It should be so simple: Squirt some hydrating shampoo into your palm, work it into your hair until it’s a rich luxurious froth, and rinse. But somewhere along the way, things got a bit complicated. Co-washes, second-day stylers, dry shampoo—there are more products than ever designed to help you lather up less. But is that a good thing? There are so many ways to wash, but only one correct way to learn how to shampoo your hair.
Certified trichologist Sophia Emmanuel isn’t so sure: “You have to understand that, despite their names, co-washes and dry shampoo do not cleanse your hair the way regular shampoo will,” she says. They should be used sparingly—and only in conjunction with a traditional shampoo.
But a once-a-day wash isn’t necessarily appropriate for everyone—your washing schedule really depends upon your hair type, says celebrity stylist Mia Santiago, whose clients include Mariska Margitay, Martha Stewart, Christina Hendricks, and Dove Cameron. She recommends gauging your routine based on the thickness of your hair.
So where do you fall on the wash spectrum, and what formula is the best fit for your strands, to keep them healthy and breakage-free? Keep scrolling for all the dirt on cleansing your hair.
Here’s what happens when you don’t shampoo your hair
Think you can go weeks without lathering up? Not a good move, says Emmanuel. “It’s important to shampoo your hair regularly to prevent the scalp from clogging with dirt, oil, and buildup from hair products,” she explains. “When the scalp is clogged, your hair will not grow as healthy. It can look lifeless and may lack body and shine. Plus, this buildup can be linked to dandruff, dry scalp, and itchiness.”
It’s something professional stylists like Santiago see all the time. “I have clients that overuse dry shampoo and their scalps and follicles are dirty and clogged. Remember, dry shampoo doesn’t cleanse—it just absorbs oil from the hair.” Even worse: “Your scalp can also start to develop an unpleasant odor,” she says. Not cute.
So how often should I shampoo my hair?
This depends, as we said above, on your hair type. If your hair is very fine or thin, Santiago recommends sudsing up every other day. A daily wash may dry out your strands, but waiting any longer can lead your hair to look greasy, stringy, or flat—all things that plague those with fine hair more easily than other types.
Medium-to-thick types can get by with two to three washes per week and even those with texture type 4 hair should still wash at least once a week, says Emmanuel. “If you have a particularly oily scalp or use a lot of waxy or oil-based hair products, you may need to shampoo a bit more, no matter your hair type,” she explains.
This is how professionals shampoo their hair
Use shower time as the opportunity to not only wash your hair, but as a brief moment of self-care: Both Santiago and Emmanuel recommend massaging the scalp while you’re working your shampoo into hair. “It helps you feel more relaxed and really getting in there and cleansing the scalp removes buildup and helps hair to grow,” says Santiago.
If you have thick hair, Santiago recommends dividing hair into two sections and washing them separately. And Emmanuel stresses that you want to wash and massage gently. “Use your fingertips—never your nails—so you don’t cut or damage the scalp,” she insist. “And don’t be too vigorous, which can cause tangles when the hair is wet.”
Use the finger pads to massage the scalp in circular motions for three to five minutes, focusing on shampooing at the roots. Bring the lather down the lengths only when you’re nearly finished and rinse.
What shampoo should I use?
Calming haircare is a good bet here as it won’t irritate the scalp. In general, a hydrating shampoo or a CBD shampoo that is sulfate-free is a solid choice. This is especially important if you color your hair and have regular keratin smoothing treatments.
If you tend to use a lot of heavy styling products such as gels, oils, butters, or thick creams, use a clarifying shampoo every few washes, recommends Emmanuel. On those days, she suggests using your clarifying first and then you’re regular shampoo after—almost like a double cleanse for your locks.
If, in between the washing schedule we’ve established above, you feel like your hair needs a little refresher, that’s when it might be appropriate to use your cleansing conditioners and co-washes.
Now that you’ve got the basics down, expect lusher, shinier, and cleaner hair.