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Best Clarifying Shampoo

By: Angela Stringfellow on March 15, 2017

Clarifying shampoos can remove residue

Most shampoos fall into the moisturizing category, meaning they contain ingredients like silicone and protein that are designed to soften the hair and lock in moisture. Unfortunately, these conditioning ingredients can build up over time, weighing down the hair and leaving it dull and limp. Styling products like gels and mousses can also leave residue behind.

For this reason, some experts recommend using a deep-cleansing shampoo, also known as clarifying shampoo, once a week to remove buildup. Clarifying shampoos contain the same basic ingredients as other shampoos, except they have slightly higher dosages of cleansing detergents and no conditioning additives. Julyne Derrick, the About.com guide to beauty, notes that you can also remove product buildup by rinsing once a week with a mixture of 1 part apple cider vinegar and 2 parts water. However, she warns that this DIY formula, like most clarifying shampoos, can strip away the dye from color-treated hair.

Overall, the most popular clarifying shampoo in reviews is Neutrogena Anti-Residue (Est. $5 for 6 oz.). Thousands of users at Makeup Alley, Amazon.com, Walmart.com and Walgreens.com give this shampoo high overall ratings. Reviewers say it does an excellent job of removing oil and residue from the hair and scalp (the phrase "squeaky clean" comes up repeatedly in reviews) and leaves hair soft and shiny. Some users even note that it cured their dandruff, possibly because the condition was due to irritation from product buildup. Most users like the scent, which is generally described as woodsy or herbal, although a few find it too strong. Meant to be used once per week, Neutrogena Anti-Residue claims to remove up to 90 percent of the residue left behind by other shampoos, conditioners, and styling products that can leave hair with a dull, flat finish in just one use. More frequent use should be avoided, however, as reviewers say that it can leave the hair too dry.

Suave Essentials Daily Clarifying (Est. $6 for 12 oz.) also fares well with users, earning the same 4.3-star rating as our best-reviewed Neutrogena Anti-Residue shampoo following hundreds of reviews at MakeupAlley.com. Formerly known as Suave Naturals Daily Clarifying, this shampoo does a great job of deep cleaning the hair and scalp, users say, but they're split over how harsh it is to the hair. The majority of users say that this shampoo really is gentle enough to use every day, leaving hair soft and manageable. However, a significant number assert instead that it's too drying for daily use and should only be used once a week at most, followed by a good conditioner. Also, like Neutrogena Anti-Residue, this Suave shampoo got mixed reactions for its scent. Descriptions of the fragrance range from clean and fresh to musky to flowery, and users seem to either love it or hate it.

Overall, these Neutrogena and Suave clarifying shampoos are very similar in their benefits. We're naming Neutrogena as our Best Reviewed pick because it's slightly more popular with users, but the choice between them could easily come down to a matter of which fragrance you personally prefer.

Baby shampoos are gentle on scalp and eyes

One drawback of clarifying shampoos is that they're not safe to use on color-treated hair. Fortunately, according to Derrick, there's no need to purchase shampoo specifically formulated for cleansing color-treated hair; any gentle shampoo that moisturizes and hydrates should do the job. One option? Baby shampoo. This type of shampoo is specially formulated to be free of ingredients that could irritate a baby's delicate skin and eyes. However, many users say they're just as handy for adults with sensitive skin, who might find most shampoos too harsh to use on a daily basis.

Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo (Est. $7 for 18 oz.) is a shampoo and baby body wash in one. This shampoo, which contains natural oat extract, is designed to clean without drying. Both soap- and paraben-free, Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo has been allergy-tested and is safe for delicate, sensitive skin. It earns rave reviews from thousands of users at Amazon.com, Walgreens.com and Walmart.com, earning near-perfect ratings (between 4.6 and 4.8 stars out of 5) on all three sites. Reviewers say it's thick and lathers nicely, and several say it's the only product that works for their children with eczema and other skin conditions.

Reviews aren't limited to consumers who use this shampoo for their babies and children. Several reviewers say they use Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo for themselves, including those who suffer from skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, noting that it's the only product that doesn't have an overwhelming scent or irritate their skin. Additionally, users say it works well for alleviating a dry and itchy scalp and never burns or stings the eyes. On the downside, we did read comments from a few detractors who say that they find the scent too strong.

Johnson's Baby Shampoo (Est. $5 for 20 oz.) is a classic "tear-free" formula that gets high marks from hundreds of users at Walmart.com, Walgreens.com, and Makeup Alley, although its ratings are slightly lower than those for the top-rated Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo. Some use it for their children's hair, some for their own, and some for other purposes altogether, such as bathing pets or cleaning makeup brushes. Some reviewers even say they mix this shampoo with baking soda periodically to use it as a clarifying shampoo.

Reviewers say Johnson's shampoo is gentle yet effective, particularly for fine or oily hair. It leaves hair soft, adds body, and has a pleasant, mild scent. Surprisingly, several users also say that this shampoo helped with their dandruff or with itchy scalp conditions, even though it doesn't contain any specific dandruff-fighting ingredients. As a bonus, many users find this baby shampoo makes a good face wash that combats acne.

Like Aveeno, Johnson's Baby Shampoo is both soap- and paraben-free. However, some reviewers on Makeup Alley express concern over whether Johnson's Baby Shampoo is truly nontoxic. One ingredient they mention in particular is quaternium-15, a formaldehyde-based preservative. However, that ingredient was removed from the product in 2014. Some also say that the shampoo's artificial fragrance can be irritating to the skin or eyes, though Johnson's claims that its baby shampoo is "dermatologist-tested" and "clinically proven hypoallergenic," It's also worth noting that a few users say the new formulation has a less-pleasant scent, and we read a few isolated complaints about eye irritation.

Weleda Calendula Baby Shampoo and Body Wash (Est. $8 for 6.8 oz.) is another option for babies and people with sensitive skin, earning a rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 in hundreds of reviews at Amazon.com. It contains no sulfates, parabens, phthalates or mineral oils, instead using a gentle surfactant made from coconut and sugar to gently cleanse without over-drying the skin and hair. With organic calendula extract, almond and sesame oils, Weleda Calendula is useful for everything from a face wash for acne-prone skin to a gentle cleanser that soothes and relieves itching and irritation from eczema and a delicate scalp and body wash for babies with cradle cap. It's scented with pure essential oils, and users say it has a gentle, pleasant, but not overpowering scent.

As is the case with most shampoo, there are a few detractors. We read isolated complaints that it can be irritating to the eyes, and as it contains sesame oil, it can cause a reaction for people who are allergic to sesame. Some also say it leaves a sticky feeling behind and can be difficult to rinse off.

Overall, baby shampoos are gentler than traditional shampoos and can be used for a variety of purposes other than cleansing the hair. While we've chosen Aveeno Baby Wash & Shampoo as our best-reviewed baby shampoo as it's vastly more popular with consumers, Johnson's Baby Shampoo and Weleda Calendula Baby Shampoo and Body Wash are also solid contenders, depending on your preferences regarding scent and ingredients.  

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