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How often should you wash your hair?

On average, 90% Americans shampoo their hair daily. Centuries ago people washed their hair on monthly basis. In 1950s getting hair washed and styled once a week from a salon became customary. An advice column was published in the year 1908 in the New York Times, encouraging people to wash their hair twice a week, and claimed it to be completely harmless. Thanks to them and the aggressive marketing campaigns by the shampoo manufacturers, today people cannot stay without washing their hair frequently. What can be the hazards of frequent washing? We will get back to that later. First it is important to understand what makes your hair look dirty?

Every human being has sebaceous glands on the scalp; in fact they appeared when you were fourth months old inside your mother’s womb. They are connected to every hair follicle and are responsible for releasing sebum, what you call oil. This natural oil is beneficial for moisturizing your scalp and makes it waterproof. It prevents dryness of the scalp and stops it from shedding prematurely. However, too much accumulation of this oil may lead to skin conditions like acne vulgaris.

It is important to maintain a balance between washing and not washing, by understanding the condition of the hair.

What are the hazards of frequent washing?

Freshly washed hair may feel good and smell great but over washing can make them dry, dull and more prone to breakage.

Paradi Mirmirani, MD, a Vallejo, Calif., dermatologist and specialist in hair research, says “Hair is a fiber, think of a wool fiber: The more you wash it, the worse it’s going to look. There’s no need to wash your hair every day either.” Frequent washing can make your hair look like “a pile of straw”.

Isn’t it ironic that our hair washing routine involves the use of lathering shampoos which depletes our hair of the natural oils and then we again apply conditioners to replenish them with moisture?

We usually associate shampoo bubbles with cleanliness, but in reality these bubbles are formed by the harsh ingredients present in the shampoos such as sulfates. In fact these sulfates have nothing to do with cleaning of the scalp, they are just meant for forming bubbles and actually dehydrate your hair.

Mirmirani says, “That’s what we’ve gotten used to because we see the commercials with big white foam,” she adds, “Shampoo removes oil and excess skin cells from the scalp. It’s not doing any favors for the hair, unless you have a lot of product in it that is making your hair look dull. But in general, shampoo is not good for fiber.”

Owner of New York’s Arrojo Studio and former stylist on TLC’s reality show “What Not to Wear”, Nick Arrojo says, “Hair washed every day with shampoo tends to need more styling product. Because it’s so clean, it’s also soft, loose, and floppy and therefore harder to style.” He suggests, “Natural ingredients produce less suds, but they still have plenty of cleaning power with the added benefit of less residue.”

Therefore, switching to sulfate-free, non-foaming shampoos can protect your hair from damage.

So how often you should wash?

The need for shampooing varies from person to person depending on the hair type and how much oil is produced by the scalp.

Paradi Mirmirani says, “It really depends on the scalp and hair type and what you do to the hair.”

Thick, long and curlier hair can go without washing for more days. Heather Woolery- Lloyd, MD, director of ethnic skin care at the University of Miami, says about thick and curly hair, “This is because the oils from the scalp do not travel down the hair shaft as quickly, so the hair tends to be dry and requires less frequent shampooing.”

Short, thin and straight hair tents to get oily more quickly, for such hair type skipping a day would be better.

Arrojo says that most people wash their hair frequently to make them smell good. He suggests that those who want to wash their hair frequently should use lightweight shampoos, usually labeled as “everyday shampoo”.

What else can you do to get rid of sebum?

Here are some of the tricks you can do with your hair to get rid of excess oil.

Arrojo suggests that you can take help of the dry shampoos and powders for absorbing oils. He says, “One trick is to use talcum powder in the hair in lieu of shampoo.”

Joe Murray, owner of Hale Organic Salon in New York recommends, “If you can’t stand a being a little oily, then coat your wet hair with conditioner up to the ears to protect it and then just wash the scalp.”

You can even omit conditioners for rinsing, just rinse your hair with simple water or you can make your own natural shampoo. Add baking soda or lemon to the water and wash your hair with it.

While choosing shampoos, look for the ones that suit your specific hair type. Massage your scalp everyday and always choose a good quality hairbrush.