You guys, hair washing is confusing. We grew up being taught to wash it every day, and then later we learned you should probably only be sudsing up a couple times a week—and, to be honest, we’re still pretty confused about how to wash your hair correctly when it comes to the actual process of cleansing (the “no ‘poo method” floating around the internet certainly isn’t helping things).
Using the correct techniques can make a world of difference in your hair’s health, bounce and shine—but if you’re making some common mistakes, you could be damaging your lovely locks without even realizing it. We asked two of New York’s foremost hair pros, hair stylist Nunzio Saviano of Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York and Kyle White, lead colorist at Oscar Blandi Salon, to share their best tips for lathering up—and doing it the right way.
1. Start with a rinse
Just like your laundry needs a rinse cycle before you add detergent, hair should be thoroughly wet before you add your shampoo. “Hot water will open the cuticle, which is good for removing any dirt or product trapped in the hair,” says White. Another bonus: “When your hair is rinsed in warm water, it loosens the oils through the scalp and opens the cuticle so it is able to absorb the oil” in your conditioner, says Saviano.
2. If you have long hair, condition first
Yes, really! “If you have hair beneath the shoulders, protect fragile ends from drying out and further damage by running a small amount of conditioner through them and lightly rinsing, before any shampooing. This will not only keep ends healthy, it will fill any holes in the cuticle with moisture, making it smoother and boosting shine,” says White.
3. Lather up — but only at the scalp
“You only need to shampoo the hair at the scalp, particularly at the nape,” Saviano says.
White agrees. “The best way to lather up is from roots to ends. The hair closest to the scalp is the youngest and will inevitably be the oiliest, while the end of the hair is the oldest and usually driest, most fragile part of the hair.”
Don’t use more shampoo than you need; both Saviano and White say that a quarter-sized amount of shampoo is enough. If your hair is particularly long or thick, go ahead and double that.
4. Be gentle!
Friction can permanently damage your hair’s cuticle, leading to breakage and frizz. Think about washing your hair like you hand wash your delicates — very carefully.
“Start your lather at the roots,” says White. “Increase blood flow to the scalp and stimulate hair growth by using vertical strokes with medium pressure.” Don’t use circular motions, which can tangle your hair.
Next, “Smooth the lather over the ends in a straight stroking motion,” White advises. “Do not scrub the fragile ends or use a back and forth motion like you’re washing a rag on a washboard.”
5. Don’t rinse and repeat
Despite what the instructions on the back of your shampoo bottle may say, there’s no need to wash your hair twice.
“Avoid stripping the hair by doing one shampoo only, which is usually sufficient,” says White. “Unless the hair is extremely dirty and the first shampoo didn’t produce a lather.” In that case, go ahead and lather up one more time.
6. Add conditioner from the mid-lengths to the tips
After you’ve rinsed out your shampoo, “squeeze some of the water out of the hair before you put in the conditioner,” says Saviano. “Then clip your hair up and finish showering, leaving the conditioner rinse out for the final step of your shower.”
The longer the conditioner stays on your hair, the better it absorbs. Don’t put conditioner at the roots of your hair; the natural oil from your scalp is more concentrated there.
7. Finish with a cold water rinse
“Cold water will shut the cuticle tight, sealing the shingle-like outer layer, which will cause it to reflect the most light and give off the most shine,” says White.
More Hair Washing Tips…
Use a shampoo and conditioner that’s made for your hair type. If your hair is dry, choose moisturizing products. If you color your hair, opt for color-safe formulas. “Volumizing” shampoos tend to leave hair drier, so they’re best for fine hair types that would be weighed down by more moisturizing products.
How often you wash your hair depends on your hair type, too. If you have oily or fine hair, you may need to shampoo daily. Normal or dry hair can lather up closer to three times a week.
Filter your water. White recommends using a shower filter, such as the T3 Source Showerhead, since it “removes rust and minerals from water that can dull color, and deposit on blondes making them dark and muddy.” (We’ve tried it, and it also made our hair super soft.)
Originally published September 2015. Updated April 2017.