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What's the Difference Between "Clarifying" and "Cleansing"

What's the difference between shampoos? Don't they all do the same thing?
Nope, companies knew the secret every woman needs to have a happy life. Variety. We need different products for different occasions, better safe than sorry, right? Let's discuss some of the differences between clarifying and gentle cleansing shampoos.

Clarifying shampoo:
Meant to deep clean , to help remove build up from products. Often product labels will use one of these three words to describe the product:

  • "Clarifying"
  • "Purifying"
  • "Detox"

Clarifying shampoos are all about detoxing your hair and scalp from the products, sweat, and other stubborn buildup. The purpose is to essentially "wipe the slate clean." This means everything that is in your hair (oils including scalp's natural oils,  products, sweat, hard water deposits) is completely washed away.

Clarifying Shampoos contain a much higher level of surfactants providing a deep clean and unclogging any debris from hair follicles. This allows the space to open up for hair growth.

Yes, not clarifying can hinder your hair growth!

Gentle cleansing:
Gentle Cleansing (Sulfate-free) shampoos  are more mild than clarifying. Clarifying shampoos strip everything out of your hair while regular gentle cleansing sulfate-free shampoo cleanses hair and scalp in a less squeaky clean way. This doesn't mean your hair will still feel dirty, it just means mild shampoos are made with a lower portion of surfactants. They have more nourishing properties that give hair a clean feeling without the dry, stripped feeling clarifying shampoos normally do.

Gentle cleansing is the way to go if you want to protect your scalps natural oils. Clarifying shampoos always remove scalp's natural oils. We need these oils to keep our scalp moisturized and balanced. Without our oils we can experience dry, flaky,and itchy scalps. To protect your natural oils, Pre-poo at least 30 minutes before you are ready to shampoo. If you are brand new to the journey, and do not know what Pre-Poo is, click the link right here, to send you to the What is Pre-Poo article.

When should I use either shampoo?

Clarifying shampoos :

  • When you have been strictly cowashing (all hair needs to be clarified at least once a month)
  • If you have used non-water soluble silicones
  • If you have hard water (hard water deposits into hair and weighs it down)
  • If you have gone to the pool or beach (removes chlorine and salt water)
  • If you are going to color hair and water the color to deposit better (Use the clarifying shampoo 1-2 days before your color treatment. The color will penetrate more effectively.)
  • If you regularly use oils in your regime (scalp massage, SOTC, hot oil treatments, pre-poo)
Sulfate-Free Gentle Cleansing Shampoo:
  • Normal weekly shampoo
  • If you have not used a lot of product, and know you do not have build up issues
  • If your curls are not curling as tightly as they normally do
  • If you are suddenly experiencing constant frizz
  • If you have been co-washing only 
  • If you have colored hair and want to preserve the color

Final Thoughts:

So, all in all, what do we take away from all this breakdown?

The main difference between clarifying and gentle cleansing shampoos is: Formulation

Clarifying shampoos contain a higher level of surfactants to provide that deep clean feeling

Gentle cleansing shampoos contain a lower level or surfactants and instead contain an elevated level of nourishing properties.

So, always remember:
  • Clarifying = Detoxing or purifying
  • Cleansing= gentle sulfate-free cleaning with lots of nourishing properties 
  • Always remember to deep condition right after clarifying or cleansing because the conditioner will penetrate more effectively on clean hair.


  1. I definitely need a deep conditioner. I pre-poo before shampoo, thanks to you ;)

  2. Is devacurl build-up buster okay to use weekly?

    1. absolutely! the devacurl site explicitly explains they can even remove silicones with their build up buster. In all honesty I don't completely buy that. I believe they can remove water soluble silicones. But as a clarifying shampoo, yes, build up buster is a fantastic choice. One of my favorites!


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