The question of how often to wash one's hair, if at all, has been asked for years – or at least since shampoo companies started aggressively advertising to humans all over the world.
After all, we as a species seemed to do pretty well long before the likes of Procter & Gamble and Unilever decided our locks needed to be shinier, scalps needed to be more “balanced”, and our ends less split.
And yet, the ever-present race to be “beautiful” has become one of the world’s largest industries. Having nice hair, it would seem, is a huge part of the equation.
Some have gone so far as to start a “no-poo” movement, claiming that banishing shampoo from the bathroom altogether is the best thing one can do to achieve a healthy scalp. The argument goes that because shampoo strips the scalp of any natural oils, the scalp begins to overcompensate.
Thus, a once-healthy scalp is out of balance, more regular shampooing is required, and the circle of Big Hair Care’s marketing strategy comes full circle.
Or so the theory goes.
In 2007, Sydney radio presenter Richard Glover was so taken aback by a claim made by interview subject (and Time columnist) Matthew Paris that he hadn’t washed his hair in over a decade that he set a challenge to his listeners.
Six weeks later, over 500 of Glover’s fans reported their results to the station, with a whopping 86 per cent of them claiming that after six weeks of only rinsing their hair with water, their hair was “the same or better”.
Glover was so enamoured with his new no-poo life that he hasn’t used a drop of shampoo since.
So, with all these people claiming better heads since they ditched the ‘poo on one side of the fence, and the undeniable allure of a freshly lathered and conditioned scalp on the other, where’s the verdict lie?
The truth is that there’s probably no “silver bullet” answer, but the type of hair you have, your routine, and how often you wash are all things that can affect a good hair hygiene routine.
Straight vs curly
Put simply, the oil on your scalp will have a very different effect on your look depending on your hair type.
Sebum, the oil that is naturally secreted from the scalp, builds up over time. This is why your hair is always a bit easier to manage a few days after a wash (lads with long hair will know this to be particularly true). It’s also what gives long and straight hair a greasy look if left untamed for a long time.
Curly hair isn’t affected by the same build-up of sebum as straight hair as it doesn’t clump nearly as much. In fact, curly and wavy hair generally benefits from being left longer than straight hair between washes.
If your hair grows straight, consider washing one to three times a week at least to avoid getting too much build-up.
If you have curly hair, you can get away with less frequent washing, though another character that might be a good reason to maintain a good cleaning roster for your head fuzz is…
Dandruff (aka seborrheic dermatitis) is a pesky condition, but not an incurable one. In short, it’s a fungal infection that causes an itchy, flaky scalp, and leaves hundreds if not thousands of unsightly white flakes throughout your hair (and on your shoulders).
And while we don’t know much about the exact causes of dandruff, we do know the best way to deal with it: pyrithione zinc.
Semi-regular cleansing with a shampoo and conditioner that contains this magical ingredient is essential for managing dandruff, and might be unavoidable if you’re a sufferer of the condition.
This is just one example of why no-poo might not be for everybody.
Sweat on your scalp helps carry sebum down to cover your hair, and hence can make reasonably clean hair look greasy and unkempt sooner than it should.
If you have a big exercise routine and find your hair is suffering for it, it’s probably a good idea to limit huge workouts to once or twice a week and give your hair the royal treatment straight afterward to avoid it getting excessively oily.
So if we don’t need to ever use shampoo, as many openly profess, then why use any kind of soap ever, at all?
The answer is simple: that’s gross.
While it’s true that shampoo strips the scalp of its natural oils, it also cleans everything else your hair collects in your day-to-day. And while that might be all good and well for your average office worker, there are mechanics, tradies and farmers reading this laughing about the notion of not using industrial strength cleaner on their respective bonces.
Hair picks up all sorts of nasty stuff, from pollutants in the air to cigarette smoke, dirt, dust and even lice, hence, it’s a good idea to give it a wash with something more than water once in a while.
If you’d really like to bid your bottle of Pantene adieu but also like the idea of having nice hair, why not try shampooing with only a conditioner once a week?
The “no-poo” life might be a burgeoning trend, but it’s probably not for everyone (we all know at least one person who should DEFINITELY invest in some Selsun Blue).
And we know that, scientifically speaking, washing your hair with astringent chemicals on the reg is going to mess with your scalp in some form or another, so there’s a good argument against hair being “too clean” as well.
Whichever camp you decide to plant your follicular flag, there’s a fair to middling chance that your current routine is already working for you. And whether you want to say goodbye to shampoo forever for monetary or environmental reasons (or you just can’t be arsed anymore), or proudly stand by your bottle of Head & Shoulders X Old Spice collab (name a more iconic duo), nobody has ever died from an over or under-washed scalp.
But if you want to err on the side of caution, our advice is this: wash it at least once a week. Trust us, the people with whom you share elevators, Ubers and workspaces will be most grateful.
Photo credit: Getty Images / Amelia Hanigan