If you have curly hair, you’ve probably (definitely) been told to never, ever, ~*eVeR*~ use a clarifying shampoo, lest those evil sulfates “destroy” your curl pattern in one wash. But here’s the actual truth: If you’ve got hair, no matter your hair type, it needs to be clarified from time to time. And listen—I used to be terrified of anything that left my hair “squeaky-clean.” But guess what? My thin, fine curls grew flatter and drier, and my scalp grew itchier and flakier. I had months of bad hair days, no matter how many masks, dry shampoos, and scalp scrubs I tried, and it was all because—as I later found out—my curls just needed to be “reset” with a clarifying shampoo for curly hair.
No joke: The very first clarifying rinse I tried—a sudsy, scary, sulfate-filled shampoo—my curls were freakin’ transformed. Now, with twice-monthly “reset” washes, my 3a curls look more voluminous and less straw-like (surprising, right?) than ever, and my scalp feels less itchy and irritated. Basically, I am officially a sulfate convert, and it’s now my mission to help all curl types break the clarifying stigma, so they can get on my level of ~enlightenment~.
But before I get into the full breakdown, take a peek at my favorite clarifying formulas for curls:
Our top clarifying shampoos for curly hair of 2022
Now keep reading to find out how often you should clarify your hair, if clarifying shampoos are good for all curl types, and what to look for in the best clarifying shampoo for curly hair. Plus, you know, the 23 best formulas of 2022, with tester reviews, pros/cons, and more.
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Best All-Natural Clarifying Curl Shampoo
Avalon Organics Clarifying Lemon Shampoo
- Filled with essential oils, which may irritate sensitive skin
Made with all-natural ingredients like lemon oil, aloe, and vitamin E, this organic shampoo is EWG-certified and ideal for anyone looking to dissolve product build-up and green-ify their curl routine in the process. And the fact that your shower will smell like a freakin’ lemonade stand in the process doesn’t hurt either.
THE REVIEWS: “I have really hard water and have been struggling to find a shampoo that will remove the buildup without making my hair dry as straw,” writes one reviewer, “so far this is doing the job! Scent is light and pleasant, not overpowering and does not linger. Lathers well and rinses clean.”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Dandruff
Head & Shoulders Supreme Shampoo and Conditioner
- Uses gentle surfactants (no sulfates)
- Actually treats and gets rid of dandruff
- Isn’t moisturizing enough for regular use
Anyone with an itchy or flaking scalp should start washing with this clarifying shampoo and conditioner combo ASAP. The shampoo uses zinc pyrithione (the MVP of flake fighters) to rid of dandruff, along with coconut water and argan oil to help hydrate your curls and offset some of the drying effects that usually come with dandruff shampoos.
THE REVIEWS: “I normally don’t leave product reviews, but as someone who has struggled with dry itchy scalp since a teenager, I need to recommend this product!!!” one tester writes. “It leaves my hair and scalp refreshed, and doesn’t feel like a lot of product build up is left on the scalp like other dandruff treatments do. I could use this as my daily go to shampoo and conditioner!”
Best Micellar-Based Curl Clarifier
Dream Lengths Curls No Build-Up Curls Micellar Shampoo
- Nozzle tip = great for locs, braids, and dense curls
- You’ll need a stronger formula to dissolve silicone build-up
Listen, if you don’t need an intense, sulfate-filled clarifying shampoo, but your curls still need some sudsing power, try this silicone-free, micellar-based cleanser, which uses a simple mix of hydrating glycerin and and exfoliating salicylic acid to break down oils, grime, and residue. Just squeeze it along your scalp in sections (or along your loc or braid parts), massage it in with your fingertips, then rinse.
THE REVIEW: “I tend to have buildup on my scalp and have used other micellar shampoo that left my hair dry and brittle,” one reviewer writes. “I needed one without sulfates. This one did the trick! My scalp was clean without being itchy and my hair felt great!”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Fine Hair
R+Co Oblivion Clarifying Shampoo
- Helps strip mineral build-up from chlorine
- Too drying for color-treated or damaged hair
This lightweight clarifying shampoo uses a mix of sulfate-free surfactants that are still powerful enough to deep-clean your roots and break down hard-water build-up for curly hair that’s clean, soft, and bouncy. The formula is topped off with hydrolyzed soy protein, which helps strengthen damaged, brittle strands, plus a little bit of coconut oil for shine. Just make sure to limit your use to once a week max, because this stuff can be drying.
