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Is there a connection between hair washing and hair loss?

If you're experiencing hair loss, you might be wondering what role your humble hair wash routine plays in this.

Written by
Deirdre Fidge
Medically reviewed by
Last updated
May 15, 2024
min read
Is there a connection between hair washing and hair loss?
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Washing your hair is one of those things you might not think about too much (in fact, it's usually a time for mind-wandering).

But, if you're experiencing hair loss, you might be wondering what role your humble hair wash routine plays in this.

While it's normal to lose between 50 and 100 hairs every single day, if you're noticing more hair hanging out in your shower drain or visibly coming off into your hands while you're shampooing, something else is at play.

So, let's dive in and see what role hair washing (or not washing) plays in hair loss.

Does washing your hair cause hair loss?

If you're experiencing hair loss and notice that it happens mostly when you're in the shower washing your hair, it might tempt you to reduce the amount you engage in this activity.

But, rest assured that in general, washing your hair doesn't actively cause hair loss, even though this might be the time that you notice shedding hair.

In most cases, the hair strands you're noticing leaving your head have already detached and washing has simply dislodged them from your scalp as opposed to your washing method having anything to do with the loss.

Some chemical ingredients included in certain shampoo products can prove to be quite harsh on hair follicles and cause breakage or increased hair loss, so it can pay to change up the products you're using in favour of something extremely gentle if you're worried about hair loss [1].

Excessive hair loss after washing

If you're experiencing excessive hair loss after washing your hair, you're likely dealing with a specific type of hair loss called telogen effluvium (TE).

TE puts the follicles into a "resting" phase and causes accelerated hair loss.

This generally occurs as a result of a stressful or traumatic event and the related excessive hair loss will usually begin 3 months after the triggering event and can last for up to 6 months [2].

TE can be brought on by a myriad of causes including surgery, a sudden change in hormones, emotional stress, certain medications or due to crash dieting where your body isn't getting enough of the right vitamins and minerals.

This type of hair loss can manifest in excessive shedding and it can become apparent while washing your hair.

But, as mentioned above, you're merely moving the already detached hairs from your hair — the washing is not contributing to the loss.

Can not washing your hair enough cause hair loss?

While you might have heard that not washing your hair enough can lead to hair loss, it's really not the case.

But, it can impact hair growth if your scalp is filled with product build-up, sweat and oil due to a lack of washing. So while your lack of washing might not contribute to hair loss, you aren't doing your hair health any favours.

Leaving your hair unwashed for weeks on end, and the aforementioned gunk that accumulates, can damage hair follicles and in some cases, obstruct its ability to grow, which is not ideal [3].

Plus, not washing hair regularly can also lead to dandruff and dermatitis (as well as oily hair).

Most experts recommend seeing hair washing as part of any other hygiene routine — so while 'regular' washing might look different for each person, it still has to be regular.

Don't let hair loss stop you from washing your hair — it's still important to keep your scalp clean and healthy, which gives your hair follicles the best environment to thrive.

Can washing hair with hot water cause baldness?

We all love a hot shower so the urge to crank up the heat is understandable. But, it's not so great for your hair.

While showering in hot water won't cause hair loss or balding on its own, the temperature of the water could scalp or burn your scalp if it's too hot, which could lead to hair loss in some circumstances.

The good news is that it's pretty rare that anyone is washing their hair in scalding water but if you're one of the few, it's time to dial down the temperature when exposing your scalp to the water in your shower.

Can you overwash your hair?

Yes! Dermatologist Dr Shilpi Khetarpal told the Cleveland Clinic that a telltale sign of overwashed hair is a dry, irritated or itchy scalp [4].

Just like excessive handwashing can lead to dry hands, too much hair washing leads to dry hair, and can strip natural oils.

And, this means you're running the risk of making your hair quite brittle, which doesn't help if you're already dealing with hair loss.

At the end of the day, moderation is key. Most people don't need to wash their hair daily.

Whether you need to shampoo your hair once a week or 5 times a week, there are simple steps you can take to look after your hair.

Use good-quality hair cleansing products for your hair type, keep the water warm, and be gentle with your hair and scalp.

Treating hair loss

If you're worried about hair loss — and are finding that you're losing hair each time you wash your hair — Pilot can help you with our personalised hair loss treatment plan.

Simply take an online consultation and one of our Australian practitioners will create a treatment just for you.

Designed by leading Australian hair loss expert, Dr. Russel Knudsen, who has 35 years of experience, Pilot's treatment includes a combination of oral and topical medications that have an 83% success rate of retaining hair and a 66% success rate in regrowing it.

And, once our practitioner has created your tailor-made treatment plan, it is delivered discreetly to your home, so you can begin treating hair loss sooner rather than later.

How to care for your hair while washing

If you're worried about hair loss, besides seeking medically-backed and personalised treatment from Pilot, there are a few other measures you can take when it comes to washing your hair.

Shampoo 101

While we completely understand being concerned about hair loss when shampooing (as this is usually when people get most vigorous when massaging the product into the hair), it's important not to neglect shampoo as it's an important step in caring for your scalp, which in turn keeps your hair follicles healthy.

As peer-reviewed studies have acknowledged, it can be easy to focus on aesthetics when, first and foremost, shampoo is designed to remove dirt and excess oils from the scalp and hair [5].

Shampoo rids the hair of sebum, sweat, dead skin cells, styling products, and any dirt or dust picked up from the environment.

