This Popular Shampoo Is Killing Your Hair—Here’s What to Use Instead

Updated: Aug. 27, 2019

Beauty aisles are loaded with clarifying shampoo options, but unless you have a very specific hair type, they're probably doing more harm than good to your precious strands. Here's why.

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Clarifying shampoo, in my opinion, is one of the biggest drugstore beauty aisle farces out there. It’s all a well-engineered marketing ploy to get you to buy what I consider dish soap in a more elegant bottle. I’ve been working with hair-care products and their formulas for years (you can read about how I make over $80K a year testing shampoos), and even my thick, healthy strands end up crunchy and brittle when so much as a dab of the clarifying stuff hits my head. I asked my most trusted hair expert friends if they agreed as well. Did they ever.

“Clarifying shampoos are rarely recommended for a daily shampoo,” shares Liam Carey, owner of Broome and Beauty Salon in New York. “Using clarifying shampoo could leave your hair brittle and dry, as well as create an itchy scalp.” Liam told me that anyone with processed hair, especially those with red tones, highlights, any form of bleached hair, or curls is especially prone to the damage clarifying suds can do. As a curly girl myself, I can tell you that moisture is a way of life. “Unless you want more damage and the world’s worst knots, stay away.”

Liam confirmed what I already felt deep in the soul of every single one of my strands, but I needed a more scientific explanation of how any why this sudsy cleanser is such a silent killer.

“Clarifying shampoos are formulated with higher levels of surfactants than other shampoos,” explained Ron Robinson, a cosmetic chemist for Dove Hair (a line I personally use). “They’re formulated to remove buildup and residue from conditioners and styling products. Unfortunately while doing so, they remove some of hair’s natural oils that keep it shiny and moisturized, especially if they’re used too often.” Here’s a cheat sheet to finding the best shampoo for your hair type.

DIY Clarifying Shampoo

That means on a scientific level, anyone with dry, damaged, or processed hair should avoid these shampoos like the plague and opt for homemade clarifying shampoo options instead. My personal formula for a homemade clarifying shampoo is pretty simple, but a little smelly, so only use it when you really need it, like after a weekend at the beach when your strands were coated in oils, heat protectants, ocean hair sprays, and other gunky products. All you need to do is grab a cup, a fork, 1/4 cup of your regular shampoo (hopefully something hydrating), and add an equal amount of apple cider vinegar. Whip it up till it’s fully blended, and shampoo the grime right out of your hair without risking your gorgeous tresses. The vinegar smell goes away by the time you condition your hair.

It’s a great solution for people with processed hair who love to work out, too, because sometimes you really want to clear away all the oils and sweat from a long run or hard workout, but don’t want to damage your strands more than hair color, processing, and life already have. In the meantime, if you still have a bottle of the damage-doing clarifying stuff in your shower, swap it out for anything that is labeled with the words hydrating, moisturizing, or replenishing. Your hair will thank you.

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