Are You Washing Your Hair the Right Way?

A blonde woman washing her hair in the bath tub.

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How much do you really think about washing your hair? Likely, you jump in the shower, throw on some shampoo, maybe some conditioner, rinse and call it a day.

If that's your routine, you may be doing your hair and scalp a major disservice.

Depending on if you're talking to your stylist or your dermatologist, reading a beauty article or watching an infomercial, you may think you're washing your hair too often or not enough. There's confusion about what kind of products to use and how much to apply. And what about drying it? Is air drying the only safe way to go without damaging your hair?

"There's a lot of confusion and misunderstanding and bad advice," says Chicago area, board-certified dermatologist Dr. Shani Francis. "Every unique person has their own individual needs about how to care for their hair."

How often should you wash?

A woman washing her hair holding a shower head.

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You may have been brought up to wash your hair every day, but daily shampooing may not be necessary. It all depends on your hair and scalp type, says the American Academy of Dermatology.

  • If your hair or your scalp is oily, you may need to wash more often, maybe even every day.
  • Chemically treated hair from coloring or other processes may be dry, so it's probably better to wash less often.
  • Your scalp makes less oil as you get older, so you may need to shampoo less often.
  • Curly hair is often drier, so it usually doesn't need to be washed every day.

One way to tell if you're washing enough is to check for flakes in your hair. They could be a telltale sign that you're not shampooing as often as you should. In any case, Francis says don't go more than a week between washings.

"Even for the kinkiest, curliest textures, the scalp still needs to be cleaned weekly," she says.

How to wash your hair

An Asian woman brushes her damp hair.

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Don't just jump in the shower and start washing. This process may take a little longer, but you should end up with healthier hair.

Start with a little prep work. Many stylists suggest first brushing through your hair to get out all the tangles. If you brush or comb hair later when it's wet, you're more likely to have breakage. Francis says kinkier and curly hair is better managed when wet, but only with finger detangling not a comb or brush.

Then apply a small amount of coconut oil just to the hair, avoiding the scalp completely. Leave it on for 15 minutes or more, if you have the time. (Ideally, you could leave it on overnight, but remember to wrap your hair in a towel to protect your pillowcases.)

Wet your hair. Apply a small amount of shampoo, about the size of a quarter, mostly to your scalp. Any more than that and you can start damaging your hair. "Shampoo removes all of the dirt and oil from your hair, and then it starts stripping away essential oils and lipids that prevent dryness and breakage," hairstylist Nathaniel Hawkins tells Allure. Shampoos that are specifically for curly, color-treated or dry hair typically are the most gentle.

Don't scrub your scalp and hair vigorously. A rough shampoo can hurt the cuticle, and cause tangles, frizz and flyaways. Instead, gently massage the shampoo into your scalp with the pads of your fingers and smoothly run the shampoo through your hair.

Rinse thoroughly, and then maybe condition, depending on your hair. Curly, dry or chemically treated hair almost always needs conditioning. In fact, you may want to try a dab of leave-in conditioner to help lock-in moisture. Use conditioner just on the hair and not on the scalp. Fine hair, however, doesn't always do well with conditioner, Francis says. One trick she suggests is spritzing on some vinegar or adding a little to your shampoo. Vinegar is acidic and helps close the cuticle and lock in the moisture. (The only downside is you might smell a little like a salad.)

If you're not leaving in the conditioner, rinse and rinse again. If you color your hair, turn the temperature down. Cooler water will keep your color from fading faster, according to Allure.

When it's time to dry

A mixed asian woman drying her hair off with a towel.

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When you hop out of the shower, don't just grab the closest towel and start rubbing your hair.

"A lot of towel rubbing is destructive and hair is fragile," says Francis, who points out that it's important to avoid what she calls "frictional trauma." "Hair is in a weakened state when it's wet. Everything we do to our hair will create stress or some type of friction."

Big, thick fluffy towels might feel good on our skin, but they're not great for our hair. Rubbing hair vigorously with one of those towels can pull hair out or cause it to split or break. Instead, use a gentler microfiber towel or even a clean T-shirt. "The softer the towel, the better," Francis says. Blot and squeeze your hair instead of rubbing it.

Or in an ideal world if you have the time, let your hair air dry.

But don't feel bad if you just can't find the time or the technique to wash your hair the "right" way every time.

"That's why when you go to a stylist your hair always feels better and looks better," Francis says. "Because most of us are doing it wrong!"