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.
Our editors and experts handpick every product we feature. We may earn a commission from your purchases.
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.
The Best Shampoo For Every Hair Type
1 / 11
Best shampoo for oily hair
Alterna/Ulta Beauty, iStock/zoom-zoomIf your hair is oily, a volumizing shampoo can make a huge difference, according to Edward Tricomi, master stylist and co-founder of Warren-Tricomi Salons. And although it seems counterintuitive, Tricomi recommends washing oily strands every other day. "It gives the oil gland in the scalp a chance to rest," he says. "Less frequent washing will help with an overactive oil gland, and in time should make a visible change in the hair." Also, try Alterna Haircare Caviar Volume Shampoo, a sulfate-free formula that builds thickness and volume with a marine pumping complex while protecting color from root to tip. Quick check: Are you guilty of these surprising hair mistakes?Buy Now
Best shampoo for dry hair
L'Oréal-Paris/Target, iStock/zoom-zoomSummer sun takes a toll on hair, leaving it dry and brittle. And when the heat kicks on in fall, strands only get drier. To restore moisture and healthy shine, L'Oréal Paris celebrity hairstylist Mara Roszak recommends using L'Oreal Paris Advanced Haircare Extraordinary Oils Nourish Shampoo. "It gives hair shine and an added boost of nutrition," she says. The shampoo's oil complex—with amla, coconut, soja, sunflower, argan, and chamomile oils—nourishes hair, rebuilding the hair fiber, repairing coarse hair from root to tip, and leaving locks shiny and soft. Don't miss these natural hair loss remedies that are definitely worth a try.Buy Now
Best shampoo to tame flyaways
Mineral Fusion, iStock/zoom-zoomIf static electricity has your hair standing at attention, reach for ultra-hydrating ingredients like coconut oil and sea kelp, found in Mineral Fusion Smoothing Shampoo and Conditioner. "They cleanse and purify the hair with mineral-rich clay, and use the oil and sea kelp to tame flyways and frizz," says Timothy Schaeffer of Mineral Fusion. "Hair will feel smoother, silkier, and will be much easier to manage thanks to all the extra hydration."Buy Now
Best shampoo for an itchy scalp
Dessange Paris/Target, iStock/zoom-zoomWhether you are prone to dandruff or not, the scalp sometimes needs TLC. Enter DESSANGE Professional Hair Luxury Purifying Clay Balancing Shampoo, the second step to the Purifying Clay system, a pro-vitamin B5 enhanced shampoo that helps to minimize oily roots and produce soft, balanced hair. The pro-vitamin B5 is known for its protective properties of the fiber capillary, helping repair and soften the hair from roots to ends. The light cherry, violet, and vanilla scents are a nice bonus! To keep your strands healthy, fall for these nighttime habits that are actually damaging your hair.Buy Now
Best shampoo for color-treated hair
Color Wow/Ulta Beauty, iStock/zoom-zoomIn a 180-degree departure from typical color-care products, Color Wow Security Shampoo is formulated not only without sulfates, but also without silicones, conditioning, or pearlizing agents that can leave behind residues that dull hair and clog follicles, impeding new growth. The Color Wow Color Security Shampoo is a gentle cleanse for colored hair, leaving it shiny and clean with radiant color. Use it, then learn these stylist tricks will help make your hair color last longer.Buy Now
Best shampoo for thinning hair
Regenesis, iStock/zoom-zoomThe folks behind RevitaLash Cosmetics eyelash and eyebrow conditioning products now have a shampoo that can help you stop hair aging and thinning in its tracks. ReGenesis Thickening Shampoo is phyto-infused to fortify the hair cuticle and improve hair shaft thickness, making hair feel fuller and look thicker and more lustrous. Meanwhile, check out the sneaky reasons your hair might be falling out.Buy Now
Best shampoo for curly hair
MoroccanOil, iStock/zoom-zoom Curls of all shapes and sizes need formulations that promote control, shine, and pliability and stop frizz from forming. MoroccanOil Curl Enhancing Shampoo & Curl Cleansing Conditioner check all these boxes, enhancing curl formation and increasing manageability. Don't miss the these styling tips for curly hair.Buy Shampoo Now, Buy Conditioner Now
Best shampoo to get rid of buildup
Fekkai, iStock/zoom-zoomWe love our mousse, volumizing spray, gel, cream, and dry shampoo, but all that product builds up on the hair, weighing it down, which is why a clarifying shampoo is a must-have. Inspired by a family beauty secret, Frederik Fekkai's cult-classic Apple Cider Shampoo is an apple and pear-scented, silicone-free cleanser for overworked hair that deep cleans without stripping. Treat yourself to the weekly ritual of renewing hair to its cleanest, purest state. Try these tips that really make your hair shine.Buy Now
Best shampoo for seriously fried strands
Kérastase, iStock/zoom-zoomHair that's nearly crispy from the summer sun, heat styling, and color treatments needs Kérastase Nutritive Bain Magistral. Its powerful nutrition complex—with nutrition-packed resin from the Benjoin Tree—nourishes hair and creates a shield on the hair surface for 72 hours to protect against dryness. For extra hydration, add Kérastase Elixir Ultime Indulgent Oil Metamorph'Oil Pre-Shampoo Treatment, a silicone-free, gel-to-milk, purifying pre-cleansing balm that boosts shampoo and conditioner performance. Also, try these home remedies to rescue dry hair.Buy Shampoo, Buy Balm
Best shampoo for flat, lifeless hair
StriVectin Hair, iStock/zoom-zoomTo add a little va-va voom to sad strands, you need to cleanse the scalp and hair of excess buildup, for starters. StriVectin HAIR Max Volume Shampoo does that as step one; it then amplifies overall body and bounce for weightless hair that appears full, soft, and radiant. The formulation contains a combination of hydrolyzed soy and vegetable proteins that regulate hair's ability to retain moisture without adding weight, and sunflower seed extract that protects and repairs natural and dyed hair against harmful UV rays and decreases damage from chemical treatments and heat styling.Buy Now
Best shampoo for aging hair
Pureology/Ulta Beauty, iStock/zoom zoom Mature locks need special attention, and Pureology Nano Works Gold Shampoo and Conditioner aim to deliver. These formulas are made with strand-softening shea butter and golden marula oil, which is super hydrating but ultra-light, so hair is soft and manageable but never greasy. An ingredient called keravis helps strengthen and repair damaged strands, which has less bounce-back than younger hair and needs greater protection against breakage. Vitamin B complex evens the surface of hair for optimal shine, and a vitamin E-based anti-fade complex, with UVA and UVB filters, helps keep your color vibrant. Next, don't believe these hair myths that are ruining your hair.Buy Shampoo Now, Buy Conditioner Now
Bryce Gruber is an expert in gift ideas, shopping, and e-commerce. You've likely seen her work across a variety of women's lifestyle and parenting outlets and on TV shows. She lives and works in New York's Hudson Valley with her five small children.