I stopped washing my hair for 2 weeks, and while it smelled weird and felt sticky, it helped repair some damage

insider@insider.com (Jen Glantz)
personal essay banner
personal essay banner
I didn't wash my hair for two weeks, and it helped its condition in the long run.
I didn't wash my hair for two weeks, and it helped its condition in the long run.

Jen Glantz

  • I decided to stop washing my hair for two weeks to see how it would affect my scalp and hair condition.

  • At first, my hair got extra greasy and sticky and felt gross to touch.

  • I kept going with the experiment and my hair started to get very dry.

  • While it looked and felt weird, it helped my split ends and my hair follicles.

  • The experiment isn't for everyone, but it helped me repair the damage I had caused from coloring my hair and washing it twice a day.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

I used to watch my hair twice a day. When I'd tell friends that, their eyes would bulge and their mouths would drop.

They'd want to know why. My answer? I liked the feeling of clean hair, and my scalp would get oily and feel dirty in just a matter of hours.

But when quarantine erased my calendar and had me spending lots of quality time with my couch and nobody but my fiancé, I realized that there wasn't a need to scrub my strands multiple times a day. I'd go two or three days without washing my hair and after a few weeks of that, my hair just felt better. It stayed less greasy for longer and it seemed healthier.

Related video: DIY hair masks to try for healthier hair

As experts told Insider for a previous article, how often you should wash your hair depends on a few factors, like your hair type, structure, density, and porosity, and there's no one-size-fits-all approach.

However, Dr. Rina Allawh, a board-certified dermatologist, told me that frequent hair washing may dry out the hair and strip the natural oils that encapsulate, hydrate, and nourish our hair shaft. 

"Frequent hair washing may dry out the hair, dry out the scalp and may worsen hair loss and hair thinning," Allawh said.

Trichologist Anabel Kingsley previously told Insider that "shampooing can be really really upsetting for people suffering from hair thinning because when you massage the shampoo into your hair all of the hairs that were ready to fall come out at once instead of gradually."

Hearing that I was potentially damaging my natural hair oils and over-washing my hair to the point that it could fall out faster made me want to try to change my habits.

I had already noticed that washing it daily made my hair feel extra thin. Secretly, I started to feel self-conscious about my hair a few years ago, and have worn hair extensions under-the-radar for quite some time. I also knew I had damanged my strands by coloring my hair regularly, resulting in split ends.

I wondered what would happen if I took a break from washing for longer. What if I spent the first two weeks of June shampoo-free?

I put myself to the test and even though I had to face other people (over virtual work calls and social distancing get-togethers in the park), I decided not to wash my hair for 14 days and find ways to look acceptable, even if I had to constantly pull off a very messy bun. Here's what happened.

The first few days were easy

On day one I enjoyed my freshly washed hair and hoped it would stay clean for a few more days.
On day one I enjoyed my freshly washed hair and hoped it would stay clean for a few more days.

Jen Glantz

I spent an extra 20 minutes in the shower scrubbing my hair on day one because I realized this would be the last time I'd clean it for the next 14 days.

When I got out of the shower, I blew it dry and straightened it. I hoped it would stay looking nice for at least the first few days.

While the first few days didn't feel weird in any way since they were similar to what I'd be doing most weeks anyways, I did try to make a point to not touch my hair so it wouldn't get extra oily.

I started noticing it looked dirty by day 4

I started to wonder if people noticed my hair was dirty.
I started to wonder if people noticed my hair was dirty.

Jen Glantz

After the three day mark, I started to feel like it was noticeable that I had dirty hair.

I had worked out a couple of times and spent hours in the summer heat. Friends that I hung out with on video chat didn't notice that it had been four days since I washed my hair, but every time I ran my fingers through my strands, I could feel the dirt and grease beginning to stick.

I made it a point to brush my hair 3-5 times a day (when I normally only brushed it once a day). I figured it would help spread the oil from my scalp to the dry parts of my hair (my ends).

I transitioned to a ponytail by day 7 because I couldn't stop touching it

By the end of week one, I kept my hair in a tight ponytail.
By the end of week one, I kept my hair in a tight ponytail.

Jen Glantz

Toward the end of the first week, I couldn't stop touching my hair.

It felt a combination of both dry and oily (the back of my hair especially)  and I found that I was constantly scratching my scalp. I started to feel dandruff and overall, it felt uncomfortable.

I decided to put my hair in a high ponytail and leave it like that for the final days of week number one.

While it still wasn't super noticeable to anyone else, I felt embarrassed by how unpolished my hair looked. I became self conscious. Luckily, it didn't smell too funky yet, and I felt like I could get away with a combed ponytail for work virtual events and phone calls. 

My hair smelled like cheese during week 2 and I almost caved

I put a big hair accessory on top of my ponytail to distract people from my messy hair.
I put a big hair accessory on top of my ponytail to distract people from my messy hair.

Jen Glantz

A few days into week two and I almost caved. My hair felt sticky and smelled like old cheese.

It was hard to make it look nice, even though I brushed it every night. I would style it in the morning by putting it up in a high ponytail, with a giant flower clip up top to distract.

The texture of my hair felt constantly wet, even though no water had touched it. Not only did my scalp feel icky, but my skin felt extra oily too. I began to wonder if two weeks was too long to go without a hair wash. But I decided I had followed through with this experiment long enough. I wasn't going to quit just yet.

I couldn't wait for it to be over

The final days of the experiment were hard, and I gave up trying to style my hair.
The final days of the experiment were hard, and I gave up trying to style my hair.

Jen Glantz

The last few days of the experiment felt the most uncomfortable. My hair was so dirty, sticky, and smelly that I had to throw it back in a messy bun and not even bother trying to style it in any way. I even canceled a virtual happy hour with friends because I didn't feel good about myself and how I looked.

I tried to hide my hair situation by wearing a hat, but my ends were so tangled and matted that it didn't help.

I was happy that I gave my hair a break from shampoo and constant washing, but two weeks felt too long. When day 15 came around and I could wash it again, I spent 15 minutes scrubbing my hair and my scalp. 

My hair felt thicker and extra clean after the experiment

On day 15, after two full weeks of not using water or shampoo, my hair felt extra clean when I washed it.

I then went another five days without washing it and I could already see how much it had changed. My hair felt thicker and it took longer for it to feel greasy. 

The experiment also appeared to have helped repair my split ends.

While everyone you ask has different advice, Allawh typically recommends washing the hair 1-2 times weekly with a nourishing shampoo. 

"Washing your hair using shampoo is equally as essential in this 'COVID-19 climate.' Shampoo contains ingredients called surfactants which help break up the bonds between dirt, bacteria, and other germs and harmful oils," Allawh said.

As Kingsley previously told Insider: "You should think of washing your hair as a a skincare regime, after all your scalp is just skin. It has oil and sweat glands, and with all of the secretions being produced, added to pollution, you don't want it sitting on there for days."

Since the experiment ended, I decided to start going 4-5 days without washing my hair — a little more manageable than Allawh's suggestion, and certainly a little healthier than my two-week hiatus.

Read more:

A stylist shares 5 signs you're washing your hair too much, even if you don't think you are

6 warning signs your hair loss is something more serious

11 red flags you're about to get your hair done at a bad salon

Read the original article on Insider

More From