THE REVIEWS: “I love this shampoo!” one reviewer writes. “It smells great and leaves my hair very clean. It really deep cleans off all the previous products I put in my hair, but I don’t feel like it dries out my hair or damages it all, which is rare for deep cleaning shampoos.”
Best Mid-Strength Clarifying Curl Shampoo
MopTop Detox Shampoo Citrus Medley
- Uses stronger surfactants without being *too* drying
- Doesn’t contain SLS, so won’t remove silicone build-up
This clarifying shampoo for curly hair is not only free of sulfates, but also free of dyes and insoluble silicones (i.e., silicones that build up on your hair). What it does have: Coconut-based cleansers that help dissolve gunk and build-up, so your curls feel lighter and more voluminous.
THE REVIEW: “I have fine, low porosity, low to medium density hair, so my hair gets buildup and gets weighed down super easily,” one tester writes. “My hair somehow was simultaneously greasy and dehydrated because it was blocked from absorbing moisture and everything was just sitting on the surface. This shampoo doesn’t have anything heavy in it as far as I can tell, and my hair was TRANSFORMED after using it. So so happy!”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Reset Washes
Bumble and Bumble Sunday Shampoo
- Breaks down every type of product and mineral build-up
- Uses SLS sulfates, which are too trying for regular use
This clarifying shampoo is filled with tons of sulfates (!) and absolutely zero silicones, making it perfect for your “reset” wash if you’re following the Curly Girl Method and need to strip the silicones from your curly or wavy hair. Take note, though: This formula is as clarifying as it gets, so if your curls are dry or damaged, limit this one to reset washes only.
THE REVIEW: “Okay, this is a GREAT shampoo if you have an oily scalp,” one product tester writes. “I have curly hair and after not washing it for a few days, I get a bit oily. When I say you can hear the squeaky clean after washing with this I’m not kidding. The word clarifying isn’t in there for no reason! It’s an awesome shampoo.”
Best Curl Clarifying Shampoo for Itchy Scalps
Eden BodyWorks Natural Shampoo in Peppermint Tea Tree
- Calms irritation with tea tree oil
- Leaves scalp feeling tingly (which some reviewers didn’t like)
As someone who has curly hair and a perpetually flaky, itchy scalp, I know firsthand how hard it can be to treat one without destroying the other. Which is why I love this clarifying shampoo, which uses tea tree oil and peppermint oil to help soothe itching, along with gentle surfactants to deeply clean your roots.
THE REVIEW: “You would expect a shampoo to take a week or two to work; that had been my personal expectation of this product,” reads one review. “Surprisingly, this shampoo worked after just ONE SHAMPOO! The years of itching and flakiness stopped IMMEDIATELY after the very first wash and my hair felt so light, like I had no hair at all! (I have long hair.) Incredible!! I am really impressed!!”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Oily Curly Hair
Acure Curiously Clarifying Shampoo
- Leaves hair feeling softer, thanks to fruit and nut oils
- Isn’t strong enough to remove silicone build-up
If you’ve got a lucky mix of curly hair and oily, greasy hair (hi, it me), it can be tempting to feel like you need to wash your hair all the time. But resist! It’ll just dry out your curls. Instead, when you do suds up every few days, reach for this vegan and sulfate-free cleanser that gently breaks down scalp oils while smoothing your dry curls with a bit of argan oil and avocado oil.
THE REVIEW: “This product stripped out all the gunk and it leaves my hair nicely conditioned, too, which I was not expecting,” one reviewer with oily, fine hair writes. “Looks better than it has in over a year.”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for 4c Hair
Aunt Jackie’s Purify Me Moisturizing Co-Wash Cleanser
- Help retain moisture with occlusive oils
- Some reviewers say it’s still too drying for damaged hair
K, so like I said, there’s no such thing as a super-gentle clarifying shampoo, because inherently, they gotta strip a bit (including your curls) to do their job. BUT, this sulfate-free clarifying shampoo is as moisturizing as it gets, thanks to its mix of shea butter and coconut, linseed, and avocado oils, making it the best deep-cleanser for 4c hair (or any type-4 hair).
