Most personal hygiene topics tend to cause a good amount of debate, whether you’re discussing how often to shower or figuring out how frequently to wash your clothes. Another popular topic centers around haircare, with many wondering: “How often do you actually need to wash your hair?”
Aside from wanting to know how often to wash our hair for personal hygiene reasons, it’s also key in bettering the planet. According to Harvard University, an eight-minute-long shower uses 2.5 gallons of water per minute, which equals 20 gallons of water per shower. In addition, water heating accounts for 18% of your home’s energy use. With shorter showers, you’ll use less energy.
How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?
When deciding how often to wash your hair, it’s important to consider hair type, activity level, and even the daily weather.
“Those who have thin or fine hair, exercise, and sweat during the day—or those who live in a very humid place—should be shampooing their hair daily,” Dr. Chen says. “Those with thicker hair, and those with a dryer scalp, can go a few days without washing their hair.”
With that being said, the length of time between washes will vary based on the person.
“The average individual can typically go 2 to 3 days without shampooing their hair. However, if your hair is visibly oily, you may not want to wait that long,” she says. “Usually, you can go longer without washing your hair when your hair is styled up, but no one should ever go more than 14 days.”
Washing Your Hair the Eco-Friendly Way
We all have to wash our hair at some point. When you’re in the shower sudsing up your strands, try using a more eco-friendly method that drastically cuts down on your shower time.
“The best way to get your hair clean while also saving water is by limiting the amount of shampoo you use. You should only be applying a quarter-sized amount of shampoo,” Dr. Chen says. “If you stick to this small amount, you won’t need to rinse your hair as much.”
Shampoo should also only be applied to certain areas: “You don’t need to shampoo the tips of your hair—just the roots,” she says. “If you spend less time applying the shampoo, you won’t need to keep the water running as long.”
You could also try collecting excess shower water (sans the suds) to use for watering plants or look into low-flow showerheads in order to conserve, reuse, and even reduce your overall water and energy usage. Also try products that are better for the planet, like shampoo and conditioner bars or a shampoo concentrate.
Washing Frequency: Too Much vs. Not Enough
We all want clean hair, which is exactly what shampoo was designed to do—clean the scalp and remove excess oil from the hair. But when you go overboard, the shampoo won’t do your scalp any favors.
“When you wash your hair too often, the shampoo will strip your hair of important oils and dry out the scalp,” Dr. Chen says. “If you’re someone who shampoos your hair too often, you’ll notice that your head is itchy, dry, and flaky.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you don’t shower enough, oils can accumulate on your scalp. When that happens, you may notice odor and irritation.
Pay Attention to Ingredients: Good + Bad
Aside from knowing how often to wash your hair, it’s also important to pay attention to the ingredients in your shampoos and conditioners.
Dr. Chen recommends avoiding sulfates, parabens, and polyethylene glycol (PEG). Sulfates and parabens are known for stripping away natural oils in the hair, as well as leaving hair dry and damaged. Parabens can also dull or remove color. Then there’s PEGs.
“PEGs act as a soothing agent in shampoos and conditioners, and as emulsifiers that help water and oil-based ingredients mix,” Dr. Chen says. “PEGs include ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane, which are known carcinogens and can lead to serious health consequences.”
So which ingredients should you look for instead? First, look for essential oils: “Essential oils such as almond oil, cedarwood oil, and coconut oil provide many benefits to your hair. For example, almond oil moisturizes the scalp, cedarwood oil stimulates hair growth, and Moroccan oil provides essential antioxidants,” she says.
Dr. Chen also recommends shea butter and aloe vera. “Shea butter helps prevent hair breakage, soothes and moisturizes the hair, and reduces scalp irritation,” she says. “Aloe vera is an excellent ingredient to use to help treat and prevent hair loss. Additionally, it moisturizes the scalp and conditions and strengthens the hair.”
Like most of the other hygiene-related topics, how often you wash your hair depends on a few different factors. If you’re someone who has fine hair that gets oily quickly, or you’re super active and sweat a lot, you may need to wash more often. Those with curly, thick hair may only need to wash a few times a week. In time, you’ll find a routine that works for you and the planet.
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