MountainView Hospital - October 23, 2023
by Tayla Holman

A woman dries her hair with a towel.

Knowing how to properly care for your hair can prevent hair loss, buildup and scalp flaking.

Beauty trends come and go, but when it comes to growing luscious locks, the age-old question remains: How many times a week should you wash your hair? While it seems like a simple inquiry, the answer depends on the person. Several factors come into play, including your hair type, how oily your scalp is, activity level and personal preference.

Why is it important to wash your hair with shampoo?

To understand how many times a week you should wash your hair, you first need to understand the importance of shampoo and how it works. Skin produces a natural oil called sebum that protects the hair and hair follicles. While genetics play a role in sebum production, it can also be affected by external factors such as medication or underlying health conditions.

When too much sebum builds up, your hair starts to attract dust and dirt, making it look dull and greasy. Because oil is hydrophobic — meaning it repels water — it's not enough to wash your hair with just water. Shampoo contains molecules called surfactants that emulsify sebum and allow it to mix with water. The lather you get from your shampoo helps the surfactants spread across your scalp and hair, and rinsing your hair gets rid of the emulsion of dirt and grease.

Can you overwash your hair?

While you need shampoo to keep sebum from building up, washing your hair too frequently can strip away the natural oils and leave your hair looking dry, frizzy and dull. If your hair has lost its shine, that's a good sign it isn't moisturized and needs a break between hair-washing sessions. You may also notice more split ends than usual if you're overwashing your hair since wet hair is more susceptible to damage and breakage. Styling your hair every time you wash it can also lead to damage from too much manipulation.

How many times a week should you wash your hair?

Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how often you should wash your hair. How frequently you need to wash your hair depends on its type and texture.

If you have fine, thin hair, it might feel weighed down by too much oil without frequent cleansing, so you'll want to wash it every day or every other day. If you try to stretch out your hair-washing sessions, your hair might start to look and feel flat and greasy.

Curly hair tends to be drier since it takes longer for sebum to travel from the scalp down the hair shaft. Washing every two to three days should do the trick, but it's OK if you miss a session.

Afro-textured or natural hair also tends to be on the dry side, so it can go much longer between washes. If your scalp doesn't look or feel dirty, you can wash your hair every seven to 10 days.

Chemically treated hair — such as hair that has been permed, relaxed or bleached — may be dry and needs to be washed less frequently.

When to wash more frequently

You may need to wash your hair more frequently if you're active, especially if you sweat a lot. But don't exercise with wet hair since that can cause sweat and moisture to get trapped in the scalp. Additionally, while you might be tempted to cover your hair while working out, that can also trap sweat and cause irritation.

What's the best way to wash your hair?

When you wash your hair, focus primarily on cleansing the scalp, rather than the length and ends of your hair. The roots are often the oiliest part since sebum is produced from the scalp, while the ends tend to be drier. Gently massage your scalp in a circular motion while washing to help get rid of any buildup.

Also, use the right shampoo and conditioner for your hair type. This can include products designed for color-treated hair or shampoos made for tightly coiled hair. You might also want to consider your hair porosity. Low porosity means your hair has trouble absorbing moisture because the cuticle layer is tight and flat. High porosity means the cuticles are far apart and allow moisture in easily but not long enough to actually nourish the hair.

How can you care for your hair between washes?

If your hair needs a quick refresh before your next hair-washing session, you have a couple of options. One is to use dry shampoo, which helps absorb excess oils on the hair and scalp. This reduces buildup and keeps your hair from looking greasy. Just be careful not to overdo it — too much dry shampoo can clog your hair follicles, making your hair look and feel dirty, which defeats the product's purpose. Be sure to distribute the product evenly throughout your hair with a brush or your fingers.

You can also refresh your hair by co-washing. Co-washing means skipping the shampoo and only using conditioner to keep hair moisturized, rather than cleansed. This practice is especially popular for people with curly hair.

Washing your hair is important for hair growth and health, but it can be tricky to find the right balance. While guidelines based on your hair type can be helpful, pay attention to how your hair and scalp look and feel. If you notice any issues such as excessive hair loss or scalp flaking no matter how often you wash your hair, you may want to talk to a dermatologist who can help you discover the root of the problem.

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