What Is The Chemistry Behind The Shampoo’s Cleaning Job?


You know that the one thing to do when your hair is dirty is to hop into the shower to clean it. All you need is some shampoo to wash your hair and a conditioner to soften and moisturize it too. Then there is the soap you need to clean your body, and you know how the chemistry behind the soap works when it comes to cleaning the body – or maybe you don’t. That will be for another discussion. Many people wonder how shampoo can wash your hair and why you need a particular shampoo to clean a specific hair type. You may also wonder how there are shampoos that can adequately clean treated or dyed hair. So let’s delve into the chemistry behind how shampoo cleans your hair.

What Does Shampoo Do?

You may think your hair is dirty if you did not wash it for days, and yes, it does need some cleaning, but your hair is not dirty as you think. That is unless you are purposely playing around in mud or having food fights with others where it lands in your hair. The accurate way to describe your hair that you have not washed for some time is that it is dull and greasy. That is because sebum is the fatty substance that comes from the glands in your scalp, and you have it throughout your skin.

Too much sebum also can result in acne on your face and can cause your face to feel greasy the same way as your hair does if you do not wash it for days. However, you need sebum to keep your skin protected as well as your hair and hair follicles. Your hair has a healthy shine when it is clean and in good health because of the healthy levels of sebum. That is because the substance coats and protects the outer keratin coating of every strand, which is why it has a lovely shine.

However, if you do not wash your hair very often, the levels of sebum will become unbalanced, and that not only risks you developing acne, but it will cause your hair to appear dirty. Once the sebum accumulates, that will cause the hair strands to clump together, and that causes your hair to appear greasy and dull. Additionally, pollen, dust, and other chemicals will attach themselves to the sebum, and that is how you end up with “dirty” hair.

The one thing to know about sebum is that it is hydrophobic, which will make your skin and hair waterproof. Therefore, you can wash away dirt, dust, pollen, and other particles. However, you can never wash away oil and sebum regardless of how much water you use. That is why you need shampoo to do the job.

Shampoo Can Work Its Magic

When you are ready to wash your clothes, you know that you do not end up with clean clothes if you do not use detergent. The same goes for your skin which is why you need soap. Therefore, shampoo is essentially a detergent. Whether it is laundry detergent or shampoo, detergents work as a surfactant, which reduces the surface tension of water. It helps stop it from sticking to itself and encourages it to bind with other particles, including oil. There is a part of a detergent molecule that is hydrophobic as that is the hydrocarbon part. That part of the molecule is what causes the oils and sebum to bind to it. That is in addition to any styling products that have oil in them.

The molecules in detergent also have a hydrophilic part which means it responds very well to water. Therefore, when you wash your hair, you are sweeping away the shampoo. You are also removing the sebum and other oils and dirt along with it. That is the primary way how shampoo cleans your hair. However, there are other ingredients in the shampoo that deserve the credit for doing their job too.

What Ingredients In Shampoo Help Clean Your Hair?

You don’t want a shampoo that only cleans your hair. You want one that can wash your hair and nourish it by promoting a healthy appearance. That is why you have ingredients in your shampoo that can do that. In addition, there are conditioning agents that will help replace the protective coating after washing your hair, add shine, smooth the cuticle, and help detangle your hair. Finally, the shampoo contains fatty alcohols that will keep static and frizz at bay.

The shampoo also contains protectants such as sunscreen and heat protectants, which can help protect your hair from the sun and the damage from heat. In addition, there are also chemical protectants in shampoo, which can help prevent chemical damage from treatments and swimming.

There are also functional ingredients that keep the mix of the shampoo healthy and can help prevent mold and bacteria from growing in it. In addition, some preservatives can help increase the shelf life. Finally, cosmetic ingredients do not affect how the shampoo washes your hair, but colorants and fragrances.

However, one type of shampoo would not work for a specific kind of hair. There are also other ingredients in shampoo designed for colored hair, dry hair, oily hair, and normal hair. Many shampoos can include sulfates which can dry hair, and if you have dry or colored hair, you will want to avoid shampoo with sulfates. Therefore, all shampoos work the same way, but not all of them are the same as they should not be.

Does Lathering Up Clean Your Hair More?

Many shampoos contain ingredients that cause lathering, but lathering in itself is not going to help clean your hair in any way at all. Many shampoos have lathering agents because consumers like them, and it has nothing to do with improving the shampoo. Therefore, if you like the lather, you will want to go for the shampoo that provides a good lather because it has plenty of the agents that cause it.


You know that you need to use shampoo to clean your hair, but why does shampoo work‘? Why can’t you use regular soap to wash your hair? That is because regular soap does not have the agents and ingredients that will specifically clean your hair the same way that shampoo does. The shampoo has molecules that will remove sebum and other oils and dirt that water will not wash away since water itself cannot wash away sebum. However, remember that you need some sebum as it helps keep your hair healthy. You don’t want to accumulate where it can cause your hair to become dull, greasy, and attract dirt and other particles. That is why you need to wash your hair with shampoo!