Your hair can make a memorable first impression. A blown-out head of locks might portray confidence, while an unkempt bed-head look might paint you as messy and lazy. Naturally, you won’t look like you stepped out of the salon every morning, but washing your hair can still give you a clean and tidy appearance. Even better, it keeps your scalp and mane healthy—when done regularly.
[Related: How often should you shower?]
The general recommendation is to shampoo and condition two to three times a week, says Mouad Zalmadi, a hairdresser and hair loss blogger at Lossless Hair. However, there are some situations where you might want to delay washing or wash your hair more frequently. We asked hair experts to break down what you need to do to keep your locks happy and looking fresh.
What happens if you overwash your hair?
Washing too often—especially with hot water—can damage and dry out your hair. “Submerging yourself in too many shampooing sessions may strip your scalp of its protective sebum layer,” says Aziza El Wanni, a hair and scalp expert and the founder of the endocrine-free haircare line The Potion Studio. Your hair naturally produces an oil called sebum that keeps the skin from drying out and provides a barrier of protection against bacteria and other germs that might try to invade the skin. Overwashing removes this natural substance, leaving your scalp irritated and with potential dandruff buildup. What’s more, the dryness triggers your sebaceous glands to overproduce oil, which may prompt a vicious cycle of washing your hair more to get rid of the greasiness.
Your hair also grows brittle over time. Excess irritation on your scalp can damage the health of hair follicles and cells in the shaft, explains El Wanni. This weakens the shaft on each strand and increases the breakage rate.
What happens if you don’t wash your hair enough?
Underwashing causes a build-up of sebum, dead skin cells, and sweat in your scalp, leaving you with oily hair. And though sebum protects your hair, an excess amount can result in dandruff, itchiness, and possible hair loss. With greasier hair, El Wanni says people have a greater risk for clogged pores or infections in the scalp. Bacteria is another substance that might accumulate on the scalp, giving off a stinky, mildew-y odor and leading to poorer hygiene overall.
Going a while without a scrub can also restrict your hair growth. Hair follicles might feel suffocated from the growing pile of dirt and residue on the scalp, which can delay the regular cycle for growth and shedding.
What factors should you consider in your hair washing schedule?
While two to three days is the blanket recommendation for washing it’s not a rule that works for everyone. Factors like hair type, lifestyle, and climate may cause you to adjust your schedule to shampoo and condition your hair more or less often. Additionally, if hair becomes overly damaged or dry, it might require a deep conditioning session or other restorative products.
When talking about hair types, people with curly or naturally oily locks may need more washes or hydrating products. El Wanni recommends washing every other or third day to remove excess oils and giving your hair a refresh. Meanwhile, those dealing with dry hair would benefit from only shampooing once or twice a week to give the scalp some time to recover.
Hair style matters too. With shorter dos there’s usually less upkeep, while longer locks are often more high-maintenance. People with dyed hair will want to wash less often to preserve the color, says Zalmadi. “Frequent washing can strip away the dye and cause it to fade faster.” When you do need a rinse, he recommends using gentler, sulfate-free shampoos and washing with cold water to seal the hair cuticle and lock in the color.
For anyone who regularly exercises or perspires heavily, washing your hair more than two to three times a week can help get rid of the build-up of sweat and avoid smelly hair. On the other end of the spectrum, people with a sedentary lifestyle may not need to shampoo as frequently because their hair will remain clean for longer.
Folks who use a good amount of hair products—gels, sprays, and serum oils—might need to add an extra shampooing and conditioning day a week. These products are absorbed in hair and can make it look and feel dirty if left there for days.
Climate is another element people should think about with their hair care regimen. Zalmadi says places with high humidity can make your mane more frizzy or oily, requiring more frequent washing. Dry climates, on the other hand, can dehydrate your hair, requiring fewer washing sessions.
All in all, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to washing hair. It may take a bit of trial and error, but try experimenting with different hair routines until you find one that fits your unique needs.