While there are those who swear by a daily hair-washing routine, others have joined the “no shampoo” movement. All that conflicting information on how to take care of your locks can be straight-up confusing. So we sat down with three hair experts to get the lowdown on how often you should really wash your hair.
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The hairdresser: “The less frequently you can wash your hair, the better”
Jorge Joao, international Redken artist, recommends spacing out your shampoos as much as possible. “The less frequently you can wash your hair, the better,” he says. “Your natural oils are what give nutrition to your hair and the more opportunity you give them to do their job the better.” With a little experimentation, the magic number of washes per week that works best for your hair will be revealed.
“The finer the hair, the more likely natural oils will weigh it down, so it is more difficult to go without washing. This is why it’s important to use a deep cleansing shampoo and conditioner when you do wash your hair,” says Joao. “Coarse and curly hair tends to absorb oils, and that actually helps the hair stay tame, so it is easier to go without washing.”
To buy time between washing, Joao is a big fan of dry shampoo, especially those which come in a tinted version perfect for dark hair shades. “Not a lot of people know to use it when your hair is fresh and clean, like the way you use underarm deodorant. Apply the product before there is an issue, this will control unwanted oils and odours for a longer period. It will also give a lot more volume and texture to your hair,” says Joao.
And if you’re stumped by shampoo choices, Joao recommends booking time with a pro before you buy. “There are no good or bad ingredients, there are different ingredients for different usages which are tailored to product functions and consumer needs,” he says. “Consulting with a professional hairdresser will help find the most suitable products that will give the best results possible.”
The dermatologist: “Don’t wash your hair unless it’s dirty or greasy”
Figuring out whether you have a shampoo sensitivity starts at the scalp. “There are many people I see with chronic itchy scalps due to overuse of product and the sheer numbers of unnecessary ingredients in shampoos, which do little to aid in hair health and can possibly set a patient up for irritation, not only on the scalp but more commonly on the eyelids, neck and behind the ears,” says Dr. Sandy Skotnicki, medical director at Bay Dermatology Centre and Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto.
The author (Dr. Skotnicki’s book, Beyond Soap: the Real Truth About What You Are Doing to Your Skin and How to Fix It for a Beautiful Healthy Glow, was published by Penguin Random House in May 2018) acknowledges that everyone’s hair needs are different, but her bottom line advice applies to all: do not wash your hair unless it’s dirty or greasy. Period.
What you can do is start to read product labels. “Avoid Methylisothiazolinone (MI), which is a preservative. It has caused an epidemic of allergic reactions to many skin products but the main categories are shampoo and body washes,” says Dr. Skotnicki. “Sulfates get a bad rap. They are not allergic but can irritate the hair shaft, and the faces and necks of those with more reactive skin.” She recommends seeking out fragrance-free products, which is easier said than done in a market with unregulated labelling.
“For anyone with scalp itch, or reactions on the face and neck (people don’t always suspect that a recalcitrant rash on the eyelids or sides of neck could be caused by their shampoo), I usually start with fragrance-free shampoos, but the public hates them,” she says. Green Cricket, DHS and Free & Clear are among her go-to brands.
And while she signs off on shampoo alternatives, Dr. Skotnicki prefers a less-is-more approach. Her favourites, like Klorane Dry Shampoo, have a dozen ingredients or less. “I also like the co-wash concept, but the ones available are so full of organics that I worry they will irritate. When you see a list of 30+ ingredients I just think it is so unnecessary, and sets you up for a possible reaction,” she says.
The scalp scientist: “For a healthy scalp and hair, it’s recommended to shampoo at least once every three days”
Heads up: winter is coming, and it’s bringing some unpleasant changes to your scalp that may impact your shampoo routine. “While scalp issues and dandruff occur year-round, they tend to be more noticeable in the winter. Women often wash their hair less in the cold weather, which leads to build-up of oil on the scalp, creating an environment more conducive to dandruff,” says Dr. Rolanda Johnson-Wilkerson, principal scientist at Head & Shoulders. “For a healthy scalp and hair, it is recommended to shampoo at least once every three days. If scalp concerns are heightened, shampooing daily can be beneficial to reduce the symptoms of itch, flaking and dryness.”
Using shampoo with a blend of active and moisturizing ingredients will go a long way.
Worried about frazzled ends? That’s where conditioner comes in. “Using conditioner after every shampoo helps to protect the hair fibre and nourish the hair,” she says.
Besides seasonal changes, what you’re doing daily with your hair (i.e. sweating it out at SoulCycle every morning, or mastering DIY dyes) should also be considered. “How often you wash your hair is a personal decision—one that depends on your hair type, hairstyle and lifestyle,” she says. “What is important is protecting hair from damage. Using a shampoo and conditioner designed for your hair is key, as is being gentle while combing, and using heat tools sparingly.”
Finally, products that extend time between washing—i.e. dry shampoos—should never replace the real deal. “While these products are good to aid in-between wash needs, it’s important not to replace the shampoo and conditioning regimen with a cleansing conditioner or a dry shampoo,” she says. “These products do not thoroughly address cleansing needs for the hair or the scalp, like styling product build-up.”