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What is a clarifying wash day?
A clarifying wash day is when you use a stronger shampoo than a regular wash day, for the purpose of removing buildup on your scalp or hair.
I wasn’t familiar with the idea of clarifying your hair until I was an adult. Many people first hear about clarifying shampoo after they discover the curly girl method, but it is not exclusive to the curly girl method.
What are chelating clarifying shampoos?
Chelating clarifying shampoos are designed to be used by people who have hard water. While regular clarifying shampoos remove build-up caused by products, chelating clarifying shampoos have the added benefit of removing build-up caused by hard water deposits.
About 85% of households in the US have hard water. I sometimes see people assume that if they have “city water” rather than well water that they’ll have soft water. City vs well is not the difference between hard and soft water, city water can be hard as well.
If you have hard water, opt for a chelating clarifying shampoo. If you aren’t sure if you have hard water, they make water test kits that can tell you if your water is hard. A common sign of hard water is when your faucets, showerhead, etc get mineral deposits around them over time.
Hard water deposits look whiteish with a slightly blue tint. When we had hard water in the past, we had to periodically soak our sink dish sprayer and shower head in vinegar because the hard water deposits would cause our faucet’s water output to be reduced or to come out in an uneven flow.
Are there curly girl approved clarifying shampoos?
There are some curly girl approved clarifying shampoos. Curly girl approved clarifying shampoos are still sulfate-free like regular curly girl shampoos are, but they use stronger cleansers.
Curly girl approved clarifying shampoos exist, but most people who generally follow the curly girl method will use a sulfate-containing shampoo to clarify with.
It’s so common to use a sulfate to clarify with while on the curly girl method, that I didn’t know curly girl approved clarifying shampoos existed until I was a couple years into the method. And I have spent a LOT of time following CGM youtube channels and forums.
How often should you clarify wavy hair?
You should clarify often enough to keep your hair from having build-up. How quickly your hair will get build-up will depend on your hair/scalp’s natural properties, the products you use, how well you scrub your scalp, whether or not you have hard water, among other things.
Most people will want to clarify their hair at least once a month. I’d say anywhere from once a week to once a month is the most common.
If you find that your hair feels and looks its best on clarifying day, I’d take that as a sign that it’s making your hair very “happy” and would experiment with clarifying a bit more often.
Factors that impact how often you should clarify
- Your natural hair and skin/scalp properties. How dry vs oily your scalp is, whether your hair is low or high porosity, among other factors can impact how quickly you get build-up, just naturally.
- Whether you have hard or soft.
- If you cowash or use very gentle cleansers vs stronger cleansers on regular wash days.
- How many products you use in your hair. The more products, the more likely you are to experience build-up.
- How often you experiment with different products. More variety increases the odds of buildup.
- If you use products with silicones. This is a bit controversial, but according to the curly girl method at least, silicones cause build-up faster than silicone-free products.
- How thoroughly you wash your hair on regular wash days.
- If you use oil or butter-heavy products. I’ve seen a lot of threads lately from people using shampoo bars who are struggling with build-up. Shampoo bars are popular with those who are conscious about waste. From what I understand though, waxes have to be used to keep the bar in a bar shape, and those waxes tend to cause build-up. Also, these shampoo bars tend to be gentle cleansers so the cleanser within the bar isn’t strong enough to remove the wax, at least in some cases. I have a blog post that covers how to tell if a hair product is heavy, if you think that could be a problem for you.
- If you swim. I admit to not knowing a lot about this as I am not much of a swimmer myself but I know the chemicals from pools can cause you to need to clarify. If you swim in pools regularly, definitely research how to care for your hair as a swimmer.
Signs that you need to clarify your hair
1. If you have bad build-up your hair will feel waxy, will clump together or look damp/greasy even immediately after you’ve washed it. It may feel slightly sticky to the touch, as well, even without any products in your hair.
