The answer to this seemingly simple question is surprisingly complicated, “it depends.”
There is no “one size fits all” answer for how often you should wash your hair. It depends on so many factors: your age, your hair type, your scalp condition, your hormones, health issues, whether or not you color your hair, your lifestyle, how much you exercise… you get the picture. It’s complicated, and varies by person.
You also have to consider that the frequency of hair washing is always a balancing act between the health of the scalp and the health of the more fragile ends of the hair. It’s almost as if the hair consists of two different zones: the roots and the ends. As with most things in life, it’s all about balance.
Scalp and Hair Types
So, with this caveat in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the factors that affect how frequently you should shampoo your hair. The first factor is your scalp type. A dry scalp often feels tight – both normally and also after washing – and can also feel itchy. Often, one of the tell-tale signs of a dry scalp is white flakes, or dandruff. Oily scalps appear shiny and often have flakes that are clumped together. You can also have a combination scalp – one that’s neither dry or oily. If you don’t feel that you need to shampoo every day, you probably have a combination scalp.
The second factor is your hair type. Is it thick and coarse or fine and thin or somewhere in between? Some definitions here might help.
- Fineness or coarseness refers to the diameter of individual hairs.
- Coarse hair is larger in diameter than average, and fine hair is smaller in diameter.
- Thick or thin refers to the actual number of hairs on the scalp – thick hair has more hairs than average on a given area of scalp, and thin hair has less.
Typically, coarse and thick hair go together, as does fine and thin. But not necessarily. There are women with coarse hair that is sparse or thin, as well as women with fine hair that is very thick.
Shampooing Guidelines for Different Hair Types
Many women with coarse hair find their hair can look parched or dry if they overdo the shampooing – especially since shampooing is often followed by blow-drying and heat styling, which are also tough on drier, coarser hair. For these women, washing just once a week can be enough. The challenge here is that while once a week might be just right for the look of moisture-challenged hair, more sensitive scalps may feel differently.
Prolonging the time between shampoos can cause a buildup of oils, bacteria and skin cells on the scalp – the “yuck” stuff that makes the scalp and the hair near it greasy, dirty and smelly. When this happens, it’s time to experiment with washing more frequently and conditioning hair more deeply when you do wash. With coarse hair, it’s always a balancing act between the look of the hair and the health of the scalp.
If you go too long between shampoos, the buildup of debris on the scalp can actually suffocate hair follicles and cause hair loss. So, finding that happy medium is key. And when you do wash coarser hair, you should use a good hydrating shampoo and conditioner as well as a weekly hair mask full of natural oils to replenish moisture.
Fine-haired women struggle with the opposite problem, especially if their hair is fine and thin. They often shampoo too frequently just to get some “lift” in hair that can look flat and lifeless after just one day. But this can result in over-stimulation of the oil glands beneath the scalp, resulting in excessively oily hair over time. Not to mention the fact that everyday blow-drying and heat styling can cause havoc on the fragile ends of finer hair, resulting in breakage. For these women, going an extra day or two between shampoos is healthier for both roots and ends.
One way to extend the length of time between shampoos without sacrificing volume is with a hair volumizing tool such as the VOLOOM Hair Volumizing Iron. The patented checkerboard plates on the tool create structure in the underlayers of the hair nearest the scalp lifting it up and away from the scalp and giving hair a natural looking volume. This structure – or light texture – creates an oil boundary as well, making it more difficult for oil to travel down fine strands and make hair slick and greasy. Using a hair volumizing iron like VOLOOM can help women with fine hair go at least 3 days between shampoos.
Women with very thick hair may be tempted to go longer between shampoos simply out of convenience. It takes much longer to shampoo, blow dry and style very thick hair. And this may be a reasonable approach because it can take longer for oil build-up to show on very thick hair. Still, the health of the scalp needs to be taken into account and this may dictate more frequent shampooing of say 2-3 times per week. If the health of the ends begins to suffer, with too frequent shampooing and styling, women with thick hair may want to use conditioning treatments to re-moisturize those fragile ends, especially if hair is on the finer side, and more prone to damage.
