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.