Hair health basically comes down to three key areas: genetics, hormones and lifestyle. Of these three factors, lifestyle is the area we can most easily control, including hygiene. But many people wonder how often they should be washing their hair? And is it possible to wash your too much? To find out, VEGAMOUR spoke to expert hair stylists to get the answer so you can find a hair washing routine that works for your hair goals and needs.
How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?
How frequently you wash your hair is a matter of personal preference. There is no universal law. It’s like housekeeping. Some consider an apartment clean if there are no dishes in the sink, whereas others spend every weekend on our knees with Q-tips and Windex, getting every speck of dust out of the corners! How frequently you wash your hair is really your decision and it can vary week to week based on your hair texture, exercise routine and so many other factors.
Marco Pelusi, an award-winning colorist and hairdresser in West Hollywood, California, said that many women, especially millennials, might be putting their hair health at risk because of a common misconception that they should avoid over-washing their hair.
“For about a decade now, there’s been this sort of fad, believing that washing your hair frequently is bad," Pelusi said. "Of course, everyone’s hair needs are unique, and you need to find what frequency works for you. But in general, going more than a few days without a true shampoo, meaning a wet, foaming product containing surfactants, means a dirty scalp. By dirty, I mean excess oil and product buildup. This plugs up the follicles and can slow hair growth down to a crawl. And, it’s really kinda gross.”
Related: Why a Healthy Scalp Is So Important
Regular Shampooing and Scalp Massages Are Key for a Healthy Scalp and Hair
Pelusi says that many women are challenged by three important — and sometimes conflicting — factors when trying to land on a wash schedule:
- The needs of the scalp
- The needs of the hair itself
- The desire to preserve color
“The scalp needs to be clean in order to be healthy," said Pelusi. "In general, most people’s scalps are happiest with a daily wash, or every other day, and dry shampoo doesn’t really count. The scalp is living skin, constantly excreting sebum, and like the skin on your body and face, the skin needs to be gently exfoliated to look and feel clean.”
He added that the mechanical friction of shampooing not only loosens sludge on the scalp, but stimulates blood circulation which helps hair grow. He advises gentle massage using the fingertips, not the fingernails, as part of a scalp-healthy shampoo. About 30 seconds is good but two to three minutes is even better.
“It’s a luxurious feeling, and my clients say that it’s their favorite part of coming to the salon,” said Pelusi.
You can give yourself a scalp massage using your fingertips or a handheld scalp massager every time you shampoo. In fact, the word “shampoo” comes from a Hindi word meaning "to press or massage." In India today, “champissage” or head massage is considered an essential wellness practice so add a little R&R to your showers.
Learning to Care for Your Hair Is Key to Setting a Hair Washing Schedule
Celebrity colorist Carmine Minardi of Manhattan has served an A-list clientele for 30 years. He comments, “The most important thing I do for my clients is educate them in how to care for their own hair themselves. Of course, we make magic in the salon, but especially in the COVID-19 experience, a lot of women now have to learn all over again how to keep themselves healthy and beautiful.”
Everyone's hair texture, style preferences and lifestyles are different. If you work out and sweat everyday, advice telling you to wash your hair as little as possible just won't fly. It's important you take your own personal habits and preferences into consideration to find a hair washing schedule that works for you. If you have that feeling that you want to or should wash your hair, then do it! It's your hair — so it's important you're comfortable with how it looks and feels.
How Often to Wash Your Hair Based on Hair Type
You may hear different advice based on “hair density” or “hair thickness.” So what does this mean? There is the circumference of the hair strand itself — that’s one kind of thickness. Then there’s the distribution of the rooted hairs. How many individual hairs are rooted in a square inch of your scalp? Fewer hairs mean that you have thin distribution. Are the hairs themselves skinny or thick? If the hairs are skinny, and you’ve got sparse distribution, you’re dealing with thin, fine hair. Thin, fine hair needs body-building with frequent shampoos and weightless conditioners, since this equation is often limp locks.
If you’ve got thick strands that are sparsely distributed, for example, you may be happy shampooing every other day and using a volumizing hair serum to increase visible hair density.
