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How To Clarify Curly Hair: The Ultimate Guide

June 14, 2018


Verna Meachum

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 We treat our blog with a curious, open-minded, and customer-focused attitude. We ask lots of questions about everything.

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Last Updated on November 7, 2022 by Verna Meachum

Do you want to know how to clarify your curly hair and why this is so important for your scalp and the health of your hair? If so, then this blog post is for you!

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give your hair a lot of thought until there’s something wrong with it. And if you’re experiencing problems with your hair, the first thing you’ll do is try to figure out what’s going on.

The problem is that many people don’t know if they need to do it or where to start.

When it comes to hair care, there are a lot of things to keep in mind. You have to choose the right shampoo and conditioner for your hair type, use the right styling products, and style your hair in a way that makes it look its best.

But with all of the different advice out there, it can be hard to figure out where to start, what to do, and why you should be doing it.

In this post, we’ll discuss how to clarify curly hair, what clarifying your hair means, and we’ll offer some signs that you might need to do it, plus more!

What Does It Mean to Clarify Your Hair?

If you’ve ever had someone tell you that you needed to clarify your hair, you might not have known what they meant.

Clarifying your hair is a term used in the hair care world and it basically is a process of removing build up or impurities from your hair and scalp that accumulates over time.

It’s another way of saying that you hair needs “deep cleansing.” Product hair build up, whether it stems from environmental pollutants, minerals in water, or haircare products, it creates a barrier on your hair strands that will deprive your hair of receiving the proper moisture it needs.

What Does Clarifying Do To My Hair?

When you clarify your hair it refreshes your curls like no one’s business. It’ll help bring the bounce and vitality back.

By clarifying your hair, you can remove the hair build up and improve the overall health and appearance of your hair.

Here’s something you may not be aware of: just because you don’t load up on styling products doesn’t mean your hair is not prone to build up and in need of a reboot.

Even your regular shampoos, conditioners, and co-washes can build up residue over time.

Signs of Product Build-Up

Product build up is a problem for your hair when you experience any of the following:

  1. Your shampoo is not lathering properly or isn’t working effectively in general.
  2. You may notice your hair feels heavy or products are just sitting on your hair
  3. You feel like your “go-to” products or weekly deep conditioners aren’t working lately.
  4. Your hair appears dull, limp, flat, without body or movement, weighed down.
  5. Your hair feels dry even after applying moisturizers, oils, and styling products.
  6. After washing your hair, you may notice white residue on the scalp and or hair.
  7. Your hair is progressively getting drier and no longer responding to moisturizing or conditioning products.

Note: Some people may go through a period when their hair no longer wants to be moisturized. This might be caused by your hair’s adaptation to the products and wash routine.

8. Your hair and scalp feel coated.

9. Even though you balance protein and moisture in your regimen, you’re suffering from inexplicable hair breakage.

10. Knowing you live in an area supplied by mineral-rich water.

FYI: Product build up on the hair shaft is one of the most common causes of ambiguous hair breakage that cannot be explained by protein or moisture imbalances.

11. You’re experiencing excessive shedding and your scalp is flaky or itchy, but you can’t seem to pinpoint the cause.

12. Your hair is frizzy or lacks shine

What to Look For in a Clarifying Shampoo

As a recovering product junkie, who was constantly trying new products, I’ve had my fair share of product build-up issues.

I tried many different clarifying shampoos to find the right one for my hair type. I’ve learned that not all clarifying shampoos are created equal. The difference is in the active ingredients.

The three most common sulfates for cleansing hair are sodium laureth sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, and sodium lauryl sulfate. However, once we learned about the curly girl method, we were told that these were harsh sulfates and to stay away from them.

The “-eth” versions (laureth sulfate) are milder on your skin and hair than the “-yl” and the ammonium version is milder than the sodium version.

Eric Schweiger, M.D., founder of Schweiger Dermatology Group

If you’re looking for a clarifying shampoo to help remove the build-up, here are some key ingredients to look for: 

  • Salicylic acid (for the scalp) – This is a beta hydroxy acid that helps exfoliate the scalp and remove dead skin cells.
  • Acetic acid
  • Sodium polystyrene sulfonate
  • C14-16 olefin sulfonate
  • 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 shampoo has surfactants like the following list below, then it may be strong enough to clarify your hair.

There are all just a few ingredients to name.

If you’re looking for a great clarifying shampoo, I’ve recently compiled a list of 25 of the best clarifying shampoos here.

How Often Should You Clarify Your Hair?

There’s no clear-cut answer to how often you should clarify your hair – it really depends on your individual hair type, lifestyle, how often you wash your hair, and maintenance routine.

You might need to clarify it anywhere from once a week to once every few months, it just depends.

