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Anyone who has spent a minute scrolling the beauty hashtags of TikTok has probably seen one hotly contested question pop up time and time again — how often should you wash your hair? Some say they would never consider washing their hair more than twice a week, while others can't fathom going a day without a rinse. But sry, besties, we hate to break it to you — there is no golden rule when it comes to how often you should wash your hair.
While we wish there were a quick and easy answer to the question, there is no universal rule, because every hair and scalp type has different needs. Someone with super fine, grease-prone hair won’t be able to follow the same wash pattern as someone who has thick, natural curls. Experimenting on your own to figure out how often you should wash your hair is a great starting point, but a little expert advice can also help you find the right wash cycle for you. We consulted dermatologists Dr. Rachel Nazarian, MD, and Dr. Michelle Henry, MD, FAAD, hairstylists Mark Townsend and Philip B, and trichologist Penny James to give you the lowdown (and a set of suggested guidelines) on when and why you should wash your hair, based on hair type and lifestyle.
Why should you wash your hair and scalp?
While you may have personal reasons for wanting to cleanse your hair, like in preparation for a specific style or reducing body odor and greasiness, there are actually scientific reasons why your hair needs a good wash. "The hair and scalp need to be washed to remove dirt, oil, and debris that might contribute to inflammation that can compromise scalp health and hair growth," Dr. Henry says.
If you go for too long for your specific hair without washing your hair, Dr. Henry says you could be in for, "a buildup of product and debris causing inflammation, irritation, tenderness, and ultimately hair loss." That's why it's super important to pay attention to tell-tale signs that you need to wash your hair, such as excessive grease, redness, and an itchy scalp.
How long can you go without washing your hair?
So, now that we know why our hair needs to be washed, here comes the age-old question — how often should you wash your hair? It really depends on your hair type, scalp type, and level of physical activity, but Dr. Nazarian is here to dispel rumors that there is any "wrong" or "right" wash pattern to follow. "It’s absolutely okay to wash your hair daily, as much as it is absolutely OK to wash once a week (or less often!)," Dr. Nazarian says, "Not everyone is the same and not everyone has the same lifestyle."
"Many people find their scalp feels oily and becomes dirty daily, and for them, it’s absolutely appropriate to wash it every single day. Many other people, usually depending on hair type and texture, find they should wash less often," she adds.
Dr. Henry advises that you "Listen to your hair and what it needs."
"Your hair and scalp should not feel dry or stripped clean after washing it. It should still feel hydrated and refreshed. So, ask yourself 'how does my hair feel, how does my scalp feel' while making the decisions as to what your hair needs on a daily weekly or biweekly basis," she says.
Now that we have the hair-washing basics covered, let's get into general guidelines on how often you should wash your hair based on hair type.
How often should you wash fine, straight and/or thin hair?
The experts recommend that you wash your hair daily or every other day. "Thin, straight hair, like type 1, may feel much more sensitive to oil and dirt and become weighed down more easily, and require more frequent washing,” Dr. Nazarian says. “For many of these people, daily washing is desired.”
How often should you wash thick, curly, or wavy hair?
According to Dr. Henry, people with these hair types can wash anywhere between once every two weeks to once every week — it depends on personal preferences.
"Curly hair can be washed less frequently because it tends to be a bit drier. The scalp’s natural lubricating oils on a curly or coily strand have to make [their] way from the root all the way down to the end of that coil," Dr. Henry says. "This is more difficult on a curly strand than straight hair making this hair more dry. Because of this, those with curly hair can often wash their hair less frequently."
How often should you wash color-treated hair?
"Color-treated hair will lose pigment and fade each time it’s washed. In order to preserve color, it’s recommended to wash no more than two to three times weekly, with a gentle non-sulfate product," Dr. Nazarian says.
Her favorite shampoo and conditioner pick for chemically treated hair? Dove Hair Therapy Breakage Remedy Strengthening Shampoo and Conditioner. "It keeps the hair fiber strong, improves hydration, and prevents stripping of the necessary oils and color.[Hair products with] no parabens and no sulfates [are] good for color-treated hair, and people with dry hair as well," Dr. Nazarian explains.
How often should you wash your hair if you have dandruff or scalp acne?
"Acne and dandruff-prone scalps respond great to daily washes," Dr. Nazarian says, recommending the use of an oil-controlling shampoo, like Re-fresh's Sea Mineral + Hydrate Anti-Dandruff Shampoo.
While mild dandruff and scalp acne flare-ups can be taken care of with over-the-counter products, Dr. Henry recommends seeing a physician for more serious cases. "If one has scalp acne, one should use the medications as prescribed by their dermatologist to resolve this issue. True scalp acne is quite rare, so the appropriate diagnosis should be made," she says.
How to maintain hair in between washes
Whether you choose to wash your hair every day or every five days, there are ways you can keep your hair fresh and clean (without using tons of dry shampoo).
According to hairstylist Mark Townsend, who has styled the strands of Nina Dobrev, Sarah Hyland, and Elizabeth Olsen, you don't have to shampoo your hair every time you wet it. For example, when you need to shower (perhaps after a workout) and you want to avoid shampooing, he recommends using your fingers to massage your scalp with water, sans any product, to break up the oils on your scalp.
In addition, hairstylist and founder of Philip B Botanicals, Philip B, recommends co-washing (aka, conditioner-only washing) in between shampoo washes — particularly if you have dry or curly hair, co-washing will keep your hair from getting frizzy or puffy.
And while we all know the hero that helps extend days between washes, gives you extra volume when you're in a pinch, and generally freshens your hair — dry shampoo — experts warn that you probably shouldn't rely too much on these products. "Patients often overuse them," says Dr. Henry about dry shampoo, explaining that the scalp can become inflamed if the product is used in place of regular washing.
"Your hair follicles can get clogged with dry shampoo buildup, which can lead to scalp issues and dull-looking hair in the future," adds Penny James, trichologist and owner of Penny James Salon in NYC. "I always suggest using dry shampoo only once a week at the very most."
It’s also important to use dry shampoo correctly so you don’t have to use too much or too often. Townsend calls dry shampoo a "misunderstood" product, as he sees many people use it incorrectly. Townsend says you need to hold the dry shampoo at least ten inches from your hair (not two or three!) and brush through your dry-shampooed hair thoroughly afterward.
If you'd rather steer clear of dry shampoo, Dr. Henry recommends "modifying" your hairstyle "to camouflage any changes in the hair from the buildup of oil."
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