One of the problems with thicker hair is that it can be difficult to rinse thoroughly. This can cause particles of dried shampoo to build up on the hair and scalp that look like dandruff. So, rinsing is particularly important for thick hair.
If hair is not only thick but is wavy or curly, then different rules can apply. Hair with a lot of texture can make it difficult for oil to move down the hair shaft, resulting in dry, damaged ends. Sebum is so important to having beautiful well-defined waves or curls and also prevents frizzing. A typical routine for thicker hair involves using hydrating shampoos and conditioners as well as a weekly hair mask to replenish moisture. Look for products with natural plant oils to keep hair soft and silky.
Very thin hair needs special care. The scalp needs to stay clean and healthy so that hair follicles keep producing new growth and replace shedding hair. But the ends can suffer with too frequent shampooing. In fact, washing your fine thin hair too often can overstimulate oil glands and make hair greasier over time, and looking lifeless and lank.
Fine hair is also more easily weighed down by environmental pollution and the dirt and grime of everyday life. Even hair brushes and combs that aren’t perfectly clean can put gunk back into thin hair and weigh it down. So don’t forget to keep your tools clean. You should even be careful with the towels you use when you dry your thin hair. Cotton towels can pull those fragile hairs right out. Use a microfibre towel or a hair turban instead for delicate hair.
Dry shampoo can be the perfect solution for thinner finer hair in order to extend the time between shampoos for another day or two. Just spray it on the roots, liberally and then brush it through the hair to absorb dirt, grease and odors. A hair volumizing tool such as VOLOOM can also help women with fine hair avoid that limp look between shampoos. You can actually train hair to be less oily (by not stimulating as much oil production) if you can go a day or two longer between shampoos.
African-American or coarse hair textures can go a lot longer without washing, especially when worn in a protective style. Sometimes, wearing your hair in hairstyles like cornrows or weaves means waiting for your style to grow out before you wash it. Again, it’s all about the condition of the scalp. In many cases, African-American hair is not coarse, but is actually fine and needs to be treated delicately. Using oils, conditioning sprays and leave-in conditioners can be key to keeping hair looking and feeling healthy. Since the wash and style process can be lengthy for African-American hair, there’s nothing wrong with going longer between washes as long as the scalp is healthy.
If you overwash tightly curled or textured hair with harsh shampoos, or overdo the chemical treatments, it can result in hair loss. So, with this type of hair, shampooing once a week or every other week is fine.
If you’re going to the gym every day, hair care can be an issue. Do you wash every time you shower? Probably not. Especially if your hair type recommends against it. Most women, even after a light workout, don’t need a daily shampoo. A dry shampoo and a volumizing iron, such as VOLOOM, can give your hair the boost it needs after a trip to the gym. On the other hand, a particularly sweaty workout can spread sebum throughout your hair. And an hours-long bike ride with a helmet on your head can make your hair flat, oily and lifeless. In these cases, it’s time to hit the shower and wash your hair.
If you have a vocation or avocation (such as gardening) that exposes you and your hair to dirt, dust and pollen or environmental pollutants, you may need to wash your hair more often or risk exacerbating your allergies.
Most stylists recommend against too frequent shampooing for women who color their hair in order to preserve the color and avoid that parched, over-processed, straw-like look. But again, you need to account for your hair type as well as the fact that you color it, in order to make that decision. Coloring your hair definitely changes it. It can become drier and more fragile, so be sure to consult your colorist to advise you since they see the condition of your hair and scalp over time. Ask their advice and get their recommendations on what products you might use, such as weekly hair masks to optimize the health of your processed hair.
If you tend to use too many styling products on your hair, they can build up and lead to damage and irritation. Either skip the sprays or shampoo more often.
