How Often You Should Actually Wash Your Hair

Photo: Roman Samborskyi / Shutterstock
woman just washed her hair

It may be surprising to some that you really shouldn't wash your hair every day. Finding the right balance between wash days and no-wash days is hard when it comes to hair.

If you wash your hair too much, you risk drying it out. If you let it go too long in-between washes, then your hair is likely to become an oily mess.

Oh, and let's not forget to account for the fact that everyone's hair is different, so the answer is almost never black and white!

How often should you wash your hair?

Most of the time, people should wash their hair once or twice a week. However, every person's hair is different — and that means their hair care treatment will be different as well.

You see, if you shampoo too often, your hair will become dull and dry, which can lead to horrible breakage and split ends. But if you don't wash your hair enough and let the oil build up, it can lead to flakes and odor.

Not only does this affect your hair, but it can deeply affect your scalp, which produces the natural oil called sebum that moisturizes and protects your skin from infection.

If you wash less than you need, your scalp could be at a higher risk of infection due to dead skin, dirt, product residue, and sweat build-up.

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Many people have begun the "no-poo movement," which is a method of washing your hair without using any shampoo. People using this method refuse to use shampoo in an effort to avoid the "artificial" ingredients within most brands.

While most believe this method is actually better for hair and scalp health, there is no scientific evidence to prove this. But, thanks to science, there is a solution to this clean vs. dirty hair equation.

There are multiple factors that come into play when it comes to properly treating and washing your hair.

7 Factors That Determine How Often To Wash Your Hair

1. Your skin type

If your skin runs in between oily and dry, then you should be washing your hair only once or twice a week. If your skin runs more on the oily side, however, you should probably wash it more often.

You shouldn't, however, wash it every day. This is because when people wash their hair too often to get rid of oils, they are actually making the problem worse. They are directly drying out their scalp, which indirectly makes our bodies respond by making more oils in order to remedy that dryness.

2. Your hair texture

According to Columbia University's health resource service Go As Alice!, different hair textures require different treatments.

If your hair is on the coarse or curly side, it doesn't get particularly oily since it's more difficult for oil to travel down the strands of your hair. Hair with this kind of texture only demands a shampoo once a week.

However, if your hair is fine and straight, you should shampoo it somewhere around twice a week or more.

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3. How you style it

No matter what your hair is like, the rules drastically differ depending on how you style it.

If your hair is processed or damaged, then go easy on it and don't shampoo it as frequently. Listen to what your hair is telling you. Yes, your hair can talk to you, ladies! You just have to learn how to communicate properly with your locks, non-verbally.

4. Age

Age can also drastically determine how often you should wash your hair. You see, as we age our scalp produces less oil. So, a 65-year-old won't need to wash their hair as much as a 17-year-old.

However, when shampooing it's best to concentrate the product on your scalp rather than the ends of your hair to ensure proper washing of the oils.

5. Ethnicity

Your ethnicity is even a factor taken into consideration when addressing how often one should wash their hair.

Some ethnicities actually have denser hair, drier hair, oilier hair, and so on and so forth. Therefore, everyone's wash schedule will be different from each other.

If your ethnicity has drier hair, you may not shampoo as much as someone whose ethnicity has oilier hair.

6. Hair length

Hair length is a deciding factor as well.

If you have long hair, it can be a pain to keep the ends moisturized because the sebum oil our scalps produce has to travel the entire length of your hair to get there. So, washing less often may actually be better for people with long hair, versus short hair.

7. Activity level

This one is a no-brainer. Your activity level, or how often you exercise, will also affect how often your hair gets washed.

If you're extremely active then you'll want to wash your hair more often to get rid of teh sweat and bacteria that may be building up as you move your body.

That's why it's always best to create your exercise routine around your hair wash schedule so you don't dry out or overwash your amazing hair.

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How do you know if you’re overwashing your hair?

It's pretty easy to realize when you're washing your hair too often.

You may have a dry, itchy scalp or even split ends. Other signs of overwashing include hair breakage, dullness or no shine, fading color, or oilier hair than usual.

If you suspect you have been overwashing your hair, a good test to try is to run a brush through it while it's dry. If the brush gets stuck (not by a knot) and won't budge, that's a sign you need to ease up on your wash days.

What happens if you don’t wash your hair?

If you don't wash your hair, it can lead to an infection on your scalp!

This is called a sebaceous secretion, which is an infection of the hair follicles. This particular infection often gets mixed in with dandruff and can increase the risk of a condition called folliculitis.

Not washing your hair can also lead to a build-up of Malassezia on your scalp, which is a type of yeast-like fungus. If left untreated, it can cause a layer of dead skin cells to shed from your head.

You will see oily, yellowish dandruff flakes fall from your hair in droves, which can make your scalp incredibly itchy, red, and even scaly.

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Nicole Weaver is a senior writer for Showbiz Cheat Sheet whose work has been featured in New York Magazine, Teen Vogue, and more.