How Does Shampoo Clean My Hair?

Shampoo is a personal care essential that all humans have most likely used at some point in their life. But how does shampoo work?

Shampoo is a personal care essential that all humans have most likely used at some point in their life. But how does shampoo work?

You pop your 'poo in your wet hair, lather it up, rinse it out, and move on. But with all the discussion surrounding sulphates and new sulphate-free products, you may be wondering what ingredients in your shampoo do the actual job of cleansing.

We've done the research, and we’re here to help break down the multilayered answer to this question for you.


How Does Shampoo Clean My Hair?


Detergents and Surfactants: How Shampoos Clean Hair

At the base level, shampoo cleans the hair using detergents, just like every other cleaning product you use. Obviously, these aren't the exact same detergents as the ones in your dish soap or car wash.

But a detergent, harsh or gentle, is meant to remove dirt. The detergents used in shampoo, however, are specialised to that job because of the way a detergent must work to rid the hair of excess oil.

The sebum on your scalp and hair is hydrophobic, meaning it doesn’t budge just by rinsing the hair with water. In other words, water can't dissolve this type of oil.

A detergent molecule in a shampoo works as a surfactant, meaning it lowers the surface tension between the water and the sebum. This makes it easier for the detergent molecule to bind with oils and dirt particles.

Then, when you rinse the shampoo out, the hydrophilic part of the molecule (the part that binds to water) takes the dirt and gunk right on with it when it’s rinsed away.

Conditioning Ingredients Are Found in Most Shampoos

Look at all that science you’re using every single day! Crazy, right? Well, it gets crazier. To keep your hair from getting totally broken and stripped by the surfactants you use (be they sulphates or no), shampoos are also formulated with various types of conditioning agents to protect the hair.

The rest of your shampoo consists of heat/chlorine/UV protectants, functional ingredients to bind the ingredients together, colours, fragrances, and preservatives. There’s a lot that goes into that little bottle just to help you clean your hair!

In short, cleaning your hair is a whole lot more interesting than you may have originally guessed.


How Does Shampoo Clean My Hair?


To Lather or Not to Lather

One last fun fact: lather actually isn’t necessary to your hair-cleansing experience. Shampoos lather primarily because consumers enjoy a good froth when washing their hair (or anything else). Bubbles make hair, skin, and so on feel squeaky clean, which is never truly a good thing. Hence the many conditioning agents in shampoo formulas.

Check out our site for some great shampoo options. Moroccanoil Moisture Repair Shampoo is a great sulphate-free option, while Kevin.Murphy Angel.Wash contains low levels of gentle sulphates that are generally recognised as safe. All of our options are amazing, though, so check out our shampoo section to browse for yourself!


ultimate guide to shampoo