To clarify your hair means to remove all the product buildup from the hair that accumulates over time. It's just another term for saying, "deep cleansing". Product build-up creates a barrier on your hair strand that will deprive your hair from receiving the proper moisture. Clarifying will refresh your curls and help bring the bounce back. The goal of a clarifier is to help the hair to better receive moisture.
But, just because you don't load up on styling products doesn't mean your hair is immune to buildup and the need for a reboot. Even your regular shampoo/conditioner/co-washes can build up their own residue overtime.
Product build up is a problem for your hair when you experience any of the following:
- Your shampoo is not lathering as well or seems to not be working in general. Conditioners feel like they’re just sitting on your hair or you feel like your “go to” products or weekly deep conditioners aren’t working lately.
- Your hair feels dull or limp, flat, with less body and movement, weighed down, even dry after consistently applying moisturizers, oils and styling products.
- You may notice whitish residue on the scalp immediately after rinsing off shampoo/conditioner.
- Your hair is progressively getting drier and no longer responding to moisturizing or conditioning products. Some people can experience a switch where their hair stops wanting moisturizing products. This is often due to your hair adapting to the products and wash routine.
- Your hair and scalp feel coated.
- You’re getting unexplained hair breakage, despite balancing protein and moisture in your regimen.
- Knowing you live in an area supplied by mineral rich water.
FYI: Product build up on the hair shaft is also the leading cause of ambiguous hair breakage that cannot be explained by protein or moisture imbalances.
What to Look For in Clarifying Shampoos
Acetic acid, EDTA, sodium citrate and trisodium phosphate are common ingredients in clarifying shampoos. These ingredients are deep cleansers, degreasers, chelators (mineral deposit removers) and pH balanced.
If a moisturizing shampoo has surfactants like the following then it's powerful enough to strip or clarify your hair of everything, even your natural oils. And the longer you leave this type of shampoo on the hair, the more it strips: sodium or ammonium lauryl or laureth, sodium cococyl isethionate, sodium lauroyl lactylate, decyl glucoside, cocamidopropyl betaine, PEG-10 laurate...just to name a few.
How Often Should You Clarify?
The number of times you clarify your hair will depend on the products you use and the number of times you use them. If you're using a lot of hair products such as gels, mousse/serums, lots of conditioners to style your hair, products with silicones, mineral oils or petroleum, you may need to clarify your hair twice a month. If on the other hand you're using more natural ingredients, you might need to only clarify once a month or every six weeks. Experiment with your hair on how frequently you need to clarify.
Clarifying shampoos are best used once monthly as maintenance shampoos to lift buildup from the strands that other regular shampoos may be leaving behind. These shampoos often leave your hair with a squeaky clean feeling, which means that the natural oils that keep the hair pliable and supple have been stripped away. For this reason, clarifying shampoos only need to be used once in every 4-6 weeks, unless like I mentioned above you’re using heavier oils, serums, gels or greases, etc.
Although there are shampoos specifically formulated to clarify the hair, any regular shampoo that contains ALS or SLS can work pretty well. Monthly clarifying is a necessary part of any healthy hair regimen and will give your hair a fresh start each month.
One other thing to note is that it is very important to follow a clarifying session with a great moisturizing deep conditioner to return moisture balance to the hair. Clarifying shampoos are relatively strong and can compromise our hair with repeated use and inadequate follow up on deep conditioning.
Source: The Science of Hair Care