I've been a big proponent of not washing your hair as often for many reasons (more on that in a bit) and this advice can often be misunderstood. Not washing your hair as often does not mean "letting it go as long as possible" because doing this can be detrimental to your scalp health. So how long should you leave your hair without washing it?
Most people wash their hair every other day = one day YES one day NO.
But it’s not difficult to wash your hair every other OTHER day = one day YES, two days NO.
Not washing your hair daily has many advantages, and it can take a little time for your scalp to calm down its rampant sebum production, but it’s very doable to go 3 days:
saves water: The average shower lasts approximately 8 minutes, with an average water flow of 2.1 gallons per minute = 16 gallons of water per shower. And if you're like me and have 3 adult daughters, then the water usage increases to about 15 to sometimes 20 minutes per shower.
saves electricity (heating a whole water tank costs quite a bit, at an average of $1 per 10-minute shower). Calculate your cost-per-shower [HERE]. Add it up: for a family of four people, that's almost $1500 dollars worth of daily showers!
saves on shampoo and all those styling products, since everything is eventually flushed down the drain anyway. On average a person will use 11 bottles of shampoo per year (just over 1 bottle per month for those who wash every 2 days) and 5 bottles of conditioner. Plus leave-in conditioners, gels, mousse, hairspray, etc.
it's ecologically friendly: fewer products being flushed down the drain.
saves your scalp: yes, it’s less irritating for your scalp to wash it less often, as washing it often can throw the scalp's microbiome off balance, causing many issues.
As you can see, washing your hair less often has many advantages, but what happens if you push it and try and go many days without washing your hair? There's a lot of research done on just this topic, and the results may surprise you.
Through the years I've seen many people be proud of the fact they can let their hair go without a wash for days, even weeks at a time – like they're puffing their chest at this achievement. In fact, I used to try and extend my hair washing for a week, and it's one of the things that got me very curious to learn more about how the hair and scalp functioned.
During my "No Poo" days (that's when you wash your hair with baking soda and rinse with apple cider vinegar in order to "wash natural") my goal was to only wash my hair once per week. Much to the horror (and support) of my family, who stood by while I walked around like a greaseball, scratching my head and trying all kinds of "natural products", I was able to extend hair washing to 4, maybe even sometimes 5 days... and it was a rough go!
Kind of fun as it became a bit of a hobby, but very difficult as well because I was too embarrassed to go out with friends or see the neighbours, and always wore a hat whenever I went for a walk, because you know... the grease! It was REAL!
Over time and through intense education, I learned there is a real reason why the No Poo Method is not good for scalp health long-term – but it did get me started on the journey to make more natural hair products! (All was not lost).
So I do not advise letting your hair go for too long before washing it, and here's why:
What happens when you let your hair go 4 or 5 days (OR LONGER) without washing it?
There is such a thing as “too long” because waiting to wash your scalp for the sake of "waiting" can also be detrimental for it in the long run:
scalp irritation increases (some people describe this as the scalp feeling "hot" or tingly, maybe even "hurt").
a drastic increase in Malassesia levels (a type of fungi that naturally lives on the skin, but can become imbalanced and increase in number causing dandruff, itchiness, irritation, and that “scalp pain” you may feel).
your hair can become draggy, limp and dull.
scalp odour (which also comes from an imbalance of bacteria on the scalp, much like BO (body odour). It's not pleasant, and you may be the only one doesn't smell it...
So how often is best to wash your hair?
How often you wash your hair is really up to you and your specific lifestyle, because there are too many variables to just “pick a best-before date” in order to know how long you should wait between washes. Hair washing frequency needs will depend on:
exercise: and how much you sweat, as some people will sweat more than others, and the quality of sweat (thickness, amount, odour, stickiness) also depends on their diet.
outdoor activity level: The more you're outdoors, the more you're exposed to pollutants and pollen, for example.
surrounded by smokers: If you're indoors surrounded by smokers, cigarette smoke is also considered a pollutant for both hair and scalp.
