The broadcaster Emily Maitlis recently revealed that she often leaves a week between hair washes, saying that ‘unwashed hair looks better on camera’.
And she’s not alone in avoiding the wash every day routine. Swathes of women insist that their hair looks better the day after it’s been washed. Need evidence of this? L’Oreal Professionnel brought out a texturising spray called Next Day Hair to help give newly washed hair that day-after look.
Surely it’s horses for courses? To a point, perhaps. But don’t believe anyone who tells you that if you don’t wash your hair it will clean itself. Can you think of any other part of your body — or anything for that matter — that cleans itself when you don’t wash it? Exactly.
And, as Annabel Kingsley, trichologist at the Philip Kingsley Clinic points out, ‘dead skin cells on your arm get brushed off as you put clothes on and take them off, but dead scalp cells just get stuck in hair and have nowhere to go’. Not a nice thought.
But even when it comes to the professionals, opinion is just as divided as among us amateurs — some experts say you need to wash your hair daily, while others insist over-washing dries hair out, making it hard to style.
So what’s the truth? How often should you be washing your hair?
Part of it is down to personal choice. ‘Some clients love the feeling of freshly washed hair,’ says Zoe Irwin, creative director at John Frieda. ‘But very often, the best hair is hair that’s been blow-dried the night before and slept on. It just needs a bit of a settling-down period.’
Zoe says that she has started to see a trend where some clients come for a weekly wash and blow-dry — as they might have done several decades ago — and eke that out for the week. This tendency has been driven by huge improvements in styling products, and increased usage of them — just think how ubiquitous dry shampoo has become compared to just ten years ago.
However, even if you can’t justify the splurge on a professional weekly styling, you’re probably not washing your hair every day. ‘Most people don’t have time to wash and blow-dry daily,’ says Zoe. ‘So maybe they’ll blow-dry and add texture with a spray or cream on day one, then add to that texture with other styling products on day two, and then on day three create an undone chignon, or a braid.’
But when it comes to keeping your hair and scalp in tip-top condition, there are multiple factors — from your natural hair colour and texture, to your age and stress levels — that can have an impact on how often you should wash.
Read on to find out more, and take our quiz to discover your personal perfect wash schedule…
1 ARE YOU NATURALLY BLONDE, DARK OR REDHEAD?
One of the biggest factors in how frequently you have to wash your hair is how much oil your scalp produces. What you might not know is that your ethnicity and natural hair colour could be a good indicator of that.
That’s because they can affect the density of your hair — the number of hair follicles on your head — and, consequently, the number of oil-producing glands.
‘Every hair on your head comes from a follicle,’ explains trichologist Annabel Kingsley, of the Philip Kingsley Clinic. ‘Each follicle is attached to a sebaceous gland, which produces oil.’
In normal conditions, over a 24-hour period you produce between 650 and 700mg of oil. Without it, the skin on the scalp would be very dry and tight.
‘The oil produced by your scalp is the same as the oil produced by the skin on your face,’ says Annabel. ‘It’s a mixture of proteins and fatty acids, and when it sits on the scalp, bacteria start to break it down, which is what can make the scalp and hair smell after a few days.’
So how does your hair colour affect this? Generally, Caucasian people have the highest hair density, ranging from around 86,000 follicles for redheads, who tend to have coarser hair (so fewer follicles), up to around 146,000 for blondes, whose hair tends to be finer.
Those with Asian heritage have, on average, the lowest hair density, ranging from 90,000 to 120,000 follicles, while people from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds will sit between the two.
The more follicles, the more oil-producing glands, the more quickly your hair is likely to get greasy, and the more frequently it needs to be washed.
Caucasian — Red……………1 point
Caucasian — Brown……..2 points
Caucasian — Blonde…….3 points
2 WHAT IS YOUR HAIR’S NATURAL TEXTURE?
The texture of your hair also has a big role to play in how frequently it needs washing. It’s bad news for blondes with straight, fine hair — they have the double whammy of a scalp that produces more oil, and finer hair that doesn’t absorb oil as easily as coarser strands, so will look limp at the roots more quickly.
And, as oil attracts dust and dirt, the more you have on your scalp, the dirtier your hair will get.
Those with wavy, curly or multi-textured hair will often find they retain volume at the roots for longer than their straighthaired friends, meaning they need to wash less frequently.
Afro or multi-textured hair……..1 point
Wavy or curly hair………………..2 points
Straight hair………………………….3 points
3 DO YOU USE CHEMICAL PERMING OR STRAIGHTENING?
Any chemical processing will cause damage to hair and leave it more fragile.
Add to that the fact that hair is more easily damaged when it’s wet, and that frequent washing is likely to shorten the life of the treatment, meaning you need chemical treatments more frequently.
All these factors taken together mean you can see it makes sense to wash processed hair less frequently if you can.
Currently process hair..1 point
Used to process hair..2 points
Never processed hair..3 points
4 DO YOU ADD ARTIFICIAL COLOUR?
In the same way that texture treatments can make hair fragile, so can colour treatments. Whether you’re bleaching, dyeing or highlighting, frequent washing can lead to faster colour fade — and if you dye your hair red, that will fade quickest.
