By Dr. Sarita Nori
Division of Dermatology
Although many Americans make it a daily routine, the need to wash your hair every day really depends on a number of individual factors. Most people don’t require a daily hair washing, and for some people it can actually be harmful to their hair and scalp.
Too much hair washing can upset the body’s natural balance of healthy oils that help to moisturize your hair and scalp. This can make your hair dry and brittle and also lead to irritation of your scalp, including rashes and itching.
How often people need to wash their hair varies quite a bit from person to person. Factors include hair type, hair texture, and how active the oil glands in your scalp are, and exercise regimens. Your ethnic background is also important. Many African Americans have naturally dry hair, and if washed too often it can become brittle and overly dry, which can lead to breakage. The same can be true for people with coarse or curly hair. People with long hair also require less frequent washings because the oil our body secretes to protect our hair takes time to get down to the ends. Washing too frequently interrupts this process. This is why the ends of your hair tend to get dry and brittle so easily. Using chemicals on your hair, such as hair dyes, will also make hair more fragile and susceptible to damage.
However, it is important to wash your hair on a regular basis, since going too long between washings can lead to dandruff and other scalp problems. So how often do experts recommend you wash your hair? Use this as a rough guide for normal scalps, depending on your hair type and activity level:
- African Americans should wash their hair twice a month
- Textured or curly hair: five to seven days between washes (unless heavy exercise)
- Colored hair: every other day or every three days. (This helps keep moisture in to prevent damage and helps prevent color fading).
- Thin hair: may need to be cleansed more often to avoid having a “flat” appearance.
- Oily hair: every day or every other day to prevent a dull, matted appearance.
- For those not in the categories above, washing your hair two to three times a week should be sufficient. Use your judgement if you fit into multiple categories (such as having thin and oily hair.)
If you have a scalp condition diagnosed by your dermatologist, then the recommendation will sometimes be to shampoo more often, usually with a prescription shampoo, while a disease is flared up. Always follow the directions given by your dermatologist.
Remember that if you exercise frequently, you can still take a shower without shampooing your hair. You can either use a shower cap or just rinse your hair with water. When you do wash your hair, you should consider using a sulfate-free shampoo. The reason for this is that shampoos containing sulfates are often too effective at cleansing hair of dirt and oil. This can leave your hair dry and unhealthy (especially if you wash your hair often). Sulfate shampoos can also have similar effects on the scalp, making it and more prone to irritation.
Dry shampoo, usually formulated with either corn or rice starch, has become a popular way to keep hair feeling fresh and clean between washes. The ingredients help absorb oil, but don’t remove it from the hair. So you will still need to wash your hair on a regular basis. No matter how often you wash (or rinse) your hair, don’t be afraid to use a conditioner afterward. A good conditioner can help protect your hair by making it easier to comb and preventing breakage.
If you desire healthier-looking hair, don’t be afraid to change up your hair care routine. Taking a few simple steps could help it look better than ever. Remember that what works for your friend may not necessarily work for you. We are all different – especially when it comes our hair.
About Sarita Nori, MD
Dr. Sarita Nori was drawn to dermatology because of the intersection of science and medicine that is at the heart of dermatology. She feels this is what really allows her to help her patients. “There is a lot of problem-solving in dermatology and I like that,” she explains. “It’s also a profession where you can help people quickly and really make a difference in their lives.”
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