What is The Difference Between Clarifying Shampoo and Regular Shampoo?

By Camelia Smith
Published 24 Aug 2020 / Updated 28 Nov 2020

What is The Difference Between Clarifying Shampoo and Regular Shampoo?

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The difference between a clarifying shampoo and a regular shampoo is that the former gets rid of:

  • Impurities
  • Hard water buildup
  • Product buildup
  • Silicone from styling products
  • Hair color chemical deposits
  • Fungus bacteria

And all sorts of toxins that accumulate on your scalp and hair over time.

On the other hand, a regular shampoo has mild cleansing agents with more emphasis on moisturizing your hair and make it shiny rather than clean from the inside out.

Toxins and product buildup are the main reasons your hair feels out of sorts, and your scalp’s pH changes from mildly acidic to alkaline, causing problems like itchiness, fungus, and dandruff.

Now, I don’t recommend that you throw away your ordinary daily shampoo.

The trick is to alternate between the two, ideally using a clarifying shampoo once a week to give your hair a touch of follicular refreshment.

Regular Shampoos vs. Clarifying Shampoos

Shampoos have become a modern-day convenience because commercials make us believe that clean hair is beautiful hair.

But that’s not true.

Ordinary shampoos do more harm than good to your hair. They contain cheap ingredients like Sulfates and Sodium, to provide lather.

While we all love lather and bubbles during our shower time, it’s essential to understand that Sulfates are harmful to your hair and scalp.

Sulfates are detergents used in household cleaning products. They gradually wear out the acid mantle on your scalp and make your hair dry.

This is the reason why the more you wash your hair, the more greasy it gets.

So don’t be fooled by shampoo commercials.

They are designed to trap you into the vicious cycle of washing your hair more frequently.

Instead, wash your hair less, and make sure it’s a proper detox (without the sulfates).

Related: How often to wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo.

Clarifying shampoos don’t contain sulfates. Instead, they use chelating agents that don’t scrub your scalp as sulfates do.

Chelating agents work by dissolving dirt, grease, and product buildup to become water-soluble and can be easily rinsed away with pure water.

To Recap:

Here’s the difference between a clarifying shampoo and a regular shampoo:

Regular shampoos use detergents like sulfates to scrub the hair and scalp clean, therefore removing natural oils.

Clarifying shampoos use a unique formula that works like a magnet to attract dirt, dissolve them, and flush them away with water.

Can you use regular shampoo after clarifying shampoo? Expand

Yes you can. Use a clarifying shampoo weekly and your regular shampoo during the week.

Avoid using a clarifying shampoo regularly as it may dry out your hair.

Is Clarifying Shampoo Good For Hair?

Every once in a while, your hair needs a deep cleanse.

Like your face, it needs an exfoliating wash to get rid of all the clogged makeup that doesn’t wash out with daily cleansers.

Getting rid of all that gunk up there will help your hair become a lot healthier. It will allow your locks to absorb moisture better. And it will also enable hair styling products to work better.

Think of it as a monthly reset or a monthly beauty treatment for your locks.

If you need more convincing, here are some of the benefits of using clarifying shampoos.

1. Wash Away Hard Water Deposits

If you live in a hard water area, chances are your scalp is getting clogged up with magnesium and calcium buildup.

While it’s not easy to see it with the naked eyes, dandruff, scalp irritations, and greasiness are alarming signs that your scalp is suffering.

And over time, it can make your hair less pliable and a lot more brittle.

In some cases, it can also cause scalp calcification, which contributes to hair loss.

Chelating shampoos, a special type of clarifying shampoo, use chelating agents and antioxidants to neutralize hard water minerals.

They are formulated to effectively demineralize your scalp and hair.

Chelating agents break down all types of minerals buildup to rinse them out.

best shampoo for hard water areas

Best shampoos for those who live in hard water areas.

2. Boost Hair Volume

If you have fine or really straight hair, getting volume out of it can be challenging.

But the problem may not be your hair type. It could be down to buildup and residues making your hair greasy and weighing it down.

