Having chlorine-damaged hair is no fun, especially when you’ve spent so much money on your haircut and highlights. Luckily, there are a few specialized shampoos that will help to save your scalp from itching, and keep your curls chlorine-free. I went nerdy and test-drove some of the most hyped clarifying shampoos on the market to narrow the list down to the top five best options that are worth your attention.
The Selection Process
Since I don’t really know any professional swimmers who regularly use chlorine-removal shampoos, I based my research on the reviews left on the websites of major beauty retailers: Sephora, Ulta Beauty, and Amazon. After narrowing the list down to 15 top-rated products, I searched the rest of the web looking for new products that have the potential to take the place of the overall winners. As a result, I was able to identify five more products to test. I also confirmed my finds with some of my beauty-editor friends who claimed to use clarifying shampoos to remove product build-up.
While I’m still convinced that the best way to protect your hair from chlorine is by keeping your hair out of the water, I was pleasantly surprised at how effective these so-called “Sunday shampoos” could be, not only as after-swimming shampoos, but in my everyday routine. Being a dry shampoo enthusiast, I learned that a weekly wash with a clarifying shampoo is a life-saving tip that helps to keep my hair healthier and cleaner-looking between shampoos.
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For the purposes of this experiment, I went to East Hampton, where I had unlimited access to a swimming pool. The house had a large-scale pool that didn’t necessarily smell like chlorine, but there was no doubt the pool had been cleaned with chemicals—the skin on both my body and face required some intense nourishing after the swim. What I did was dive all the way into the swimming pool, then gently dried my hair with a towel, and immediately showered using one of the shampoos I needed to test.
To make the experiment fair to all the products, I applied the same favorite leave-in conditioner after every wash, Joico K-Pak Color Therapy Luster Lock ($18; amazon.com). Then I let my hair air-dry for about thirty minutes to imitate how you’d do it in real life. Finally, I blow-dried my hair with my 1907 by Fromm Zero 7 Air Lightweight Dryer ($78; amazon.com). Then I took notes on how my hair felt during the shampoo, right after, and a few hours later.
The second part of the experiment took place about a week after my swimming pool test drive, once I’d picked my top five list. I watched a YouTube video where professional swimmers were testing the effectiveness of chlorine-removal sprays with a Chlorine Test Solution Kit and decided to repeat the same trick with clarifying shampoos. I poured a good amount of Clorox Ultimate Care Bleach ($41 for pack of 4; amazon.com) into a plastic container and mixed it with chlorine test drops using Phenol Red pH Test Solution ($13; amazon.com), until the water turned bright pink. After that, I added a tablespoon of each shampoo to the container and vigorously mixed it with water. Observing how the mixture changed color, I reached conclusions about how well the product dissolves the chemical. If the water turned clear, it meant that the product had fully dissolved the chlorine. If it stayed bright pink or turned pale purple, the product wasn’t very effective at fighting the chemical.
While I really went geeky testing these chlorine-removal shampoos, my overall rating of the products was based not only on chlorine-testing results, but also on how my hair looked and felt after washing with a clarifying shampoo. In fact, some of the shampoos that did a great job at removing chlorine build-up didn’t make it onto the list, because my hair became unmanageable after using them (even with the miracle power of my above-mentioned all-time favorite leave-in treatment). At the end of the day, if you are not a professional swimmer and only need chlorine-removal shampoo in the summer, your overall hair condition is more important than chemical results, right? To be fair, I still included chlorine-level testing results for your reference in case you’re looking specifically for scientific data.
1. Overall Winner: Macademia Professional Endless Summer Sun & Surf Shampoo
This shampoo is a relatively new product, but it exceeded my expectations. First of all, it smells much better than any of the products I tested in this experiment. Second, it didn’t even require a follow-up with a conditioner. Thanks to its Macadamia and Argan oil blend, this delicious-smelling shampoo made my hair more manageable, softer, and shinier. It is very foamy, and a pleasure to use! I also loved that the shampoo is color-safe, which is so important, especially for a clarifying shampoo. According to hundreds of reviews that I found online, many women who color their hair blond complain that some of the most popular chlorine-fighting shampoos slightly discolor their hair. Since Macadamia Sun & Surf Shampoo doesn’t contain any sulfates, it’s not an issue with this top-performer. To be completely transparent, I have to say that I continue using this product even when I’m not swimming in the pool. I feel like my hair is less frizzy when I use this product.
The Chlorine Test: Even though the product didn’t completely turn the chlorine-infused water clear, it was close enough to become the winner.
2. Plant-Based Color-Safe Hero: dpHUE Clarifying Shampoo
This overall great product didn’t claim to remove chlorine from hair (Sephora’s product description states, though, that it’s “for using after swimming to remove chlorine from hair”), but I decided to test it anyway since there aren’t that many plant-based clarifying shampoos to choose from. Similar to the Macadamia product, it’s color safe, sulfate-free, and has not been tested on animals. It smells delicious and serves double-duty: you can use it after taking a swim in a pool or the ocean, or use it before hair coloring—when your scalp is completely clean, your hair color will come out more even and last longer. Just as with the Bumble and Bumble product, you can also use it once a week to remove the excess build up of the product. It’s also pleasantly foamy, and feels great as you apply it. You don’t need a lot of product to clean the entire scalp.
The Chlorine Test: This shampoo turned chlorinated water light blue. My chlorine-testing kit didn’t clarify what that means, but I assume it didn’t remove the chemical that well. That’s the only reason this product is a runner-up in this top chlorine-removal shampoo list.
