How Often Do You Really Need to Wash Your Hair?

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How Often Do You Really Need to Wash Your Hair?

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For a while there during the pandemic, TikTok hair gurus were recommending the “no ‘poo” movement, encouraging followers to go without washing for as long as possible to reset the natural balance of oils on their scalp or something like that. (That’s not how it works; hair oils are controlled by hormones, not outside factors.) In fact, there’s a lot of wacky information out there about how often to wash your hair, usually fed to us by influencers or beauty magazines, and we eat it up in search of validation for our wash-avoiding ways. But what is the answer to the age-old question: How often do we need to wash our hair?

This is actually subjective

Sorry to say this, but like so much else, hair washing is subjective. For instance, if you have extensions, you’ll usually see a warning on the package that you shouldn’t wash your hair (fake and real) every day. Your hair type and styling plans also play a role in scheduling. Consider your texture. If you have coarse hair, professionals recommend washing once per week or even every 10 days, unless you have an active lifestyle that would warrant a wash every four to five. If your hair is short, you can wash it more often without risking breakage. The contributing factors here are numerous. According to Krista MacKinnon, a Midwestern stylist, you should wash your hair before any styling appointments, but if you plan to style your hair for an event, it should be at least a day unwashed.

But what about when you’re not heading to the barber or staring down the barrel of a curling iron before a party? Answers vary here, too. Per WebMD, some stylists recommend clients go as long as they can without washing, but that means you’ll need to spend some time figuring out how long that is for you.

“Coils or curls or blondes can go longer to prevent dry ends,” said MacKinnon, noting that shampooing and heat styling can be drying and damaging. “Dryer hair is better off going longer between washes with an oil or serum for added moisture.”

Essentially, the thicker your hair is, the more you should—or at least can—avoid washing it. If your hair is bleached, over-washing can dry it out; if it’s colored, washing often can dull it faster. If your hair is fine or you work out everyday, you might need to ramp up your schedule. MacKinnon cautiously recommends a wash routine of every two to four days, but added that this is totally dependent on the client’s comfort and the state of their hair.

What’s the science?

Shampoo, obviously, takes oils and dirt out of your hair—but you need a certain amount of oil in there for your hair to be healthy. According to WebMD, shampoo also traps oils, which can really dry your hair out and make it brittle, leading to breakage.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, you can also over-wash your hair to the point of drying out your scalp itself, which leads to not only itchiness, but shedding, too. The Clinic also notes that not washing enough can lead to dandruff, or seborrheic dermatitis. You may then need medicated shampoo, which could be over-the-counter, but could even require a prescription in certain cases. The Clinic recommends using dry shampoo when possible between washes, focusing on conditioning treatments when you do wash, and only shampooing your roots to avoid drying your hair out.

Finally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that washing your scalp can help protect you from ringworm if you had direct contact with an infected person or animal, as well as protect you from head lice.

What’s the bottom line?

All of that is interesting, sure, but it didn’t fully answer the question of how often you need to wash your hair beyond telling you to do what feels best for your unique mane. Taken together, though, all these tips point to one main takeaway: Depending on all those factors, it’s a good practice to wash your hair about twice per week. Plan out your hair washes around your schedule for the week, give yourself enough time to do a thorough cleaning, conditioning, and drying, and keep some dry shampoo on deck.

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