Hair washing 101: How often you really need to wash your hair

·8-min read
Photo credit: Matteo Valle - Getty Images
Photo credit: Matteo Valle - Getty Images

'How often should we actually be washing our hair?' It's a debate that has been raging for decades, with answers ranging from everyday without fail, to once a week at most.

Of course, the texture and condition of your hair plays a significant role in this, but with conversations about scalp health increasing and the temptation to skip a day or two due to our increasing home working conditions, we spoke to the experts to discuss whether we should be reassessing our hair cleansing habits.

How to check your hair type

First of all, before deciding what hair washing regime is best for you, you need to really understand your hair type. The below tricks can help you confirm yours, saving you time and money by ensuring you are buying the right products and washing your hair the right amount.

"Take a moment to assess your hair type like you do your skin," agrees the hairdresser Michael Van Clarke. "Many of my clients are disappointed with hair products because eight out of 10 people do not assess their hair type properly when buying products."

The Strand Test (for thickness)

Take a single hair in between your fingers. If you:

Cannot feel it, you have fine hair

Can feel it, you have medium hair

It feels thick or coarse, you have thick hair

It's important to look at individual strands, as you can actually have 'a lot' of hair but it can still be fine, or you might have very thick hair that is, in reality, relatively sparse.

The Stretch Test (for condition)

Take a single hair in between your fingers and stretch it out. If it:

Breaks immediately, you have low elasticity indicating your hair isn't as healthy as it could be

Stretches to 50 per cent of its original length, you have high elasticity and healthier hair

If your hair is 'weak', you might want to look to strengthening treatments and also consider whether frequently getting it wet or brushing it through after washing is the main cause of your problems.

That said, "be aware that hair type is never a constant," explains Van Clarke. "It is also sensitive to climatic changes, health and emotional disruption, and can become finer, coarser, oilier, drier, frizzier and smoother at different stages of our lives." So, you may need to repeat these tests when you suspect a change.

Below is the expert advice to follow.

Advice for fine hair

"I recommend people with fine textured hair shampoo it daily," says Van Clarke. "This is because people with finer hair have more oil glands on their scalp, and their hair therefore becomes greasy faster."

"Many people think it’s bad to wash their hair everyday as this will dry it out, but that's n0t true if you are using high quality shampoos and conditioners and then gently drying the hair. But, more frequent use of hot styling tools will have an impact on condition so try air drying on alternate days, especially if you are staying at home."

Trichologist Eva Proudman agrees. "One of the most common haircare myths I hear is that you shouldn’t wash your hair too often," the hair expert tells us. "However, from a trichologist’s point of view, this is not true. Cleanliness is key for keeping your hair healthy and your scalp balanced, and it's possible to wash your hair without stripping away its natural shine by using shampoo, conditioner and then a lotion to help nurture and strengthen the hair."

Advice for medium hair

If you hair isn't super fine you might feel like you can go longer without reaching for the shampoo, although the experts suggest looking to your environment before holding fast to any rigid schedules.

"You take your hair and scalp to the same places you take your face and they get just as dirty," argues the trichologist Anabel Kingsley. "You wouldn’t go for days on end without washing your face (especially if you live in a city) – so why would you do that to your scalp?If you have medium textured hair, try to shampoo every other day at least."

Advice for coarse and Afro hair

Unlike other hair types, coarse hair doesn't become (or show) as much greasiness, meaning it doesn't fall flat under the weight of scalp oils as quickly. It can also become drier and less easy to manage if over-washed.

However, "I think not washing your hair is really bad in the long term," says the celebrity hairdresser and creative director of Virtue Labs, Adir Abergel. "You should wash your hair regularly to remove impurities and product build-up. And let’s not forget that your scalp is skin, and just like pores, product buildup can clog your hair follicles. Wash your hair at least a couple of times a week."

"Women with Afro hair type 3a to 4c should routinely shampoo their hair every two weeks," advises the hairstylist Dionne Smith. "Afro hair types tend to be quite dry and even brittle at times and although our hair produces natural sebum we don't want to be stripping that out too frequently as it only makes the hair even dryer."

