If you're anything like most of the world, you've probably heard your hairdresser/a magazine/a BFF tell you that you should not wash your hair every day. You've probably even seen sites (hey, like us!) celebrate not shampooing at all. "It started in the '80s, grew in the '90s, and then became huge in the '00s — there was a push in the hair care industry to not wash your hair as frequently," explains Kazu Namise, the founder of beauty brand Phylia de M. "During that time, when you think about the products in the market, you see a lot of things that were heavily detergent-based. That wreaked major havoc on a lot of people's hair and scalps."
This prompted the industry (well, most of it, anyway) to start rolling out sulfate-free shampoos, and, more recently, cleansing conditioners. Suds have officially become the enemy, right? Shampooing daily is old-fashioned, and we all need to update our routines for the modern world.
The Case For Shampooing
Interestingly enough, there's a market trend that's happened in tandem with the War On Shampoo: All of a sudden, a whole lot more attention was paid to the scalp. It's impossible to know whether or not our newfound obsession with scalp care happened in response to or in anticipation of consumer scalp issues, but it seems like every brand had a launch that focused on the head, and not the hair: Kérastase, Sachajuan, Alterna, John Masters Organics, Davines, and more. But, you're probably wondering, why does this matter?
"A healthy scalp is the foundation for the best head of hair you can have," explains Elizabeth Cunnane Phillips, a trichologist at New York's Philip Kingsley Clinic, where she's well-acquainted with all matters of the head and hair. "A clean scalp is a healthy scalp in that it's the starting point by which you can support optimal follicular function. The scalp is the bedrock of the follicle, so you can't technically grow your best head of hair if you've got scale, debris, oil, sebum, sweat, and other things that normally and naturally occur on the head."
In other words, cleansing your scalp — also known (to some!) as shampooing — is an essential part of maintaining healthy, beautiful hair. The only problem is, this goes exactly against everything we've been hearing in recent years. "At the Clinic, we have seen empirical evidence that a scalp that isn't optimally healthy, that has dandruff or other conditions, is prone to shedding and hair loss," Phillips says.
A Closer Look At Your Scalp
There has been a longstanding notion that the natural oils your scalp produces are essential for beautiful hair. This is, of course, true. "But, in our environments, things have changed," Phillips points out. (Hello, the winter we're having.) "When you think about what comes off of your face every day, well, all that is on your hair and scalp, too. Think about your face and what you do to your face — you let the physical look of your hair dictate how your care for your scalp, when in actuality, that scalp has a whole set of needs you're not attending to. You're prioritizing your blowout." (And, as Namise points out, you should also think of all that dirt and debris and oil building up on your pillow while you sleep.)
"For optimum hair growth, you need to balance the stressors on your skin," Namise says. "When we look at scalps under a Scalar lens, we can see follicles that are clogged, kind of like blackheads. You can see product residue embedded on the scalp, on top of all the dirt and oil. The more your scalp has exposure to the elements, the more it's stressed."
But, this doesn't mean that the solution is as simple as a daily shampoo (though, they both recommend it). The first thing is picking the right product. Philip Kingsley has an entire range that's founded on healthy scalp care, while Phylia "Clean" contains ingredients like aloe essence, neroli oil, soy proteins, and nettle extract, all which promise a cleaner scalp. Basically, avoiding harsh ingredients and detergents is an easy route for you to follow — new technologies have allowed shampoo to have new life.
What To Look For In A Product & How To Use It
I was really surprised during my first experience with the Purely Perfect Cleansing Creme, better known as a cleansing conditioner. (The product has no detergents, and promises you don't need a follow-up conditioner.) I thought that my experience at the "cleansing bowl" would be soft, gentle, and relaxing. I heard my stylist at Hairstory Studio use three pumps of product, and then all of a sudden, I was subject to a very intense massage — much friction and grit, with the hands moving back and forth vigorously atop my scalp. This was not a relaxing experience, per se, but it was a true, thorough cleanse — she added water to help the product permeate and spread, then kept on with the process. The product has tons of oils in it — rosehip, evening primrose, peppermint, jojoba — which all act as cleansing agents. It's not shampoo, per se, but I could definitely use it every day. And, it's certainly getting the job done on my scalp, so long as I really go for it.
"There are nuances to shampooing more," Phillips concedes. "People with textured or curly hair won't have the time for a daily shampoo." Namise also acknowledges that asking people to wash daily is impossible — especially when we have keratin treatments, hair color, and general convenience to worry about. "For that, we recommend our Connect spray treatment. It's something that helps to detoxify the scalp to replenish and nourish it." It's basically a 100% organic tonic comprised of fulvic acid, aloe, and tannic acids that are designed to help grow healthy hair. (It only contains six ingredients on the label, so I feel pretty good about using it.) I spray it in my part and massage it into my scalp and behind my ears, and then go about my regular styling process. There's no buildup or hold, so it doesn't impede a blowdry or anything like that.
"A lot of the fear of shampoo comes from misconception and fear, especially from people with thinning hair," Phillips explains. "They see shedding and loss, so they're afraid to shampoo. The assumption is that shampooing causes it, but in actuality, that's not the problem. Hair that falls today stopped growing 12 weeks ago."
Still, there are no hard and fast umbrella rules for hair, just like there aren't for skin. (We should really try to treat them the same, both in our words and in our advice.) "The idea isn't necessarily to shampoo daily for everybody," Phillips says, acknowledging that each scalp is different. "Just that, as a whole, we could probably be shampooing more." Hey — maybe now you'll use less dry shampoo, right? All the better excuse to finally splurge on that pricy can of Oribe.
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