Does Your Hair Need a Deep Cleanse? Experts Say Yes

Experts share why you may need more than just shampoo.

Female head with hair in foam close-up on blue background
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When you put your hair through the wringer—skipping out on showering, using multiple styling products, dyeing hair from bleach blonde to midnight black, etc.—sometimes a regular shampoo and conditioner routine isn't enough to get you the shiniest, healthiest hair. That's where deep cleansing comes in. But what does that mean exactly?

What is a deep hair cleanse?

According to board-certified dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, a deep cleanse is a hair treatment that exfoliates dead skin cells and breaks down buildup on your scalp and hair to prevent things like dandruff, scalp itchiness, and hair breakage. It ultimately preps your hair to absorb the ingredients and benefits of your other hair products, and gives you healthier and shinier hair overall.

"[Your hair] should be gleaming," adds Anabel Kingsley, brand president of Philip Kingsley and consultant trichologist. "Your hair's natural radiance will be revealed, and your scalp should feel extremely clean."

While that all sounds great in theory, is this extra step necessary? To break it all down for us, both Dr. Engelman and Kingsley walk us through what a deep hair cleanse is and if we should be doing it.

What does a deep hair cleanse involve?

Deep cleanses go beyond regular shampoo to clean your hair and scalp. "While regular hair washes remove dirt and excess oil, they can still contribute to product buildup instead of breaking it down as deep cleanses do," says Dr. Engelman. "Regular washes also don't give the scalp the kind of care that it needs for optimal health and performance."

Dr. Engelman says a deep cleansing treatment involves exfoliating, clarifying, and hydrating the hair and scalp. The exfoliating process lifts the dead skin cells and buildup of dirt, oils, and products from the skin so that it doesn't sit and clog pores. The clarification process strips hair of product residue that may still be clinging to strands. The hydration process locks in moisture so your hair doesn't get dried out.

This type of treatment is usually done before you shampoo, and Kingsley says to apply it on wet hair as that will allow the hair cuticle to lift and let the treatment penetrate underneath the surface of the cuticle. Then, follow up with your usual hair washing routine.

How often you do a deep cleanse is dependent on how often you wash your hair. Dr. Engelman recommends deeply cleansing your hair about once or twice a month—or about every five to seven washes. You don't want to overdo it, though, as that can strip your hair of its natural oils and leave it more prone to breakage.

How to know if your hair needs a deep cleanse

A deep cleansing treatment is always beneficial if you're looking for healthy hair. Kingsley notes that you may want to consider it if you use heavy styling products often or live in a polluted area where water can cause mineral buildup, which can lead to dye discoloration.

Dr. Engelman says that product and scalp buildup happens to everyone and that making sure the scalp isn't full of dead skin cells and debris will help prevent scalp conditions like dryness, dandruff, or psoriasis. "It provides deep clean, unclogs pores, and promotes healthy hair growth," she says.

What to look for in a deep cleansing hair treatment

Look for treatments that exfoliate and hydrate. Dr. Engelman says gentle exfoliants, such as apple cider vinegar, which can be found in the FEKKAI Apple Cider Detox Rinse ($25,, and probiotics, found in Mother Dirt AO+ Restorative Mist ($69, are effective at removing buildup and balance the scalp.

While deep cleansing treatments are universal, both Dr. Engelman and Kingsley still recommend looking for products that will benefit your hair texture. For natural curls, Dr. Engelman recommends the Curlsmith Detox Kit ($69,, which contains a set of three products that will exfoliate and balance the scalp while also maintaining hair's natural moisture levels, while Kingsley recommends her brand's Vitamin C Jelly Detoxifying Hair Scalp Treatment ($42,, which uses antioxidants to effectively remove buildup.

Dr. Engelman says those with thinner straight hair should deep cleanse more often since product buildup tends to be more visible on thin hair than thick hair. Thicker and more natural curly hair, she says, tends to be more susceptible to dryness and should be washed less frequently to preserve moisture. Kingsley adds that although a deep cleanse hair treatment is for all types of hair, it's always advisable to check the formulation to make sure it's safe to use for your specific hair texture and hair needs.

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