Can I really wash my hair less?
February 22, 2008 7:34 AM   Subscribe

Can I really wash my hair less?

I'm a woman with long hair. It's fine (but there's a lot of it), it's stick straight, it's staticky and if I go a day without washing it, my scalp immediately gets unbearably itchy and flaky. Wash it in the morning, and my hair is a grease trap by the end of the day.

I read here and there that if you stop washing your hair daily, it gets back its natural oils and for straight hair, might even get some natural wave, which is why I'm interested in this idea.

How long can I expect the greasy, flaky, itchy, staticky mess to resolve if I stop shampooing? How often should I do it? What products (cheaper the better, please) would best help? Also, is this even a feasible idea for someone with dandruff?
posted by sian to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on the overall condition of your hair, it could take a couple of weeks for things to turn a good corner.

Shampooing every day is generally unnecessary. Most people use far too much shampoo, too. You can get away with a small dollop of shampoo twice a week at the most. On the days you don't use shampoo, make sure you give your hair and scalp a thorough rinsing and massage. After awhile, you'll be able to toss the conditioner you probably have to use, too.

Limiting the amount of product(s) you slather in your hair can help, too.

One other mistake people (women, especially) make is to blow-dry the bejeesus out of their hair on high heat. This does incredible damage to the hair.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:41 AM on February 22, 2008

I don't know much about the shampooing thing, my hair is fine only being shampooed a few times a week, sometimes only once, but i sort of like the rumpled look. For itching and flaking you can try a white vinegar rinse either with or without your regular washing and see if it makes any difference.
posted by jessamyn at 7:45 AM on February 22, 2008

I don't know how interested you are in anecdotal discussion, but I made an attempt at this a little while after it came up last time on Ask. I took a year or so off from working and it was as great opportunity to experiment with something that might make me look like a hobo for a while.

My hair's a lot like yours. With six weeks of washing my hair once a week or so, and rinsing it reasonably well every day but otherwise steering clear of hair products my itchy, greasy, stringy head turned... itchy, greasy, and stringy. It never "turned a corner" or suddenly became naturally gorgeous and low-maintenance. It turned out that washing my hair frequently helped, not harmed, the condition of my head.
posted by majick at 7:52 AM on February 22, 2008

Sounds like you might be a candidate for the shampoo free method.
posted by bettafish at 7:54 AM on February 22, 2008 [2 favorites]

Er, in light of majick's comments, I should add that the shampoo free method involves using baking soda and occasionally apple cider vinegar as a rinse, not going without washing your hair all week. That said, ideally you really don't need to be shampooing your hair every day.
posted by bettafish at 7:56 AM on February 22, 2008

I've got longish-for-a-guy (but not ponytail by any means) hair, and went no-poo last summer. (now that I'm swimming 4x week, I've had to go back to shampooing regularly.) I gradually let it out - every other day for a week or two, then every third day, etc. as my oil production tapered off. On off days, I'd massage some baking soda into my scalp, rinse, and then a little apple cider vinegar. By the time I started running (in humidity, losing 3-4 lb in an hour run due to sweat!) in September, after four months of no-poo, I just rinsed out and didn't have an oil problem.

You need to make sure to rinse and massage - I'd daresay, spending more time than you would on a regular shampoo - regularly, though.
posted by notsnot at 7:57 AM on February 22, 2008

Wash it in the morning, and my hair is a grease trap by the end of the day.

How much shampoo are you using? Do you rinse and repeat? With fine hair you have to be careful not to overwash. Just a drop of shampoo is enough. If you are reaching a full sudsy lather it is probably too much shampoo for fine hair.

As for skipping a day, this is tough with fine hair as the accumulation of grease shows much faster than with thicker hair. If you wash with less shampoo and wash less you will produce less grease but it won't stop. One thing to try potentially is shampoo without sodium lauryl sulfate. That is pretty harsh stuff.
posted by caddis at 8:00 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

I cut down on my shampooing back when I was in college with great results. Then I went to Europe over the summer and it was so hot that I had to wash fully every day or I just felt wretched. Then I started an actual job. It's a LOT harder to cut down on shampooing when you are supposed to be a responsible adult, because there's definitely a period where your hair isn't used to it and you look awful. In my case I also didn't want to exacerbate my acne.