Your hair type will have an impact on your personal wash day schedule. Minardi offers these tips based on hair type:
- Fine hair: Shampoo more frequently, with a foamy, surfactant shampoo. “Fine hair gets stringy faster, as the natural oils migrate from the scalp down the shaft,” said Minardi. As a conditioning step, use a detangler that won’t weigh down fine, light strands.
- Coarse Hair: Shampoo every second day. “Coarse hair is often porous, with more of an open cuticle, especially if it’s curly. Use a lower surfactant shampoo, and try a conditioner that’s rich in lipids, to give coarse hair more shine, and keep it elastic and flexible, to help prevent breakage,” said Minardi.
- Oily Hair: Shampoo daily and protect the ends. “It’s a misnomer that washing oily hair only makes it oiler," Minardi explained. "Excess oil makes the hair around the parting and hairline separate into clumps. Not pretty and not healthy.”
If your scalp is oily but your ends are like straw, both Pelosi and Minardi suggest that it’s time for a haircut. If your hair has this tendency in general, try drenching those dry ends in a masque or conditioner that has lipids, wrap in a plastic showercap (even a sandwich bag works!) or bonnet and let the moisture penetrate into the dry areas before shampooing.
Another idea for balancing oily scalp and dry ends: deep-clean your scalp with our GRO Scalp Detoxifying Serum before shampooing. This clarifying treatment uses zinc to mop up excess scalp oils, and may make it easier to skip a day between shampoos without getting the greasies.
How to Tell If It's Time to Wash Your Hair
You can also use visual or olfactory clues to figure out if it's time to wash your tresses. One clue is to examine your skin. This will point to a better understanding of your scalp. Is your face shiny by the end of the day, especially in the T-zone? If the answer is yes, you probably have an oily scalp that may need more frequent washing.
Another clue for assessing whether your strands need a wash is the sniff test. Yes, grab a handful and take a whiff. Hmmm … Pad Thai? Smoke? Mystery funk? Hit the shower and bust out the suds.
Other things can affect how often you’ll want to wash your hair. For instance, working out. If you bust a righteous sweat on your Peloton every morning, your scalp will crave a proper sudsing more often than if you’re in the couch zone.
Ditto for high temperatures and high humidity. If you’re hiking through the Amazon (or just summering in New Jersey), hot, moist air will make scalp feel slick, and locks smell dank and look lank. And, of course, sometimes we all just get that feeling that we have to wash our hair right now – and that's as good of an indicator as any. Trust your intuition.
Modern shampoo formulations are intended for frequent use, as often as every day according to our coast-to-coast experts. Warm water, luxurious lather, a smoothing conditioning treatment and a big fluffy towel are a great way to begin or end a good hair day, so enjoy yours!
Colored Hair Requires Less Washing
If you dye your locks or already have damaged hair, frequent washing may make it feel faded or dry so you may want to cut down on the shampoo to preserve your hair color.
“The hair that we love so much is actually dead, and strong detergents that make the scalp feel fresh can also open up the cuticle or surface of the hair shaft, making it rough and dry. Add to this that if you color your hair, daily shampooing will fade your color,” said Pelusi.
Minardi concurs, “You have to respect the hair and scalp equally. Obviously damaged hair needs special care, for example. And freshly colored hair needs to go a few days without a shampoo."
If you’ve recently colored your hair, especially if you lighten, the strands themselves will be open and porous, so you’ll want to avoid anything soapy for a few days while the color cures completely — and choose a revitalizing shampoo that’s color-safe.
Less Hair Washing, Not More, Could Lead to Hair Loss
Minardi comments, "In general, the whole heroin chic, bedhead thing, going a week or even more without washing, can lead to hair loss.”
As Pelusi pointed out, the fear of over washing your hair has been overblown. Washing your hair on a regular basis builds the foundation for a healthy scalp and healthy hair so don't be scared to wash your hair even if you've heard advice that said otherwise.
Your Hair Needs Will Change Over Time So Reassess Often
Remember that the condition of your scalp and hair are a moving target. Texture (fine, medium or thick hair), form (straight, wavy or curly hair) and amount (thin, medium or thick hair) add up to 27 common combinations of hair types. As with your skin and weight, your hair can change depending on what's happening in your life such as experiencing stress, aging or having a baby. So your hair washing routine from a year ago may not apply now — you'll need to reassess your hair washing regularly and adjust as needed.
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- How to Detangle Hair With Minimal Damage
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