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You may be washing your hair too often — here's what experts say

Wondering how long you can go without washing your hair? Here's the truth.
Woman washing hair
Is less more when it comes to shampoo? Is it good to keep switching the type you use? We're asking the tough questions.Shutterstock
/ Source: TODAY

For such a simple act, washing your hair sure can be confusing. Between figuring out how often to wash and keeping track of new product trends, the shampooing process can leave even the most seasoned beauty maven scratching her head.

The shampoo struggle is real, so Shop TODAY is here to help you get the best results possible from every wash. We consulted a crew of experts to answer all of your basic questions, so you can consider your shower problems handled.

Should you wash your hair every day?

There’s just something refreshing about that squeaky-clean, post-shampoo feeling, so it’s not surprising that many women wash their hair every day. But is a daily shampoo really necessary, and is it even a good idea? Well, you can think of washing your hair like washing your face: It’s a necessary part of your routine, but overdoing it can unintentionally upset your body’s natural balance of healthy oils that help moisturize.

Shampooing too frequently can cause actual damage to hair. “Washing your hair too often can make the hair dry and brittle and lead to irritation of the scalp,” said Dr. Joshua Zeichner, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital's department of dermatology, to Shop TODAY.

When hair is wet, it swells up, making it more vulnerable, according to Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist who co-founded the website The Beauty Brains: “The process of moving shampoo or conditioner around in your hair can damage the hair cuticle (the outer layer). When the hair dries, it doesn't lay perfectly flat so that makes hair look dull, makes it harder to comb and increases the chances of getting a split hair.”

Women with sensitive scalps should take extra caution. “Exposure to detergents can cause irritation on your scalp," Romanowski told us. "For some people, washing hair too often can lead to rashes and itching."

At the same time, you also want to make sure you’re washing your hair enough because skipping out on several washes can irritate your scalp. “If you don't wash your hair often, scalp oil tends to build up. This causes greasiness of the hair and can promote dandruff,” Zeichner said.

How often should you wash your hair?

According to Kasey Bertucci, hairstylist and co-founder of Salon 120 West in Boston, how often you should wash depends on a number of factors, including hair type, texture and your personal routine.

If you're someone who likes to wash their hair more frequently, Bertucci said that a good rule of thumb is to leave at least two to three days between washes. Those with textured or curly hair typically have a drier scalp and strands, so they can go between five to seven days between washes "if that works for their lifestyle," she said.

According to Romanowski, colored hair should also be washed less often — with a moisturizing, sulfate-free formula — if you want to get the most bang for your buck. After all, color fades a bit with each shampoo, so you can extend the life of your dye job by only washing every other day or every three days.

Woman washing her hair.
“Finding the right balance of hair washing for your hair type takes some trial and error, but every head of hair has that perfect balance."Shutterstock

Some hair types require more frequent washing, like thinner locks. To avoid flat hair, women with thinner hair typically need to cleanse more often. Ladies with fine, thin hair should also try to avoid shampoos containing certain ingredients. “Dimethicone can build up and weigh your hair down. Cyclomethicone is a good choice for that type of hair because it evaporates over time,” Romanowski said.

How do I shampoo my hair for the best results?

While washing your hair may seem like second nature, there are a few common mistakes that you might be making that could affect how your hair looks and feels. When shampooing, Bertucci said that you really want to focus on the scalp, "you don't need to pull it through your mids and ends because it will be washed out that way."

And you probably don't need as much product as you think — just a dollop of shampoo (about the size and volume of one raspberry) will do the trick.

In case you're wondering, there's no need to switch up your go-to shampoo every once in a while, either, because hair actually appreciates consistency. "Hair will not become 'used to' a shampoo such that it won't work any longer," Romanowski said.

And don't forget about conditioner! "If you don't use a conditioner, hair will be more difficult to comb and that could lead to more damage," Romanowski said. "A conditioner will also make your hair look and feel better. It is a way to prevent more damage."

Keep in mind that conditioners are much more powerful than shampoos, in general, so it's worthwhile to pay more attention to a quality conditioner than a shampoo. "Any effect you'd see from a shampoo will be overwhelmed by the effect you'll get from the conditioner," Romanowski said.

When applying a conditioner, you want to avoid putting the product on your scalp — start at the ears and work downward — because applying too much product could cause your scalp to look oilier faster, Bertucci said.

Best shampoos and conditioners

Below we rounded up shampoos and conditioners recommended by experts to keep your locks clean and healthy. Plus top-rated options to consider.