If you have extended time off, can't hurt to give it a shot though.
posted by crinklebat at 8:08 AM on February 22, 2008

Extremely long, straight hair here. I tried going shampoo free over the summer but it never got better. I think it might work for people with shorter hair, but my hair was so long that no matter what I did (boars bristles, even), I couldn't even the oil out from top to bottom.

I'm shampooing twice a week now. Once a week, I mix a small dollop of baby shampoo with about a cup of water. 3-4 days later, I'm using this gorgeous stuff from whole foods/trader joe's - Avalon Organics. Go for the tea tree - that's supposed to help, and I think it does, with the itchy flaky scalp issue. They also make a great rosemary conditioner.

This stuff is more expensive than Suave, but then, you're only using it in small bits once a week.

On days that I don't shampoo, I use vinegar rinses, or water rinses, or the cheapish whole foods 365 brand conditioner alone, reasoning that it will moisturize the scalp, like skin lotion, but it won't be as harsh as shampoo.

Like everyone else, I tapered off very slowly. Start with the weekends - your friends will be too polite to say anything if you're a little greasy. Also while you're cutting down - if your hair is up, it will shed fewer flakes than if it's down and you're fussing with it.

But - my hair has far fewer of those insane short hairs sticking out everywhere. With a little oil, it actually looks better than before, because the little short hairs kind of "stick" down with the long hairs. Now, if I misjudged the shampoo dilution, I've actually sprayed olive or coconut oil back into it. I didn't get more wave (I don't have the baby fine straight hair) but it looks better since it doesn't look like straw.

Are you sensitive to lotions and things you put on your skin? Once I clued in that my skin does lots better with more chemically simple things, it was a pretty easy logical step to realize that my scalp and hair were unhappy for the same reason.

If you want a little wave, depending on how long your hair is - wash it (or wet it) at night, and loosely coil it into a few buns.
posted by arabelladragon at 8:25 AM on February 22, 2008

How's your diet? If your hair really is greasy by the end of the day you wash it, the problem probably isn't your hair.

If you really want to fix it, go to a treatment salon and ask a professional for advice, or ask your GP for referral to a dermatologist. I can tell you that I have washed my hair once per week for years, with no issues, but that doesn't actually help you as my hair and lifestyle are mine, and different to yours. But try taking a multivitamin and vitamin E regularly first and see if that makes any difference.
posted by goo at 8:48 AM on February 22, 2008

I have heard that not shampooing your hair daily is great for your hair, especially long hair. There is a place called the long hair community (you'll have to google it as I don't know the URL) where you can get TONS of advice about this kind of thing. I manage a site called HennaTribe where we have a forum about using henna and other natural ingredients on hair, and some discussions about non-shampoo cleansing. You can check out these sites for more information from people who do this kind of thing.

I use a natural clay to shampoo my hair; I have short hair so I wash it every day but then my scalp gets a little off and the clay really cleans and conditions everything. I also use the clay to get rid of product residue which isn't removed by shampoo. Full disclaimer: I sell rhassoul on my website,, but you can get independently verified information elsewhere on the web and there are also other people who sell it. Feel free to email me if you have questions about rhassoul.
posted by kenzi23 at 9:04 AM on February 22, 2008

I went no-poo when I had waist-length hair. My hair is now just past my shoulders, but I continue to the practice to this day.

There were a couple of weeks of nastiness. Now I wash maybe once a week or every two weeks. I condition every day or every other day with a light, sicone-product free conditioner, and if things are dry add a couple of drops of jojoba oil to the conditioner when I blend it into my hair. When first starting out, I used the baking-soda-and-apple-cider-vinegar method in bettafish's link, then over the years I've experimented with various routines. But yes, it really does work, if you hold out for the first few weeks. My boyfriend has had success with it, too.

The important thing is that you get the proper brushes. You need a wide-toothed comb for working out big tangles, a paddle brush for smoothing it down, and then you want a boar-bristle brush. This will further smooth the hair, and most importantly distribute the oils from your scalp down to the tips of your hair. You have to go scalp to ends with it.
posted by schroedinger at 9:17 AM on February 22, 2008

I wash my hair about every other day in the summer, every third day in the winter. (My hair's about shoulder-length, fine but a lot of it, and wavy.) It works for me, and it might work for you if you're unwilling to trade in the shampoo for a bottle of vinegar. Of course I have days when I don't know what to do with my hair, but that's just because I'm lazy and hate styling it. I always air-dry and rarely use product, which doesn't hurt.