Importantly, a hair wash also cleanses and adds moisture to the scalp — all things that are needed to encourage hair growth.

Condition, condition, condition

Some people skip conditioner, especially if they have short hair or naturally greasy or oily hair.

But this is also an important step — and even the most hydrating shampoo should be followed by a conditioner to keep your hair in its best state possible.

Neglecting this final step of conditioning can lead to damaged or extremely dry hair that is already fragile due to styling, split ends or certain health conditions, so it's important to keep it in the routine.

Use the right amount of shampoo and conditioner

People often use too much of both products, which certainly wasn't helped by the mantra of lather, rinse, repeat many of us grew up with.

It's super common for people to use more haircare products than recommended because of the notion that if a little is good, more must be better, right? Wrong.

While the exact amount of shampoo and conditioner per hair wash will vary between each person depending on hair type (more on that below!), in general, the average person won't need more than 1-2 tablespoons of product.

When in doubt, follow the recommendation on the bottle.

Although many shampoos create a lather, there is no need to scrub until the hair is 'squeaky clean' — in fact, if the hair is clean enough to squeak, it has most likely been stripped of its natural oils [6]. Sometimes less really is more.

Use the best products possible

Using products like Pilot's Hair Growth Shampoo and Conditioner, which are specifically designed to be used together for optimal haircare, means that you're nourishing your hair and scalp with ingredients that your follicles will love.

The Thicken Shampoo and Keep Conditioner have been formulated to lay the groundwork for thicker, healthier, and happier follicles.

So if you're worried about hair loss, using products that actively help the hair growth process is most definitely the way forward.

Set the right temperature

Hot showers can be relaxing, but you don't need to fog up the bathroom. A piping hot temperature can damage the keratin protein of the hair, and strip away the natural oil [7].

This can lead to weak and dry strands, ultimately affecting the scalp's sebaceous glands and your general hair health. Really hot water can also fade colour-treated hair, and damage sensitive skin.

Lukewarm water is recommended for hair washing, but if you're feeling particularly bold, give your scalp a rinse with cold water.

Not only can cold water reduce inflammation and improve circulation, but it also helps seal the hair cuticle to keep the protein bonds intact.

Bonus benefit: It'll wake you up and get the blood pumping faster than an espresso.

How often should you wash your hair?

This is an age-old question and one that is difficult to answer given how different each person's hair is.

But, there are a few guidelines you might want to follow when it comes to your specific hair type and how often to wash it.

Fine hair

It's worth noting that hair density differs from hair type: someone can have fine hair, but a whole lot of it. And conversely, another person can have naturally thick hair, but a sparse amount.

Fine hair is often straight or slightly wavy, and oil build-up can be more noticeable (either visually or the feel on their scalp) with fine hair [8].

While it can be tempting to wash fine hair more often to stop the greasy feeling, it's important to not overdo it.

As dermatologist Lynne Goldberg told Business Insider, "It's paradoxical, but people who wash their hair a lot to get rid of oil are drying out their scalp, and producing more oil." [9]

If you have oily hair or an oily scalp, using a clarifying shampoo can also be a good idea, as it will help lift away residue and excess sebum.

Go gentle on fine hair, it might need fewer washes than you think. You can also try using dry shampoo sparingly between washes — it helps absorb oil and extend the time between washes.

Fine hair is also extra fragile when wet, so be mindful when using any heat products or brushes. Once it is completely wet, gently pat your hair dry (please no scrubbing with a towel!) and use a wide-toothed comb to style it if it's still damp.

And like we said earlier, always aim for warm water, on wash day, not hot.

Thick hair

In general, people with thick hair can wash their hair less often than their fine-headed counterparts.

If this is you, your hair might also benefit from specific hair products to add moisture to washed locks without adding oil.

Thick hair can often benefit from a weekly mask or deep moisture treatment after washing to avoid drying out.

For longer hair that is also thick, try gently brushing or combing before you hop in the shower to avoid knots.

Coarse, coily and Afro hair

Natural hair — whether it is coily, Afro or coarse hair — has specific characteristics, and therefore, specific requirements [8].

The American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD) recommends the following tips when it comes to caring for this hair type [10]:

  • Wash hair less than once a week (one dermatologist recommends only washing hair 1-2 times a month) [4]
  • Always use conditioner
  • Use a hot oil treatment twice a month for particularly dry hair
  • See a professional hairstylist who is familiar with Black hair if wanting to use relaxers or get braids

What if your hair isn't fine or thick?

If you don't have fine hair but also haven't been told your mane is particularly thick, you have 'normal' or 'middle' hair.

Generally speaking, unless you have a specific scalp condition or hair health issue, you can aim to wash your hair 1-3 times a week, depending on your lifestyle, oil glands and use of products like dry shampoos or styling gels.

Bleached hair

Bleaching hair can lead to dryness, so you want to be careful not to overwash your hair and strip it of even more natural oils. Aim for 3-4 wash days per week and see how your hair reacts to that cadence.

If in doubt, chat with your barber or hairdresser about what they would recommend in terms of styling and care for thick, healthy hair.

And remember, there's no shame in asking for help when it comes to your hair and any loss you might be experiencing.

Hair loss can be an incredibly difficult topic to talk about, which is why our consultations are all online so you don't have to worry about talking face-to-face with our practitioners.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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