It can be a good idea to occasionally wash your hair and not use any products so that you see how your “bare’ hair is feeling. If your hair doesn’t feel super clean when you just shampoo it, condition it and let it dry? Then try to clarify.
2. If you’re noticing build-up on your scalp. If you scratch your scalp and stuff comes up? That’s often build-up.
3. Your hair seems to refuse to absorb your products. Sometimes people think their hair has become extremely low porosity because products just sit on top of their hair rather than soaking in. Build-up can essentially “clog” your hair, causing products or even water from having a hard time getting in.
4. Your hair feels heavy or weighed down or is limp and lacking bounce.
5. You have more frizz than you used to and can’t figure out why. Build-up can cause frizz!
6. Your scalp is itchy. Of course, there are many potential reasons why your scalp could itch, but build-up can be one cause.
7. Your hair has a film on it. There are videos from hairstylists dragging scissors down a hair strand and white stuff flakes off. In severe cases, build-up can just totally coat the hair like that.
8. In severe cases, your hair may be breaking or falling out. Severe build-up can clog the hair follicles so much that the hair dries out from the inside out.
9. Your hair has lost its shine.
10. It’s been a month or more since you last clarified your hair.
Clarifying shampoos I recommend
I haven’t tried any curly girl approved clarifying shampoos so I can’t recommend any. My instinct is that non-curly girl approved clarifying shampoos are probably stronger and therefore better for removing build-up.
It is just my instinct though, I have no experience with curly girl clarifying shampoos. The two clarifying shampoos that I use and can recommend from personal experience are:
Suave daily clarifying shampoo. (Walmart link or Amazon link) This is an extremely affordable clarifying shampoo. They sell a regular-sized shampoo bottle for about $1 or a big bottle for around $2. It’s really easy to find in the US, most grocery stores and drugstores sell it. This has been my go-to clarifying shampoo for my regular monthly or bi-monthly clarifying shampoo.
Neutrogena anti-residue clarifying shampoo. (Walmart link or Amazon link). This is closer to $6 but also pretty easy to find in the US. I find it to be noticeably stronger than the Suave daily clarifying shampoo.
While I like the Suave for my regular monthly clarifying, when I have had worse-than-usual build-up, I reach for this. It’s really good, powerful stuff. I will say, it does smell a bit “medicinal” or something? It reminds me a bit of the smell of T-gel, but less intense. It’s not a lovely smell – but it works great.
Curly girl method clarifying routine
Clarifying shampoos can be drying because they are so strong they sort of strip your hair of its natural oils. For this reason, it’s usually recommended that you use a deep conditioner when clarifying. Here is a really basic example of a clarifying routine. You’ll likely want to do this at least once a month.
- Shampoo your scalp using your clarifying shampoo. If you know that you have buildup on your strands, you may want to shampoo your strands as well. I typically focus on the scalp only unless I know, or at least suspect, that I have build-up on my strands.
- Rinse the clarifying shampoo out.
- Apply your regular conditioner over your strands.
- Use a wide-tooth comb to detangle and/or align your hair evenly.
- Squish to condish
- Rinse the conditioner out.
- Apply a deep conditioner or you can use a protein mask if your hair likes protein a lot. I use Garnier fructis treats when I want a protein-free deep conditioner. More often, my hair could use protein and then I would use Shea Moisture Manuka Honey & yogurt protein treatment. You can simply let this sit in your hair while in the shower for several minutes. Or you can get out of the shower and put a cap on your head, maybe use a hot head cap to keep your hair warm. For low porosity hair in particular, keeping your hair warm will allow the deep conditioner or protein treatment to penetrate better. I have a hot cap that I use sometimes, but often I just will stay in the shower for 15 minutes or so while the water runs. It feels easier to me than getting out and the back in later.
- Rinse out your deep conditioner/protein treatment, and then go about staying as you usually would.
Looking to learn more about caring for wavy hair or the curly girl method? Check out my blog post directory.