What Is Chelating Shampoo & Do You Really Need It?

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mother and daughter shopping for shampoo
Shopping for Chelating shampoo.

There’s a good chance you’ve been hearing the terms “chelating shampoo” being tossed about, but maybe you don’t know anything about it. We’re here to help clear up the mystery and hopefully make your next venture in the toiletry aisle a little less stressful.

A recent scientific study found that if you lined up every type of shampoo on the market, end to end, you could build a plastic bridge all the way to the moon.

Okay, none of that is true, but you believed it for a second, didn’t you? It seems like every other day there is a brand new shampoo promising healthier, shinier, stronger hair. It can be hard to tell the difference and even harder to see through the marketing to figure out which one is worth your money. Here we’ll try to clarify exactly what chelating shampoo is and answer the question that several readers have asked- Do you really need it?

What is Chelating Shampoo?

Shampoos clean your hair, obviously. That’s their job, but in fact, many shampoos (and not just the cheap ones) are lousy at that job.

If you have mud or dirt in your hair, a shampoo will help you get rid of it, but so would water alone. A good shampoo does more than just clean off surface dirt, it should remove the unhealthy minerals and junk that attach themselves to your hair.

Chelating shampoo has been designed to do exactly that. Extra minerals in your hair can cause a great deal of damage, from making it look dull and colorless to drying out your hair and choking off the cuticles. Too few shampoos work on those minerals, but chelating shampoo will get your hair truly clean.

What Does “Chelating” Mean?

Chelation is a term most commonly associated with biochemistry and microbiology. It describes a process by which ions and molecules bond, which I’m sure would be interesting to one percent of my readers, so I won’t get too deep into it. The “chelate effect” is a naturally occurring process that has been used in medical and agricultural fields for years.

For cosmetic uses, the complexity of the process isn’t important. All you need to know is that a chelating shampoo “bonds” to the unfriendly minerals in your hair and helps wash them out.

Are Chelating & Clarifying Shampoo The Same Thing?

Chelating shampoo and clarifying shampoos are definitely different, but it’s a little bit complicated. This is one of those questions that is often confused by marketing.

If you search for “chelating shampoo” on Amazon, for instance, almost everything that will come up is labeled a clarifying shampoo, which means you will have to do a little deeper dive to determine which is actually which.

Part of the problem is that chelating and clarifying shampoos are designed to do more or less the same thing: clean your hair by going below the dirt to clean out the extra gunk in your hair. The differences lie in the type of gunk the shampoos remove. Clarifying shampoos are generally much harsher on the hair than chelating shampoos, and that’s because they are used to remove hair product and the residue that they leave.

The products that you use in your hair, whether in the shower or for going out, are designed to hold strong. That’s great, up until the point when you want to get your hair back to healthy, square one. A clarifying shampoo will remove the product, but in doing so, it can strip hair color and sheen from your hair. For that reason, hairstylists warn you against using a clarifying shampoo every day.

Why Use Chelating shampoo?

A chelating shampoo isn’t for the purpose of removing the product from your hair, but it will cleanse you of the other harsh minerals and chemicals that build-up due to living in a naturally messy world. Chemicals get into your hair all the time, whether because of pollution, swimming in chlorinated water, or simply washing your hair at home.

The world is full of minerals, and most of them are good for you, but only up to a point. Your body needs calcium and magnesium, for instance, but too much of either one will dry out your skin and your hair.

Those are just two of the common minerals that are often found in hard water, which can be found in most homes throughout America. You may want to see our article on the effects of hard water on your hair and skin.

Chelating shampoo is particularly effective at removing those problematic, excess minerals. If you’ve found your hair feeling lifeless or dry, even after using a moisturizer, there is a good chance you have hard water pouring from your pipes. Consider changing up your shampoo (and getting a water softener while you’re at it).

Best Chelating Shampoos?

Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo, 9 Fl Oz
Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo (Image: Amazon)

As already discussed, most chelating shampoos are sold as clarifying shampoos, so it can be hard on first look to know you’re getting the right product. Click here to see our top picks for good shampoo for hard water (these are all clarifying shampoos)

One of the more highly recommended brands is the Joice K-PAK Clarifying Shampoo, a powerful chelating shampoo that will remove chlorine from your hair after a swim and is highly recommended for homes with hard water. It’s also been singled out as a good product for black hair that is more prone to drying out.

Joico K-PAK Clarifying Shampoo 10.1 oz
Joico K-PAK Clarifying Shampoo (Image: Amazon)

It can be a little harder to find, but dpHue Clarifying Shampoo (discontinued) is not only a great chelating shampoo that will strip your hair of unwelcome minerals, but it will also help protect your color. The unfortunate truth is, most clarifying and chelating shampoos can dull the dye in your hair, but dpHue uses vitamins to maintain your bright shine and lock in your color.

Not all shampoo marketers are scared to say “chelating”: for example –Malibu C Hard Water Wellness Shampoo is great at removing hard water and mineral deposits but is not marketed as a “chelating” or “clarifying” shampoo as it removes those excess minerals while also moisturizing your hair so that it doesn’t dry out. It’s a powerful shampoo that will leave your hair looking healthier than it has in years.

Do I Need Chelating Shampoo?

Not everyone needs a chelating (or clarifying) shampoo, and if your hair is healthy and mostly clear of chemicals, they could both be overkill.

On the other hand, if you know you have hard water in your house, or you are a regular swimmer, a chelating shampoo could be a life-changer. If you’ve been struggling with dry or lifeless hair, consider giving one a try and see if it makes a difference.

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