Full head colour: 1 point
Highlights: 2 points
Natural colour: 3 points
5 HOW OILY IS YOUR SKIN?
Just as some people naturally have a tendency to greasier skin on their face, some people will have a naturally greasier scalp. If you know your skin type, you’ve probably got a pretty good idea of your scalp type, too. Oily skin tends to be associated with hair that gets greasier more quickly.
Dry skin……………………………………..1 point
Normal or combination skin………2 points
Oily skin…………………………….3 points
6 WHERE ARE YOU IN YOUR CYCLE?
Hormone changes can affect how oily your scalp feels. ‘Some women find that in the run-up to their period, just as they get oilier skin and spots, so their scalp might feel oilier,’ says Annabel Kingsley.
But the biggest hormonal change happens in the run-up to, during and after the menopause. ‘Many women in their 50s find that even three days after shampooing, their scalp is not greasy, even if in their 20s and 30s they had to shampoo daily.’
Days 1-21 of your cycle (with the first day of your period as day 1)……………2 points
Days 22-28……………….3 points
7 HOW STRESSED ARE YOU?
It’s not just your period or menopause that can have an impact on hormones. ‘If you’re stressed, your levels of cortisol go up and have a knock- on effect on levels of testosterone, which leads to increased oil production,’ says Annabel.
Coping with levels of stress….2 points
8 HOW OFTEN DO YOU EXERCISE?
Exercise may be brilliant for your body, but it’s not great for your hair. After a workout, your hair may feel limp and greasy, as your scalp will be sweating.
‘If you’re constantly touching your hair or running your fingers through it, it will get dirtier and greasier more quickly, too,’ says David Felstead, who heads up the Hair & Scalp Clinic at Daniel Galvin.
Exercise once a week at most………..1 point
Exercise about twice a week………2 points
Exercise daily……..3 points
9 WHERE DO YOU SPEND YOUR TIME?
If you’re living in a polluted city, or spend a lot of time in areas where food is prepared or strong odours are present, your hair will need washing more frequently, as it will become dirty and pick up smells more quickly.
No time in polluted environments………..1 point
Occasional time in polluted environments………2 points
A lot of time in polluted environments………3 points
10 DO YOU USE HEAT STYLING TOOLS?
If you use straighteners or tongs every time you wash your hair, you need to balance that against how frequently you wash it.
So while many trichologists would recommend that for scalp health you wash hair daily, they will also concede that washing, drying and heatstyling hair on a daily basis will cause damage that outweighs the benefits to your scalp of a daily cleanse.
Use styling tools every wash……….1 point
Use styling tools occasionally……2 points
Never use styling tools……………..3 points
SO WHAT WAS YOUR SCORE?
Now add up your points to find out how frequently you should be washing your hair…
10-16 points — Wash your hair every five to seven days
Your hair type and lifestyle indicate that you should be washing your hair less frequently than average, so it’s not surprising if you can go a week between washes. But do keep an eye on your scalp and, if you notice any irritation, think about using a scalp tonic or mask, or upping the frequency of washes. And think about using a moisturising conditioning treatment so your hair doesn’t dry out between washes.
17-24 points — Wash your hair every three to four days
A twice-a-week wash is appropriate for a lot of people and your hair type and lifestyle indicate that you fall into this group. Washing every three or four days should mean your hair and scalp stay in optimum condition. But remember, this isn’t set in stone; feel free to increase the frequency or dial it down if you think your hair needs it.
25-30 points — Wash your hair daily or every other day
Your hair type and lifestyle suggest that your hair and scalp needs very regular washing, so you should be washing your hair daily, or every other day. Remember, though, that wet hair is more easily damaged than dry hair, so take care of it when washing and drying, and try to limit the amount of heat styling you use.
The expert way to wash
According to Annabel Kingsley, it really is worth choosing a shampoo according to your hair type. ‘A shampoo for fine hair might have stronger surfactants, as it needs to cleanse away more oil,’ she says.
‘But it might also include ingredients to give fine hair body. Conversely, shampoos for coarser hair might have a more mild surfactant, as there is less oil to remove, but may also contain moisturisers to help coarse hair feel less dry.’
And, says David Felstead, ask your hair stylist what your hair type is. ‘I’m always amazed how people see their own hair — they are often completely wrong,’ he says. ‘Using a shampoo designed for damaged hair when you have fine, limp hair will make trying to do anything with your hair almost impossible.’
Next, think about ‘cleansing your scalp, rather than washing your hair,’ says Annabel. ‘Hair is quite easily cleaned — you don’t need to pile it on top of your head and rub it, the suds rinsing through will be enough.’
She suggests thinking about how you are meant to wash your face: ‘dampen the skin, apply the product, massage for 60 seconds, rinse liberally with warm water — the same is true for the scalp’. Zoe Irwin, creative director at John Frieda, agrees that most of us don’t bother massaging the scalp for as long they do in a salon. But we also tend to be less thorough about rinsing.
‘You need to part the hair in several places so the water can run through it properly. Lift up the hair at the nape and make sure the water runs clear before you even think about applying conditioner.’
And, if you’re applying conditioner everywhere, you could find your roots feel oilier more quickly.
‘The hair at the root is younger and so not as worn or dry as the hair in the mid-lengths and ends,’ says Annabel. ‘So you generally don’t need to apply conditioner there.’ Zoe recommends spending 30 seconds with a comb to ensure conditioner is worked into the lower sections of the hair, before rinsing.