Shampooing Your Hair 102: Types & Formulas

Shampooing Your Hair 102: Types & Formulas

Shampooing Black Hair

In Shampooing 101, you learned why shampooing is important and my personal methods on doing it.  Now, here is the part everyone wants to learn about – what kind to use!  What are the differences between them?  And are sulfate shampoos really all that bad?  Remembering the basic principle that the purpose of shampooing is to clean without stripping your hair, let’s jump right in to the different types and their purpose.

Clarifying:  Clarifying shampoos are those that remove buildup from the hair.  This is actually a pretty broad term because technically sulfate shampoos serve as light clarifiers, and both chelating and neutralizing (both of these terms are explained below) shampoos also clarify.  Basically what is meant by ‘clarifying shampoo’ is that you use a cleanser (or products) that work more deeply than your weekly shampoo to remove buildup and completely clean your hair.  Personally I do not use a product specifically labeled as clarifying only.  I find it much more effective to chelate whenever my hair feels like it needs a deep cleaning and I also use a no-lye relaxer.  But if you use a sulfate shampoo (see the discussion below) technically you are performing a light clarifying.  I would suggest clarifying at least once per month, particularly if you use a lot of commercial ingredients (silicones, alcohols, non natural ingredients). It should be noted that using an actual shampoo is not the only way to clarify – natural methods include apple cider vinegar (ACV) and baking soda:
        Apple Cider Vinegar: ACV is usually used as a rinse after the hair has been shampooed with your regular product.  It is applied as a diluted rinse; the ratio of ACV to water differs from person to person, but I would suggest beginning with 1:4 (one cup ACV, four cups water) and adjusting from there.  Other benefits of using ACV are that it restores the hair to its normal pH of about 4.5 and also correct your porosity.
        Baking Soda:  Some mix 1-2 tablespoons into their shampoo to create a pasty mixture to cleanse the hair. Some ladies who adhere strongly to a “no shampoo” regimen use conditioner to mix the baking soda and report that their hair is cleaned well also.

Chelating:  One step beyond a clarifying shampoo, chelating formulas not only remove build up but also mineral deposits.  This is important for those who have hard water, use no-lye relaxers, and who swim frequently.  I use a chelating shampoo the wash before my relaxer to clean the hair completely so the relaxer is able to “take” better and after relaxing to remove the mineral deposits that no-lye formulas are notorious for leaving on the hair to prevent dryness.  Whenever I chelate, after massaging it into my scalp and hair, I always allow it to sit for a few minutes before rinsing to allow it time to work.

Neutralizing:  These shampoos are specifically made to stop the action of your relaxer.  Relaxers are all highly alkaline (meaning they have a pH higher than 7) and these shampoos act to lower the pH down to 7 or lower, thereby neutralizing the chemical and stopping the straightening action of the relaxer.  Although some formulas are both neutralizing and chelating, I would never suggest using a shampoo that does not specifically say “neutralizing” on its label.  Even further, I believe in using the same brand of shampoo and relaxer, but that is my personal preference.

Cleansing Conditioner:  Probably the newest to hit the market, these formulas are sulfate-free, non-sudsing cleansers.  They really are not strong enough to be called a shampoo plus they do contain some conditioning properties, which their main attraction.  The most popular type is the WEN Cleansing Conditioner, but now there are also a few other brands (see product list below).  These products are great for those who need frequent cleansing, for example those who work out regularly and sweat a lot.  Some use these exclusively over shampoos but my personal experience is that monthly clarifying was still necessary. 

Sulfate vs. Non-Sulfate:  I currently am using a sulfate shampoo as my weekly cleanser (Kerapro for dry to very dry hair), however I am a huge fan of non-sulfate formulas and always suggest to those just beginning their journeys to use them.  Whenever someone refers to sulfates, they mean sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or ammonium lauryl sulfate (ALS).  The deal with sulfates is that they are strong detergents and hair doesn’t require that level of cleaning; using sulfates typically strips the hair of its natural oils therefore causing dryness (which is a major problem for Black hair specifically).  Even though you add moisture back into the hair through deep conditioning, stripping the hair is a harsh process and completely unnecessary.  Sulfate free shampoos cleanse the hair gently, leaving it clean but still soft and supple.  Now, that being said are ALL sulfate-free shampoos great?  No.  They are not all created equal.  And not all sulfate shampoos strip the hair either.  But, as a general rule sulfate-free formulations do tend to be better for the hair.  If you are just starting out, using a sulfate free shampoo is probably best for a few reasons.  You want to be able to determine the difference between stripped versus non-stripped hair.  Also, you probably need to err more on the side of moisture to move towards healthy hair and lastly, they are safest to use more than once per week.