Neutrogena T/Gel Extra Strength Therapeutic Shampoo

Zeichner recommends this intensive shampoo, which features coal tar and is said to help reduce inflammation, itching and flaking, and is safe for daily use.

Pantene Pro-V Radiant Color Shine Shampoo

Treat your colored hair to some TLC with a targeted shampoo from the brand Romanowski said always scores well. This formula combines a blend of nutrients and antioxidants, which the brands says can help protect hair from damage.

Olaplex No.4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo

Olaplex's Bond Maintenance Shampoo constantly comes recommended to us by hairstylists and it's a shopper-favorite with more than 37,000 five-star Amazon reviews. According to the brand, the reparative shampoo moisturizes hair and helps mend and maintain bonds in hair.

Pureology Hydrate Shampoo

Pureology's Hydrate Shampoo is another top pick. The hydrating shampoo is made for those with dry and color-treated hair and the brand says it works for all texture types, from straight to coily. The formula includes a mix of jojoba oil, green tea and sage, which the company says helps moisturize hair and promote a healthy scalp.

VIRTUE Recovery Shampoo

One hairstylist previously recommended this shampoo for people with dry hair. It’s formulated with Virtue’s proprietary Alpha Keratin 60ku, a protein that the brand says is almost identical to the one found in our own hair, skin and nails — so it is said to effectively work to repair damage and reduce frizz.

L'Oreal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Repairing Conditioner

“This is the BEST BEST BEST conditioner I have ever used,” one reviewer wrote about L’Oreals affordable formula. “I’ve never actually seen proof that someone's hair has been transformed except in ads but MY HAIR IS TRANSFORMED into soft, no frizz beautifulness.”

Olaplex No.5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner

Olaplex’s shampoo isn’t the only fan-favorite product in its lineup. Reviewers also love the brand’s Bond Maintenance Conditioner. Much like the shampoo, the brand says that the conditioner works to repair damage, split ends and reduce frizz by mending the bonds within your strands.

Moroccanoil Hydrating Conditioner

Moroccanoil’s Hydrating Conditioner is designed to nourish hair, thanks to ingredients like argan oil, vitamins A and E and red algae. It has more than 10,200 five-star ratings, with many people saying that it has helped calm frizz and soften their strands.

Woman checking hair in mirror.

What the heck is the "no-poo" movement?

You've likely heard about this term in passing, but what exactly is it and is it OK for your hair? "No-poo refers to no shampoo in the shower, or rather, washing the hair with just water or shampoo alternatives like apple cider vinegar and baking soda," Zeichner said.

Depending on how extreme you want to go, you can "no-poo" by washing with conditioner or other shampoo alternatives, like corn starch or baking soda. The no-poo movement hit its height a few years ago, but it's not a new concept. Like most beauty trends, the no-poo movement isn't for everyone.

"For someone with healthy hair and low scalp-oil production, skipping shampoo is not really an issue. However, if you have an oily scalp, dandruff or psoriasis in the scalp, you may need to use shampoos to effectively remove oil and flakes," Zeichner said.

Shampoo alternatives like baking soda are great at removing dirt and oil, and apple cider vinegar has antimicrobial properties, but Zeichner cautioned against using them too often. Baking soda is extremely alkaline and apple cider vinegar is very acidic, so both ingredients can cause irritation. "Mixing the two together may be able to provide a neutral pH product, but it still may actually be harsher on the scalp and the hair than traditionally formulated shampoos," he said.

This strategy can reduce the damage caused by frequent shampooing, but not by much, according to Romanowski: "This is because it is not the detergents that cause most of the damage, but the water exposure. The more often you get your hair wet, the more damage you'll experience."

Young woman brushing healthy hair in front of a mirror
Think of washing your hair like washing your face: It’s a necessary part of your beauty routine, but overdoing it can unintentionally upset your body’s natural balance of healthy oils that help moisturize.Shutterstock

What about co-washing?

If you’re not into no-poo shampoo alternatives like baking soda, there’s always the co-washing method, which curly-haired gals and natural hair experts have long sworn by.

With co-washing, you’re basically foregoing shampoo and washing with conditioner instead, and the moisturizing method lets you reap all the nourishing benefits of a conditioner without the harsh effects of some shampoos that strip hair of its natural oils. Naturally, many women will miss that squeaky-clean feeling that comes with shampooing, so co-washing isn’t for everyone. It can, however, save you time in the shower.

With all that in mind, we're sharing some of the best hair products to use in the shower, according to both experts and reviewers.