It’s the age-old question: How often should you wash your hair, really? Back in the day, we wouldn’t dream of going a whole 24 hours without some shampoo, but then we started hearing that it is bad to wash your hair every day—and there are even people out there who can make their blow-out last a whole week. So what’s the deal?
We’ve always known we need to wash our hair regularly, but it’s so hard to decipher what “regularly” actually means. We consulted hair experts for the ultimate hair washing intel.
Hair Type Matters
Is there a good rule of thumb for the magic number of days you can go without washing your hair? Really, it depends on your hair type. Hair that’s thicker and curlier can go without a wash for longer than fine hair. How processed your hair is will also come into play because the oils in your scalp don’t travel down the hair shaft as quickly in hair that’s coarse, curly, or processed as it does for gals with fine hair, says Marlene Montanez of Latest Hairstyles.
For this reason, curly hair types should be especially careful not to wash hair too frequently—and avoid shampoos with harsh sulfates, which strip the hair of the natural oils. You can consider a co-wash (using a conditioner instead of shampoo) or use a sulfate-free shampoo if washing more than twice a week, says Jane Nyachiro of hair brand Jirano.
Lifestyle also plays a part. For example, if you workout daily, you’re going to need to wash your hair more often to feel clean after sweating. If you have an oily scalp and thin, fine hair, your hair will start to look flat and dirty after 24 hours. If your hair is pin straight, an oily scalp will show more easily, too. The flip side is with thick, curly hair, you may be able to go three days without needing a shampoo.
There can be too much of a good thing
It’s pretty simple: Washing hair every day removes our natural oils and proteins, causing our hair to dry out quicker. Shampoo strips the oils from the hair, and we need those oils to help our scalp and hair to be healthy, says Emily Woodstrom of HAIRitage ‘Hous outside St. Paul, Minnesota.
Some people shampoo so frequently and strip the natural oil in their hair so much that it becomes very frizzy—and their day-after hair actually looks better when oil has accumulated on the scalp to tame these wild hair shafts, says Dr. Scott Rackett, a dermatologist and hair care expert. Often we apply product to calm the hair, when really just shampooing less frequently would improve the look of the hair and lessen the need for hair products.
Find Your Perfect Cocktail
The trick is to find a shampoo, conditioner, and a cocktail of products that balances your scalp and hair so you can wash every third or fifth day. “If one has hair on the finer side, I’ll recommend a volumizing shampoo, so it remains light and won’t get greasy too fast. Transversely, if a client comes to me with course, dry, thick hair, I’ll recommend something that will moisturize and balance the scalp and hair. It’s a bit of a trial and error thing.
“Work with your stylist to make sure you get what will work for you,” says Max Gierl, stylist at Azur Salon at West Ave in Houston, Texas. “The No. 1 thing I tell all my clients is to keep conditioner off the scalp completely. Conditioner can make the scalp oily, which only makes your roots seem greasy faster. The scalp should produce enough sebum to properly maintain scalp health.”
The Final Verdict
At most, try washing your hair every other day. Every two days is even better, and if you can make it an entire week, go for it! If your hair gets oily after only a day, try using some hair powder or dry shampoo on your roots to soak up some of that excess oil. There are also tons of products on the market for in-between wash days that will help your hair get some extra lift and smell fresh. After the gym, try spritzing a refreshing mist, or do a rinse sans shampoo. If you must wash and shampoo each time after a workout, try a shampoo that’s made for daily cleansing—they’re usually less harsh on your hair.
A version of this article was originally published in October 2014.