NBC News Select March 22, 2023

NBC News Select


7 best clarifying shampoos, according to hair experts


Clarifying shampoos can bring new life to limp, lifeless hair weighed down by excess products and residue.

When your hair feels heavy or lifeless, it may be time to try a clarifying shampoo. Unlike regular shampoos, clarifying shampoos are formulated to remove excess buildup or residue on your hair or scalp. They offer a deeper cleanse compared to regular shampoo, but are not designed for constant use — if used too frequently, clarifying shampoos might dry out your strands or fade color-treated hair.

How we picked the best clarifying shampoos

If you’re introducing a clarifying shampoo into your routine, experts recommend proceeding with caution as they can be harsh on your hair. While searching, we kept the following in mind:

Gentle cleansers: Many clarifying shampoos are formulated with sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), a foaming agent that deep cleans your hair to remove flakes, excess product and dirt from your hair, but can be very drying. We avoided it where possible and chose gentler cleansers instead.
Color-safe options: If you have color-treated hair, you should opt for a gentle, color-safe clarifying shampoo, said board-certified dermatologist Dr. Jessie Cheung.
Hydrating ingredients: While clarifying shampoos are formulated to remove scalp buildup or oil, they can be drying. To counteract that, we looked for shampoos with hydrating ingredients like argan oil or glycerin.

The best clarifying shampoos in 2023

We consulted hairstylists, trichologists (hair health experts) and dermatologists on the best clarifying options and rounded up their picks, plus some staff favorites below.

Ouai Detox Shampoo

I have fine, wavy curls and rely on a clarifying shampoo to keep my hair from looking weighed down from excess product about once a week. I recently began using this detoxing Ouai shampoo and have been loving the results: my hair feels adequately nourished, but not overly moisturized and free to bounce. Plus, according to Ouai, the brand’s formula is free of ingredients like harsh sulfates, which many hair experts have warned me about.

Matrix Total Results High Amplify Root Up Wash Shampoo

This option from Matrix helps remove oil and buildup, which weighs down fine hair, according to Cheung. She also said that this option contains salicylic acid to break down oil and unclog hair follicles.

Reverie Suna Exfoliating Shampoo

Shab Caspara, a certified trichologist who’s offered her wisdom in Select’s guides to the best purple shampoos and the best shampoos for fine hair said she is currently “in love” with this Reverie shampoo. “It’s a clean and gentle, salt-free cleanser that exfoliates the scalp to eliminate buildup without stripping the scalp of moisture,” she said.

Moroccan Oil Clarifying Shampoo

Cheung is a fan of this option because it is sulfate-free and formulated with a hydrating and soothing blend of jojoba and avocado oils. It’s also made with argan oil, which experts previously told us helps retain moisture in Select's guide to best shampoos for thinning hair.

René Furterer Curbicia Lightness Clarifying Shampoo

This option “has just the right amount of power to cut through scalp buildup and rebalance essential scalp oils,” said New York City-based celebrity hairstylist Timothy Aylward, who uses it once a week and leaves it in for 5-10 minutes. For optimal results, he follows with the René Furterer Complexe 5 Stimulating Plant Concentrate, which “soothes and nurtures the scalp, as well as prolongs the effects of the clarifying shampoo,” he said.

Malibu C Un-Do-Goo Shampoo

Chicago-based hairstylist Shelly Aguirre of Maxine Salon called this one of her “favorite” shampoos and said it’s helpful for swimmers who want to remove chlorine from their hair. Shawn Harvey, a Philadelphia-based licensed cosmetologist and curly-hair specialist, often starts every service with this. “The clarifying shampoos I look for have to be sulfate free and able to remove product buildup without being too drying,” she said. This vegan clarifying shampoo is made with a mix of conditioning ingredients like glycerin and butylene glycol.

Virtue Refresh Purifying Shampoo

If you have medium to thick hair that needs a nice weekly deep clean, Caspara loves Virtue’s Refresh Purifying Shampoo. Not only does it cleanse the scalp, but it can reset your strands and “gently remove product and environmental and oil buildup,” said Caspara. It has a medium to strong cleansing capability and a light moisturizing effect that prevents hair from drying out, she said.

How often should you use a clarifying shampoo?

You should not use clarifying shampoos as frequently as regular shampoo. While they’re helpful if you exercise frequently, use “an extreme amount” of hair styling products or don’t shampoo your hair often — they can dry out your strands, said hairstylist Courtney Foster. But there is no one-size-fits-all rule: your wash schedule should depend on how much you struggle with oil buildup and excess product residue.

Our experts recommend starting small with the expectation that you will see visible results after a handful of washes. Swimmers, who are regularly in chlorinated water, for example, may want to use a clarifying shampoo about once a week to help remove chlorine from their hair, said Cheung. Others simply looking for more bounce and less weight, should assess the state of their hair after a couple washes. After that, you can “use your best judgment” and reincorporate a clarifying shampoo as needed, said Cheung. She also recommended incorporating a conditioner or mask into your routine, to keep your strands hydrated after a deep cleanse.

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

Timothy Aylward is a celebrity hairstylist. He has also offered his guidance in Select’s guide to the best shampoos for fine hair and color-treated hair.

Shab Caspara is a New York City-based trichologist. She has also offered her guidance in Select’s guide to the best purple shampoos and shampoos for fine hair.

Dr. Jessie Cheung is a board-certified dermatologist at Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness. She has also offered her guidance in Select’s guide to the best scalp scrubs.

Courtney Foster is a licensed cosmetologist, certified hair-loss practitioner and owner of Courtney Foster Beauty in New York. She has also offered her guidance in Select’s guides to the best hair dryers and flat irons.

Shelly Aguirre is a Chicago-based hairstylist at Maxine Salon.

Why trust Select?

Christina Colizza is an editor at Select and has been a product reviewer since 2018. She is Select’s resident shampoo expert and also covers a range of self-care and skin care topics like eyebrow serums and more. She also writes and edits Select’s weekly New & Notable and weekly sales columns, which highlight exciting product launches, major deals, what Select staffers are buying and some of the team’s latest recommendations and advice.