A hot button question for all NaturAllistas is, how often should I be washing my hair? For many years we were told that people with our hair textures don’t need to wash their hair often and this is partially true. Many of us have been made to believe that the textures of our hair make it easier to keep moisture in from the natural oils we produce. However, this is the exact opposite reason why we should not wash our hair too often. The textures of natural hair, whether you are 3b or 4c, are especially prone to breakage, split ends and lost moisture. With all these factors going against each other, over washing the hair and stripping necessary moisture is the last thing you would want for your hair. This is the very reason why natural hair should not be over-washed or more specifically, shampooed.
In a perfect world, you would be able to follow a tight rule of every two weeks, on the spot. The truth is all we can do is create a guideline for ourselves and follow the actions of our hair. Everyone’s lifestyles differ from each other, so while it is smart to make informed decisions, you have to realize you always have to adjust to fit the right routine for yourself. The most important rule of thumb is to find the steps that keep your hair moisturized while maintaining a healthy scalp.
Now we aren't saying don’t wet your hair or do not rinse it. There are times when we just have to get rid of all that product we used during the styling process so we can avoid product build up and hair fatigue. There is a way you can do this in an effective way without stripping the hair of important oils and nourishment that it needs. The two most efficient approaches people speak of when they are trying to bring life back to the hair is shampooing and co washing. Both methods provide the hair with some level of cleansing while, hopefully, leaving the moisturized. Let’s talk about the difference between cleansing and co-washing and how too much of a good thing can be dangerous for maintaining a healthy regimen
Shampoo V Co-Wash
So when you are thinking about washing your hair, you want to think of really getting in there to cleanse away any dirt. While that is a good rule of thumb, sometimes natural hair does not need a deep clean as frequently as you think. Using a shampoo or clarifying cleanser too often can weaken the hair shaft and make the hair more susceptible to breakage and brittleness.
When you are shampooing the hair, a typical shampoo or clarifying shampoo has specific cleansing agents that are meant to eat through any oils, silicones or dirt that is stuck on the scalp and the hair. Eating away at the particles that are meant to be there can leave your scalp raw and irritated. One thing we can all agree on is to stay away from shampoos full of sulfates, Sulfates have a tendency to be too harsh for the scalp which can lead to infections and permanent damage.
A co washing product is usually a cream based formula that has less harsh cleansing agents. This always for a lighter cleansing while still introducing conditioning properties to the hair and scalp. This helps to rid excess build up without completely stripping the hair shaft.
For guideline purposes, many people like to use the following schedule to ensure they are cleansing the hair every two weeks.
- Week 1: Shampoo
- Week 2: Co Wash (IF needed)
- Week 3: Cleansing Shampoo or Clarifying Shampoo
- Week 4: Co Wash
The tricky part is finding the balance between the two. They're both equally important to any healthy hair care regimen but the true key and the real question is when do you do either? How can you tell when your hair is in need of a quick touch up or a rigorous cleaning? Most of your answers will come to you when you take a comprehensive look at your lifestyle and what exactly contributes to your hair reaching its dirtiest moments.
All in a Day's Work
A few other factors you have to consider when planning out your wash day is your everyday life activities. This can include your workout schedule, where you physically work or your exposure to outside elements. All of this can have an impact in the build up your hair acquires and it all also impacts how you go about it.
Sweat is a common cause of build up on the scalp, causes irritation and can weigh down your hair follicles. If you are someone who leads an active lifestyle or has a more physically demanding job, you’ll have to consider cleansing a bit more frequently. Many active naturals tie up their hair. In this process there is usually a custard, an oil, or a gel involved that is aiding in dirtying up the scalp and hair strands. Matched with being tied up and trapped, you are creating the perfect environment that will definitely need a real deep cleaning.
You may also consider cleansing and shampooing a little more regularly if you find yourself in a dirtier than normal environment. For example, let’s say your profession requires you to work in a warehouse setting. More times than not, there is extra debris and dust in the air. This is a natural occurrence in a place like this so if you are not wearing any protection on your hair, you’re going to experience more build up than usual. On the other hand, if you are someone who does have to wear head protection at work (i.e construction, fast food, welder, etc) this may also require you to shampoo a bit more frequently. If you are putting in a lot of physical effort and your head is sweating underneath your headwear, you’re trapping in any lint, dirt or product right into your hair. This is most definitely a cause for cleansing the hair on week 2 or 4 as well.