THE REVIEW: “This moisturizer cowash cleanser is the best so far,” one reviewer writes. “It kept my kinky coily natural hair moisturized and clean at the same time. Will keep ordering and will not dare to try another hair brand.”
Best Sulfate-Free Curl Clarifying Shampoo
Camille Rose Sweet Ginger Cleansing Rinse
- Reviewers say it leaves hair softer than most clarifiers
- Very mild clarifying powers
You know those days when your curls are feeling a little weighed down, dull, or greasy, and you want a touch more cleansing powers than usual? That’s when you reach for this sulfate-free shampoo, which has just enough surfactants to make your hair feel clean clean (not stripped), along with aniseed and castor oils to keep your moisture balance in check.
THE REVIEW: “Everything I used stripped my hair and left it feeling like straw but this is a staple for bleached process hair,” reads one tester’s review. “It made my 4c hair SO SO SOFT. It brought it back to life!”
Best Clarifying Curl Shampoo at Target
Anomaly Clarifying Shampoo
- Especially good for naturally oily scalps
- Can be a bit drying on coarse, damaged hair
Sorry, this clarifying shampoo won’t magically give you glossy Hollywood hair of Anomaly founder Priyanka Chopra (wow, rude), but it will dissolve gunky product buildup and absorb excess scalp oils with a dose of charcoal. This one is on the more ~intense~ end of the dryness spectrum, so make sure to use sparingly and with a good deep conditioner.
THE REVIEW: “This stuff is my HG,” one reviewer writes. “I have an oily scalp and thick, fine hair, so the roots get nasty while the rest looks fine. This is the only product within my budget that’s kept my scalp looking and feeling good for 2-3 days.”
Best-Smelling Clarifying Curl Shampoo
Briogeo Superfoods Mango Cherry Oil Control Balancing Shampoo
- Fruity scent doesn’t linger
- Some reviewers found it too stripping for dry hair
This is incredible-smelling clarifying shampoo (cherry! Mango! Papaya!) kinda makes you feel like you’re bathing in a straight-up smoothie. Not only is the formula packed with fruit enzymes to help gobble up scalp oils, but it’s gentle enough that it won’t leave your curls feeling like straw after rinsing. Hot tip: Really bring the whole ~natural~ vibe by slathering on a DIY hair mask before you shower.
THE REVIEW: “I love this shampoo!” one tester writes. “I have a sensitive scalp that can get itchy and was looking for a shampoo that balanced my scalp without drying out my hair. I was so happy to find this one, which works great—no itchiness, no dried out hair (even though I wash my hair daily), and a great scent.”
Best Drugstore Clarifying Curl Shampoo
Dove Clarify Charcoal & Hydrate Shampoo
- Dissolves scalp oils with charcoal
- Uses SLS—the strongest (but most effective!) sulfate
Okay, I’m truly obsessed with this clarifying drugstore shampoo from Dove—partially because of the formula, but also because of the incredibly affordable price. The charcoal-spiked formula easily removes build-up and absorbs excess grease from oily scalps without destroying your curls in the process.
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Dry Curly Hair
Moroccanoil Clarifying Shampoo
- Offsets dryness with lightweight oils
- Some reviewers don’t love the scent
If just thinking about the words “clarifying shampoo” makes your already-dry curls feel even dryer, please allow this formula to change your mind. It’s definitely still clarifying—meaning it uses somewhat drying (but not overly so) surfactants to strip gunk and build-up—but it’ll also help strengthen and soften dry hair with a blend of argan oil, keratin, and jojoba-seed extract. Still, if you’ve got the driest, most damaged of hair, you’ll want to use this one every few weeks, max.
THE REVIEW: “I use this usually once every 2-3 weeks and it works so well,” reads one review. “I have hard water so I like to use it to help give my hair a refresh every now and then. It also helps with any oil buildup I might have since I’m washing less frequently thanks to being home all the time lol. It’s really effective and makes my hair feel super light.”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Curls and Coils
Pattern Clarifying Shampoo
- Reviewers love that the scent isn’t overwhelming
- Some testers didn’t find it clarifying enough
This gentle but effective clarifying shampoo removes product build-up while simultaneously hydrating curly hair with aloe, panthenol, and green tea extract, making it the ultimate reset cleanser for tighter hair textures that need the occasional clarifying rinse.
