hair care

Basic Guide to Hair Care

Detailed explanation on topics that get asked about a lot. This one is about shampooing/cleansing.

Detailed explanation on topics that get asked about a lot. This one is about shampooing/cleansing.


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Cleansing is what you do to remove styling products, sweat, dirt, etc. There are a number of products you can use to do this, which we will explain below.

Sulfate or “clarifying” shampoos
Surfactants are ingredients that make your shampoo lather up and get sudsy. There are loads of different types of surfactants, and not all surfactants are bad.

  • SLS (sodium lauryl or laureth sulfate) is one of the most commonly used surfactants, but it is generally super drying and can strip all the oils and good stuff out of your hair, so you don’t want to use anything containing it frequently.

Basically, anything ending in “sulfate” is a “bad” surfactant, with some exceptions. If you’re unsure about a product ending in “sulfate,” search for info on it here or on other haircare forums, or try to figure out what type of surfactant it is (anionic, amphoteric, cationic, or nonionic).

  • Nonionic surfactants are generally the most gentle, and most “bad” surfactants are anionic. 

For the purposes of this guide, we are going to refer to these types of shampoos as “clarifying” shampoos, since that is how you should use them, even if the product isn’t labelled as a clarifying shampoo.

  • Sulfates are super effective at removing product buildup, especially from silicone ingredients, from your hair. So if you use styling products that contain silicones or other buildup-causing ingredients, then you are going to need to use a clarifying shampoo every now and then to remove buildup.

You also usually need to use a clarifying shampoo when you switch to a silicone-free routine, even if you weren’t using sulfates before, just to remove any leftover silicone buildup.

Any regular shampoo that does not have the words “sulfate-free” on it, will work.

Non-sulfate surfactant (“sulfate-free”) shampoos

These use ingredients that are surfactants, but not “sulfates,” to get sudsy. Anything under the “surfactant” sections on this list is a surfactant. Coco betaine is probably the most common non-sulfate surfactant.

These shampoos can still be drying but are usually gentler, and are what you should use if you feel that you need to shampoo every day. They can also be somewhat effective at removing product buildup, except that they won’t completely remove silicone buildup.

Surfactant-free cleansers

There is some variety within this category, but this basically refers to cleansers that are sold as a cleanser but don’t lather up. this includes “no-poo” products, which are non-lathering cleansers that still strip your hair enough that you need to follow with a conditioner, as well as “cleansing conditioners,” which are usually a one-step thing that leaves your hair feeling clean but not stripped enough that you need to follow with a separate conditioner.

this just involves using straight up conditioner to cleanse your hair. this is probably the most gentle option, and is great for people with dry, frizzy/curly, or coarse hair that needs a lot of moisture. You can use any conditioner for this, as long as it doesn’t contain any silicone ingredients (see note on silicones at the bottom of this post).

conditioning is what you may or may not need to do after cleansing to add some moisture back into your hair and smooth/”seal” the cuticle. you should definitely condition after any lathering (surfactant-containing) cleanser. you only need to condition after using a non-lathering cleanser if you feel like you need to, and you obviously don’t need to condition after co-washing.

whether or not something is labelled as a “deep” conditioner or “hair mask” is pretty much irrelevant. you can use a “deep conditioner” every day if you want. you can “deep condition” with your regular daily conditioner by leaving it on for a longer time than usual or putting a shower cap and/or hot towel over it. you can DIY a deep conditioning treatment or hair mask with food in your kitchen. you can do one of these kinds of treatments whenever you want to feel fancy, and they can help keep your hair nice and soft and happy, but always remember that no product or magical DIY recipe you found on pinterest is going to actually undo damage.

NB on silicone ingredients
see the silicone section of this list. any silicone ingredient listed is “not soluble in water” can only effectively be removed buy sulfates and is one you definitely want to avoid. the silicones listed as “water soluble” are debatable. because they are water soluble, you don’t necessarily need to use sulfates to remove them, so you are less likely to get buildup. it’s not as important to avoid water-soluble silicones in conditioners or styling products, but you should be on the lookout for them if you start experiencing buildup.

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