Another lifestyle contributor to build up is your pets! Sometimes we forget that the hair and dander they leave behind is in the air, sometimes on our pillows or couches. Now don’t get me wrong, for the most part we all clean up after our fur babies but let’s be real. That hair they shed gets everywhere and it can get caught up in your hair. One or two pets may not make a difference in your hair but anymore and their hair just becomes part of your life. So a little more cleansing will help you out.
Your styling products play the biggest role in determining your wash day schedule. The products for natural hair textures usually are cream, oil or wax based. All of these ingredients can cause build up to accumulate more quickly. This means that you have to be diligent in picking the right products and applying them efficiently. Products who have a heavier texture or have ingredients that are hard to rinse away (silicones, waxes, etc) provide nourishment of some sort but if they are not naturally derived, all they do is sit on top of the hair for a long period of time. For instance, our Hydrating Leave-In Conditioner is a great example of a great, lightweight natural everyday conditioner that penetrates the hair shaft. This product will have less effect on build up so you can shampoo less.
If you are what some people would call a “product junkie” shampooing has to be a staple in your routine. If you have a proper shampoo and clarifying process, you can get away with still shampooing every other week. If you are a little bit of a lazy natural but you use heavy products, you may have to shampoo once a week. Your hair will tell you when it needs a shampoo if your usual products begin to weigh down the hair or not penetrate and so you’ll notice dryness or frizziness.
Now we all know that having a clean scalp and clean roots is the most important foundation to proper hair growth, manageability and strength. However, there is such a thing as “too clean”. When your hair is over cleansed, you’ll start to find your scalp is raw and irritated, your strands will be stripped of essential oils and this will lead to breakage. The hair will start to become sensitive to things like proteins, vitamins and minerals and it will become harder to build up the strength of the weakened strands. This is why introducing a co wash to your hair will help balance the good and bad oils. Co washing in between cleansing will eliminate the fatigue your hair will feel if you over wash.
What’s Your Style?
The frequency of your wash day must coincide with the life of your style. Depending on the condition of your hair and how it is styled, you might not have to wash your hair as much as you think. Protective styles are a perfect way to decrease the amount of shampooing your hair will need. Many protective styles are installed with the intent of there being little to no manipulation for at least 2-3 weeks. This means that yes, you will get to take a break from the sometimes exhausting wash day. It also means that you will need to wash your hair as soon as it is taken down (preferably a clarifying shampoo). Afterwards, you can get back on your schedule of about every 2 weeks, giving the hair the rest it needs.
If you are a natural who may be suffering from a bit of heat damage or chemical damage (i.e color treated) your washing will be completely determined on the state of your hair at the time. While you can use an every two week cadence, you want to make sure to pay attention to how your hair feels and looks. For example, many naturals love to try different colors in their hair. While there are non-traditional semi-permanent options, we all love a good dye job. With this chemical change in the hair, you may be tempted to use a bit more moisturizing products. Being that your strands are a little more porous now so product build up is almost inevitable. So you have to wash a little more frequently. However, there's a catch! While you want to wash your hair to prevent build up, with colored natural hair, you have to ensure it is the most gentle shampoo. Our Hydrating Shampoo with Avocado and Kiwi provides a gentle cleanse that can help you combat dirt and dry hair all at the same time!
The Ultimate Source
The name of the game in natural hair is moisture, moisture, moisture! Well when washing your hair, the ultimate source of that needed moisture is the very water you're using. When washing your hair, the quality of your water can also affect how often you should wash it. If you have hard water, the calcium can react to the cleansing agents in your shampoo and create build up on the hair. Decreasing the amount of times you wash your hair will avoid this reaction.
Many suggest that if you have hard water, you might want to use distilled water to wash your hair versus the water that comes from your showerhead or tap. This can become inconvenient, expensive and in some cases, wasteful. Another suggestion is to change your shower head to one that contains a water filter. This will help you regulate your wash days because you won’t have to worry about build up that comes from an uncontrollable source.
All of this to Say
This may not have been the most cut and dry schedule to follow. The truth is that everyone’s wash day schedule is going to vary. We could give you a regimen, but you will find that one or more of these factors listed will shift how often you need to shampoo your hair. Taking the time to really listen and access how your hair is behaving will tell you so much more than you could ever imagine. Pay attention to the feeling of your hair after a shampoo but before a condition. This is the most raw form and you will be able to understand how your hair works when seeing and feeling it in its most vulnerable state.