What's the deal with my hair?
May 6, 2009 8:08 AM   Subscribe

How often should I wash my hair?

I have learned, from various reputable sources (like this one), that it's not a good idea to shampoo your hair every day. So, about a year ago, I started washing my hair every other day.

It looks great the days that I wash it. The days that I don't, however, it manages to be limp/greasy in some places and frizzy in others, overall looking like 5 miles of bad road.

Isn't your hair supposed to adjust to less-frequent washings? Should I go back to daily shampooing?

Possibly relevant details: my hair is quite short, less than 5 inches at the longest part. It's also fine, occasionally colored, and naturally wavy. Also, I wash my hair at night.

Thanks for your help!
posted by orrnyereg to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I saw this the other day. No idea if it is true/good idea.
posted by R. Mutt at 8:15 AM on May 6, 2009

At least rinse it thoroughly on the off days.
posted by notsnot at 8:18 AM on May 6, 2009

Switch back to daily shampooing with an ultra gentle cleanser -- baby shampoo, maybe?
posted by jerseygirl at 8:19 AM on May 6, 2009

I too have shortish (though a bit longer than yours) hair that is fine and naturally wavy. I used to wash my hair everyday and about a year ago switched to every other day and now I am up to every third day. If you don't already, I suggest wetting your hair everyday with just water to rinse off surface dirt. That makes all the difference for me!
posted by Pineapplicious at 8:19 AM on May 6, 2009

Are you more bothered about washing or shampooing? I think most people who worry about shampoo do so because it contains sulfates. After reading this post about the 'curly girl routine' I stopped using shampoo more than once a fortnight. It works fine with me, as I still wash every day with but without shampoo, and my hair is in better condition overall.

You don't need to have curly hair or to do the whole process, as it's more about the way of getting clean hair without shampoo, rather than a way of getting your hair nice and curly.
posted by Sova at 8:22 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ignore what you read about how to take care of your hair, and experiment with what works for YOU. If your hair looks limp/greasy on the days you don't wash it, your hair is too oily to go without washing it every day. My hair, on the other hand, looks best two or three days after it's washed, so I wash it maybe twice a week. I have curly hair, but the "curly girl/no poo" routine made my hair look and feel like crap.

There's no reason to follow "expert" advice unless they have touched your actual hair. General advice doesn't work for everyone.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:27 AM on May 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

You can try gently brushing your hair out. I gave this a shot once when I was growing mine out for charity and wanted the best, least-chemically-hassled hair I could manage. Brushing helps a lot — it seemed to even out the oil for me.
posted by adipocere at 8:27 AM on May 6, 2009

Most of us have a hippy friend or two who has fine greasy hair but refuses to shampoo for some reason and hence has terrible looking hair. Don't be that person. Some people can get away with the rinse, some can't. Try it for a few weeks (it takes time for your oil production to slow down) but if if doesn't work for you don't let it look limp and greasy and don't let it get smelly, put some shampoo on it. Most people do use too much shampoo though. You don't want to repeat, you don't need a big dollop, and you don't even need a full lather. For short hair a pea sized amount of most shampoos will suffice, with long hair you might need more. There are gentle shampoos without sodium lauryl sulfate (it does not cause cancer by the way) or other harsh detergents but these "soaps" sometimes cause scalp irritation.
posted by caddis at 8:40 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

This might not be applicable in your case, but things like combing your fingers through your hair too often, or even brushing it too often, makes it greasier.

Usually hair does adjust to less frequent washing (mine did), but if it doesn't seem to be happening and you're not using greasy styling products or touching your hair too much, I agree with jerseygirl that maybe you should revert back to daily washing with a very gentle shampoo.
posted by Grimble at 8:43 AM on May 6, 2009

Nthing that washing it with just water on the off days makes a world of difference, if you're not already doing that. (By which I mean not just wetting it to style it, but really running your hands through it, massaging your scalp as if you were shampooing.)