THE REVIEW: “This is a great shampoo!” one tester writes in their review. “It’s effective at clarifying and cleaning my oily scalp while having good ingredients. The smell is so nice yet not overpowering. I have 2c/3a hair and this shampoo doesn’t do anything to hinder my curl pattern. This is a staple for me!”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Hard-Water Buildup
Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Triple Detox Shampoo
- Safe for color-treated hair
- Takes a few minutes for the formula to “work”
If you’re dealing with the hair effects of hard water, you need the heavy stuff to break down the build-up. Enter, this clarifying shampoo that uses charcoal to absorb dirt and excess oil, along with disodium EDTA to soften hard-water build-up. Just know your curls will feel a bit dry after this one, so follow with a hair mask to keep your curls happy.
THE REVIEW: “It cleans well, and I like that they provide a water testing strip so you can get an idea of what type of water you have. I use once every 1 or 2 weeks or so, and for me it lathers well. I let it sit for awhile before rinsing, and though it is a bit drying, it’s less drying that other clarifying shampoos that I’ve used,” one reviewer writes. “I use this mostly for general detox of environment pollution and hard water build up.”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Damaged Curls
Ouai Detox Shampoo
- Also helps treat flaky, itchy scalps
- May not be stripping enough for extra-oily scalps
Dealing with build-up and damaged curls? This clarifying shampoo is infused with apple cider vinegar to get rid of excess oil and irritating flakes—plus a dose of hydrolyzed keratin to repair and strengthen your hair for a smooth, shiny finish. After you wash, follow up with a deep-conditioning treatment, and you’ll be good to go.
THE REVIEW: “Makes hair feel extremely clean,” reads one review. “I bought this to help with dry scalp and dandruff but have continued to use weekly. Smells amazing and truly leaves hair and scalp feeling refreshed. Highly recommend.”
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Color-Treated Curls
Curlsmith Vivid Tones Vibrancy Shampoo
- Bottle can be difficult to squeeze
If you have curly and color-treated hair, this is the clarifying shampoo for you. The incredibly gentle, curl-friendly formula is infused with fruit extracts to help to absorb excess oil on the scalp, smooth your cuticles, and make your hair color look super shiny and vibrant while still dissolving gunk from your scalp.
THE REVIEWS: “In trying to restore my damaged hair, this shampoo is the first one I’ve tried that actually leaves my hair feeling soft, & even the areas that are still damaged (the hair above & behind my ears lost definition, & became a fuzzy undefined mess), look much better,” one tester writes in their review.
Best Clarifying Shampoo for Color-Treated Curls
Verb Reset Clarifying Shampoo
- Good for locs, braids, and highlights
- Some reviewers wished it lathered more
Those with color-treated hair should be especially careful when using clarifying shampoos, since most deep-cleaning formulas can also fade your dye job. This sulfate-free shampoo uses gentle cleansers and sea water to get rid of build-up without stripping color, and it’s also full of minerals, aloe vera, and honey to moisturize your curly hair and enhance its shine.
THE REVIEWS: “Love this clarifying shampoo. Gentle, lathers enough for me. Hair feels clean and rejuvenated and just curls better after using this,” writes one reviewer, while another tester adds, “I have locs and have tried A LOT of clarifying shampoos. This is definitely one of the best. It removes all build up and leaves my hair squeaky clean.”
Best Clarifying Shampoo Scrub for Curls
Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub With Sea Salt
- Great for super-oily scalps
- Can be a little hard to rinse out
If most hair products leave your scalp itchy, oily, or irritated, Christophe Robin’s all-natural sea salt scalp scrub has your name all over it. The hero ingredient in this formula is—you guessed it—sea salt, which gently exfoliates and cleanses your scalp and hair, and it’s also spiked with sweet almond oil to help hydrate your curls too.
THE REVIEW: “Holy grail for anyone with oily scalps,” one tester writes. “I use this about once a week or once every other week to remove buildup of oil/dry shampoo/other products, and it leaves my scalp so fresh and clean. I use it with a scalp brush and it lathers up so great.”