What you need is a deep cleanse that can also add a bit of oomph to your dull hair.

When your hair is light and weight, the volume will kick in naturally.

A clarifying shampoo zaps away all the greasiness, makes your hair light and soft, and revitalizes your hair to give it bounce and lift at the roots.

3. Combat Brassy Tones in Blonde Hair

Clarifying shampoos are the cleansing superstars that can keep away brassy tones for blondes.

Bleached blonde hair is very porous, which makes it easy to absorb yellow tones from the environment.

This can be from mineral deposits, pollution, styling creams and sprays, and a lot more.

While purple shampoos are ultimate saviors for brassy blondes and green pool hair, they can only work efficiently if your hair can absorb them.

Most times, purple and blue shampoos fail to work because the hair has too much buildup on top.

So what happens instead is, the layers of dirt become a barrier that prevents the treatments from properly absorbing.

What you need is a shampoo that can prime your hair and cut through all the crap, so that your other hair products can get to work more effectively.

In most cases, you’ll notice you don’t even need to use a purple shampoo as the clarifying process will remove all the oxidizing elements that were making your blonde hair look brassy in the first place.

4. Prepare For Hair Color

Clarifying before a color treatment helps your hair absorb color pigments better and faster.


clarifying shampoo against regular shampoo which one

Because when the surface of the hair is clean and free from color blockers like calcium, oils, and dirt, color molecules can easily seep into the hair cortex.

5. As a Pre-Masque Step

Exfoliating is a crucial step before applying face masks, right?

It helps get rid of all the dead skin cells and such.

The same concept applies to deep cleansers before using a hair masque. With clean locks, your masque’s moisturizing ingredients won’t have to fight through layers of gunk.

And it’ll leave your hair absolutely soft and silky.

Plus, it’s a great ritual to do once or twice a month.

6. To Restart Your Hair Regimen

There are days when your hair refuses to behave. But, there are also times when bad hair day seems to be an everyday thing.

That may be because your hair is overloaded with toxins.

So, deep cleanse to give it a reset and be back to clean square one.

7. To Make It Easier To Style Your Hair

It’s frustrating enough dealing with unruly hair. But, when it costs you extra time in the morning, it’s just bonkers irritating.

A quick detox can immediately help you tame your strands.

And it will have a better grip and bounce in the following days.

You may also notice that your styling products are suddenly working 10X better.

How Do You Tell If You Need A Clarifying Shampoo?

The benefits sound amazing, right?

Now, the question is, when do you start?

What are the signs you need to start?

To answer that, here are the cues you need to watch out for.

1. Your Hair Still Feels Dirty Even After You Wash

Your usual shampoo can cut through daily dirt and oils.

But, it can’t get rid of buildup, toxins, and bacteria.

This is why sometimes, even after you shampoo, your tresses still feel dirty and oily.

That is a good sign that your hair is in desperate need of a deep cleanse.

2. Your Locks Are Limp

When your locks are limp like spaghetti and cannot hold volume, you know something is not right.

Most hair types accumulate product residues, and most of them will fall flat over time.

There is no magic conditioner or masque that can revive your hair if your scalp is clogged up with nasties suffocating your hair roots.

A clarifying shampoo sloughs away every scrap of dead skin cells, stale sebum, and dirt to clear the follicles.

The shampoo also purges congested pores to encourage better follicular activity.

3. Your Hair Looks Dull And Lifeless

When your hair looks as dull as a dishwasher, no matter what expensive conditioner you throw at it, it won’t work.

Use a clarifying shampoo to reset. This also normalizes the natural oils (sebum) on your scalp.

Sometimes too much sebum can also weigh your hair down and make it appear greasy even when it’s not dirty.

4. Your Tresses Can’t Hold a Style

When there is too much stuff on your locks, it won’t be able to hold on to a style for long.

This is because the oils, dirt, and whatnot would weigh it down.

These would also prevent styling sprays from sticking and keeping the style as it is.

5. After Swimming

If you’re an avid swimmer, it is best to add deep cleansers to your after swim routine. These would help get rid of the chlorine and other chemicals from the water. And it will prevent them from drying out your strands and causing further damage.

