The first time I used a clarifying shampoo was during my senior year of high school after I had attempted to go cherry red without being mentally and emotionally prepared for such a stark change—I had been faithful to my natural dirty blonde hair jazzed up with a few not-so-natural golden highlights to frame my face. After removing the towel from my damp Ariel-hued locks, I burst in tears before darting to my computer to look for quick fixes that promised to fade the vibrant red to, at least, maybe a tomato-red until I could get some professional help. Ultimately, I ended up going with straight-up dish soap, a DIY remedy that I discovered on a pre-Reddit-era message board, which worked fairly well but left my mane dry, damaged, and broken—and I hadn’t even used bleach! It finally dawned on me that taming the red was going to be a process, so I invested in a well-reviewed clarifying shampoo and committed to using it three times a week to preserve the health of my hair while gradually dulling the cherry-ness without resorting to bleach.
After the long, long journey back to dirty blonde (my patience was really put to the test, folks!), it only makes sense that standing impression of clarifying shampoos left behind was that they were primarily used as a corrective measure for a color job gone wrong, and, as such, would fade color regardless of whether you wanted it to or not. Naturally, I avoided clarifying shampoos like the plague once I returned to my ash blonde out of fear that these “stripping” formulas would prematurely fade my expensive bleached highlights by removing the toner or gloss and/or turning them brassy. Plus, based on the relative success of my dish soap hack, I conceded that all clarifying formulas would not only strip the color from my strands but also strip any remaining moisture that the bleach hadn’t already done away with—and I really wasn’t in a position to risk more dryness or breakage at that point.
It wasn’t until a recent deskside (a media event in which reporters and editors learn about new product drops from the brand or experts associated with the brand) that I realized that my running theory about clarifying shampoos being the enemy of color-treated hair was 100 percent false. In fact, I learned that clarifying shampoos can actually enhance color-treated hair—both before the color service to help the formula “take” better and as a part of a post-appointment maintenance plan.
“All hair types benefit from using clarifying shampoos! These types of shampoos deeply cleanse the hair to get rid of excess buildup. All hair types obtain buildup over time, but a clarifying shampoo will leave your hair clean and purified. [In fact], when used before a color service, clarifying shampoos actually enhance the hair color,” says celebrity colorist and Olaplex ambassador, Bianca Hillier. By removing product buildup, hardened sebum on the scalp, and excess oil, clarifying shampoos actually help the color or bleach penetrate the strands better, as these impurities leave a film that functions as a barrier.
Colorist and dpHue (known for its innovative ACV-infused hair care) founder Justin Anderson not only agrees with this sentiment, but the blonde master actually recommends incorporating a clarifying formula into your post-color routine on a weekly basis—especially for blondes. “A clarifying treatment is essential in removing the build-up in your hair from product residue, metals, minerals, chlorine, hard water, and more. I recommend incorporating a clarifying treatment into your routine every other week to give your hair that feeling of a fresh start,” Anderson says. As Hillier said, all hair types and colors can benefit from regular clarifying treatments, but blondes will see the biggest difference.
And, if you’re looking for a clarifying treatment that isn’t shampoo (i.e. for those of us who only wash our hair once a week or so or use purple shampoo), there are other options to get the same clarifying benefits. “This is why I created the Brightening Powder, which works like a magnet, pulling out any dullness causing minerals, metals, chlorine, product residue, and impurities, leaving the hair looking much brighter & shinier! It can be used on all hair colors, but blondes will see the biggest results— the before and after images are wild,” he says.
Whether you decide to opt for a shampoo, powder, or other clarifying treatment, not all formulas are created equal. And, picking the right formula is especially critical for those of us who have been reluctant about the potential stripping factor. “Choosing the right clarifying shampoo is essential for hair health. Make sure to use a clarifying shampoo that is free of drying ingredients like sulfates. Clarifying shampoos that are healthy for hair like Olaplex No. 4C Bond Maintenance Clarifying Shampoo, will not overdry any type of hair,” Hillier says. With that being said, scroll through below to check out the best clarifying shampoos that won’t strip your color or over-dry your strands.
Olaplex No. 4C Bond Maintenance™ Clarifying Shampoo
Ever since a hair stylist friend hooked me up with Olaplex’s original No.3 bond builder after I completely over-processed my hair a decade or so ago, I’ve been hooked. Olaplex has since expanded their customer-facing line (you used to only be able to ger your hands on it if you were a pro), and there isn’t one formula in the range that I don’t love, including their latest innovation, the No.4 Clarifying Shampoo.