If you’re new to clarifying, I would recommend starting out by clarifying your hair once a month. This will help remove any hair build up from products and residues that may be weighing your hair down.

If you’re not seeing any results after clarifying the first time, then increase the frequency or try a chelating shampoo.

If you’re using a lot of hair products such as gels, mousses, lots of conditioners, 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 to 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 build up from the strands that other regular shampoos may be leaving behind.

Monthly clarifying is a necessary part of any healthy hair regimen and will give your hair a fresh start each month.

Some clarifying shampoos are relatively strong and can compromise your hair if used excessively. So, it is very important to follow up with a great moisturizing conditioner or deep conditioner to return moisture balance to the hair.


Is Clarifying Good for Curly Hair?

Clarifying your hair once a month is beneficial. It deep cleans the hair, removes product build-up and other impurities that can cause your hair to look dull and weighed down. So, clarifying can give your hair a fresh start.

Is Clarifying My Hair Necessary?

If you use a lot of hair products, can’t figure out why your hair isn’t receiving moisture, then clarifying your hair may be necessary to keep it healthy and free of build up.

How Can I Clarify My Hair Naturally? Or What Can I Use Instead of a Clarifying Shampoo?

Apple cider vinegar and citric acids (i.e. lemon juice) are usually used to “clarify” hair, but it’s more often used as a rinse. If it’s going to help remove anything, you must leave it on for a few minutes with your hair covered and with a little gentle heat.

Acid rinses must be utilized with care since they are typically safe for the majority of hair, but even a diluted rinse can damage someone’s hair.

While apple cider vinegar balances pH levels and adds shine, it is an acid, but it’s not a chelating ingredient nor a detergent so, its ability to remove build-up, dirt, or oil is quite limited.

Acidic treatments may cause the charged particles in conditioners and some styling products to lose their charge temporarily in which it may be possible to rinse some of that residue away.

Some hair can be damaged right after using a vinegar rinse while others can use it weekly without any negative effect. With that said, always perform a patch test on your hair.

Some curlies like to use a Bentonite clay, which can remove some excess oils, however, if you have build-up from conditioners, it may not help.

What Happens If I Don’t Clarify My Hair?

If you don’t clarify your hair then it may not be as manageable and will probably feel like straw. If your hair has build-up issues, you could experience breakage and hair loss.

What is a Good Clarifying Shampoo?

A good clarifying shampoo is one formulated to remove product build up and other impurities. We have a list of them here.

How Do I Know My Hair Has Product Build-Up?

If your hair feels heavy and greasy, is difficult to style, or doesn’t seem to be retaining moisture, it’s likely your hair has product build up.

Can You Clarify Without Sulfates?

Yes, you can clarify without sulfates. The types of sulfates vary in strength, and all of them may irritate your skin and hair.

For example, you can find a product with cocobetaines or Decyl glucoside, which are milder surfactants and sulfate-free options. You just may need to do scrub your scalp a little more vigirously to get it clean.

Can a regular shampoo be used as a clarifying shampoo?

This is such a good question! The answer is Yes!

Although there are shampoos specifically formulated to clarify the hair, any regular shampoo that contains ALS or SLS can work pretty well.

A good example of this is the VO5 Normal Hair Balancing shampoo.

Shampoo not labeled as a clarifying shampoo but it can clarify curly hair


Water (Aqua, Eau), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Cocamidopropyl Betaine, Ammonium Chloride, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Fragrance (Parfum), DMDM Hydantoin, Citric Acid, Tetrasodium EDTA, Benzyl Salicylate, Butylphenyl Methylpropional, Linalool, Yellow 6 (CI 15985), Sodium Chloride, Polysorbate 20, Tocopheryl Acetate, Panthenol, Ascorbic Acid, Niacinamide, Biotin.

As you’ll note, it is not marketed as a “clarifying shampoo” but it contains ingredients that will “clarify” your hair, like sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureth sulfate.

I don’t necessarily recommend this product because of the harsh sulfates and due to the possibility of irritation and the drying effects it could do to hair and scalp.

The point I’m trying to make is, that a product does not have to be labeled as a clarifying shampoo to do the job of a clarifying shampoo.

Also note, even though Cocamidopropyl Betaine is in the formula, it may make the formulation a little “milder”, but only just a little bit.

There is a new generation of amphoterics on the market today that are more effective and can improve the mildness index significantly.

Curl care

 We treat our blog with a curious, open-minded, and customer-focused attitude. We ask lots of questions about everything.

We think that people should take what information they need and leave what they don't. We suggest things we enjoy and believe are worth your attention.

Above all, we value your trust above anything else. We're so glad you’re here!

Hi,I'm Verna

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