Chelators vs. Clarifiers: What's The Difference?

Learn the differences between chelators and clarifiers—and how they can transform hair behind the chair and between services.

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From medications to styling products, buildup on hair can be caused by a number of factors that have negative effects on strands and can even impact the services stylists perform at the salon. According to Katherine Maddox, artistic team member and educator for Malibu C, it’s a must to first remove that buildup to prevent unwanted reactions during chemical processes (think perms, color or relaxers), as well as when working with nontreated hair to allow for easier styling, plus amped-up appearance and texture.

However, confusion abounds regarding the differences between two processes designed to nix buildup: clarifying and chelating. “A clarifying shampoo is meant to cut through all of the grease, oil and, most importantly, buildup from products as well as surface minerals on the outside of hair,” explains Missy Peterson, independent lead educator for Malibu C. “Chelating removes heavy buildup from minerals and medication, as chelating products have ingredients to actually remove minerals from inside the hair shaft (such as EDTA) and usually have a low pH.” In contrast, a clarifier employs a high pH, only removing resins without stripping the hair of natural moisture. Therefore, mixing the two products together creates a cancelling-out effect and prevents the full benefits of either. Instead, Peterson recommends first using a clarifying shampoo, followed by a chelator when needed.

Of course, to maintain the strands’ state between services, Maddox suggests take-home products for clients. “When clients keep buildup at bay through home care, that can also factor into how often they need in-salon treatments, as buildup will be less severe,” she notes.


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