“dirt”: This is a big word with much to unpack because it will depend on what you consider to be dirty. Typically, dirty means dust and sawdust (if you're a carpenter or in construction, for example), and sebum production build-up (what some people consider "dirty" but really just means natural oil build-up).
how much product you put on your hair and scalp: Some people use none, and some people use a whole pile of hair stylers, like leave-in conditioners, followed by a gel or mousse, then hairspray, then hair oils and so on, depending on their hair type and how you're styling it.
the condition of your hair to begin with: If your hair is dry you're more likely to fuss with it a bit more than if your hair is otherwise 'healthy'.
how much you play with your hair: Fingers are naturally oily and pick up dirt and oil from anything you touch, and if you're a 'hair player' this will impact how dirty your hair gets over a few days.
if you wear head coverings and hats: From individuals who wear Hijabs to those who ride motorcycles, play sports often, or wear construction hats, hat wearers and head coverings can prevent air from circulating through the scalp, causing natural oil and dirt to be trapped underneath the hair's surface.
So for the best scalp health, you really have to get to know your ideal wash frequency. You gotta do your homework! Never go by what one person suggests or what you may read on one particular website.
Your lifestyle is unique and so are your hair and scalp issues. Experiment, and figure out what works for you.
Product NATURALITY will make a big difference in how your hair and scalp respond.
The ingredients that are used in the formulation of hair products are (or typically should be) strictly researched and investigated by consumer beauty standards and governing bodies, however, there is something to be said about using the most natural ingredients possible in hair products.
Some ingredients are considered more natural than others; some are nature-derived, some are nature-identical, and some are altogether synthetic (we have a whole blog post on just this interesting topic [HERE]). The truth of the matter is, that we're always best to use as natural as possible, just as we do when we consider consumables, since more natural ingredients will be more easily assimilated with our bodies.
Synthetic ingredients often used in hair products by the mainstream industry have proven to be more controversial, and have been the focus of more health-related issues and warnings than their natural counterparts, as have they shown to be more eco-toxic. For this reason, we recommend using hair products that are as natural as possible, and that's the reason why we have chosen these in our hair product formulations.
Focus more on scalp cleansing than hair cleansing, since whatever you use on your scalp to cleanse will run down your hair length when it is rinsed out.
As such, keep in mind that regardless of how natural an ingredient can be, you may still have a reaction to it or find it irritating, so get to know the ingredients that make up your hair products and figure out what it likes and doesn't like, remembering that an itchy scalp will be your first alert.
BONUS TIPS to SOOTHE YOUR SCALP BETWEEN WASHES:
Massage your scalp: To loosen sebum (hair oil) that may be building up. Massage your scalp gently – like you're massaging a baby's back – for just 2 minutes at night before bedtime.
A warm rinse: Warm water can make oil thin out (much like putting oil on a heated cooking pan), helping it release from the scalp to run down your hair lengths. This can be a great way to help the scalp's natural oils make your hair shinier too! Have a warm body shower (not hot!) and let the water run down your scalp. No need to wash it for one more day.
Use a powdered dry shampoo: Avoid spray-type dry shampoo formulations as they contain alcohol that can dry and irritate your scalp. Our Greasy Bang Fix has been formulated for just this purpose, using herbs, absorbing clays and plant extracts that soothe the scalp between washes.
Oatmeal rinse: If your scalp is not oily but feels irritated, you can do a simple oatmeal rinse to soothe the skin on the scalp by soaking some regular oatmeal in a stocking (tied in a knot) and letting the "milk" it produces run down your scalp (watch our quick video on how to do this [HERE]).
If all else fails and your scalp is itchy and irritated, wash your hair. It's not the end of the world, certainly not worth the aggravation, and will avoid further scalp damage – then switch to more natural, less irritating hair products. There's a reason why our hair products have such excellent reviews from those who have long suffered from scalp irritation.
Wishing you happy hair days ahead!