Hair-Care Tips

This Stylist-Approved ‘Scratch Test’ Will Tell You if Your Shampoo Is *Actually* Getting Your Hair Clean

Zoe Weiner

Photo: Getty Images/ Westend61
Your shampoo has one main job to do: Get your hair clean. That regular lather and rinse is important for ridding your scalp and strands of grease and product build-up in order to leave them fresh and healthy. But according to pros, if you're using a product with the wrong ingredients, it can actually have the opposite effect, and leave your hair coated in even more gunk than when you started.

One consequence of using ingredients engineered to stay behind in shampoos is that the conditioning agents, thickening agents, gums, silicones, waxes and oils adhere to hair and scalp. They don't easily rinse off and just continue to build up on hair leaving it coated, dull, and weighed down," says Joseph Cincotta, PhD, a cosmetic chemist and the vice president of research and development at Federici Brands.  "A second more serious consequence is that these stay-behind ingredients create build-up on the scalp and can trap dead skin cells, excess sebum, bacteria, salt, and grime in the hair follicle openings creating clogged or plugged follicles." This can have an adverse effect on the health of your scalp, and runs the risk of impeding new hair growth and causing infections that can lead to temporary or permanent hair loss.

The first way to figure out if your shampoo is leaving behind any sort of buildup is to check the label. "An easy way to identify the biggest culprits are shampoos that promise more than just clean hair, like two-in-one conditioning, body-enhancing, volumizing, color-protecting, shine-enhancing, moisturizing, damage-repairing, and defrizzing shampoos," says Cincotta.

Ingredients like dimethicone,  amodimethicone, guar hydroxypropyltrimonium chloride, polyquaternium-10, pearlizing agents, glycol distearate, polyquaternium-11, PVP, and polyquaternium-4 in excess can create these issues. If trying to decipher that laundry list of sciencey names sounds overwhelming, though, not to worry—there's an easy, stylist-approved test that can tell you if your shampoo is leaving behind any buildup. Simply take a pair of scissors (ideally sharp hair-cutting shears) and gently brush them down a section of your hair. If any white flakes start to come up, it's a clear sign that your strands are coated in product remnants.

When it comes to finding a new shampoo that will truly get your hair clean, Cincotta suggests looking for sulfate- and paraben-free formulations that are made without silicones, natural oils, conditioning gums, pearling agents, styling or thickening polymers, or waxes. For a few effective picks that fit the bill, shop our favorites below.

Color Wow Color Security Shampoo — $28.00

“This shampoo cleanses your hair and scalp with mild sulfate-free cleansers but contains no leave behind conditioning ingredients, silicones, thickening agents, gums. waxes, or oils,” says Cincotta. “It cleanses the scalp and hair leaving the scalp and hair surface clean thereby having no possibility of dulling and weighing down hair, clogging hair follicles, or impeding new hair growth.”

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Briogeo Be Gentle Be Kind™ Banana + Coconut Nourishing Superfood Shampoo — $22.00

With natural ingredients like banana, coconut, and acai, this shampoo will get your hair clean while also leaving it moisturized and nourished. It’s also got antioxidant properties, which will work to protect your strands against the elements from the inside out.

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Ouai Detox Shampoo — $22.00

Designed to leave your scalp and strands squeaky clean, this detoxing shampoo uses a combination of apple cider vinegar and chelating agents to remove flakes and buildup, plus any residue left behind by hard water. The result is healthy, shiny hair guaranteed to pass the scratch test.

Shop now

For more stylist-approved insight on how to upgrade your hair-care routine based on your hair texture, peep the video below.

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Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

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