What helped me was switching to a milder shampoo and conditioner. When I was washing every day, I gravitated towards clarifying shampoos because my hair got really greasy, and then slathered on the thickest conditioners I could find because the shampoo made my hair really dry. Now I use cheapo Suave (I especially like their Professionals line), in the "normal" variety, and my hair is pretty happy. If you're looking for something a little nicer to your hair, many of my friends swear by Lush solid shampoos, many of which are SLS-free. (I used one a few years ago and loved it.)

If you're willing to get a haircut, that might help things too. My hair is lowest-maintenance between chin and shoulder length. Anything shorter and it will stand up when I sleep on it funny, anything longer and it takes half an hour and half a bottle of conditioner to detangle.
posted by Metroid Baby at 9:50 AM on February 22, 2008

I have fairly straight, fine, oily hair. I have used the baking soda method, and honestly I don't think it is that different from using shampoo. It's just an alternative hair-washing substance. I think it might damage hair more than shampoo -- often my hair felt brittle afterwards (on the up side, it stayed dry rather than oily for an extra day or two compared to shampoo), and after using it for a few months I noticed my hair was getting noticeably lighter, which wasn't what I particularly wanted.
posted by puffin at 9:55 AM on February 22, 2008

I had very long hair and tried not washing my hair with soap for a month. I still used warm water regularly, and would do touch-ups with a dab of soap on the oiliest areas at my temples once a week.

My hair looked normal and was as easy to brush as when I used shampoo and conditioner. And I was bike commuting daily, so I was somewhat surprised and pleased that I didn't look weird.

The only downside was that my unsoaped hair would carry the smells of the last greasy chinese restaurant I had been in.

If I did it again, I'd rinse with lemon juice every couple of days to neutralize food smells.
posted by zippy at 10:19 AM on February 22, 2008

I have thick hair. When it was short, I stopped using shampoo and had great results. I didn't taper off; I just stopped and rinsed occasionally with hot water instead. After a week of unpleasantness, things settled down. I began to get compliments about my hair, and it looked healthy. I'm not convinced it smelled all that great, however, though I didn't hear any complaints.

I went several months this way but started shampooing again when I decided to grow my hair out and aim for the straight, smooth look (not shampooing gives my hair a huge amount of body).

Like Zippy, if I did it again, I would add lemon juice or something to the rinse to mitigate any possible smells.
posted by PatoPata at 10:36 AM on February 22, 2008

like the last couple commenters, i've gone over a year without washing my hair at certain points in time. i mostly just wash if i've been in the ocean or really chlorinated water. but i also have totally different hair than the original asker.
posted by snofoam at 11:03 AM on February 22, 2008

Kinda 19th century but I once heard about a famous woman (forgotten who) with very beautiful hair -- her secret? Shampoo only once a year.
posted by Rash at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2008

I have waist length, very thick, curly (on good days) hair. I don't wash mine every day, because it often takes a full day for it to dry.

That said; as a soapmaker, I've spent a lot of time trying to perfect a liquid shampoo that doesn't have sodium laurel sulfate in it and doesn't get goopy by the bottom of the bottle. (The formula isn't perfect yet...) But in the meantime, I use one of my bars (this week it's Spiced Orange Tea). I get a good lather on my hands, then massage it on to my scalp, and then rinse through.

The flaking and itching you get may very wall be an allergy to SLS. I've had a lot of clients tell me that once they switched to an all natural soap/shampoo, they stopped having similar symptoms. Of course, your mileage may vary.

Also consider looking into buying some tea tree oil and lavender oil. (Real lavender...not that godawful 40/42 crap that smells like menthol. Yuck.) Camden Grey is a good supplier for people who buy in small amounts. If you make a blend of baking soda with a couple drops each of those two oils...maybe add a little orange and a little basil too just to make it smell super good, and massage that into your scalp, I'm willing to bet that your flakies and itchies will go away.

I use an olive oil emulsion conditioner after that because I have such an insane amount of hair that if I didn't weigh it down a little, I'd have a Carrot Top thing going...and nobody wants that. ;) It also eliminates static...but if you've got fine hair, I can't imagine that adding more oil is a good idea. ;) One of my friends who has very fine, very long hair, wipes hers down with a static dryer sheet in the morning, and her hair looks great all day.

