How To Wash Your Hair Less

Photographed By Brayden Olson.
It’s a common platitude within the beauty industry that infrequent hair-washing leads to healthier locks. I (a serial hair-washer) have heard this time and time again. Last month, while deliberating about my oily scalp and hair-cleansing habits, beauty assistant Sam Sasso — another oily-scalp gal — and I decided to find out once and for all whether skipping shampoo would actually make our tresses shinier, thicker, and stronger.

So we set forth on a monthlong mission to “teach” our hair to be dirty. That is, to forgo washing for two, three, or four days to see how our hair and scalp would adjust to the new regimen (and whether it would appear healthier in the process). Curious to see how we fared? We documented the entire experience in the slides ahead.

1 of 6
Week 1

I was blessed in college with hair (and laziness) that didn’t require me to 'poo every single day. Somewhere along the way, my hair began to produce more sebum than I could deal with, and I realized I washed my hair a lot more than I used to. While there’s no real problem with this, it bugged me a bit.

My first week was a real trial-and-error experience with cleansing products. I tried a purifying sea-salt scrub, which unfortunately made my hair feel even heavier than it usually does. I decided to wash it out with Christophe Robin's Purifying Shampoo, which made my scalp feel like it was starting over with a fresh base. I paired it with Living Proof's Conditioner and waited until my next wash.

I made it two days before shampooing again, but by the end of the long weekend, my hair needed to be cleaned. This time I washed with the Briogeo Sulfate-Free Clarifying green-tea shampoo, and my hair felt squeaky-clean, but soft upon air-drying. No styling products were used this first week because I didn’t make it too long in-between washes.
2 of 6
Week 1

I prefer washing my hair every day, so going into this monthlong challenge I was nervous. I’m a nighttime-shower gal, so normally when I wash my body, I also wash my hair so that when I finally get into bed I’m squeaky-clean. I'll be completely honest: The thought of climbing into my fresh sheets with dirty hair freaks me out.

I don't judge anyone who does do this, but for me personally, it's hard to forget that my hair has been in subway cars and bathrooms all day. I have this irrational phobia about unseen germs, and although it's largely under control, some things just really set me off.

The day we started our dirty-hair challenge, I was away in upstate New York for July Fourth weekend, so I just brought my clarifying Shampoo (John Masters Organics Shampoo) and Klorane's Dry Shampoo with me. To my surprise, I made it the entire weekend (three days) without washing my hair, which is the longest I've ever gone before. I was very proud of myself, but this was short-lived.
3 of 6
Week 2

Sam: I began a strict washing schedule to at least have concrete goals in sight throughout the workweek. I washed my hair Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This actually seemed like a lot to me, and I began to want extra sleep over clean hair and would wake up late some days. Hitting the snooze on my alarm means cutting down on my grooming routine. The first thing to go? Washing my hair.

This was the week of one decent curled hairdo on Monday that would last until Wednesday (I pushed it to Thursday); then I wore it in a bun of some formation until Friday. I would wash Friday and make it to the following Tuesday. Before I even realized it, I was making it to two washes by the third week. I continued using the Briogeo and Living Proof set because they work really well together.

Maybe it was the relaxing, luscious, upstate environment that kept my hair from getting stringy and gross, but back in New York City the three-day shampoo-free bender came to a screeching halt. This is partially due to my aversion to letting my hair touch the subway (another irrational fear) coupled with the fact that I was working out three days a week. I tried to schedule my workouts for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday (I, like Sam, was trying to adhere to a wash routine), but alas, this wasn't always possible.

A few days in, I started to resent this challenge because I wanted the ability to wash my hair whenever I damn well pleased. Plus, the act of preparing my hair to go un-washed — the brushing, the dry shampoo, the styling — took more effort than simply washing my locks and letting them air-dry. In short: I wore a lot of ponytails.

Briogeo Be Gentle Be Kind Green Tea Clarifying Shampoo, $24, available at Sephora.
4 of 6
Week 3

Sam: By this week, it got way too easy to let my hair go several days without washing. Granted, this was the month I happened to quit my gym and do a lot fewer extracurricular activities post-work. Therefore, my scalp wasn’t really sweating and I could get away with a second-day, then a third-day, then a dry-shampoo style.

At the time Mi-Anne and I took on the challenge, I was dealing with my hair losing its luster, strength, and thickness during the most stressful time of my life — college graduation. I had tried so many remedies that I hoped would work, but alas, nothing did. It wasn’t until I began using the clarifying shampoo twice a week that my hair looked significantly healthier. I can chalk it up to clarifying treatments and rationing my styling products.

Mi-Anne: When week three rolled around, things started to get easier. Why? Because I was conducting another experiment in which I had a personal glam squad for a week. I had an incredible stylist who worked her magic on my locks every day. Braids, I discovered, are the perfect hairstyle to disguise oily roots.

I also finally got into a jive with my products. Three times a week, I used John Masters Clarifying Shampoo (about an Oreo-sized dollop) and worked it into my hair. I skipped conditioner, and let my hair do its thing the next day. That night, rather than washing my hair I'd spray a generous amount of Oribe's dry shampoo into my roots as a preventative measure — this way, I'd wake up on day two with pretty fresh locks. By day three, my hair would be pretty greasy so I'd throw it up in a quick ponytail or braid.

John Masters Organics Zinc & Sage Shampoo with Conditioner, $20, available at Ulta Beauty.
5 of 6
Week 4

Sam: By now, I had forgotten I was even doing the challenge. I wasn’t thinking about washing my hair every day, or even every other day, anymore. I was continually washing just twice a week, and while showering used to be the bane of my existence, I embraced the little bit of texture the stray showerhead spritz would give my head. A little bit of sea salt, and I was good to go. It’s really effing hot in New York City right now, so embracing the heat, a bit of frizz, and loads of texture makes the day more bearable.

I recently had my hair colored and chopped to a bob, so I still limit my hair washes to keep it somewhat oily and shiny. The one major takeaway I’ve gotten from this is that my hair definitely needs a purifying shampoo every now and again to act as a restart button. It really lifted all the buildup my scalp had been struggling with. After that, it seemed like smooth sailing as far as “dirty” hair goes.

Mi-Anne: At the tail end of week three, I decided to let my hair do what felt right. By week four, I was committed to washing my hair every other day — a system that really works for me.

Although I can't say I'm one to avoid washing my hair as long as humanly possible, I'm really glad I tried this experiment. I realized that I can go a few days between washings without breaking out or ruining my pillow. But, at the end of the day, hair-washing is unique to the individual and finding a routine that works for you is paramount.

Gentle Dry Shampoo, $20, available at Klorane.
6 of 6
Like this post? There's more. Get tons of beauty tips, tutorials, and news on the Refinery29 Beauty Facebook page. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!

More from Hair


R29 Original Series