How often should I wash my hair? You asked Google – here’s the answer

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “How often should I wash my hair? You asked Google – here’s the answer” was written by Jessica Hopkins, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 8th February 2017 08.00 UTC

“Should” is a tricky word. And not one I’m generally a fan of. By definition it’s used to indicate “obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticising someone’s actions”. For example: you should wash your hair; it looks awful. But do we have a duty or obligation to wash our hair? And if so, is that for the good of our own health or to appease society’s expectations of personal hygiene and grooming?

While growing up, I vaguely remember instructions to brush my teeth and have a wash but the parental guidance on hair washing specifically escapes recollection. My earliest memory of washing my own hair as a child is my older sister’s mirth that not only did I bypass shampoo and go straight for conditioner, I hadn’t rinsed it out either. Some 25 years of hair-care trial-and-error later and I’ve more or less got it nailed.

My hair is dark, curly and very thick, so can easily withstand a good four or five days before it needs washing. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s not unknown to push this to a full week, providing I’ve been giving it a thorough soaking and comb-through each day. Does that seem gross?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Excessively thick, curly hair can benefit no end from a little natural oil – in fact I’d go as far as to say that natural sebum is the world’s greatest serum – but for someone with thin, straight, blond hair, five days without washing generates an entirely different result.

So how do you determine what’s best for you? Just answer these simple questions. Is your hair long or short? Straight or curly? Thick or thin? Do you exercise (sweat) a lot? Swim? What’s your ethnicity? Do you live or work in a heavily polluted area? Do you use a lot of products? Do you heat style? Colour? Throw in the three sweeping hair “types” of oily, normal or dry and suddenly I feel an instructional matrix coming on. What the hell is normal hair, anyway?

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Any one of these, or combination, will provide a different answer, ranging from every day to every other day, to every three days, to once or twice a week to the more obvious “as often as it needs it”. Most hair professionals tend to generalise at twice a week (fine hair excepted) but I know that isn’t applicable to me, at least, so why would you trust that? (As an aside, and just to be clear: whether you usually wash your hair every day or twice a week, using dry shampoo does not count. That’s like spritzing Febreze on your favourite T-shirt and saying you’ve washed it. You haven’t.)

The global shampoo industry will be worth an estimated bn-plus by 2019, in part thanks to the increase in dry shampoo sales and the increasing demand for natural and organic products. But is shampoo just another thing we’re programmed to buy because we think we need it? Every week my sister and I dutifully went to the supermarket with our dad, maintaining the illusion that we were helping with the weekly shop when in fact we were roaming the beauty aisle (with inexplicable free rein), searching for the new releases in shampoo and conditioner that we had just seen on TV. This was less because we had a keen interest in maintaining scalp health, more because we felt compelled to try the new products that promised us dreamy curls in a catchy way: “Don’t be so mean to your hair! Get hot!” (Yes, hands up if you’re a child of 80s commercialism.)

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Given that shampoos can now only advertise how they will affect how hair looks, and not what is actually going on inside each follicle, then how can we trust that we do actually need to use it at all? To be Jen for a moment: “Here comes the science bit, concentrate.” If you usually wash your hair every day and then skip one it’s likely that your hair will become greasy pretty quickly. This is because while shampoo is taking away any dirt build up, it can also be drying out your natural reserves of sebum: the scalp thinks it’s in a drought so overcompensates, you get greasy hair and need to wash it again. Continue ad infinitum. (As another aside: be gentle when you wash, and only do the roots. Excessive scrubbing activates the oil-producing sebaceous glands, thus becoming a self-defeating action.)

When the hair and scalp are healthy, as much sebum as is needed is produced naturally. In theory, once you’ve weaned yourself free, you shouldn’t need to use shampoo at all, just a daily “wash” with water.

Given that I’m halfway to No Poo with my five-day average, I am incredibly tempted to give it a whirl properly. As for you (assuming you aren’t ready to ditch the suds): does it smell bad? Does your scalp itch? Is it stuck together? Does it look dull? Do you want to? Then probably, you already know the answer.

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