NBC News Select September 20, 2023

NBC News Select


11 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.

We spoke to hairstylists, trichologists and dermatologists about what to consider when shopping for a clarifying shampoo and how to determine which option is best for your scalp and hair type. We also compiled expert-recommended and highly rated clarifying shampoos to consider using. 

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 rounded up our experts’ picks for the best clarifying shampoos to shop, plus some highly rated options. All of the following clarifying shampoos below have gentle cleansers and are sulfate-free.

Ouai Detox Shampoo

This Select Wellness Award winner uses apple cider vinegar to help cleanse and remove any dirt, oil and buildup from previous hair products. Select associate updates editor Zoe Malin uses this shampoo once a week to prevent her hair from looking weighed down after using various hair care products daily. Suitable for all hair colors, types and textures, this shampoo also has hydrolyzed keratin to help reduce frizz and add shine, according to the brand. 

Olaplex No.4C Bond Maintenance Clarifying Shampoo

This Olaplex shampoo is color-safe and has a 4.7-star average rating from over 1,100 reviews at Sephora. Suitable for all hair types and textures, the weekly treatment helps remove any scalp buildup, including excess oil, heavy metals and chlorine, according to Olaplex. Apply this on wet hair and begin focusing it on the scalp. Let the shampoo sit for five minutes before rinsing and adding a conditioner of your choice, according to the brand.  

Matrix Total Results High Amplify Root Up Wash Shampoo

This clarifying shampoo from Matrix uses salicylic acid to break down oil and unclog hair follicles, says Cheung. Apply this shampoo once a week on wet hair and lather onto the roots before rinsing, according to the brand. 

Reverie Suna Exfoliating Shampoo

Unlike some textured clarifying shampoos that use salt to exfoliate and remove buildup, this Reverie shampoo comes recommended by Caspara because it’s a gentle, salt-free cleanser that exfoliates without stripping it of moisture, she says. This shampoo has rhassoul clay to remove any product buildup, dead cells and excess sebum, which is an oil that is produced by your sebaceous glands, according to the brand. It also has sodium hyaluronate, which is similar to hyaluronic acid, to hydrate and moisturize the scalp and hibiscus extract to exfoliate and retain moisture, according to the Reverie. 

Moroccan Oil Clarifying Shampoo

Cheung is a fan of this option because it’s formulated with a hydrating blend of jojoba and avocado oils. It’s also made with argan oil, which helps retain moisture and keratin to help strengthen hair, according to our experts. Wet your hair and work the shampoo into a lather on your scalp and hair, then rinse until the water runs clear, according to the brand. 

K18 Peptide Prep Detox Shampoo

This clarifying shampoo, which has a 4.7-star average rating from over 600 reviews at Sephora,  has activated charcoal to absorb any toxins, oil and dirt, and salicylic acid to clear sebum buildup, according to K18. The citrus-scented shampoo also has the brand’s own peptide formula to help strengthen and condition hair and glycerin to moisturize, according to the brand. After massaging and rinsing the product out, towel dry the hair and add in a hair mask before styling as usual, according to K18. 

Grown Alchemist Detox Shampoo

Suitable for all hair types and especially great for damaged hair, the Grown Alchemist Detox Shampoo is a favorite of Caspara’s. This shampoo has antioxidants that help cleanse, condition and protect the hair and scalp from environmental pollutants, according to the brand. You can apply a small amount of the shampoo onto wet hair and gently massage the product throughout the scalp before rinsing, according to Grown Alchemist. It’s available in a smaller size and has a matching conditioner.  

Pattern Cleansing Shampoo

With notes of jasmine, bergamot and sandalwood, this clarifying shampoo has a 4.7-star average rating from over 400 reviews at Ulta. It’s made for curly or tight, coily hair textures and is great to use after you take your hair out of a protective style like twists and box braids, according to the brand. With ingredients like matcha green tea and aloe vera, the shampoo works to remove buildup without reducing the hair’s natural oils, according to Pattern. 

Malibu C Un-Do-Goo Shampoo

This Malibu C clarifying shampoo is recommended by Shawn Harvey, a Philadelphia-based licensed cosmetologist and curly-hair specialist, who says she often starts off every service with this product. “The clarifying shampoos I look for have to be sulfate-free and able to remove product buildup without being too drying,” says Harvey. The clarifying shampoo is made with a mix of conditioning ingredients like glycerin and butylene glycol. It’s also a great option for swimmers who want to remove chlorine from their hair, according to Shelly Aguirre, a Chicago-based hairstylist.

Odele Clarifying Shampoo 

This cucumber, oak moss and ocean-scented clarifying shampoo comes recommended by certified trichologist Taylor Rose. The shampoo helps get rid of buildup from products, pollutants, chlorine and more without any sulfates and helps strengthen hair with amino acids. You can use this shampoo once a week, no matter what your hair type or texture is, according to the brand. 

Virtue Refresh Purifying Shampoo

This color-safe shampoo is a great option if you have medium to thick hair that needs a weekly deep clean. Not only does it cleanse the scalp, but it gently removes product and oil buildup, says Caspara. It also has a light moisturizing effect that prevents hair from drying out, she says. Use a quarter-size amount and work it into a lather between your palms before massaging it into your scalp and throughout your hair, according to the brand.



How to shop for clarifying shampoos

When shopping for a clarifying shampoo, our experts recommend considering your hair type, overall scalp health and ingredients that address your specific hair concerns and needs. 