3. Best On-A-Budget Option: UltraSwim Chlorine Removal Shampoo
Based on the product’s price and the results of the chlorine test, it’s the number one choice among all shampoos in this list. However, I look for much more than chlorine-removal properties in my shampoo. I want my hair to be more voluminous and shinier even after I’ve been swimming in the pool. I want my shampoo to be color safe and multi-tasking. UltraSwim provided me with the best results you could possibly expect from a $5 drugstore product, but I was a bit concerned about the controversial sodium laureth sulfate in its ingredient list, and overall manageability of my hair. Don’t get me wrong: my hair felt smooth and soft, but compared to products like those by dpHUE and Macadamia, it left my hair feeling a bit less nourished. Concerning the additional benefits of UltraSwim, I think this shampoo is gentle enough to use as a body wash too. In fact, that’s what I ended up using it for – to clean up my skin after all the chloride my skin was exposed to during the experiment. It’s very foamy, and smells great!
The Chlorine Test: This shampoo performed the best during the chlorine test—water in the container turned completely clear. I was impressed!
4. Curly Hair Favorite: OUIDAD Water Works Clarifying Shampoo
Right off the bat, I have to say this shampoo was not foamy enough for my taste, but it’s still worth checking out if you have curly hair. As claimed on the package, the product is designed to “lock moisture” in your curls and it does seem to deliver what it promises. In comparison to other products in this list, this shampoo could be classified as a “chelating” one, which means that it not only removes chlorine, but also protects hair from minerals and metals that can cause color fading. Ouidad shampoo comes in an interesting consistency that reminds me of Burt’s Bees shampoos—it produces less foam, but seems to keep hair more hydrated than any other “regular” shampoo on the list. I also felt that this shampoo helped my straight hair to be less frizzy and to remain sleeker throughout the day.
The Chlorine Test: It was not a top-performing product, but it cleared the water well enough—making it turn from bright to very light pink.
5. Splurge-Worthy Hybrid: Christophe Robin Cleansing Purifying Scrub with Sea Salt
This shampoo was a brand new discovery, and I’m currently obsessed with it! For starters, it looks nothing like your typical shampoo, but rather like a body scrub (in fact, it comes in a typical body-butter type of jar). You need to use a spoon to apply the product to your scalp (about a tablespoon per usage), and massage it into your scalp. You’ll be surprised how quickly this solid shampoo turns into a thick foam. Compared to the other products in the list, this shampoo was the most pleasant to use. The product contains sea salt in its ingredient list, which makes it a perfect solution for those with itchy, oily and sensitive scalps. It’s also a perfect product for those days when you go overboard using a dry shampoo—in just one wash, your hair will feel so much cleaner and more hydrated, while your scalp will feel more refreshed and grease-free. Have I mentioned that it also smells delicious? Perhaps the only con of this product is its price: if you ask me, $52 for a shampoo is a bit too much. However, since I already purchased this award-winning product, I’ll keep if for those days when I want to feel very special, not necessarily just for swimming days.
The Chlorine Factor: This shampoo was not the top performer in my chlorine test, but it was close enough to be included in this top five list.
6. Bumble And Bumble Sunday Shampoo
In addition to the above-mentioned top five options, there are a few luxury and budget options that are also worth your attention if you’re seeking an alternative to your regular clarifying shampoo. While not all of them are designed only for chlorine-cleaning purposes, those products will also provide decent and noticeable results for your hair.
Bumble Bumble Sunday Shampoo smells delicious and really detoxifies hair, but there is one con that moved it out of the top five list—the product isn’t suitable for color-treated hair.
7. Oribe The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo
Speaking of color-treated hair, Oribe The Cleanse Clarifying Shampoo is one of the best and most luxurious solutions available. While the product description doesn’t state that it’s specifically designed for removing water pollutants, this shampoo really makes your hair glow—from the inside out! I also love the fact that it comes in the form of a mousse, as opposed to a regular liquid shampoo form, and it also contains exfoliating ingredients so you’re not only cleaning your hair but also treating your scalp.
8. Moroccanoil Clarify Shampoo
Moroccanoil Clarify Shampoo is another wonderful high-end option that leaves your hair moist, chlorine-free, and shiny. As many other hair products by the brand, this shampoo applies nicely, smells delicious, and makes your hair manageable in a truly luxurious manner.
9. Fairy Tales Lifeguard Clarifying Shampoo
Fairy Tales Lifeguard Clarifying Shampoo is a great option if you’re looking for one product for the entire family. It’s gentle and color-safe at the same time, and doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals. But you might need to follow up with your regular shampoo if your hair lacks volume or easily gets frizzy.
10. AquaGuard Pre-Swim Hair Defense
AquaGuard Pre-Swim Hair Defense is another unique attention-worthy product. In contrast with other shampoos in the list, this product has to be applied before you go swimming. While it has proven its effectiveness in protecting hair from chemicals in water, you still need to wash your hair after swimming, which slightly lengthens the entire chlorine-removal procedure.
11. Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Shampoo
Malibu C Swimmers Wellness Shampoo is just another example of a nice-smelling clarifying shampoo. The product did everything as promised—cleaned the chemicals from my hair, helped with detoxifying my hair from product build-up. However, I felt that styling after using this product wasn’t as easy as it is with many other shampoos in this list.