Signs of Under and Over Washing
So now that you have some basic ground-rules on hair washing for your hair type, how can you tell if you’ve hit the right balance?
If you’re not washing your hair sufficiently, you can see a build-up of dandruff, grease, and even pimples on your scalp due to bacteria. If your scalp itches, that’s a key indicator that something is wrong. And if you scratch that itch, the scalp can become infected. In order for hair to be healthy, it needs a clean scalp and unclogged hair follicles that don’t impede hair growth.
Over-washing, on the other hand, comes with a different set of problems: If you wash your hair too frequently, the pH on your scalp becomes too alkaline – it should be slightly acidic. This can lead to a dry and flaky scalp which then tries to overcompensate with more oil production, leading to a vicious cycle and the worst of both worlds: stripped, dry, flyaway hair and a greasy scalp. Hair can also be dull and hard to style. The oil on your scalp is actually essential to hair health, so go easy on it. Avoid astringent shampoos, especially on a daily basis.
Shampoos for Different Hair Types
Shampoos are primarily designed for the scalp and the roots of hair – not the ends. When you wash, work the shampoo into the roots of your hair, but not all the way down to the ends. Those will get clean when you rinse the shampoo out. Conditioners are specifically designed to moisturize those dry ends and should not be used near the roots and scalp.
If you have an oily scalp, you should look for words like volumizing, strengthening or balancing because these terms describe shampoos that remove oil and are non-moisturizing. You should avoid using shampoos that claim to be moisturizing, smoothing and hydrating as they add moisture to an already oily scalp. You might also look for a clarifying shampoo but keep in mind, these shampoos can dry out your scalp. When you shampoo an oily scalp, make sure to work the shampoo into the scalp well, and then rinse thoroughly.
If your scalp is dry or flaky, avoid shampoos that claim to be volumizing, clarifying, or strengthening as they can be drying. Shampoos designed for dry scalps use words like moisture, hydration, or smoothing. You should also avoid products with sulfates as these can be very drying to already dry scalps.
In terms of shampoos for different hair types, here are some guidelines:
- Fine Hair - Use volumizing shampoos that add proteins or keratin to coat fine strands without weighing hair down.
- Thick Hair - Look for moisturizing shampoos that add shine and smoothness
- Wavy Hair - Look for balancing shampoos that add moisturize without drying
- Curly Hair - Choose shampoos that add maximum moisture and reduce frizz
- Color-treated - Look for strengthening or fortifying shampoos, many of which add proteins to improve the condition of the hair.
Don’t be fooled by the name. Dry shampoo isn’t actually a hair cleanser. It’s a powder or a spray that contains oil-absorbing ingredients to keep hair from sticking together, making it look less oily. But it does have an important function for many women who want or need to extend the time between shampoos.
Cleansing conditioners are new hybrid products that claim to wash and condition hair at the same time. These work best on drier hair types including curly or wavy hair. You just use it like shampoo on the scalp, but then leave it on the hair for a couple of minutes before rinsing. Just be careful about ingredients like silicones that can make the hair greasy and lank.
The Net Net
Figuring out how frequently to shampoo your hair is really a matter of experimenting, keeping in mind the type of hair you have and the scalp issues you face. Most people can indeed go longer between shampoos than they do. But if your hair is oily, greasy, itchy, smelly or feels dirty to the touch – it’s time to wash it!
On the other hand, if your hair and scalp feel comfortable, even if it’s been a couple of days or more, you can probably go at least a day or so longer between shampoos. Keep in mind that you don’t have the same hair type, health and oil production that you did as a teenager. Your hair changes as you get older. So, your hair won’t tolerate the same washing routines in your 50s and 60s as it did way back when. You have to adjust to current hair realities.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different shampoos and with washing more or less. If you think you’re overwashing – which many Americans do -- try extending the time between shampoos by a day each week until you find that optimal balance. Keep in mind that most people do not need to wash their hair every day. Finding that balance between a healthy scalp and moisturized, bouncy ends is the goal.