To avoid using harsh cleansers, consider a clarifying shampoo that can remove buildup without compromising your scalp and hair health, according to our experts. For a gentle cleanser, opt for ingredients like apple cider vinegar because it helps reset your scalp’s pH level, says Caspara. Another gentle cleanser that removes oil and buildup is sodium cocoyl isethionate, which is derived from coconut oil, because it cleans without causing irritation, according to Caspara. 

Since clarifying shampoos remove oils from your hair, it’s important to look for moisturizing ingredients to prevent any dryness. Some hydrating ingredients to look for include glycerin, argan oil, jojoba oil, aloe vera, honey and shea butter, according to our experts. 

Avoid ingredients like formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates and sulfates, which can damage your hair, according to our experts. Formaldehyde can sometimes act as a preservative in clarifying shampoos but is a known carcinogen, says Rose. Parabens and phthalates can also cause future health problems since the body is able to absorb these preservatives, according to Rose. Depending on your hair or scalp type, sulfates can strip hair of natural oils and be irritating to the scalp since they are intense detergents, according to our experts.  

Hair type

All hair types can benefit from occasionally using a clarifying shampoo. However, you may need to pay attention to specific ingredients and consistencies depending on your specific hair type, according to experts. 

  • Dry/damaged hair: For those with dry or damaged hair (or both), a clarifying shampoo may strip away oils because of harsh cleansers like sulfates, which can weaken hair and may worsen dryness, according to certified trichologist Afsennah Kalanawi. Consider a shampoo that is sulfate-free to prevent more damage, says Rose. Also, choose a shampoo that has moisturizing ingredients like glycerin to prevent excessive dryness, says Kalanawi.
  • Fine hair: Consider a lightweight formula because it won’t weigh down your hair, says Kalanawi. That means avoiding heavy oils or butters, like coconut oil or castor oil, that are harder to wash out. Instead, opt for formulas with argan oil or jojoba oil.
  • Oily hair: If you have oily hair, using a standard clarifying shampoo can help remove any excess oil, according to our experts. Although many experts recommend staying away from sulfates as much as possible, they may not always be bad depending on the individual, according to Rose. 
  • Keratin-treated hair: You may want to be cautious of using a clarifying shampoo since it can diminish the longevity of the treatment, says Kalanawi. 

Scalp condition

If you have a pre-existing scalp condition like psoriasis or experience dandruff, you should avoid using a clarifying shampoo because it can aggravate these conditions, according to Rose. 

Frequently asked questions

Who should use a clarifying shampoo?

Clarifying shampoos can be beneficial for everyone, says Kalanawi. They can be especially helpful if you exercise frequently, use a lot of hair styling products or don’t shampoo your hair often, according to hairstylist Courtney Foster. However, how often or which exact type of clarifying shampoo will vary from person to person, depending on their hair type, hair condition and scalp health.

Does clarifying shampoo remove color?

Yes, a majority of deep-cleaning agents in clarifying shampoos will fade out hair color. This only applies to color-treated hair, so it will not affect your natural color, says Kalanawi . If you are concerned about clarifying shampoos stripping your hair color, use a sulfate-free option, says Rose.

How often should you use a clarifying shampoo?

You should not use clarifying shampoos as frequently as regular shampoo and should limit use to once a week, says Kalanawi. However, 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.

Start small with the expectation that you will see visible results after a handful of washes, according to our experts. For example, swimmers who are regularly in chlorinated water may want to use a clarifying shampoo about once a week to help remove chlorine from their hair, says Cheung. Others simply looking for more bounce and less weight should assess the state of their hair after a couple of washes. After that, you can use your best judgment and incorporate a clarifying shampoo as needed, according to Cheung. Use a conditioner or hair mask to keep your strands hydrated after a deep cleanse, she says.

Can you overuse a clarifying shampoo?

You can absolutely overuse a clarifying shampoo. If you use it too frequently, you are actually stripping your hair of its natural oils, which will make it feel dry and cause breakage, says Kalanawi.

Not only does overusing a clarifying shampoo affect your hair strands, but it also affects your scalp. You can cause your scalp to become dry, disrupt its microbiome and cause your hair to become brittle as a result, according to Caspara.

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 all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Jessie Cheung is a board-certified dermatologist at Cheung Aesthetics and Wellness, with practices in Chicago and New York City. 
  • Shab Caspara is a New York City-based hairstylist, trichologist and hair health expert. She is also the founder of Leona, a hair care brand. 
  • Timothy Aylward is a New York City-based celebrity hairstylist. 
  • Shelly Aguirre is a Chicago-based hairstylist at Maxine Salon.
  • Taylor Rose is a Los Angeles-based certified trichologist. 
  • Afsennah Kalanawi is a certified trichologist, and founder of her own hair care brand focused on custom hair oils. 
  • Courtney Foster is a licensed cosmetologist, certified associate trichologist and owner of Courtney Foster Beauty in New York.

Why trust Select?

Christina Colizza is a former editor at Select and has been a product reviewer since 2018. She covers a range of self care and skin care topics like shampoos, eyebrow serums and more.

Bianca Alvarez is an associate reporter and has been covering beauty, including scalp sunscreens, epilators and skin care routines. For this piece, she interviewed experts and researched clarifying shampoos on the market that were in line with expert guidance.