Many people have never even heard of clarifying their hair. So let’s clarify a few things about why and how to clarify your curly or straight gray hair. Included in this guide are what it means to clarify, reasons to clarify, how often, hair hacks and product suggestions.
What does it mean to clarify your hair?
Clarifying your hair is a process of stripping away product buildup, mineral buildup from swimming pools, hard water and/or well water, and environmental impurities from smoke to pollution using specially formulated clarifying shampoos for each reason. Clarifying your hair is akin to rebooting your computer; sometimes just turning it all off then back on again solves a world of problems.
In the curly world, we are no strangers to clarifying, clarifying pulls all the the weighty buildup off the curls helping them spring back to life when they start to get dull, droopy, or weighed down. It also unblocks the cuticle allowing more moisture in.
The first step in the foundation of healthy shiny silver hair is keeping it clarified.
Silver hair needs tender loving care, for many this is a surprise, because they thought by ditching the dye they could toss all the color care products. While this is true, you still want to nourish your silver hair to keep it healthy and shiny. The trouble is you may now notice, with the lighter shades of gray particularly, your hair becomes discolored easily. This is where clarifying comes in.
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How do you know if you need to clarify your hair?
If you need to start with new products…clarify.
If you regularly use products with silicones…clarify.
If you use blue or purple shampoo regularly…clarify
If your hair is being weird and won’t cooperate…clarify.
If your regular products seem like they just aren’t working…clarify.
If your hair has lost volume…clarify.
If your curls are frizzy and separated…clarify.
If your hair feels straw-like and very dry…clarify.
If your hair or scalp feels greasy…clarify.
If you notice excess hair shedding…clarify
If you have bumps on your scalp…clarify.
If your curls are drooping, limp, or lifeless…clarify.
If you are a regular swimmer…clarify.
If you have hard water or well water…clarify.
If your silvers are looking dull, dingy, or discolored…clarify.
If you co-wash…clarify.
Do you need to clarify your scalp?
Absolutely, your scalp needs clarifying too. Shampoos, conditioners, leave-ins, gels, hair sprays, hair oils, heat protectants all end up on your scalp. Even your own natural oils (sebum) and your dead skin cells can clog the pores on your scalp.
Clarify your scalp by using your fingertips or a Scalp Massager Shampoo Brush to loosen up dead skin and product buildup from your skin and the hair follicle. This helps with hair growth, oily scalp conditions, bumps on your scalp, and excess shedding.
Hair Hack: Shampoo was originally designed to cleanse the scalp; the lion’s share of your shampooing or clarifying should be started with and focused on the scalp, then just move the suds through your hair as you rinse, rather than scrubbing the actual hair strands.
Are there different kinds of clarifying?
The surfactants used in shampoos range in their potency, so you have different levels of effectiveness depending on what they are designed to remove. Sulfates are considered some of the harshest surfactants, while sulfate-free shampoos are usually much more gentle.
I think of clarifying in stages from 1-5, one being the most gentle to five being the most extreme cleansing.
- Every Wash Day Gentle Clarifying
- Weekly Gentle Clarifying
- Home Remedy Clarifying
- Routine Maintenance Clarifying
- Bring Out the Big Guns Clarifying
Every Wash-Day Gentle Clarifying
- Easily weighed down thin or fine hair
- Oily prone scalp and hair
- Every day swimming
- Pre purple shampoo
- Some silicones
Gentle Clarifying Shampoos:
My personal favorite: ACURE Curiously Clarifying Shampoo
Weekly Gentle Clarifying
Every weekend I clarify my hair. I do this for three reasons: to keep my waves from being weighed down, because I have low porosity hair, and to prevent my silver hair from getting discolorations. Most weekends it is a gentle reset point for the week.
Key Ingredient: for a weekly clarifying shampoo Sodium C14-16 Olefin Sulfonate. It is not a sulfate. Strong, effective, great at removing buildup, oils, dirt, impurities, yet it is gentle. Be careful though, it can dry your scalp.
WAVY TIP: If you have wavy hair, a weekly clarifying is super important to keep your waves from being weighed down.
- Silver hair routine maintenance
- Wavy/Curly hair routine maintenance
- Fine hair prone to being weighed down
- Bumps on your scalp or excess shedding.
- Purple or blue shampoo buildup
- Low porosity hair
- Polyquat removal
- Silicones removal
Weekly Clarifying Shampoos:
For every hair type: ACURE Curiously Clarifying Shampoo
HAIR HACK: add a little baking soda to ACURE Clarifying Shampoo for a little extra oomph, use one teaspoon of baking soda to one teaspoon of shampoo.