6. If You’ve Been Using Tons of Dry Shampoo

If you’re an avid user of dry shampoo, you definitely need to schedule a monthly cleanse. This would help get rid of all the buildup that dry shampoo has been hiding.

Remember, when using deep cleansers, don’t rush through it.

Take your time to make sure it does the job well.

Start from your roots, where the buildup tends to be the worst. Then, work those suds progressively through the length of your tresses. When using it, you don’t have to use your regular shampoo. After rinsing, follow it up with a great conditioner or hair mask to restore moisture.

What Is A Good Clarifying Shampoo?

Before choosing the right clarifying shampoo for your hair, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your hair color-treated?
  • Have you just had a keratin treatment
  • Is your hair too fragile and damaged?


Because given the intensity of those cleansers, you want to make sure you’re not undoing any color or keratin treatments.

While clarifying shampoo is highly recommended before these treatments, hairstylists don’t recommend using them after.

They can strip out hair color and keratin.

If you don’t have to consider any of the above, here are some of the best clarifying shampoos we recommend:

1. Joico K Pak Clarifying Shampoo

Joico is our number 1 recommended brand in this range.

You will always find this brand on the shelves of hair salons because it’s used for high-quality treatments that require proper priming of the hair.

Check out: Our Joico K Pak clarifying shampoo review.

2. Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo

This essential oil-packed favorite cleans out gunk from your locks while making it more vibrant and healthier.

Its sage leaf extract ingredient breaks up the grease, product, and dirt. Its rosemary leaf extract relieves your scalp of itchiness.

And last but not least, its ginseng too extract acts as a toner to your locks and scalp. The best part is it’s cruelty-free and compatible with all hair types.

3. Oribe The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo

This deep cleanser is packed with tons of naturally detoxifying ingredients.

These include:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Green tea
  • And Sea Kelp Extract

It’s also infused with exfoliating volcanic ash.

If your hair is curly, this one is perfect for you. It allows you to keep the shape of your curls while it cleanses.

4. Morrocanoil Clarifying Shampoo

If you have dry hair, you may have concerns that using a deep cleansing shampoo will dry your hair even more.

But don’t worry. Morrocanoil is formulated with moisture-loving goodies specifically for dry locks.

Besides deep cleansing, it also nourishes and keeps your tresses soft with Argan and Avocado oils.

Check out: Our Review of the Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo.

5. Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub

If hard water is your problem, the Christophe Robin scrub is an excellent remedy to remove mineral deposits.

And it helps clear away those impurities and dirt with its gentle grit of sea salt.

You can also use this if you experience itching and stinging on your scalp.

Just make sure to follow up with a good moisturizing masque to avoid the dryness.

6. Fekkai Apple Cider Shampoo

The Fekkai ACV shampoo is more than just a cocktail of deliciously scented apples and pears.

This shampoo is acidic and low pH, which is excellent for the health of your scalp.

It is also made of pure apple cider vinegar, citric acids, and salicylic acids. These keep your locks scrupulously clean. And it turns your tresses bright, vibrant, and full of life.

7. Pureology Purify Color Care Shampoo

The struggle with colored locks is that you want to give it a good clean but, you also don’t want to strip it of color. Most clarifiers do the latter.

But, some are designed to be gentle enough to keep the color. Pureology’s purify color care does that precisely.

Its blend of tea tree oil and witch hazel helps reset your tresses. And its sulfate-free status keeps your color in place. It balances your cleansing needs, and coloring needs well.

8. Paul Mitchell Clarifying Shampoo

The Paul Mitchell clarifying shampoo is gentle enough to cleanse and protect your hair color.

It also targets minerals and chlorine deposits to prevent scaly scalp buildup.

Final Thoughts

Comparing clarifying shampoos to your regular shampoos is not about choosing one of them.

It’s about fitting a clarifying shampoo in your long term hair care routine so that your hair and scalp can benefit from the detoxing benefits.

You will also love how this routine makes your favorite conditioner works 10X better.