- Clarifying shampoo can help strip gunk that tends to build up over time from hair styling products, hard water, chlorine, and more.
- Drybar On The Rocks Clarifying Charcoal Shampoo stands out for its deep cleaning thanks to activated charcoal, and it’s suitable for many hair types.
From daily or frequent shampooing to finding the right conditioner and styling products, hair care can feel downright overwhelming. The unexpected casualty is that over time, products can build up and make hair feel flat, dull and even look greasy.
If you’re not yet familiar with clarifying shampoo, Harper’s Bazaar calls it shampoo on steroids. It cuts through residue from hair-styling products, you hair’s natural oils, and general buildup better than your regular shampoo, leaving your hair feel extra clean and fresh when you’re done. However, because it can strip away natural oils, you’d want to use clarifying shampoo sparingly.
When it comes to regular shampoo, you probably have a favorite already after years of trial and error. Fortunately, clarifying shampoo is designed for a specific purpose, so you’ll spend less time researching the best. And with this guide, you’ll spend even less time agonizing over which one to buy.
Here is the best clarifying shampoos you can buy:
- Best overall: Drybar On The Rocks Clarifying Charcoal Shampoo
- Best for all hair types: Redken Clean Maniac Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo
- Best for curly hair: Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo
- Best for daily use: Hask Charcoal Clarifying Shampoo
- Best for swimmers: Paul Mitchell Clarifying Shampoo Three
The best overall
Activated charcoal is the secret ingredient in the Drybar On The Rocks Clarifying Charcoal Shampoo, providing a deep cleanse without stripping the hair and scalp of all essential oils.
Similar to an activated charcoal mask that sucks out dirt and gunk from clogged pores, activated charcoal shampoo can help draw out impurities like product buildup, oil, and more for a deep clean without stripping away natural oils. Shampoos with activated charcoal are safe for color-treated hair and gentle on many hair types.
Drybar On The Rocks Clarifying Charcoal Shampoo has activated charcoal that the brand claims can absorb up to 200 times its weight in impurities, resulting in a deep and thorough wash every time.
The other hero ingredient in this shampoo is vegetable protein to help strengthen hair, so it’s a great pick for color-treated or damaged hair. Although the activated charcoal reduces the risk of stripping natural oils and supports hair health with vegetable protein, several shoppers suggest using this shampoo no more than once a week to avoid drying out hair.
Editors at Women’s Health, PopSugar, and Refinery29 recommend this clarifying shampoo, and call it one of the best you can buy. It holds a 4.3-star rating with more than 200 reviews on Sephora, and over at Ulta, 91% of reviewers said they’d recommend the shampoo to a friend.
Ulta shoppers also confirm that this clarifying shampoo actually works for all hair types, from thick and straight to fine and thin hair — even those with tape-in extensions.
When it comes to the smell of the shampoo though, reviews are mixed. It’s described as "cotton candy" and "salon smelling" in some reviews, while others say it’s earthy — probably due to ingredients such as sage leaf and chamomile flower extracts.
Pros: Activated charcoal deep-cleans without stripping natural oils, lathers well, ideal for many hair types
Cons: Pricey, some shoppers didn’t like the smell, pump is not included, not ideal for use more than once a week
The best for all hair types
Not all clarifying shampoos work for every hair type, but Clean Maniac Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo by Redken is an exception.
Whether you have thick and curly hair, fine and straight hair, or something in-between, you can use this clarifying shampoo. It gets to work removing various impurities and the inevitable residue from your favorite styling products.
In addition to styling product build up, the shampoo removes hard water minerals along with copper and iron that can build up over time. If you have hard water in your house, you may be familiar with that filmy residue around your bathroom sink, shower tiles, or kitchen counter.
According to the United States Geological Survey, hard water has relatively high levels of calcium and leaves a layer of film behind when it reacts with the soap. Knowing this tidbit, it’s no wonder that hard water can quickly wreak havoc on your hair — especially if you also use styling products.
This clarifying shampoo has a 4.7 out of 5-star rating on Ulta with more than 550 reviews, and 97% of shoppers said they’d recommend it to a friend. Ulta shoppers also say that the cream formula doesn’t lather up, but still cleans just as well — some even say they leave it in their hair for ar oud five minutes before rinsing out.
Pros: Ideal for all hair types, made for build-up from hard water, lathers well
Cons: Can dry out hair if used too frequently, not available in a smaller size, some reviewers say their hair feels a bit dry after using
The best for curly hair
The Ouidad Water Works Clarifying Shampoo features a gentle yet powerful formula that’s specifically designed for curly hair.
Curly hair is a different breed.
While you can use traditional clarifying shampoos for your curls, this one cleans while keeping curls defined and intact. Some clarifying shampoos can dry out curls, causing them to fall flat. This shampoo avoids stripping away excess moisture to ultimately keep curls in place, so they’re ready for styling.
The formula consists largely of lemon and grapefruit acids, orange flower extract, and vitamins. These natural ingredients get to work removing heavy build-up, hard water deposits, salt water, and even chlorine while still nourishing curls and allowing them to retain their natural shape.
Curls aren’t the only hair type to benefit from this formula. The shampoo is gentle enough to use on color-treated hair, except immediately after a coloring process because of the fruit acids.
Pros: Specifically for curly hair, prepares hair for styling, natural fruit acids
Cons: A bit pricey, polarizing fragrance, some find it slightly drying
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