Hope something in here is of help to you!
posted by dejah420 at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you do decide to go shampoo free, be sure you stay on top of any odor issues. Difficult to do, probably, but I have noticed a certain not-too-pleasant scent from people who don't shampoo as often as one might hope. I'm not talking about homeless people, I'm talking about people with beautiful waist-length hair that had a slight "not shampooed every day" sheen to it (especially visible around the temples). It's hard to smell yourself, too.

Lest you think I'm anti-shampoo-free, my sig.other tried it for a while. I don't remember any odor issues with him.
posted by amtho at 12:25 PM on February 22, 2008

Thanks for the answers, everyone!

Upon looking further into the no-shampoo stuff, it just seems like entirely too much effort for mixed results after weeks of stringy (and smelly) hair. I think, however, I will try to shampoo less (2 or 3 times a week, as opposed to daily) and switch to a natural (no SLS) shampoo because it could help the dermatitis on my face, hairline and ears. I am not a crunchy type at all, but if going natural and spending a few bucks more in this case helps me out, why not?
posted by sian at 12:38 PM on February 22, 2008

I have medium-length male hair (think Beatles-ish), so YMMV. Your hair will look bad at first, but after about a week or two, wash it. Then, continue washing it once or twice a week. It should recover quickly, although it will look pretty odd during that first week or two. I wore a hat for most of that time, though that's not an option for everybody.

(Note: it may take more than a week or two, but I've never heard of it taking more than a month; you should still wash your hair during this time, just skip the shampoo.)
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:09 PM on February 22, 2008

I saw a magazine article recently where 4 women attempted the no-shampoo thing. 2 of them loved the results, the other two hated them. I personally find that if I'm not planning on washing my hair, I should avoid getting it wet because that seems to increase the oil thing.
posted by b33j at 1:19 PM on February 22, 2008

If you do decide to go shampoo free, be sure you stay on top of any odor issues. Difficult to do, probably, but I have noticed a certain not-too-pleasant scent from people who don't shampoo as often as one might hope. I'm not talking about homeless people, I'm talking about people with beautiful waist-length hair that had a slight "not shampooed every day" sheen to it (especially visible around the temples). It's hard to smell yourself, too.

I stopped doing the shampoo free thing because my boyfriend complained that my hair didn't smell good, and I could not detect it myself, so this is absolutely something to look out for.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:20 PM on February 22, 2008

A- Eww, gross.

B- Try using soap, not detergent. This is harder to do in areas with water that's hard to rinse with, but I've found that soap with some jojoba in it allows my hair to be clean without suffering Dreaded Skin Issues.
posted by gjc at 7:06 PM on February 22, 2008

apple cider vinegar ... weird, but effective. worked well when i had long hair.
posted by kuppajava at 7:13 PM on February 22, 2008

You know how when you go to the salon and the hairstylist shampoos your head? They kind of massage it with their fingers?

Do that to yourself in the shower. Seriously, my hair stays clean for 2-4 days when I do that. Might not necessarily go that long for you, but it might at least allow you to skip a day.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:54 PM on February 22, 2008

There is definitely a sensible half-way house between washing hair daily and leaving it unwashed for weeks for the supposed natural oil self-cleaning mechanism to kick in.

I find that the more frequently I wash my hair the more frequently I need to wash it, i.e. if I wash it every 3 days it starts to get greasy by the end of the second day. If I get into a cycle of washing it every 4 days, it starts to get greasy by the end of the third. It's pretty quick to respond to new cycles. Find a few days in your diary when it's ok if you don't look your best and see if you can 'reprogram' your hair. The idea of daily hair washing is pretty recent, created by the shampoo and conditioner manufacturers
posted by Marzipan at 4:46 AM on February 23, 2008

I tried the no shampoo method twice, using baking soda, vinegar, and lemon juice at various times and it didn't work at all for me. My hair was greasy and I was itchy! Yet I know people with hair similar to mine who did the same thing and it worked wonderful for them. I think it's something you have to try but don't be disappointed if it doesn't work for you, it really is not for everyone.

I wash my hair once or twice a week with watered down shampoo now and that works really well.
posted by Melsky at 6:26 AM on February 23, 2008

I know I'm late to this, but I'd just throw in that I've got oily hair and scalp with dandruff. I use only vinegar, once a day.
posted by kc0dxh at 7:53 PM on February 28, 2008

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