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How to Clarify Curly Hair When Starting the Curly Girl Method

If you are just starting the Curly Girl Method, or if you are suffering from product buildup, this post has everything you need to know on how to clarify curly hair.

How to clarify Curly Hair

All curly haired girls will suffer from buildup on their hair at some point. If you live in the U.K. like I do, you probably wash your hair in hard water. This means that the water contains high amounts of dissolved minerals (mainly calcium and magnesium) which can build up on the hair over time and leave it looking dull and lifeless.

Also, if you regularly use butters, waxes or oils on your hair, these can also build up over time. Many brands which make curly girl approved products, such as Shea Moisture, Cantu, Ouidad and Aussie, include heavy oils or butters in their ingredients.

To keep curly hair healthy, bouncy, and free from buildup, you should be using a clarifying shampoo at least once a month. If you are following the Curly Girl Method you may only need to use a clarifying shampoo every 6-8 weeks.

In this post I will go through everything you need to know about clarifying curly hair, as well as which cg approved clarifying shampoos I recommend for different curly hair types.

This post is all about how to clarify curly hair

How to Clarify Curly Hair

What Does it Mean to Clarify Your Hair?

Clarifying the hair means removing any oils, minerals or waxes that have built up over time and are not being removed by your regular shampoo.

The hair can be clarified either by using a clarifying shampoo, or with home remedies such as apple cider vinegar, kaolin clay, rhassoul clay, bentonite clay, salicylic acid, or lemon juice mixed with a few tablespoons of white vinegar.

After the hair has been clarified it will be lighter and easier to style. You may also find the hair follicles on your scalp are healthier which could lead to faster growth and thicker hair.

Signs that You Should Clarify Your Hair

Signs that your hair has mineral or product buildup may include the following:

  • Your shampoo doesn’t lather properly on your hair
  • Hair looks dull
  • Increased frizz
  • Hair looks limp, flat and weighed down
  • Your curls fall flat easily
  • Products sit on the hair instead of absorbing
  • Hair feels dryer than normal
  • Your hair is breaking easily
  • You are experiencing more hair fall
  • Hair doesn’t look clean even after washing
  • There are flakes on your scalp

If your hair is suddenly lifeless and dull, and not responding well to your usual products, first try a clarifying shampoo before you try anything else. It may be a sign of mineral or product buildup on the hair.

What Causes Product Buildup on the Hair

Buildup can occur on both the hair and scalp when dead skin cells, natural oils, minerals from your water or hair products accumulate over time. If you have low porosity hair you will be more susceptible to product build-up, since hair products product tend to just sit on the hair instead of being absorbed.

Although dead skin cells and excess oil from the scalp can build up on the hair, the most common causes of build-up are from your hair care products or your tap water.

Ingredients that Build up on Hair

The most common ingredients that leave residue on the hair and cause product build-up include:

  • Mineral oil
  • Petroleum
  • Wax
  • Butter (like shea butter)
  • Heavy oil (like coconut oil)
  • Silicones (like dimethicone and amodimethicone)

These ingredients tend to build up since they are not water soluble and often won’t be fully washed off when you rinse your hair in the shower. If you regularly use a deep conditioner which contains natural ingredients such as shea butter or coconut oil, this can easily cause cause buildup over time.

Buildup from Hard Water

If you live in the U.K. like I do then there is a high chance you are washing your hair in hard water. Over 60% of the tap water in the U.K. is hard water and contains high amounts of minerals. Hard water can leave a film on the hair and scalp. This can leave the hair dry and brittle, and even cause hair loss.

A study from 2016 showed that washing hair in hard water led to the hair having a ruffled appearance, higher mineral deposition and decreased thickness.

Unfortunately if you live in a hard water area ike me, the only thing we can do is use a good clarifying shampoo to remove any mineral deposits from our hair. Hard water minerals have a detrimental effect on the hair and scalp over time, so it’s important to ensure a clarifying treatment is part of your curly hair routine.

What Else Can Build up on the Hair?