Now, with all of that being said – you are probably wondering why I use a sulfate formula?  Well, because I had been on my HHJ more than two years before making the switch so I understood my hair extremely well.  I am able to tell when my hair is stripped versus cleansed.  Also because I began to rollerset my hair weekly and to get the best results, I use a smoothing serum (Kerapro Elixir or Paul Mitchell Skinny Serum) which both contain a high level of silicones.  Remember I said non-natural ingredients require stronger shampoos to remove effectively?  This is a prime example of when a sulfate shampoo is appropriate. Even though the Kerapro shampoo contains SLS, it is a formula for dry hair and definitely does not leave my hair feeling stripped.  I also use it in conjunction with the conditioner.  However, during months where I am not using -cone heavy serums, I absolutely will be returning to my gentle SLS-free shampoos!

Audrey Davis-Sivasothy, author of  The Black Hair Science (an AWESOME book to own by the way), has an excellent article on her site regarding ways to counteract the harsh effects of sulfate shampoos.  I think it is definitely worth checking out, I couldn’t have written it any better myself.  And again, I’m not saying you absolutely must use a sulfate-free shampoo, but I highly recommend it.

Below are some examples of each type that either I have personally used or generally receive great reviews:
Best Use
Sulfate Free
1-2 times per week
Giovanni Smooth as Silk, Cream of Nature Moisture & Shine Argan Oil, Organix Coconut Milk, Bee Mine Botanical Moisturizing
After relaxing
I suggest using the same brand as your relaxer.
Monthly to clarify, before and after relaxing, weekly if swimming frequently
Chi Clean Start (my choice), ORS Creamy Aloe, Nexxus Aloe Rid, KeraCare Demineralizing Treatment
Cleansing Conditioner
As often as you like
  • These are great tips…thanks for sharing!

  • Great info once again!!! Joico KPak is also a good effective chelating shampoo. I know you love KeraPro but I have fell in love with the new Suave Keratin line, specifically their serum! Light and smoooove! Lol! …and it’s just over $2!! I bought 3 in case they discontinued which is always my luck when I fall in love with something.

  • Anonymous

    as always great tips, thanks so much for the information!!

  • Great info, ECP. MeliMel- Ive seen alot of buzz about the Suave Keratin line. Cheap is definitely in my budget! I agree with you on sulfate-free shampoos not being super moisturizing just because they are sulfate-free. I tried a sulfate-free shampoo from Sally’s didn’t like it one bit. Like you, I’ve been on my hhj for awhile so my sulfate shampoos are doing the job and my hair is still moisturized. It is important to mention that while cleansing conditioners are great for moisture it’s still a great idea to clarify/ shampoo every once in awhile. When I used a cleansing conditioner my scalp still felt dirty. But then again, just my experiences.

  • Great post ECP. I am amazed at how one’s hair can TALK to you. I’ve only been on my journey a few months, and NONE of the non-sulfate shampoo’s that you mentioned are available in my country so I haven’t used one yet, but I did find sulfate free shampoo’s at The Body Shop (don’t know if they have branches in the States) and planning on trying one soon. However, I never knew that ORS Creamy Aloe is a chelating shampoo, but my hair told me to not use it more than once a month! And regarding cleansing conditioners, I’ve never seen those here either, but my hair (and scalp) has told me loud and clear that it does not like co-washing by blessing me with LOTS of dandruff.

    PS I’m really loving the Hair 101 series, education is the great equalizer, regardless of the field.

  • Did I mention how much I’m loving the hair posts for beginners. I always feel like a newbie who nevers konws what anyone is talking about. The hair product examples help too! Cause Chelating shampoos were the death of me!

  • Hi darling!!! How are you?? Your post is amazing and great tips on the various formulas.

  • I was so happy when Audrey published her book. I love to use sulfate-free shampoos or just wash with a conditioner…clarify occasionally. and I hope you get your entries in for my Summer Fun Giveaway! : )

  • I learned something new about chelating shampoos and I’ve been on my hair journey for 3 years

  • These are wonderful and i love to read your blog always as it is very informative

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