How Long Can I Go Without Washing My Hair? It Depends on Your Hair Type
"Just like we treat our skin for its specific needs, we need to consider our hair texture and scalp condition when choosing a haircare and scalp-care regimen," says Mancuso. "Straight hair will reveal oiliness at the scalp, and flatness will occur, compromising the style much sooner than a naturally dried head of curls. Straight hair can be refreshed and restyled with dry shampoo for a couple of days, but the only way to bring back shine and volume is to re-wash and condition. Curls can be re-wet and reset with conditioners, masques, and leave-in products, making it easier to skip wash days."
Linsey Barbuto, founder of Perlei Salon, says there's a fine line between over-washing and under-washing your hair. "If you wash too frequently you strip your hair’s natural oils, leaving your strands dry, brittle, and subject to breaking," she says. “If you don’t wash enough, you don’t remove that gunk that builds up, which leads to a scratchy scalp.”
Shirley Chi, MD, a California-based dermatologist says it's okay to test the waters and extend the time between washes.
"If you are going out and you aren’t getting exercise to the point where you are sweaty, it’s better for [straight and wavy] hair to only be washed two to three times a week," she says. "For people with very curly hair or African-American hair types, you could extend washing to once every seven to 10 days." Lacy Redway, Nexxus style and trends curator, says that a good washing every other week is enough for some people.
This all gets a bit more nuanced when we get into different hair and scalp conditions.
"I am an advocate of washing hair and stimulating the scalp regularly for many reasons," says Mancuso. "It’s case by case, some scalps become oily faster, some scalps become itchy and irritated. Add environmental pollution, lifestyle, and unique treatments that require a clean scalp, and [it becomes] complex."
If you have damaged hair, Mancuso says you want to be careful with it. Over washing and any other type of physical manipulation can cause more damage, so try to space your wash days a bit more. But, if your scalp requires more frequent washing, to for instance, get rid of excess oil buildup, be sure to be gentle on wash days.
Those with an oily scalp should wash their hair regularly, but not too often. "Over washing your hair will cause your scalp to produce more sebum, while a lack of washing will cause build up and greasiness," says Michael Sparks, hairstylist and co-owner of Tabb & Sparks Salon in Los Angeles. And cutting down on washing can overtime train your scalp to produce less oil.
If you notice your hair always always gets dirty at the nape of your neck or the back of your scalp, it’s a sign that you’re not washing your hair correctly, says Dana Hodges Caschetta, Eufora International national trainer and a stylist at New York City's Eufora salon. She says you want to make sure shampoo is evenly lathering through out your head. You'll also want to make sure that when you're washing your hair, that you're properly cleansing your scalp, says Mancuso.
"Across all hair types, people who skip shampooing for multiple days may be applying texturizing sprays and dry shampoos or leave-in creams, oils, and gels," he says. "Over a couple of days, this can cause build-up on the hair and scalp, one of the reasons why we created the Clean & Pure Scalp Scrub ($15) and the Nexxus Inergy Gentle Exfoliating Scalp Scrub ($15)."
For color-treated hair, Mancuso says it’s all about keeping the vibrancy longer and water is what diminishes color. "If you reduce the number of times you rinse your hair, the longer your color will last," says Mancuso. And you don't have to shampoo every time you wash, even if you've worked up a sweat; he says using a conditioner that's formulated for color-treated hair on most days, and shampooing every other to every third wash. "I suggest using Nexxus Color Assure Cleansing Conditioner ($12) between washing with the Color Assure Shampoo ($12)," he says. Follow these rules before you lather up and you'll keep that head of hair as healthy as ever.
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