Other than mineral deposits, hair care products, natural oils and dead skin cells, you can also be left with environmental pollutants on the hair. If you regularly go swimming, the chemicals in swimming pool water can collect on the hair, as well as pollution in the atmosphere like car exhaust fumes.

When Should You Clarify Your Hair

If you are just starting the Curly Girl Method you should clarify your hair before you start your new routine.

If you don’t use the curly girl method you should clarify your hair if you notice it has become dull and limp, or you are showing any other signs of product buildup mentioned earlier in this post.

How Often Your Should Clarify Your Hair

This is a difficult question to answer. It depends on many factors including:

  • How often you apply products to your hair
  • If you live in a hard water area
  • If you are following the curly girl method
  • How greasy your natural hair is

Some clarifying shampoos are designed to be used 1-2 times per week, but in other cases you may be fine using a clarifying shampoo only once every 6-8 weeks.

Be aware that clarifying shampoos provide a deeper clean as they contain harsh surfactants that remove grease, residue and impurities. Using these shampoos too often however can end up drying the hair out.

If you are living in a hard water area I would recommend using a clarifying shampoo at least once a month, whether you are using the curly girl method or not. If you don’t have especially dry hair then you could use a clarifying shampoo once a week.

If you are lucky enough to live in a soft water area, and you are following the curly girl method, you could clarify every 6-8 weeks, or if you accidentally use a product with silicones.

What to Look For in a Clarifying Shampoo

The type of clarifying shampoo you choose will depend on your hair type, whether you have colour treated hair, or if you also want a shampoo for dandruff.

Clarifying shampoos have more surfactants than regular shampoos, which means they are stronger. If you have colour treated hair you may wish to choose a clarifying shampoo with less harsh surfactants.

For the deepest possible clean, look for strong surfactants such as:

  • ammonium lauryl sulfate
  • ammonium laureth sulphate
  • sodium lauryl sulfate
  • sodium stearate
  • alpha-olefin sulfonate

Milder cleansers may include:

  • Chlorides
  • Bromides
  • Cetyl-fatty alcohols

If you have dandruffseborrheic dermatitis, and psoriasis you should choose a product which contains salicylic acid to help control these scalp conditions.

Clarifying Shampoos for Hard Water Areas

Some shampoos are specifically designed to combat the effects of mineral deposits from different water types. These shampoos remove metal ions from the hair shaft, and leave the strands pH balanced.

Shampoos for hard water are sometimes called chelating shampoos. They are able to remove not only pollution, dirt and product residue, but also deposits of minerals. These shampoos contain ingredients such as:

  • EDTA
  • Phytic acid
  • Sodium gluconate

These ingredients are able to break the bond between your hair and mineral deposits. I have an entire post recommending the best shampoos for hard water.

Curly Girl Approved Clarifying Shampoos

If you’ve been following me on YouTube you’ll know I’m a big fan of the brand OGX. OGX actually make two different clarifying shampoos which are both curly girl approved! These are the OGX Detox Charcoal Shampoo, and the OGX Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo.

OGX shampoos are free from sodium laureth sulfate, so in my opinion these are the best clarifying shampoos if you want something that’s a bit more gentle on the hair. They won’t strip hair dye from colour treated hair, and they won’t further damage brittle hair. Let’s look at them in a little more detail.

Best Clarifying Shampoo for Oily Curly Hair

If you have especially greasy hair I would recommend the OGX Charcoal Detox Shampoo. The product contains both charcoal and kaolin clay to help draw out toxins and remove buildup from the hair. My own hair is quite dry and I found this shampoo was too drying for me, but if you have oily hair this might be a good choice.

Check out my video and full blog post on the OGX Charcoal Shampoo

OGX Charcoal Detox Shampoo to clarify curly hair

Best Clarifying Shampoo for Dry Curly Hair

If you have drier hair, or if your hair is damaged from chemical treatments, I recommend the OGX Apple Cider Vinegar shampoo. I found that this didn’t dry my hair out at all (my hair gets dry easily)! Since apple cider vinegar has a low pH level, this shampoo can help to rebalance the pH level of brittle or coloured hair, as well as remove buildup.

