“Men aren’t as educated with haircare as women,” says Mezei Jefferson, assistant vice president of education curriculum and digital content for L’Oreal. “Men are growing savvier, but more so in the beard care arena.”
That means you’re probably washing your hair incorrectly, but that’s a whole other bag of worms. Let’s just focus on one aspect you’ve been getting wrong for years: hair washing frequency.
The Root of the Issue
“While it’s important to take into account your hair type when deciding how often to wash your hair, it’s even more important to pay attention to your scalp condition, which is living — the hair above your scalp is dead,” says Jessica Wu M.D., Los Angeles dermatologist and author of Feed Your Face.
Your scalp should inform the bulk of your washing decisions based on its sebum (a natural oil) production. Shampoo is an emulsifier that traps this oil, along with dirt and product build-up, which you can rinse away, according to WebMD. But people don’t always understand what their scalp is trying to tell them.
“Many of my patients with itchy, flaky scalp mistakenly believe that their scalp is dry, and apply scalp oil, or they are afraid to wash,” says Dr. Wu. “This may be a big mistake!”
Dandruff, everyone’s favorite scalp condition, is actually the result of an overgrowth of harmless skin yeast. Though it might look like your scalp is dry, more frequent washing is actually your best way forward.
“If your scalp is very oily or prone to breakouts, or if you sweat daily, it’s best to wash daily,” says Dr. Wu. “If your hair itself is brittle or processed, you may want to skip a day in between washes to avoid stripping natural oils.”
Unless you have curly hair, you likely aren’t aware that there are different categories for hair types. A few hair typing systems exist, but the most popular one is Andre Walker’s, who uses an alphanumeric key from 1 to 4C. People with category 1 hair have stick-straight hair, 2A-C have wavy hair, 3A-C have spiral curls, and 4A-C have coily or zig-zag hair strand patterns. Those with C types will have tighter curls than A types.
“Looser textures might get weighed down by product and will need to be shampooed more frequently,” says Jefferson. “4A-C textures tend to be drier and you want to give more time between shampoos so the hair doesn’t become overly dry.
Curl pattern affects how sebum travels from your scalp down your hair strands. As a result, straighter hair tends to get oily quickly. Hair thickness also plays a role; fine 4C hair may need as much washing as thick 2C hair.
Even the most well-versed men get stumped here. Hair porosity refers to hair’s ability to hold onto moisture based on the presence of holes in the hair strand. The higher the porosity, the drier the hair strand, and the drier the hair, the less often you should wash it.
“Washing too often can strip hair of natural oils and cause brittleness or breakage,” says Dr. Wu “It can also make color dull.”
Low porosity hair tends to be quite shiny and can be easily weighed down by protein-rich/thick conditioners. Since it’s prone to build-up, this hair usually needs to be washed often. Medium or normal porosity hair sits in the sweet spot, letting in and holding onto just the right amount of moisture, so it can go a few days without a wash. High porosity hair needs a lot of moisture in order to keep its luster, so people often wait up to a week to wash this kind of hair.
To find out your porosity level, drop a strand of hair from your comb or brush into a glass of water. If it floats, you have low porosity hair, while high porosity hair will sink to the bottom.
So How Often Should You Wash Your Hair?
Unfortunately, when it comes to sebum production, the biological odds are against men and anyone with similar levels of testosterone.
“Testosterone and other androgens stimulate oil glands to produce more sebum, so men typically have more oily scalp and hair, and therefore need to wash daily,” says Dr. Wu, but she clarifies: “For most people, I recommend washing your hair every one to three days.”
Your unique answer will depend on your scalp and your hair, but if your hair is looking greasy and/or your scalp is flaky, it’s probably time to wash. Just don’t use one of those three-in-one body washes that are also shampoo and conditioner.
“Being a stylist,” says Jefferson. “I feel it’s hard to believe the same formula that strips the dirt from the hair or body is going to condition properly.”
Need to pick up some products to get you on your hair caring way? Check out the winners from this year’s Grooming Awards.