Washing your hair is one of those practices, like brushing your teeth and washing your face, that most of us do automatically. Lather, rinse, condition, towel off, blow dry, and get on with your day.
For anyone lucky enough to be born with a lustrous, shining mane, that quick routine is fine. The rest of us need to put more effort into caring for our hair.
"If you have gorgeous hair and it looks gorgeous no matter what you do to it, then it doesn't really matter. But the unfortunate fact is most of us don't have that," says dermatology professor Amy McMichael, MD, of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
With so many options in those bottles, the first step is to figure out what suits your hair.
What’s Your Hair Type?
Is your hair texture curly or straight? Does it frizz or fall flat? Do you color it?
For each hair type there's a shampoo made for it.
"Different shampoos have different features and benefits, so in order to maintain the most vitality and luster, it's important to match what your hair needs to the features and benefits that are right for you," says Nick Arrojo, owner and founder of ARROJO NYC and author of Great Hair: Secrets to Looking Fabulous and Feeling Beautiful Every Day.
The easiest way to find the right shampoo is to look for words on the label that match your hair type, such as "dry," "oily," "fine," or "frizzy."
- Fine hair: Wash your hair with a ‘volumizing’ shampoo to add body.
- Curly hair: To tame flyaway hair and prevent dry, damaged-looking tresses, McMichael suggests a shampoo specifically for dry or chemically treated hair.
- Dry hair: "Look for shampoos with intensive moisture replenishment," Arrojo suggests. He recommends scanning the ingredient list for natural oils, which are absorbed by hair. Coconut oil is "one of the best emollients in hair care," he says. Others are avocado oil, grapeseed oil, and argan oil.
- Oily hair: Arrojo suggests buying a shampoo specifically formulated for oily hair. Stay away from shampoo that bills itself as moisturizing or conditioning. You don’t want to add more moisture to oily hair. If dandruff is also a problem -- which it often is with oily hair -- treat it with an anti-dandruff shampoo containing ingredients like ketoconazole, zinc pyrithione, or selenium sulfide. "People think of dandruff as a dry scalp issue, but really your scalp is oil-producing and certain people make more oils than others," McMichael says. Yeast that live on the scalp feast on those oils and produce irritating byproducts that make the scalp flake.
- Color-treated hair: Choose a color-preserving shampoo that won't strip out the highlights you just spent a fortune on at the salon, Arrojo says.
Once you've found the right type of shampoo for your hair, try different brands until you find one you like, McMichael says.
Should You Condition Your Hair?
Before the 1950s, shampoo was nothing more than liquid soap. Then surfactants came along. Although they were cheap and preserved the hair's natural volume, these cleaners were also harsh and drying.
Enter conditioners, which were designed to add moisture back into shampoo-parched hair.
To retain your hair's moisture, condition every time you wash, says Arrojo. "Conditioner not only makes your hair look and feel softer and smoother, it also calms your hair down, making it easier to shape and style." A leave-in conditioner can help re-hydrate hair that's over-processed, dry, and brittle. Be careful not to over-condition your hair, which can make it look flat and lifeless.
Today there are moisturizing shampoos and cleansing conditioners that do both jobs. Although moisturizing shampoos are usually hydrating enough to use alone, McMichael says cleansing conditioners often don't do a good enough job of cleaning the scalp.
Should You Wash Your Hair Daily?
Many people wash their hair every day. You might not need to.
"Shampooing three or four times weekly is plenty," Arrojo says. Washing removes hair's natural oils. "There is nothing inherently bad about these oils; they actually help to create texture in hair."
If your hair is on the oily side, you may find that you need to wash it more often -- every day or two. Waiting more than that is fine for drier hair, though if you go longer than two weeks it may get grimy. It's a matter of finding the schedule that works for you.
Washing your hair seems like a no-brainer, but there is some technique involved.
Don't just plop a huge glob of shampoo on top of your head and then start rubbing it in -- that can damage the hair cuticles and cause frizz, Arrojo says.
Instead, squeeze out a dime-sized amount into the center of your hand and lather it up between your palms. Then apply the shampoo, starting at your crown -- the top of your head toward the back -- and gently distribute through the rest of your hair. Massage – don't rub – your scalp with your fingertips as you shampoo, Arrojo says.
Technique Matters continued...
Use a similar technique when conditioning. Rub the conditioner between your palms first. Then start with the ends of your hair.
"Focus on massaging the conditioner thoroughly through the final three inches of your hair in sections all across your hair," Arrojo says. "By doing this regularly, you'll find it truly does make an incredible difference to vitality and luster." The hair near your scalp gets plenty of natural oils, but hair farther away from your scalp tends to dry out.