Check out my video and full blog post on the OGX Apple Cider Vinegar Shampoo

OGX Apple cider vinegar shampoo to clarify curly hair

Home Remedies to Clarify Wavy and Curly Hair

You can also remove excess oils, product buildup and hard water deposits using natural homemade remedies.

Apple Cider Vinegar Rinse

You can make your own apple cider vinegar rinse by mixing three parts apple cider vinegar to one part water, and the pouring the mixture onto your hair and scalp. I recommend always diluting apple cider vinegar since, while it is an effective cleanser, it can also dry out the hair and scalp.

An acv rinse will help to promote a healthy scalp since it has anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. It also helps to improve the health of your hair since it can rebalance the pH level of the hair strands.

OGX Apple cider vinegar hair rinse

Although you can buy apple cider vinegar at the supermarket, OGX make a clarifying apple cider vinegar hair rinse which I’m currently testing out along with their apple cider vinegar shampoo and conditioner. I’ll be posting my full review of this product soon!

Instructions on how to use the OGX Apple cider vinegar hair rinse

Baking Soda Hair Wash

Baking soda can effectively cleanse the hair however it has a high pH of 9. If you use baking soda to wash your hair I recommend you follow this with an apple cider vinegar rinse to help bring your pH balance back to normal.

To make a baking soda wash, mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with 8 oz. hot water. Stir well until all the baking soda has dissolved before transferring the liquid to a spray bottle. Spray onto wet hair and massage well into the hair and scalp before rinsing out.

Kaolin, Rhassoul or Bentonite Clays

To clarify your hair using clay, mix the clay powder with water until it forms a thin, but not runny mixture. The amount of clay you use will depend on the length of your hair. If you have very long or thick curly curl you will need more clay.

Wet your hair and massage the clay mixture into the hair and scalp. Once the hair is completely saturated, rinse thoroughly. I personally prefer kaolin clay since it has the lowest pH, and is the most gentle out of all the clays.

Clarifying Colour Treated Hair

If you have colour treated hair you need to be careful which clarifying shampoo you use. Clarifying shampoos are harsher than regular shampoos and could strip the colour from your hair.

Colour safe clarifying shampoos tend to have milder cleansing agents that won’t fade your colour but still leave you with clean hair. Since OGX shampoos are more mild than a regular clarifying shampoo, I recommend using one of the OGX products I mentioned earlier in this post.

Clarifying the Scalp

It’s important to make sure that you are not only clarifying the hair, but also the scalp. Buildup on the scalp can make the scalp feel itchy and dry. It can also block hair follicles and lead to a flaky scalp that resembles dandruff.

Whether you use a clarifying shampoo, or a home remedy like apple cider vinegar, make sure you massage the product well into the scalp. A clean scalp will improve hair health as it creates an optimum environment for hair growth.

FAQs on How to Clarify Curly Hair

How does apple cider vinegar clarify curly hair?

Apple cider vinegar is acidic and able to dissolve and remove excess oil or grease from curly hair. Since it has such a low pH it can also help to rebalance curly hair, smooth the hair cuticles and make curls more defined and less frizzy.

Can clarifying shampoo bring back curls?

If your curls are limp or flat, this may be due to product buildup on the hair. If this is the case then a clarifying shampoo can help bring your curls back to life! Once the residue is removed from the hair, your curls will be better able to form, and you will find your hair is lighter and bouncier.

Which Products Are Curly Girl Approved?

Check out the following posts to find out whether your favourite hair care brand is CG approved.


If you found this article helpful, you may enjoy the following posts from other beauty blogs that I follow and trust.





This Post was All About How to Clarify Curly Hair

Thank you for reading my post about how to clarify curly hair. If you have curly or wavy hair, you should clarify your hair on a regular basis to ensure your natural curls remain healthy and defined!