint Avocado Shampoo
This deep-cleaning shampoo contains peppermint oil and 16 plant extracts; you’ll feel a tingling, cooling sensation on your scalp after applying. It lathers up nicely (which isn’t always true of clarifying shampoos!), to wash away excess sebum and product without stripping your scalp of its natural oils, for a total refresh.
Act + Acre Cold Processed Hair Cleanse
Act + Acre’s cleanse uses a plant-based formula to detox and remove residue, as well as rebalance the natural moisture of your scalp. Lather it up with water in your hands before use.
Kérastase Spécifique Argile Équilibrante
This is a cleansing clay shampoo treatment, so it’s a little different from some of the other options out there. It’s recommended for weekly use to help keep oily scalps and dry ends at bay; it has purifying and cleansing ingredients like kaolin and montmorillonite clay as well as menthol, which absorb excess oil, dirt and pollution. It gives a major refresh and nourishes ends, so it actually helps with giving hair a glossy finish.
Sun Bum Detox Shampoo
Sun Bum isn’t just about SPF; the brand also has all your beach essentials, including aftersun care. This detox shampoo contains apple cider vinegar and blue agave (the latter of which hydrates) for an intense yet gentle cleanse that will remove those beach day leftovers like salt water, chlorine and, of course, product build-up.
dpHUE ACV Hair Rinse Lite
This apple cider vinegar-filled hair rinse is great for those with finer, color-treated hair, as it’s gentle yet cleansing, and helps balance scalp and hair pH levels.
Malin + Goetz Detox Scalp Mask
This is technically a detox scalp “mask,” but it has the same benefits of a clarifying shampoo. It takes just five minutes and gets rid of all that product build-up, oil and other general gunk for a more balanced scalp. It has salicylic acid and AHAs to detoxify and exfoliate; apply it to a dry scalp, leave it on for a few minutes and then rinse.
Kevin Murphy Maxi Wash
This is a powerful detoxifying shampoo that removes excess product and mineral build-up; it contains tea tree, thyme and rosemary essential oils, which work together to purify and rebalance.
Playa California Salt Shampoo
Playa’s weekly cleansing shampoo feels like a spa day. It has sea salt and tea tree oil (a natural antiseptic) that exfoliate while restoring natural pH and oil balance, as well as treating the scalp and reducing dryness.
Headquarters Oil-Away Shampoo for Oily Scalp and Hair
This scalp-focused shampoo is great budget-priced option. It’s specifically formulated for oily hair and scalps, and leaves you with clarified, clean tresses.