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What is Clarifying Shampoo?

By J. Beam
Updated May 21, 2024
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Clarifying shampoo is any of a variety of shampoo products that are formulated to deep clean the hair by removing product buildup from the hair shafts. Styling products, such as hair mousse, hair gel, hair spray, conditioners, and even daily shampoos can cause buildup on the hair over time. This buildup can add weight to the hair, making it flat and lifeless, as well as prevent the reflection of light, which makes the hair appear dull and dingy. Periodic use of a clarifying shampoo will help remove the buildup and provide the hair with a clean start.

Most clarifying shampoos contain acetic acid. A chemical compound, though mild as far as acid goes, is known for its de-scaling abilities. Acetic acid is found in vinegar, which everyone knows is good for removing scale buildup in coffee pots, tea kettles, and other household objects. Similarly, the acetic acid found in clarifying hair products in removing buildup found on hair.

Clarifying shampoo is not known for its conditioning abilities. In fact, while it is great for aiding in the removal of unwanted buildup of oil, styling products, and other grime, it can dry the hair out if over used. Most stylists recommend cleansing oily hair with this type of shampoo once a week and dry hair once every two to three weeks.

A product does not necessarily have to be labeled as a clarifying shampoo for it to do the trick. Check the ingredient label on the back of any shampoo for the presence and location of acetic acid. The closer to the top of the list, the more it contains. Any shampoo product that contains acetic acid will break down build up. The key to keeping buildup at bay is to use a different shampoo than your daily product at periodic intervals.

People who swim frequently should consider using a shampoo product that is formulated to remove chlorine, which can dry the hair out and in some cases turn the hair a tarnished color. Clarifying shampoo is good for swimmers-hair, but should always be followed up with a conditioner to keep the hair soft.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon181102 — On May 28, 2011

John Frieda full clarity shampoo

By anon53060 — On Nov 18, 2009

Mix 1/2 cup of vinegar to 1 quart of warm water. Pour the vinegar cleanse into a container. Shake.

Apply to hair after shampooing and before conditioner for normal hair. For oily hair apply after. Rinse well.

By anon49868 — On Oct 23, 2009

Suave has a clarifying shampoo.

By anon41552 — On Aug 15, 2009

Will clarifying shampoo help get rid of the awful smell of a perm? (It smells like Frito lays).

By anon32657 — On May 25, 2009

Could I just use vinegar to clean my hair to keeping buildup at bay?

By tensia — On May 01, 2008

Hi - thanks for the great article - that was extremely helpful. I live in an area where we have very hard water, and I'm definitely seeing the negative effects on my hair. Based on your advice above, I've been looking everywhere for a shampoo product that may contain acedic acid. I have checked every product in the drug store as well as expensive salon shampoos and but have not found any with acedic acid listed in the ingredients.

Could I ask for your help in recommending some shampoos? Also, I've seen some products with citric acid - will they be as effective as products with acedic acid?

Thanks so much for all your help - I sincerely appreciate it!!!

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