(I originally wrote the following post for the now defunct Daily Curl blog, but I thought it was time to give it a second life here, especially for those readers who never saw it the first time.)
In this age of toxic purging and antibacterial cleansing, we always seem to be seeking ways to remove every vestige of dirt, grime, goo, and muck off our skin and certainly off our hair.
It is apparently no longer enough to wash your hair. Now you must clarify it.
I had never heard of such a concept until I was a few months into my CG journey. I first read about it on a discussion group post and wondered whether it was something I needed to do. (Yes, I began CG without ever having clarified. More on this later.)
Clarifying is a fancy word for a good, thorough cleansing — the kind that will remove silicone (and in some cases, hard water) residue from your hair. Before people begin the no-poo routine, they will often clarify to ensure that they are starting with a fresh slate.
My opinion is that clarifying is optional before going CG, but there are plenty of curlies who disagree. Some non-water soluble silicones are nasty, stubborn little buggers but my feeling is that it’s unlikely they will stay in your hair more than a couple of days. If anyone reading this found that it was absolutely necessary to clarify before starting, please feel free to post a comment. Unless you have a whole bunch of built-up gunk in your hair, I think you can move right into co-washing without too much trauma to psyche or hair. If your definition of clean is synonymous with “scrupulous”, then by all means, clarify. If cleanliness is more of a relative term to you, you can safely skip the clarifying.
So what should you use to clarify, in the event that you’ve determined you need to? Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to use sulfates to clarify. Don’t believe me? Check out this list by NaturallyCurly.com’s Curl Chemist. Shampoos with cocamidopropyl betaine or cocobetaine remove even the toughest silicones.
As Tiffany at Live Curly, Live Free says on her blog: “If your cleanser is sulfate-free, but contains another surfactant which is milder, such as cocamidopropyl betaine, you will receive the benefits of clarifying without the harsh effects of sulfates.” Surfactants, not sulfates, are the key to clarifying.
Which leads us to another question about clarifying, and that is whether acidic rinses such as vinegar or lemon juice will accomplish the task. The answer: no, not thoroughly. Acidic rinses are good for getting water-soluble product out of your hair and many people claim that they close your cuticle, which perks hair up and even gives it some shine. But because it is not a surfactant, it won’t do for you what a shampoo will.
Once you are up and running with CG, there should be little need for clarifying because you aren’t using anything that needs serious surfactants to remove them. Hard water or medication build-up, however, might be an issue for you, in which case, clarifying might be in order.
What about clarifying conditioners? They're a great choice for those who want a mild cleansing -- but you can get the very same thing by mixing your shampoo with your conditioner. Why pay for another product?