Our hair is one of the first things people notice about us, so it’s no wonder we take hair care seriously. On average, women in the U.S. can spend up to $55,000 in their lifetime maintaining their hair, and men spend nearly $1 billion a year fighting baldness. Overall, the global hair care market is estimated at more than $80 billion.
Store aisles are filled with a dizzying array of wet and dry shampoos, leave-in and rinse-out conditioners, volumizers, frizz reducers and other products to manage your mane. But are they necessary? And how often should you use them?
“One of the biggest hair myths is that you need to wash your hair every day,” says Dr. Mona Mofid, a board-certified dermatologist with Sharp Community Medical Group. “For some people, it’s a routine but the reality is you need to shampoo your hair when you need it — and everyone is different.”
Depending on your natural production of scalp oils, your hair type and activity level, you may need to only wash your hair once a week, says Dr. Mofid. But if you produce a lot of oil — thanks to genetics and hormones — buildup can accumulate and you may need to wash more often to avoid inflammation and irritation.
Excessive washing and styling can lead to hair loss
If you wash your hair daily because that’s part of your morning routine, think again — washing and styling too frequently can lead to hair damage and loss. Thinning hair is one of the number one concerns Dr. Mofid hears in her practice, and excessive hair washing can be a factor in hair loss.
“Many shampoos use ingredients as thickeners but can in fact cause a dry itchy scalp and encourage hair loss,” says Dr. Mofid. Similarly, some ingredients advertised as thickeners strip hair of moisture.
Washing hair everyday removes our natural oils, causing the hair to dry out quicker. When this is followed by blow drying, hot irons and styling, which adds to the stress on the hair, it can lead to breakage and hair loss.
“Some people shampoo so frequently that they strip the natural oils from the hair and then add product to calm the hair, when they could just shampoo less frequently to improve the quality and health of their hair,” says Dr. Mofid. “Plus, think of all the money you can save.”
Washing hair too infrequently also carries risks
So, are there any downsides to less frequent hair washing? Depending on how much oil your body produces, it can build up on the scalp, which can be a problem.
“Scalp buildup of oils and dirt can contribute to hair loss and infection,” says Dr. Mofid. “If you are experiencing significant buildup, you may have a condition called seborrheic dermatitis, which is similar to cradle cap or dandruff, or a form of scalp psoriasis (sebopsoriasis), so you may need medicated shampoos and topical medications to help control the condition. Daily washing is not the answer.”
Unless you are an athlete or working out every day, Dr. Mofid suggests washing your hair every other day, at most. There are a lot of products on the market that you can use in between wash days to soak up some of the excess oil, such as hair powder or dry shampoos. You can even consider a rinsing without shampooing, or a refreshing mist. If you must wash your hair daily, look for a product that is made for daily cleansing, which is usually less harsh on your hair.
And what about children, who tend to be more active than adults: Should they wash their hair every day? Dr. Mofid has a simple suggestion.
“It depends on how dirty they are,” she says. “If they have been rolling around in the mud or playing soccer, then certainly yes. But a good sniff will tell you whether or not they need to lather up.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Mofid about hair loss for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.