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Clarifying, chelating, and neutralizing shampoos

LeAnn’s wish for wisdom: What is the difference between clarifying, chelating, and neutralizing shampoos and how important are any of them to good hair health?

The Right Brain supplies the goods:

Good question, LeAnn, unfortunately the answer is not that simple. It depends on which clarifying, chelating, or neutralizing shampoos you’re talking about. That’s because all companies don’t follow the same definitions for their products. Some companies use these terms for marketing impact; they’re just a fancy way to say that the shampoo is cleaning your hair. Other companies have a scientific rationale for these terms and their shampoos are formulated to deliver different technical benefits. We’ll explain what these technical differences are so you know what to look for when you’re shopping for shampoo.

Clarifying Shampoo

What it is:

This is the easy one: clarifying is just another way to say “deep cleansing.” The person pictured below needs a good clarifying shampoo. Stat!

What to look for:

There’s really nothing special about this type of product. Look for basic, cleansing system without any added conditioners. If you see things like Dimethicone, Polyquaternium-7 or Guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, on the label, the formula will probably deposit conditioners on your hair that you don’t want if you’re trying to clarify.


KMS Clarifying Shampoo Icon Energy Clarifying Shampoo

Chelating Shampoo

What it is:

A chelating agent can chemically bind with minerals and keep them from depositing on your hair. At least that’s the theoretical basis for this kind of formula. We’ve never seen it demonstrated in practice. This type of product has most application to areas of the country where there is hard water. Soft water already has the minerals removed.

What to look for:

Look for products with the ingredient EDTA.


Joico Kpak Clarify Chelating Shampoo

Aveda Shampure

Neutralizing shampoo

What is it:

True neutralizing shampoos are used in conjunction with hair relaxers. The high pH required by the relaxer to soften the bonds in the hair can be damaging to the scalp. So, after rinsing the relaxer out you’re supposed to wash with a low pH shampoo that neutralizes the high alkalinity.

What to look for:

Unless you’re relaxing your hair, it’s doubtful you’ll need a real neutralizing product. But if you do, look for one with a low pH (probably from citric acid.) Technically speaking, we should have added this one to our list of the 4 basic types of shampoo. (Even though I wrote that one, let’s blame that oversight on the Left Brain, shall we?)

Examples of relaxers that contain a neutralizing shampoo

Phytospecific Phytorelaxer


Have you seen any other tricky terms that companies use to name shampoos or other products? Leave a comment and we’ll look into it for you.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Griffin August 8, 2015, 2:13 am

    I’m thinking about trying the wen hair cleaner (“its not shampoo”) can u look into it for me. Thanks for all your help and schooling us.

  • Linda Markowski September 22, 2015, 11:52 am

    Please recommend me a good shampoo and conditioner for colour treated hair to make my hair feel more soft and manageable.

  • Arlene March 18, 2016, 7:03 pm

    My hair came out too dark after using my regular light brown dye that I allways use. The beauty supply store recommended I buy a neutralizing shampoo called
    Isoplus shampoo/ conditioner
    Is this safe to use ?as I read that it is also used after relaxing the hair
    Thank you

  • Juliana M Ferris June 21, 2016, 8:39 pm

    I am looking for a non-toxic chelating shampoo, other than the two shampoo links given here. Can anyone help me, I can’t seem to find any. Thank you.

  • Erica Yarnell June 30, 2016, 1:13 am

    Rinse hair really well with plain, warm water, wash with a SMALL amount of regular Dawn dish soap (blue bottle), rinse well, run real lemon juice over scalp and length, rinse, deep condition with the most hydrating conditioner you have (not protein, you want moisture), rinse with warm water again, then cold water to seal the cuticle. Easy peasy.

  • Christie July 13, 2016, 12:01 pm

    Check out MalibuC for natural treatments for removal of hard water deposits and even medications that can bind to the hair.

  • Mary Petillo November 18, 2016, 8:55 am

    Water softeners only remove some of the minerals – calcium and magnesium. However, softeners do not remove copper (causes green on blonde hair) and iron (causes brassiness on blonde hair). Malibu Crystal Gel removes the mineral buildup on the hair and is an in salon service only. Crystal Gel removes minerals plus medication. Malibu UnDoGoo shampoo is a resin remover to get rid of the styling product buildup.
    pH is an important factor to removing minerals and clarifying shampoo brands have pH values that are all over the scale.

  • Mary L. Grabski April 17, 2020, 9:35 am

    My scalp is burning up and drying from a long bout of scabies. My damaged scalp seems to be leaking some strong acid or basic liquid from the pores. How can I neutralize and heal this up? I have tried all sorts of moisturizing creams, without success. Thank you.