But if it's not working for your hair, go ahead and wash it every day if you like. A year of every-other-day being a bad hair day is a sufficiently long experiment!
posted by desuetude at 8:47 AM on May 6, 2009

I have a friend who went "no poo" who believes that her hair looks fine. No one else thinks so. My hair does fine with less-frequent (2 - 3 times/week) washing, or so I believe, but I don't understand the fuss about hair washing. If your hair looks great when you wash it, wash it.
posted by theora55 at 9:02 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nthing getting it wet everyday. I in fact condition it every day, and wash it with shampoo maybe every 2 or 3 days. I also have short hair, but not fine.
posted by kestrel251 at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2009

I'd say go back to shampooing daily but buy 4 or 5 different brands (all gentle, suitable for daily washing) and rotate them. And use a very small amount. Condition once a week or fortnight, see what suits you best.

It worked well for me in my yoof when I had long, thick oily hair - old age has some benefits, a reduction in the shampoo bill being one of them ;-)
posted by ceri richard at 9:07 AM on May 6, 2009

I've tried the less-frequent-shampooings with great patience (read: stubbornness) and my hair never fails to look like crap if I don't shampoo it daily. So... that's what I do.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:17 AM on May 6, 2009

2nding ceri richard. i used to have 2 or 3 kinds of 'poo & alternate between/among them. i have no idea if it did any good, but it was a staple of mine for years & years.
posted by msconduct at 9:21 AM on May 6, 2009

My friend with similar hair texture/length as yours swears swears by dry shampoo every other day or so. (I don't know what brand she uses, though; maybe some other mefites would have some good recommendations.)
posted by scody at 9:21 AM on May 6, 2009

I have long, thick hair that's prone to oiliness. When I was unemployed, I took all that advice to heart and tried doing the every-other-day washings, rinsing thoroughly with water on the off days. It looked...okay. But only as long as I wasn't leaving the house.

Now that I'm back in an office, I'm back to daily washings. Do what you gotta do.
posted by anderjen at 9:26 AM on May 6, 2009

Nth-ing the "not shampooing doesn't mean not cleaning your hair." The curly-girl method, which I have tried and involves no shampoo ever, just replaces shampooing with a conditioner wash (or "CO-wash" in the irritating cult parlance). My basic understanding of the chemistry, which someone else is welcome to correct: actual shampoo is very drying because it contains sodium laureth sulfate, but it's necessary to use SLS to get rid of the silicones in most styling products and many conditioners. Conditioners also contain cleaning agents but they are much more mild -- they can cut the grease on your hair but they can't get rid of silicones.

So, I would say try alternating between washing with shampoo and washing with conditioner. If you're still using shampoo occasionally then you don't have to worry about silicone buildup so you can just keep using whatever hair products you were using.

To do a conditioner wash, by the way: get a cheap conditioner (Suave naturals is a popular one, because it's silicone-free and very cheap). Then in the shower, work a bunch of dollops into your (wet) scalp and hair, then rinse while rubbing your scalp.

And, ultimately, just do whatever you think makes your hair look best. If that's washing with shampoo every day, shampoo to your heart's content. I gave up on the curly-girl method because it really wasn't making my hair look good, and I had been relatively happy with how it looked before.
posted by pluckemin at 9:56 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, forgot to mention -- after you do the conditioner wash, you still condition as usual using your regular conditioner.
posted by pluckemin at 9:58 AM on May 6, 2009

The thing about short hair is that you have less length to distribute the oil from your scalp. So, inch for inch, your hair is oilier than it would be if it were 2 or 3 times as long. Add to the fact that your hair is fine, and yeah, you'll probably be happier washing it every day.

Most of the "advice" for women's hair is targeted towards the long, highlighted, blow-dried hair common among the target demographics of women's magazines. That's not your hair, so do what's good for you.
posted by junkbox at 11:11 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I have to disagree about wetting hair every day. If I wet it WITHOUT shampooing my hair looks like crap.

It takes a while to adjust to not shampooing every day. In order to get my hair to be OK with every other day washing I had to not wash it for 3 days several times in a row. And now I wash it every other day and it's great. So if you can somehow adjust your schedule to let yourself walk around with dirty hair for a day when you won't be out too much, or wear a hat that day, then I recommend doing that. It's so great not having to deal with wet hair every day!