For those that use heavy products or live with hard water: Malibu C Un-Do-Goo > pH 9 Shampoo
For Oily Hair: Paul Mitchell Shampoo Two
For the Swimmer: Paul Mitchell Shampoo Three
Curly Girl Friendly: MopTop Detox Shampoo or Kinky Curly Come Clean Natural Moisturizing Shampoo
HAIR HACK: Clarify twice in a row. Shampoo in, let set for a few minutes, then rinse, and repeat.
How to Clarify with a Home Remedy:
To name a few: QuickSilverHair Clay Mask, baking soda, vitamin C, or apple cider vinegar; while they are typically mild they should be used with caution because mixing these can create pH issues with your hair. I go into full detail and provide recipes in The Ultimate Guide to pH Balance for Hair and Why it Matters.
Routine Maintenance Clarifying:
If you don’t want to or need to clarify weekly, at least make clarifying part of your hair care routine, once a month is still beneficial. For curly silvers, this is super important to keep your scalp clean and keep your curls from getting too much product blocking the cuticle, especially if you co-wash. I go deeper with clarifying about once a month because I have hard water.
HAIR HACK: Picking the first weekend of the month is always easy to remember to keep your routine.
- Curly or coily hair
- If you Co-wash, to remove dirt, oils and buildup.
- Silver hair that tends to slowly grab impurities, long hair in particular
- Hard water or well water
- Straw-like or very dry hair, you may have protein buildup (also referred to as protein overload)
- Purple or blue shampoo buildup
- Polyquat removal
- Silicone removal
Routine Maintenance Clarifying Shampoos:
1. QuickSilverHair Clay Mask works great for once a month clarifying.
2. For Hard Water and Well Water: Ion Hard Water Shampoo (contains EDTA see below for more info)
Malibu C Instructions:
Do not modify; these instructions came directly from Malibu C.
- Wash and rinse two times with Un-Do-Goo Shampoo,
- Put one packet in your hand and add just enough water to make it foam up.
- Apply to ends first working upward almost to the roots.
- Leave on for five minutes.
- Rinse thoroughly.
- Wash again with Un-Do-Goo Shampoo and rinse thoroughly.
(This prevents discoloration from any possible remaining crystals from the packet.)
- Then condition with your favorite hydrating or deep conditioner.
Bring Out the Big Guns Clarifying
About once a quarter, if needed, I do a deep clarifying for hard water related mineral buildup.
Key Ingredient: You want a Chelating Shampoo at this point, which usually contains an ingredient like ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) which attaches to the minerals and breaks them up.
- Silicone buildup
- Polyquat buildup
- Mineral buildup
- Some stubborn yellowing on silver hair
- Heavy butters and oils buildup
Neutrogena Anti-Residue Clarifying Shampoo is my big gun. Because it contains heavy-duty detergents, I reserve it for last resort clarifying.
When nothing else has worked, I go for it. (It does not contain EDTA)
Heavy-duty clarifying shampoos are usually loaded with multiple harsh detergents, they are EXTREMELY drying. You must follow with a deep conditioner to keep your hair from feeling like straw and to normalize your hair’s pH.
Help With Hard Water:
Check your water’s hardness, if you have hard water try a shower filter to help slow the mineral buildup. I have the AquaBliss filter below and we love it for our skin too.
If you are a curly girl, you probably already avoid sulfates and silicones. If you don’t, you might consider it for a while just so you can see how your curls respond to the endless cycle of stripping and building up that they create.
If you have silver hair, you might reconsider the use of sulfates and silicones as well, the stripping of sulfates can leave your hair dry, the cuticle opened and more prone to yellowing, then the silicones will buildup yellowing your hair over time.
I am not in the camp of never use sulfates or silicones, but I do think less is best.
Sulfates can easily be avoided now with sulfate-free shampoos which are very effective. While some sulfates can actually help clarify your scalp and reset your pH balance, the reason to avoid them is their strong detergent effect, which is stripping and drying.
Water-soluble silicones are considered okay. You may find they help smooth and de-frizz. They are also a helper ingredient in many heat protectants. They weigh my hair down terribly; therefore, I avoid most silicones. I occasionally allow water-soluble silicones in if it is a lesser ingredient.
HAIR HACK: By law, ingredients are supposed to be listed from largest amount to smallest amount, in most cases the first ten ingredients make up the bulk of the product, after that they drop to below 10% of the product contents. Learn to read your labels so you understand not only what you are buying but also what the product is capable of doing.
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As always it is about so much more than the hair.
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