Should You Wash Your Hair After Every Workout? Here’s What Derms Think

Photographed by Hayleigh Longman.
Whether you're back in the gym or you're sold on at-home workouts, chances are you're working up a good sweat. For lots of us, the obvious thing to do afterward is jump in the shower. But do you wash your hair or whip it up into a bun and leave it for another time?
If wash day always aligns with your workout schedule, it's safe to say you've got your shit together. But for those who don't wash their hair every day, there are often times when it isn't due for a shampoo — even post-workout. Other days, you might be feeling lazy or in a hurry. We know the benefits of a thorough body wash (skin experts say it's the easiest way to prevent breakouts), but does it matter if you don't wash the sweat out of your hair every time?
If TikTok is anything to go by, plenty of people are asking the question. Beauty creator @hairbykatied on TikTok went viral for saying that she blow-dries the sweat out of her hair after a workout — and she isn't the only one. User @megan.e.smart3 on TikTok also went viral for sharing her post-gym hair hack. "I wanted to show you what my hair looked like after my workout on day 5," she captioned the video, which has 566.5k views and counting. "It's sweaty, it's gross, it's nasty, but I'm not washing my hair." Megan uses a hairdryer to "dry the sweat in." She says: "I know it sounds disgusting. Trust me. Blow-dry your hair 'til completely dry and you will get another day out of it."
TikTokers @shannonjenk, @fitbykiki and @hairby.anniebea also make a case for skipping a water-based shampoo post-workout, with some simply opting for a spritz of dry shampoo. Predictably, their videos have amassed plenty of comments. The community consensus: Isn't it unhygienic to skip washing your hair after a sweaty workout?

Do you have to wash your hair after exercise?

According to Dr. Zainab Laftah, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, after exercise, sweat and oil can build up and create a film on the scalp over time. "This can eventually lead to something called seborrhoeic dermatitis," says Dr. Laftah. "This is caused by build-up of the yeast Malassezia which appears as redness and scaling on the scalp. Therefore if you have a tendency toward dandruff, it's best to shower following a workout."
But if you don't have a tendency toward dandruff? It's unlikely that skipping wash day after one or two workouts is going to do much harm. Consultant dermatologist Dr. Hasan Benar says: "Many of us believe that we have to wash our hair and scalp after every workout. But the truth is, how often you wash your locks has a lot to do with your hair texture, type and your own preference." Dr. Benar says that many beauty experts argue that it's okay to skip your hair wash after a workout. "In addition to saving time, skipping your post-workout hair wash every once in a while can actually be beneficial for your scalp health," he says. "If you're a heavy sweater, then a good rinse is great to remove the excess sweat."
The type of exercise you're doing counts, too. For example, if you're a regular swimmer, you might want to wash your hair after every go if you're exposing it to chlorine. "That said," Dr. Benar adds, "if your hair isn't drenched in sweat (think Pilates, yoga or lifted weights), then it's totally okay to forgo washing your hair."
If you continue to avoid wash day, though, Dr. Laftah adds that the build-up of dead skin cells, debris (from the environment and hair products, for example) as well as your body's natural oils can lead to spots developing on the scalp. It's a bit like removing your makeup and washing your face to avoid breakouts. The scalp is an extension of facial skin, after all.
More often than not, you'll know when your hair needs a wash. Sweat can make your scalp feel itchy and uncomfortable or it might mean your hair doesn't smell as fresh as you'd like it to. There is such a thing as washing too much, though. "Over-washing can strip the hair's natural oils, rendering it dry, fragile and at risk of breakage," says Dr. Laftah.

How can you freshen up your hair after a workout?

If you have curly or afro hair, then AIRFRO's 00.3 DFY Curl Refresh, is a game-changer for prolonging wash day after exercise. Packed with moisturizing vitamin B5 and soothing aloe vera to prevent the dreaded post-workout itch, it reduces frizz and adds definition. Spritz a little into your roots and mid-lengths and massage it in with your fingers.
In fact, a little post-workout oil can be a good thing for curls. "Thick, wavy or curly hair tends to be dry since the oil doesn't coat the strands as easily," says Dr. Benar. "Sebum is an important part of beautiful, well-defined curls because curly hair needs more moisture to stay soft and to prevent frizz."
For finer hair, dry shampoo works great. If you're in the market for a dry shampoo that actually cleanses hair as it mops up oil and sweat, try Living Proof's Perfect Hair Day (PhD) Dry Shampoo. Virtually invisible, it makes limp, sweaty hair feel brand-new. If it's the freshly washed hair smell you're after, grab Andrew Fitzsimons Discreet AF Dry Shampoo. "Dry shampoo uses alcohol and starch-based ingredients to soak up excess oil and debris," says Dr. Laftah. "While they can be a useful quick fix, they should not replace hair washing as overuse can result in an itchy, dry scalp."
Dr. Benar has another great tip: "A hair wrap or workout headband can help minimise sweat build-up on your scalp and absorb sweat as you exercise," he says. "They also have the added benefit of keeping your hair out of your face as you work out. Otherwise, keep a sweat towel handy to dry your face and hair."

How often should you wash your hair?

Dr. Laftah and Dr. Benar agree that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to washing our hair and scalp. A quick whip round the R29 office showed that once or twice a week is the most common — even if exercising daily — but others wash their hair every other day. "The frequency depends on a number of factors including physical activity, age, ethnic background, hair type and texture," says Dr. Laftah.
If your hair is on the fine side and gets greasy easily, you might like to wash it more often to feel clean and comfortable. If your hair is thicker and not as oily, you can get away with not washing it every day.
It also pays to invest in a gentle shampoo. Try Aveeno Scalp Soothing Oat Milk Blend Shampoo, or Aveda Shampure Nurturing Shampoo. If you're ditching a hair wash and letting it dry after a workout, invest in a shampoo that's going to chip away at grease, oil and dead skin without stripping your scalp entirely. R29 recommends OUAI Detox Shampoo.
At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by us. All product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy or click on something we link to on our site, we may earn a commission.
This story was originally published on Refinery29 UK.

More from Hair

R29 Original Series