Best “Gentle” Curl Clarifying Shampoo
Twist Hit Reset Light Clarifying Shampoo
- Breaks down all types of product build-up
- Sulfates may be too drying for type-4 hair
The MVP cleanser in this clarifying shampoo? Ammonium laureth sulfate—a slightly gentler, less-stripping sulfate that still suds, still gives you that super-clean scalp feeling, and still breaks down intense build-up, without totally drying your curls out, thanks to a dose of aloe vera and jojoba oil.
THE REVIEW: “My natural hair is medium length, wavy/curly, slightly damaged, with thin strands but good volume,” one reviewer writes. “This shampoo cleans off build up from my styling products, keeps my my frizz under-control, and keeps my hair hydrated without weighing it down.”
Best Anti-Pollution Clarifying Shampoo
Sachajuan Anti Pollution Shampoo
- Sleek, IG-worthy packaging
- Some reviewers say the scent is too “musky”
Every time you step outside, pollution in the form of smoke, smog, and particulate matter (little microscopic pieces of dirt) latch on to your hair strands and make your curls look dull. To the rescue: this clarifying shampoo that’s specially formulated to remove stubborn build-up from pollution as you wash.
THE REVIEW: “While it is pricey for the amount you get, my hair has never smelled better or felt cleaner, for longer,” one tester’s review reads. “Love this shampoo.”
Is clarifying shampoo OK for curly hair?
Technically, no; clarifying shampoo isn’t “good” for any hair type, but yes, it is necessary for curly hair from time to time. Clarifying shampoos are usually filled with harsh detergents called sulfates, which break down and strip the grease, oil, and residue from your strands, leaving them “reset” and refreshed—and also incredibly dry. It’s kinda like taking antibiotics: They’ll thankfully kill off the bad bacteria in your body…but also some of the good bacteria too. Very necessary at times, but not something you want to do daily.
A lot of styling products (think: leave-in conditioners, butters, hair gels, etc.) contain waxes or silicones that can only be removed from your hair strand with sulfate-filled shampoos. So even if you’re diligently co-washing your hair every few days—but you’re also using products prone to building up—you won’t be doing much to really clean your scalp and hair strands, which will eventually leave your curls lank, dried-out, and/or greasy over time.
How often should I clarify my curly hair?
There’s no set rule on this—how often you clarify your hair depends on how your hair feels and which products you’re using, but in general, you can use a clarifying shampoo once a month on curly or natural hair (think: 3a curls to 4c hair). Just use it in place of your regular shampoo once or twice a month, max, then follow up with a deep conditioner to mitigate the dryness afterwards.
That said, there are exceptions: If you’re following the Curly Girl Method (CGM), which has you avoiding any products that contain silicones, waxes, and mineral oils—aka all the ingredients that lead to buildup—you shouldn’t really need to clarify monthly, unless your hair is ultra-fine and prone to oil. Instead, the Curly Girl Method says you should clarify just once at the very beginning of your CGM journey to “reset” your hair and create a clean, stripped-down foundation.
What to look for in a clarifying shampoo for curly hair
Sulfates vs. no sulfates
You have two choices when it comes to clarifying shampoos: formulas with sulfates, or formulas without sulfates (nope, not all clarifying formulas necessarily contain sulfates, especially if they’re created for curly hair). In general, if you’re using silicone-based products, or you’re not following the Curly Girl Method, you’d benefit from a sulfate-based clarifying shampoo to help “reset” your curls once a month. But if you’re living that silicone-free life, you can opt for a sulfate-free clarifier, which will be a bit less drying than a sulfate-filled formula.
Hydrating and moisturizing ingredients
No matter what, a clarifying shampoo is going to dry out your curls to some extent. To help mitigate some of the effects, scan the ingredients list and looking for moisturizing oils (like jojoba, argan, coconut, castor) or butters (like shea and cocoa).
Chloe Metzger is the deputy beauty director at Cosmopolitan with nearly 10 years of experience researching, writing, and editing hair stories that range from the Curly Girl Method to cleansing conditioners to hair types. She’s an authority in all hair categories, but is an expert when it comes to curly hair, thanks to her own lifetime of working with her own 2b/3a curly hair. She regularly tests curly hair shampoos and clarifying formulas on her own hair, and worked with the industry’s top hairstylists and cosmetic chemists to assess new formulas and brands for this story.
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