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Clean hair starts with a clean scalp — and this step in your routine is key

It's the only thing standing between you and your healthiest locks yet.
Woman washing her hair in the shower
Kara Birnbaum/ TODAY

From mousses and hairsprays to heat styling and everything in between, we put our hair through a lot. While you might not notice a difference immediately, it can build up over time to affect the way your hair looks and feels before and after styling of any kind.

But have no fear! You're likely just missing one product in your hair care routine that can turn it all around: clarifying shampoo. It's not quite the same as your typical shampoo, which is why Shop TODAY enlisted the expertise of professional hairstylists to break down what it does, why you should be using it and more tips to get your healthiest hair possible.

Purpose | Benefits | Expert picks | Shopper-loved | FAQs | Meet the experts

What does clarifying shampoo do?

Clarifying shampoos are designed to provide a deeper clean than the average shampoo. “A clarifying formula can help remove product residue and/or heavy metals, minerals and chlorine found in hard water, which can cause color fading and damage to the hair,” Diana Pratasiewicz, head of education at Ouai, told us in an email.

Amy Stollmeyer, hairstylist and co-founder of DESIGNME, echoed similar sentiments to Pratasiewicz, adding that buildup can also occur from pollution, algaecides found in swimming pools and large bodies of water and even side effects from certain medications.

“Think of using a clarifying shampoo as hitting a big reset button on your regular hair routine,” said Pratasiewicz.

Why you should use clarifying shampoo

Besides having hair that feels squeaky clean, Stollmeyer, Pratasiewicz and founder of Arkive Headcare, Adam Reed, shared a plethora of other benefits that come from using clarifying shampoos, including:

  • More volume and shine
  • Reduces frizz, dryness and other “bad hair day” issues, as Pratasiewicz called them.
  • Longer-lasting and better-looking results from heated and natural styling
  • Better absorption of hair color and toners
  • Can reduce scalp inflammation
  • Creates a healthy scalp environment which can “help promote stronger, healthier hair, help prevent hair loss and even keep some bad bacteria away,” according to Pratasiewicz.

“With all that we put in our hair, it's always a good idea to have a ‘spring cleaning’ moment once in a while,” she said.

Expert-recommended clarifying shampoos

Redken Hair Cleansing Cream Shampoo

Reed recommended this clarifying cream shampoo from Redken. According to the brand, it's suitable for color-treated hair and touts benefits like instantly removing minerals found in hard water and strengthening the hair cuticle. Take a quick look at the formula list and you'll find various fruit extracts and even salicylic acid, a familiar ingredient for many beauty lovers.

L’Oreal Professionnel Metal Detox Shampoo

Another pick from Reed, this detox shampoo is also a fan favorite with over 2,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon. Designed to rid your hair of metals from water, the brand says it can help prevent damage and prolong your color.

Editor's note: Reed is a global ambassador for L'Oreal Professionel.

Top-rated clarifying shampoos

Olaplex No. 4C Bond Maintenance Clarifying Shampoo

Every Olaplex product that comes out seems to be beloved by shoppers, and their clarifying shampoo is no different. It came out six months ago and already has an almost perfect five-star rating on Sephora and 97 percent of shoppers on the site would recommend it. One shopper called it "a must have for volume at the roots!"

Kristin Ess Deep Clean Clarifying Shampoo

Aside from the brand's popular curling cream, the clarifying shampoo is another pick people can't seem to get enough of. The front of the bottle features key takeaways you can expect from using it, including everything from "shine enhancing" to "super sudsing."

Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo

Give your hair an extra-soothing reset with this clarifying shampoo that's infused with lavender, chamomile and jojoba plant extracts alongside argan and avocado oils. "This product takes my hair from flat and oily to perfectly balanced," one satisfied (and verified) Amazon shopper wrote.

Kenra Clarifying Shampoo

According to the brand, this shampoo eliminates up to 99 percent of the deposits left behind in your hair that can cause dullness. Reviewers agree that it does a great job at providing a deep cleanse and stress the importance of following up with a thoroughly hydrating conditioner.

Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo

Made specifically with curls in mind, the brand says this shampoo is ideal for all curl types and can "reboot" your curl pattern for a fresh start. Its key ingredients include fruit and citrus extracts ranging from orange flower to grapefruit.

K18 Biomimetic Hairscience Peptide Prep Clarifying Detox Shampoo

Achieve a true deep clean with this clarifying shampoo that boasts results like removing 99 percent of product buildup, 95 percent of sebum and 76 percent of copper, based on a clinical study conducted by the brand after one wash. "It left my hair really clean, but also hydrated and smooth," wrote one Sephora reviewer. "My daughter even raved after using it since she has curly hair and going without conditioner is never an option."

dpHUE Apple Cider Vinegar Hair Rinse

Apple cider vinegar is no stranger to the world of hair care, and this rinse makes it easy to reap all the benefits. Reviewers warn that the scent can come off as strong to many but say the results are worth it.

Ouai Detox Shampoo

If you're not ready to commit to an entire ACV-based rinse, this popular pick from Ouai also contains the star ingredient. "Not only is the scent incredible, the sheen and softness it's given my hair is out of this world," one Sephora shopper gushed.

Curlsmith Detox Clarifying Scalp System

Curlsmith makes clarify day easy with this curated system. It comes with a pre-wash primer, a clarifying scrub and a post-wash conditioner. According to the description, highlighted ingredients include apple cider vinegar and a peppermint and tea tree essential oil blend.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should clarifying shampoo be used?

The experts have a few different answers for this one, ranging from once per week to every fourth shampoo session, but the common link amongst it all is simple; use a clarifying shampoo whenever you need a deeper cleanse.

If you notice your hair feeling heavy, dull, weighed down or lacking shine, Reed says it’s time to use a clarifier.

Lifestyle — where you live, medications and anything else contributing to buildup — is also a factor in determining how often you should be using a clarifier, Stollmeyer told us. So your circumstances may prompt you to use a clarifier more often than someone else. At the very least, she suggests using it once per month to give your scalp a refresh.

In the case of clarifying shampoos, Pratasiewicz says there can be too much of a good thing. “I do get asked if a clarifying shampoo can be used every day and the answer to that would be no,” she said. “Most clarifying shampoos do not have hydrating properties. It’s all about balance.”

Can any hair type benefit from a clarifying shampoo?

Unlike the question about cadence, the experts agree that the answer to this question is a resounding yes.

“Always consult with your stylist before jumping into clarifying [shampoos] so they can consult you on the best formula for your hair type, texture and lifestyle,” Stollmeyer advised.

What should you look for in a clarifying shampoo?

Pratasiewicz suggests looking for clarifying shampoos that are silicone-free and have “ingredients that can provide exfoliation” like apple cider vinegar. She called the latter “a magical ingredient for detoxifying the hair,” and said its acidic nature can help exfoliate dry flakes from the scalp and remove residue.

What else can you do to get the most out of your clarifying shampoo?

The pros shared a few things you can do before and after washing to get the most out of your clarifying shampoo:

  • Stimulate the scalp pre-shower. Pratasiewicz said it’s a good idea to stimulate your scalp via a head massage with the pads of your fingers, a bamboo brush or a gua sha before getting in the shower.
  • Untangle those knots. “Removing all the tangles and knots in the hair can always help to ensure your clarifying shampoo is working its best,” Pratasiewicz said.
  • Follow up with a deep conditioner. Stollmeyer recommends using a deep conditioner on the mid-lengths and ends of the hair after using a clarifying shampoo at the root. “The clarifier usually focuses on your scalp where the most build up would be, but then your mids and your ends — which have the most history — would need…some richer hydration.”
  • Take care of your scalp in between washes. To maintain consistent scalp health when you’re not using clarifying shampoos, Reed suggests incorporating a scalp scrub or scalp serum into your routine.

Meet the hair experts

  • Diana Pratasiewicz is the head of education at Ouai.
  • Amy Stollmeyer is founder and co-owner of DESIGNME. She worked as a hairstylist for 15 years and has worked everywhere from salons to New York Fashion Week.
  • Adam Reed is the owner of his namesake salons in London and founder of Arkive Headcare, a brand dedicated to making hair care about more than just the strands.