"Shampooing can be different for different individuals with Afro hair depending on lifestyle, as if your a gym-goer, for instance, you may want to shampoo on a weekly basis, because sweat can build up in the hair, producing salt which clogs up the hair, pores and scalp. Leaving it in can go completely the other way and lead to breakage and damaged hair."

Try the shampoos, conditioners and styling products offered by Design Essential Products, or Cantu Beauty Products, both of which offer an extensive range for natural hair.

Photo credit: Claudio Lavenia - Getty Images
Photo credit: Claudio Lavenia - Getty Images

Advice for sensitive scalps

If your main concern is a sore or flaky scalp, washing more often is scientifically proven to be a good thing, says the team behind Pantene. Frequent shampooing will help keep the scalp healthy (which is really important for hair health), although choose a formula that is gentle and non-stripping to avoid irritation.

"Many people, especially those with longer hair will only have dryness or damage towards the ends, with good condition at the roots," reveals Van Clarke. "It’s therefore generally best to choose a shampoo specifically to treat the scalp and root area. Then, choose your conditioner depending on your mid-lengths onwards."

What happens if you:

Under-wash your hair

"Similar problems can happen to your scalp as your face if you don’t wash it enough", explains Kingsley. "For instance, if you don’t cleanse your scalp frequently, excess oils, dirt, pollution and dead skin cells are allowed to build up. An accumulation of dead skin cells can cause itching and irritation – and visible flakes."

Fine, straight hair can fall limp and develop a greasy shine (not a healthy-looking shine), and – according to Pantene: "Other hair types develop combination hair – greasy and matted on top, dry and tangled on the bottom," which can pose a unique challenge.

Over-wash your hair

Washing your hair more than once a day is unnecessary, although the cleaning process itself might not actually damage your hair the most.

"The biggest risks to hair health is what happens to your hair while wet and the styling that is done after each wash," says the Pantene team. Hair is weakest when wet, so any manipulation (pulling, combing, etc.) can stress your hair. For those who use heat to dry and style their hair after washing, more washing means more heat exposure and more heat exposure means more damage. Opt for shampoos that can replenish your hair versus strip its nutrients and be sure to condition thoroughly with each wash to help prevent styling-related damage.

Are you shampooing right?

If your hair feels constantly greasy or conversely dry, it might be down to the method you are using to clean your hair, more than its genetic texture.

"I often wish the term ‘hair washing’ was changed to ‘scalp cleansing’ – as the aim of the game when you shampoo is to clean your scalp, which is a living tissue," reveals Kingsley. "Any suds that run down through your strands will be enough to cleanse them. There is no need to scrub your hair, and doing so can actually cause damage, tangles and breakage."

Follow Clarke's expert advice and:

  • Ensure the hair is completely wet, really saturated before applying shampoo

  • Pour a teaspoon of shampoo and apply the thin film across the hair

  • Start to massage across the scalp paying particular attention to the nape and hairline which will tend to be dirtier

  • Use fingers to comb the hair between movements and keep the hair in line. Do not use nails to scratch the scalp

  • Do not rub ends together, nor use overly circular movements as this will just cause the hair to tangle

  • Massage for at least 30 seconds. Then rinse thoroughly, and for 30 seconds more

  • If you are washing your hair daily one shampoo should be enough, but repeat if you feel the hair needs it

How to go longer between washes


If you really want to prolong the time between washing your hair, the most obvious option is dry shampoo. Formulas such as Philip Kingsley's One More Day Dry Shampoo avoid the inflammation some dry shampoos can cause using bisabolol and zinc as ingredients. If you have curly hair though, try Pantene’s Dry Shampoo Foam as you don't have to brush it through, something that can matte coarser hair types.

But remember, "dry shampoo isn’t a replacement for real shampoo," stresses Kingsley. "It’s a bit like washing your face with talcum powder."

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