But if your hair doesn't like that then just wash it every day if that's how it looks best.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 11:39 AM on May 6, 2009

Every other day isn't enough time for your hair to become accustomed. You're stripping the oils out of it every other day, so it just produces more. Try giving it more time between shampooings, and see how you go.

I have quite short hair (grade 4), and only use shampoo once a week. It doesn't seem to make any difference to how my hair looks, apart from making it stick up more.
posted by Solomon at 12:14 PM on May 6, 2009

Nthing those who say your hair is probably not accustomed yet (especially since it's short). Do you brush it with a boar-bristle brush when it's dry, to distribute the oils?

I have tried the no-poo method, the not-washing-and-using-jojoba-oil-as-conditioner method, the baking-soda and apple-cider-vinegar method, the shampooing-just-once-a-week method, using "organic" (not sodium laurel sulfate) shampoos, and everything in between.

Right now, what's working best for me is using conditioner as shampoo. I take a really, really cheap conditioner, like V05 or Suave, one that does NOT have silicone-type chemicals in it (when you look in the list of ingredients, the chemicals that end in "-one"). I use generous quantities of that like a shampoo every day, making sure to really scrub my scalp and any parts that are oily. Then maybe once or twice a week I follow that up with a deeper, richer conditioner, maybe with a few drops of jojoba mixed in if my hair's especially dry.

With this method, my hair has been in pretty good shape, I think I've only used actual shampoo maybe twice in the past month and that's only if I go more than two days without washing with the conditioner--at that point the build-up is too strong for the conditioner to handle.
posted by schroedinger at 1:01 PM on May 6, 2009

my hippy friends always said you have to give up shampoo altogether, not just switch to only washing it every other day. The theory was that the natural oils were being stripped out and replaced by artificial oils, and if you just let the natural equilibrium return, it'll work just as well. However, no one I know who went by this method ever had gorgeous hair.

I have seen people pull off manageable hair, and if it's a financial/ eco /practical issue, then you just have to brush it a lot. But it will be a lot more silky and soft if you use hair products. I mean, just remember a main tendency of a lot of people's hair is to turn into dreds... some people's hair is dry, some oily, but the idea that hair products are just a conspiracy of hair product manufacturers seems a bit silly to me - we probably only wash our hair every day now, because we used to wear wigs or hats all the time to hide our gross hair.
posted by mdn at 1:46 PM on May 6, 2009

I agree, every other day just isn't enough time for your hair to adjust. It also depends on the strength and amount of shampoo that you are using. Try weaning your hair off of shampoo by diluting your it with water before applying it to your scalp. Increase the amount you dilute by slowly, and then increase the amount of non-washing days.

I did the ever-increasing diluted shampoo and then I tried the baking-soda-vinegar method for about three months. My hair looked awful and great at the same time. Going down this route really changed my definition of clean and healthy hair, because even though my hair was oilier, it was also much healthier. There was a natural shine to it, less static, and it was noticeably easier to comb. I also was shedding less hair (I have a lot of hair, so shedding is a problem). The downside was that I would get flakes between "washings" (diluted vinegar rinses help) and my comb got incredibly dirty from all the oil in my hair.

Anyways, after three months my hair eventually adjusted to this new routine. I switched over to an SLS-free shampoo and can now go at least a week without using shampoo. On the 7th day, it can get a little flaky at the scalp, but it never ever gets oily or limp anymore. I still rinse my hair out thoroughly on the between days.
posted by hooray at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2009

I have really oily hair. I tried the adjusting to less washing deal. Never worked. I went back to washing my hair daily and it looks healthy and is very soft. If I wash it every other day it looks like a disgusting oil slick. My hair is really long so the thought of getting away with every other day shampooing is quite appealing. Unfortunately, it's just not possible for me.
posted by GlowWyrm at 2:21 PM on May 6, 2009

If you don't want to wash it everyday put a little talcum powder on it, it lessens the appearance of grease in your hair.
posted by lilyflower at 2:52 AM on May 7, 2009

it lessens the appearance of grease in your hair.

That is the problem. Why do you even want the grease in your hair when you can wash it out every day?
posted by caddis at 3:42 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

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