How to Clarify Curly Hair Step by Step: When, Why and How

Last updated on January 26th, 2023 at 03:51 pm

Below you’ll find different ways and the steps needed for how to clarify curly hair.

Curly hair is absolutely beautiful and unique as there is no curly head of hair that’s the same. Yet, nothing ruins the appearance of your curls than when they are weighed down with dirt and oils. When this happens you need to remove the build up on your soonest wash day.

how to clarify curly hair

What Happens When You Clarify Your Hair

The process of clarifying your hair is the opposite of when you are styling your hair and adding product to it. When you clarify your hair, you essentially strip away all dirt, product residue and build up from your hair strands.

Your scalp is also clarified if you focus your clarifier of choice on it. If you suffer from itchy scalp, this can either improve or exacerbate the issue. If your itchy scalp is caused by simple dryness, clarifying make cause it to itch more.

Conversely, if your scalp is itching because your hair follicles are clogged with oils and dirt, clarifying will take care of that.

An issue with many clarifying treatments is they strip your hair of its natural oils. It’s a problem that can be remedied when you apply your deep conditioner. That’s when you add back needed moisture.

Then, when you add your leave-in conditioner and seal your hair with an oil or hair butter, you’ll also add a layer of protection back to your hair.

It doesn’t matter what your hair type is. You will most likely always need to clarify your curls at some point in time. This is especially true if you use a lot of hair products, including those with natural ingredients.

removing product build up from curly hair

Why Clarify Curly Hair?

Your curly hairstyles look their best when your hair is free of product build-up. When you clarify your hair, you remove excess oil and dirt from your hair. This can be the best way to improve the appearance of your curls.

Another reason you may want to clarify your curly hair is if you want to switch to the Curly Girl Method aka the CG Method. This method of hair care is based on cleansing your hair with conditioner or a low suds shampoo.

You can’t use regular shampoo or traditional shampoo on the CG Method.

I don’t actually recommend the Curly Girl Method. I tried it for many months but essentially, it’s like bathing your body in lotion. It’s not getting fully clean.

Shampoo cleans the hair. Conditioner does not. All it does is coat it. Hence, you’ll have to do a clarifying wash to your curls more often on the CG Method.

Also, clarifying isn’t just for curly hair. If you have straight hair or wavy hair, you’ll need to clarify as well.

Clarifying Your Hair Vs. Clarifying Your Scalp

The definition of the word clarify is to “make clear, “refine” and “make something easier to understand by giving more details or a simpler explanation.”

This meaning can be directly correlated with clarifying the hair and the scalp.

Clarifying your hair or scalp clears them of dirt and debris. Your hair is easier to manage when clarified. Your scalp and hair are refined.

When you clarify, your hair feels better and looks better. When you clarify your scalp, your pores are unclogged and dead skin cells are removed.

Signs Curly Hair Needs Clarifying

Before moving on to the various ways you can clarify curly hair, here are some signs to look for that will let you know your hair needs clarifying:

  • Your hair appears dull and lack luster
  • Your curls look and feel weighed down
  • Hair products you normally use, don’t seem to be working anymore
  • Your hair isn’t absorbing hair products, not even new products
  • Deep conditioning doesn’t appear to infuse your hair with moisture like it’s supposed to
  • You are experiencing hair breakage even though your hair is moisturized

Lastly, if you don’t notice any signs but the following applies, you need to clarify:

  • you use a lot of product in your hair (especially styling products containing oils, waxes, pomades and butters)
  • you live in an area with hard water
  • all you do is co-wash or conditioner “wash” your hair (See why Co-washing is no good)
  • you go swimming with your hair unprotected
  • you use products containing mineral oils
  • regular use of scalp oils when massaging your scalp

Methods for Clarifying Curly Hair

Now that you know the signs pointing to the need to clarify your hair and what actually happens during the process, there’s one consideration to be aware of.

For best results, start the clarification process by saturating your hair with warm water. Always apply your clarifier of choice to wet hair.

This goes for every single one of the methods below.

Hair Clarification Method #1

The first way that you can clarify your hair is with a sulfate shampoo.

Many people are against using shampoos containing sulfates and it’s understandable. When you don’t use sulfate-free shampoos to cleanse with, you do experience dry hair.

Yet, sulfates have their place and that’s during a clarification process.

What are the best clarifying shampoos?

There are many brands but a good clarifying shampoo will have certain key ingredients in it.

Some active ingredients identified in clarifying shampoos include: sodium lauryl sulfate, sodium laureth sulfate or sulfoacetate, ammonium lauryl sulfate, ammonium laureth sulfate, sodium stearate, disodium laureth sulfosuccinate, alpha-olefin sulfonate, Sodium C 14-16 olefin sulfonate

These aren’t the only ingredients that identify a clarifying shampoo but they are among the most common.

What makes this method effective: the chemical ingredients quickly remove excess dirt and oils from the hair shaft

The cons: You may be left with overly clean hair due to the harsh sulfates in the shampoo. These types of shampoo can leave your hair feeling a little stripped after washing. This is however, taken care of during the deep conditioning process

Hair Clarification Method #2

clarify your hair and scalp with apple cider vinegar

Another clarifying agent that can be used on curly hair is Apple cider vinegar. You can create a simple rinse made with:

  • 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 8 ounces of distilled water

If your hair is really oily, use a little more apple cider vinegar than water.

