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How To Properly Clarify Your Natural Hair & Scalp

by Shellie Reneé

May 2022

curly hair cowash
curly hair cowash

Unless you’re wearing a super low fade or a “baldie” (and even then, between sweating and putting something on your head to maintain moisture or to make it shine, the points that I’m about to make may still apply), there’s no way around the fact that your hair (and scalp) are going to incur some level of product build-up.

When that happens, not only can it irritate your scalp and weigh your hair down, it can also cause your hair follicles to clog up which can affect hair growth and length retention over time.

That’s why it’s so important that you make a point to properly clarify your hair and scalp, basically every other wash day. Clarifying is all about doing what needs to be done in order to remove product build-up, so that your hair can remain healthy and your scalp can truly thrive.

If you’re familiar with this term but you’re either not sure on if you’re clarifying your hair (and scalp) properly or if you’re even doing it at all, this article will hopefully bring some clarity so that you can keep your hair and scalp in their best possible condition — do that you can get the best possible results —  at all times.

Do I need to exfoliate my scalp?

Since your scalp is the foundation of your hair, let’s start with it first. One of the best ways to remove build-up — whether it’s dead skin cells, sweat or hair products — from your scalp is to exfoliate it.

Scalp exfoliation is awesome for a few reasons. First, it can help to keep the pH balance of your scalp and hair where it should be (which is right around 4.5-5.0).

When your pH is right, that makes you less susceptible to fungi and bacteria growth which can lead to things like dandruff. Scalp exfoliation is also a great idea because it can help to balance out your scalp’s sebum levels, encourage hair growth, boost the effectiveness of your hair products and even give your hair a natural shine.

As far as how you should go about exfoliating your scalp, there are a few different routes that you can take. One, you can purchase an exfoliating shampoo (Naturally Curly has a list of clarifying shampoos for curly hair that you can check out here).

You can put a couple of teaspoons of baking soda in your shampoo (the tiny granules will exfoliate your scalp while the sodium bicarbonate will help to keep your scalp’s pH where it should be).

You can make your own DIY scalp scrub (a few naturalista YouTube videos that can walk you through some recipes are located here, here and here).

You can also use a scalp exfoliating brush before shampooing your hair, although my two cents here would be to go with a scalp massager because it tends to be gentler on your scalp as well as your hair. Whatever method you decide to go with, by being intentional about exfoliating your scalp, you will be setting the stage for your scalp to remain in really good condition so that your hair is able to flourish.

How do I clarify my natural hair?

One of the ways that I like to wear my hair is in a faux hawk braid-out. The product that I prefer to use most whenever I go with this particular style is SheaMoisture Coconut & Hibiscus Curl Enhancing Smoothie (it is all good things!).

Typically, what I will do is apply the product, braid my hair, let it dry overnight, take the braids out and rock the braid-out for a couple of days. Then, I will apply a little more of the product to “refresh” the look.

After doing this 2-3 times, there’s enough build-up to wash my hair and when I do, I will make sure to clarify it, so that I’m able to remove any “gunk” or residue.

While we’re here, two other reasons why clarifying your hair can prove to be highly beneficial is:

  1. It can help your hair color to appear more vibrant
  2. If you ever want to do a blow-out or flat-iron your natural hair, clarifying it can prevent your hair from singeing (because it’s pretty easy for product to stick to your styling tools); plus, it can give your hair lots of movement.

One way to clarify your natural hair is to apply an apple cider rinse to your hair after shampooing it. Not only will get rid of any build-up that you may have, the properties in the cider will also help to strengthen your tresses by lowering its pH levels, soothe dry scalp (the less you have your hands in your hair, the better), reduce frizz, add body and even help to define your curls.

Applying the rinse is fairly simple. Just add 2-4 tablespoons to around 16 oz of room temperature distilled water, let it sit for 5-7 minutes and rinse with cool water (to further seal your cuticles). If you’re worried about the stench from the cider, don’t be.

It tends to fade after just a couple of minutes. If you’d like a video for tips on how to apply an apple cider rinse, there’s a good one right here and also right here.

Another approach that you can take to clarify your hair is to apply a bentonite clay mask. Bentonite clay is pretty awesome because it’s a natural and effective way to remove toxins from both your hair as well as your skin.

An added bonus is, if you like to wear your natural texture, it has an amazing way of defining your curls like pretty much nothing else can.

The main thing to remember here is not to allow any metal to come into contact with the clay (use plastic or wooden bowls and utensils). The reason why is metal can literally “deactivate” the clay’s charge. Now, I’ll be honest with you, clarifying your hair this way can get quite messy (because it is, well, clay), so it’s best to do this in the shower.

That said, if you take this approach, even if it’s just a few times a year, your hair will feel super soft and your curls will be super poppin’. To get some tips on how to clarifying with bentonite clay, check out this video and this video.

There’s no way around the fact that clarifying your scalp and hair is an absolute must if you want to keep them both in great shape. Now that you know how to do it properly…what are you waiting on? Treat yourself to a little scalp massage or an apple cider rinse. You — and your hair — will absolutely not regret it!