There’s a shampoo for every #hairgoal out there, whether it’s volume, hydration, shine, frizz-wrangling, whatever; you want it, there’s a shampoo bottle that says it’ll do it. But then there are others whose purposes are less clear—namely, the enigmatic clarifying formula. What is clarifying shampoo? Do we really need it? Are we truly dirty enough to necessitate thorough clarification, something that goes beyond your average wash-and-go session? As far as our hair is concerned, it’s looking like a yes.
Clarifying shampoo is, for all intents and purposes, like your regular shampoo but on crack. Ian Michael Black, Aveda‘s global artistic director for hair color, explains that clarifying is just a marketing-approved way to say “deep-cleansing.” All shampoos will cleanse your hair of the usual oil and residue, but a targeted clarifying formula will cut through more stubborn gunk, like the kind you get when you use styling products all the time—as in, if you’re the breed of irregular hair-washer who has been known to go five days on the wings of dry shampoo alone.
But just because you don’t load up on styling products doesn’t mean you’re immune to dulling buildup and the occasional need for a total reboot. Even your standard shampoo and conditioner can build up their own residue over time, which is why Black recommends a regular clarifying treatment for all hair types. If you’re a product fiend, use a ton of dry shampoo, or spend time in chlorinated pools, once a week will do the trick, but if you have hair that’s on the drier side or are a slave to your color, limit it to once a month, since clarifying formulas can strip the hair. Hair restoration physician Dr. Alan Bauman warns, “They can be very drying, since they remove natural sebum and oils, too,” which your scalp needs to maintain its moisture balance.
Regardless of how frequently you use a clarifying shampoo, your best bet is to always follow it up with an intensive conditioning treatment. In fact, Black says that clarifying pre-hair mask will actually help to optimize the conditioning factor. “[A clarifying shampoo] will remove any unwanted residue and styling products that can ‘coat’ the outside of your hair and reduce the effectiveness of your treatment,” he explains. Below, five shampoos that will take dull hair and restore it to soft, shiny pseudo-perfection—just be sure not to get so hooked on the ridiculously glossy finish a clarifier leaves behind that you use it more often than recommended. You can have too much of a good thing.