What makes this method effective: it’s high acidity level

The cons: If mixed improperly or used too often, it can damage your hair or scalp.

Hair Clarification Method #3

DIY mud clay wash

Likely, the most popular method for clarifying curly hair in the natural hair community (especially for those with type 4 hair) is the use of clays.

Clays make great mud washes that strip away product build up. There’s some interesting science to how this is done. It’s all in the charge of the particles that compose the clays.

The 3 clays that can be used to clarify curly hair are:

Bentonite clay – At a high rate of absorption, this clay has a negative anionic exchange so it helps to remove toxins that have a positive charge

Rhassoul/Ghassoul/Moroccan clay – At a moderate rate of absorption like bentonite clay, this clay removes toxins with a positive charge

Kaolin Clay – At a low rate of absorption, this clay is mostly positively charged and removes toxins that have a negative charge

A great addition to using clays to clarify and detoxify your hair is to add essential oils like tea tree oil or peppermint oil. Depending on the benefits of the essential oil you use, you will enjoy more than just clean hair.

See: Best Essential Oils for Curly Hair

What makes this method effective: The molecular make up of clays are what cause them to grab onto product build up and pull it from the hair. This method is also non-drying.

The cons: Results can be inconsistent or incomplete if the correct clays aren’t used for the type of build up being removed. Also, the process can be messy, clays come with an additional cost – more than a bottle of shampoo. They are also more time consuming to DIY.

Hair Clarification Method #4

Hairprint – Natural Plant-Based Chelating Shampoo

The final way you can clarify your hair is called chelating. It’s basically clarifying your hair on steroids. These type of cleansers go deep into the hair strand and also remove mineral build.

Common ingredients in chelating shampoos: Tetrasodium EDTA and Disodium EDTA. These bind to minerals like limescale, chlorine and heavy metals to remove them from your hair.

What makes this method effective: The ingredients in chelating cleansers make them heavy duty cleansers. Great for use if you have hard water. Due to it’s low pH, it’s also not as stripping to the hair as regular clarifying shampoos.

The cons: Can weaken hair with excessive use. It may also irritate your scalp.

After The Process

aloe vera

After completing the clarification process, you want to make sure you balance your hair with moisture and strength. Adding a bit of aloe vera powder to your conditioner can help with the moisture.

Alternatively, you can use moisturizing products containing aloe vera, including a bit of aloe vera juice.

You also wont to seal moisture into your hair with a lightweight oil like Argan oil or Almond oil.

Even though you’ll need to clarify your hair from time to time, don’t avoid using products that are beneficial for your hair just to avoid the need for clarifying.

Continue to do what’s best to take care of your curls with the products that your hair loves.

Where to Next:

For more information on how to clarify your hair and your scalp, read this article next:

Frequently Asked Questions About Clarifying Curly Hair

How often should I clarify my hair?

If you use a lot of hair products (especially waxes, pomades and even shea butter), you may need to clarify your hair once a week. Otherwise, monthly is usually a sufficient timeframe.

If you don’t use a lot of products or you don’t have hard water, you can go even longer. Look for the signs shared above to determine if your hair needs clarifying.

How do you clarify natural hair?

Since the health of your hair is most important, you don’t ever want to over-clarify.

You can clarify natural hair in each of the manners mentioned above. Just be wary of how often you do it and always opt for the most gentle method to protect your curls and coils.

How often should I use clarifying shampoo on 4c hair?

The hair type doesn’t matter. Product, dirt and mineral build up matter.

See the answer to “How often should I clarify my hair?” above

Also, be wary of how much styling product you are using in your hair. If you use too much (even your favorite products), you will have to clarify more often.

Should you use clarifying shampoo on fine hair?

Yes, you can use clarifying shampoo on fine hair. However, if your hair is extremely fragile, opt for the clays or the apple cider vinegar rinse.

Yet, the most important thing is to build up the strength of your hair with protein.

See Why Fine Hair Needs Protein and How to Use It

Why do you use distilled water when clarifying hair?

The reason you want to use distilled water is because there are no minerals in it. Distilled water has been stripped of minerals through a distillation process. This is where water is heated and when the vapor is condensed back to water. That water no longer contains minerals.

Here’s how to make your own distilled water at home

When removing product buildup from your hair, it’s not just oils and dirt. You don’t want any hard water minerals built up on your hair either because it makes the hair appear dull.

Clarifying curly hair gives it a fresh start and should be a hair care routine that’s part of everyone’s hair regimen, curly hair or not.

Some of the products recommended are affiliate links. I’ll receive a small commission should you purchase through my links. Thank you for your support.

how to clarify curly hair

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Michelle Smith

Michelle is a Christian natural hair enthusiast. She's been natural for 20+ years and shares natural hair care tips and easy hairstyles for those with low density or thin fine natural hair. It's her joy to inspire you to live by faith in God while caring for your "crown."

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