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.