“Olaplex No. 4C Bond Maintenance Clarifying Shampoo has its famous bond-building patented ingredient which will continuously allow the bonds in your hair to rebuild from the inside of the hair, all while removing any impurities at the same time. This clarifying shampoo leaves hair clean, healthy, and strong like no other shampoo,” Bianca Hillier says.
For those looking to reap the benefits of a clarifying shampoo without having to swap out their current hair-wash-day lineup, dpHue’s Brightening Powder is an excellent alternative that works just as well—if not better—than shampoo formulas without stripping or fading color-treated hair.
“This product won’t impact your hair color at all—[it] just revives it back to its brightest state with its 15 percent vitamin C formula! The powder can be used in between any shampoo or conditioner, but I recommend using dpHUE’s Brightening Shampoo and Conditioner to maintain that brightness and shine!” says Justin Anderson.
According to the affordable hair care brand, clarifying shampoos function as a detox for your hair and scalp. Not only do they help keep product buildup and oil at bay, but they’re also essential for post-pool hair care, as they effectively remove chlorine and other chemicals from the strands. This was the first clarifying shampoo I’d tried since my red hair incident, and it remains both my husband and I’s favorite formula to date. And, this formula is sulfate-free, so it doesn’t strip color from your strands either.
Kevin Murphy Maxi Wash Detox Shampoo
Kevin Murphy’s professional hair care products deliver in-salon quality to the comfort of your own home, and fortunately, you don’t have to be a pro to use them. The Detox Shampoo deeply cleanses the hair and scalp, washing away follicle-clogging impurities that not only dull hair color, but can also inhibit proper hair growth too. Free of parabens and sulfates, this formula is infused with fruit-derived AHAs to gently exfoliate the scalp without leaving your locks feeling stripped and brittle. The Maxi Wash Detox Shampoo is offered in two formulas: original and one formulated specifically for color-treated hair.
Vegamour GRO Scalp Detoxifying Serum
Another great non-shampoo clarifying treatment, Vegamour’s detoxifying scalp serum helps to keep your scalp and strands clean and clear of product buildup, dandruff, and excess oils to help keep your color vibrant while also boosting hair growth. Just like the skin on our faces, the skin on our head (our scalp) can also get congested with impurities, causing. a slew of problems, including stunted growth.
“The scalp and the face both have a high concentration of sebaceous glands, which produce oils. In general, if you have oily skin, you probably have an oil scalp, too. Those with an oily scalp may choose to shampoo more often to remove some of the oil from the scalp. Increasing frequency of hair washing (ideally every other day) in addition to clarifying treatments can be important to help prevent buildup if you suffer from a rashy or inflamed scalp.” says board-certified dermatologist and Vegamour spokesperson, Dr. Neera Nathan.
Kendra Deep Cleansing Clarifying Shampoo
Developed for all hair types in mind, but with a special focus on highlighted and lightened hair, this deep-cleansing, brightening shampoo blasts away dullness and amplifies shine without depositing toning agents (i.e. purple and blue dyes often used to counteract brassy tones for blonde and platinum hair colors.) This non-drying shampoo gives the hair and scalp a major deep clean, removing dulling and damage-inducing deposits from hard water and other impurities without drying out the hair or causing further breakage post-bleach.
MATRIX High Amplify Root Up Clarifying Cleanser
As its name suggests, this effective clarifying shampoo lifts dullness and impurities from the scalp and your strands, boosts volume by getting rid of product buildup that weights fine hair down, and restores shine with just one wash. Formulated specifically for those with fine and thinning hair, the powerful yet non-stripping formula removes excess oil and grime from the roots for an instant lift and boost. The silicone-free cleanser is powerful but gentle enough to use once a week on color-treated and bleached hair.
Philip B Peppermint Avocado Shampoo
Formulated with scalp-circulation-boosting and anti-microbial peppermint oil and 16 plant extracts, this invigorating clarifying shampoo washes away dullness-causing impurities while soothing the scalp and helping to revive stunted hair growth. Because it gently combats product buildup, oil, and dead skin cells, the shampoo also helps to boost volume without leaving the hair feeling dry and frizzy. I also love to use this deep-cleaning formula in the morning because the peppermint fragrance really helps wake you up!