There’s a lot happening with your scalp and hair. Sweat from heat, exercise, and daily activities, as well as seasonal shifts, can impact your locks’ natural condition. Not to mention, buildup from hair products can gunk up the scalp’s skin over time. Plus, glands near your hair follicles produce oil that slicks your strands.
Undoubtedly, you know you need to wash your hair, but how often should you shampoo to preserve the health of your hair and scalp?
According to the TikTok trend #nopoo, shampoo shouldn’t even be in the equation. #Nopoo has racked up over 288 million views and showcases people eliminating shampoo in lieu of other cleansing methods, like using apple cider vinegar or plain water. That said, there’s little science to bolster the purported benefits of this trend.
So, we asked experts to weigh in on hair cleansing to find out how often you should shampoo for your hair type, scalp health, lifestyle, and more.
Why It’s Important to Wash Your Hair
Even though you’ve been shampooing your whole life, let’s start with a little refresher about why we wash our hair in the first place.
“Washing your hair serves two purposes: cleansing of the scalp and cleansing of the hair strands,” says Fatima Fahs, MD, FAAD, a board-certified dermatologist in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan, and founder of Dermy Doc Box. Cleansing your scalp is similar to cleansing the skin on your face, she says, as it removes oil, debris, and dirt.
However, you can go overboard on washing. The downside of washing too often (based on your specific scalp and hair type) is that it can result in dryness, itching, and even hair loss, Dr. Fahs says. “Our hairs depend on the natural oil, called sebum, that’s secreted from the hair follicle root on the scalp to nourish them,” she explains. “Removing this oil too frequently can lead to irritation of the scalp and damage to the hair.”
How Often Experts Recommend Washing Your Hair
First, remember that everyone has different scalp conditions and hair types, so the answer to how often you should wash your hair is extremely individualized.
For example, if you have curly hair, your scalp is likely drier than the scalp of someone with straight hair, says Jennifer Davis Alexander, PhD, a holistic skin scientist and skin wellness expert in Baltimore. If your scalp and hair tend to be oilier, you may have to wash more frequently than someone with drier hair, she says. Separately, if you have fine hair, it may benefit from daily or every-other-day washings, notes Fahs.
In addition, other lifestyle factors may affect your washing frequency, says Dr. Alexander:
- How often you exercise
- Swimming in a chlorinated pool
- Working a job where you’re exposed to dust and chemicals
- Using hair products, which may cause buildup
- If you chemically treat your hair
It also helps to understand how your ethnicity impacts your hair follicles. “People of African descent have asymmetrical elliptical shaped hair follicles,” says Alexander. This impedes the ability of sebum to travel from the scalp to the hair, which results in more dryness and potential breakage. “Daily washing is not recommended,” she says. Fahs adds that those with Afro-textured, kinky hair may be able to stretch the time between washings to one to two weeks.
For Causian and Asian individuals, Alexander points out that they have round, symmetrical hair follicles. “This allows sebum to consistently coat the scalp and hair, which can lead to oily scalp and lifeless strands,” she explains. A study published in 2021 in Skin Appendage Disorders that looked at people who are Asian found that the most “satisfaction with hair and scalp condition” occurred after washing five to six times per week.
Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to consider the many factors that go into how often you should wash your hair, and then to use that information to make the decision that’s best for you. “My best advice is to know thy hair,” says Alexander. And for more pointed recommendations, consult a board-certified dermatologist for a specific hair-washing regimen tailored to you.
The Right Way to Wash Your Hair
When you’re sudsing up, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends focusing on massaging the shampoo into the scalp.
“The main function of shampoo is to clean the scalp. Applying shampoo directly to the scalp and letting it run through the hair as you rinse is [usually] sufficient for your strands,” says Alexander. What’s more, massaging it onto the scalp boosts blood flow that nourishes your scalp and hair follicles, she says.
Leave the massaged-in shampoo on your scalp for a few minutes before rinsing to allow for the active ingredients to cleanse most efficiently, adds Fahs. Follow up with a conditioner on the ends of the hair, per the AAD.
What Could Happen if You Don’t Wash Your Hair?
The consequences of not washing your hair include oiliness and scalp buildup. There may be a “no poo” trend on social media (where people avoid cleansing their hair with shampoo), but keep in mind the consequences of this buildup, which can “clog hair follicles, weigh the hair down, and disrupt scalp pH, sebum levels, and the scalp microbiome,” explains Alexander. Shampooing — though the right timing is different for everyone — promotes scalp and hair health.
Keep in mind that hair and scalp concerns may not be just about how often you shampoo — there are many things your hair says about your health. If you experience dryness, itchiness, or discomfort out of the norm, consult your dermatologist.
How to Stretch the Time Between Washings of Your Hair
If you’ve just styled your hair and want to keep it looking and feeling healthy, here’s what you can do:
- Only perform light exercise that doesn’t involve a lot of sweating, such as gentle walks or yoga. And in future, it’s not a bad idea to schedule intense, sweaty exercise right before you plan to wash and style your hair, suggests Fahs.
- Use dry shampoo wisely and sparingly — consistently spraying it into your hair can lead to buildup that irritates your scalp, notes Fahs.
How Shampoo Type Affects How Often You Wash Your Hair
It’s important to make sure you’re using a shampoo and conditioner that’s formulated for your specific hair type, and there are many, according to past research.
For example, Fahs points out that if you have an oily scalp and use a moisturizing shampoo, you may have too much moisture on board, and may have to start washing more often.
Look for a shampoo formulated specifically for oily hair or one labeled “clarifying,” or balancing. Clarifying shampoos, which help remove buildup, can also be a good choice if you tend to use a lot of products in your hair, including dry shampoo, which can build up overtime, she says.
There are many formulations of shampoo, so if you find that store shelves are overwhelming, it’s always a good idea to ask your stylist or your dermatologist for their recommendation for your hair type.
The Bottom Line
Washing your hair removes dirt, oil, and product buildup, and is important for the health of your hair and scalp, experts say. While the correct timing of how often you should wash your hair differs depending on hair type and individual lifestyle, it ranges from once per day to twice a month.