We’ve all wondered, when waking up too late for a proper shower, “How often should I wash my hair, anyway? Won’t it just, like, wash itself eventually?” If you turn to the internet for grooming advice, you’ve probably read that shampooing your hair every day strips it of essential oils and leaves it feeling dry and brittle. At least, that’s what this article, this article, this article and many, many others claim. We asked stylist and all-around hair guru, Cleve McMillan, whether he believes the hype, and if he can answer once and for all: How often should I wash my hair?
“The whole concept of not shampooing your hair to let the natural oils do their job is a complete and utter fallacy, based on the dish soap-like shampoo we used 25 years ago,” McMillan says. “If you’re using a decent shampoo nowadays, it won’t strip your hair. If anything, it’ll leave it softer and healthier than it was before.”
There are other reasons, too, one of which is a general misunderstanding of the science behind the “self-cleaning” myth. “It would take about a month for the natural oils to make their way from your scalp to the tips of your hair — even if it’s just a few inches long — and do what conditioner can do in 20 seconds,” McMillan explains. “Plus, you’d have to brush your hair about five times a day to help the oil along.” Then there’s stuff like dandruff, which can require a special anti-dandruff shampoo to deal with effectively.
So if leaving a day or two between washes doesn’t, in fact, do our hair a solid, how often should we be shampooing our manes? It all depends on how active you’ve been lately, according to McMillan. “If you’re on vacation, binging TV shows on the couch, you could go days without shampooing,” he says. “But if you’ve gone out to the club the night before, or you hit the gym that morning, it’s a good idea to wash your hair — if only for the sake of smell. Either way, depending on your sebum production [i.e., how much oil your scalp produces], I would never go more than three to five days without a wash.”
McMillan also suggests shampooing if you start to notice your hair clumping up as if it has product in it, since that means it’s actually filled with dirt and gunk. And unless you’re the creature from the black lagoon, there’s literally no situation in which you want the words “dirt and gunk” associated with your body. (If you are the creature from the black lagoon, thanks for reading, and especially for wondering “how often should I wash my hair” when you don’t even have hair. You’re a champ.)