How Long Can You Really Go Without Washing Your Hair?

Being in quarantine has f*cked up just about every aspect from our lives, from our gyms to our self-care routines, and it’s easy to see why. When you’re not leaving the house or interacting with people (your delivery guy doesn’t really qualify here), it’s easy to let certain aspects of your hygiene routine fall to the wayside. You’re not alone if you’ve been rocking an oily slicked-back messy bun for all your Zoom meetings these last five months. I mean, we have all the dry shampoo options in the world, so why put in the extra effort of washing your hair? Sure, it doesn’t come close to how amazing it feels when your hair is freshly washed, but it gets the job done on those days when you just can’t be bothered to jump in the shower.

Just like with showering, we’ve all undoubtedly asked ourselves how long we can really go without washing our hair. Most of us really aren’t going places, so what’s the point, right? We asked a hair and scalp expert and consulted dermatologists to find out how often we really should be washing our precious locks, even in quarantine. 

Dry Shampoo Is Our BFF—But Is It Actually Helping Our Unwashed Hair? 

Dry shampoo is great for those mornings when you need extra time in bed before starting your work from home routine, and we’ve all sung its praises before. Again, any product that enables our laziness is a win in our book. Unfortunately, this beauty hack may not be great for your hair or scalp. 

According to The Healthy, dry shampoo can clog your hair follicles while absorbing the natural oils that your scalp needs to be healthy. This could result in hair loss and stunted growth, meaning you might want to stop spraying yourself with dry shampoo like you’re a middle school boy with Axe body spray.

Dr. Jeannette Graf, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and anti-aging expert in Great Neck, tells Betches, It is important to look at the ingredients of dry shampoos to ensure they do not over-dry hair or leave a chalky residue in the scalp.” She adds, “Dry shampoo should only be used 1-2 times a week and up to 3 times if you have oily hair to allow the scalp time to breathe in between applications.” You hear that? One to two times per week, tops!

It’s Time For the Truth. How Often Should We Really Be Washing Our Hair? 

We’ll start with the news you don’t want to hear: Anabel Kingsley, president and owner of Philip Kingsley and respected Trichologist, , says that we should be washing our hair daily. “Especially if you are active or have a scalp condition such as an oily or flaky/itchy scalp. Good scalp hygiene is essential to hair growth—after all, your scalp is your hair’s support system,” she states.

But if that’s just not happening for you, don’t freak out. Kingsley does acknowledge that that feat may not be realistic, saying, “People with coarser or curlier hair often find their hair is time consuming to style, so daily shampooing isn’t realistic, plus their hair doesn’t get oily as quickly as fine hair.” She says that it is okay to take a day or two off from shampooing your hair, but she does not recommend leaving it any longer than three days. 

Dr. Patricia Wexler of Wexler Dermatology says that you don’t have to wash your hair every day: “that’s a misconception,” she tells Betches, even during the summer time where we may find ourselves the sweatiest. She says that overall, washing your hair can make it dry, “because you’re taking the essential oils out of your hair.”  

“In summer, it’s hot out, the sun is getting on your hair, so that’s making your hair dry and brittle,” she explains, and in winter, “you’re going inside, the heat is on,” and those factors can also contribute to dryness. Dr. Graf echoes that winter can cause more dryness in the hair “since the air is generally dryer”, and says that “washing your hair too much during the colder months can diminish the moisture it needs to remain healthy.” She also says, “it’s okay to wash the hair a bit more in the summer, as the warmer months call for extra sweat and oil.”

But Dr. Wexler understands the impulse to shampoo every day. Just like many of us, she says she used to wash her hair every day, then reduced it to every other day, and now she washes 2-3 times a week. 

Both doctors state that washing your hair a few times a week is sufficient: “Twice a week is more than enough,” Dr. Wexler says. Dr. Graf recommends washing hair “one to three times a week, depending on your hair texture, type, and how often you exercise and sweat.” 

Your Hair Type and Texture May Determine How Long You Can Go Without Washing

At the end of the day, how often you wash your hair depends on your hair type as well as your activity level. So, if you have thicker hair that doesn’t get oily quickly and are not at all active while in quarantine, enjoy those 2-3 days off from washing your hair. 

Those who have finer hair may have a different experience and different washing needs.“Each hair follicle has an oil gland attached to it, and thus people with finer hair tend to get oiler, quicker,” Kingsley explains. So going a long time in between washes may not work.  

Dr. Graf advises, “When washing your hair, do what works best for your normal hair care routine as hair needs to be cleansed on a regular basis to allow for hair growth.” 

For those who have always believed that washing your hair too much causes damage, Kingsley assures us that this statement is technically not true. “A well-formulated shampoo won’t strip your hair or scalp, nor will it make your scalp greasier.” 

Dr. Wexler says that it’s more about the ingredients in your shampoo that can cause damage, rather than the act of shampooing itself: “The most important thing is what not to use in your shampoo. You don’t want to use parabens, you don’t want to use sulfates because they’re bad for you.” She recommends using a shampoo that is also free of formaldehyde and that is clean and gentle on the hair, preferably with olive or canola oil as an ingredient (if you do not have thin hair).

What About In Quarantine?

Quarantine has brought out a different side in most of us. We’ve collectively fallen behind in doing things that were key parts of our daily routine when ya know, life was normal. Dr. Graf says that many people have cut back on washing their hair, which is completely understandable. “For some it may work and for some it may have the opposite effect.” She explains that everyones scalp coats the hair at different rates, which could lead to someone not washing their hair for an extended amount of time and having improved results, while another person may develop a strong stench—yikes. 

So basically, if you want to shampoo every single day, more power to you (and please tell us your secrets for keeping up your motivation). But if you want to rock three-day-old hair, that’s probably just as cool, so long as your hair doesn’t get super oily or smelly. It’s different for every person, so if it’s working for you, keep doing (or not) doing it. 

Images: Alliance Image / Shutterstock; betchesluvthis, pant_leg / Twitter

Sydney Wingfield
Sydney Wingfield
Sydney Wingfield is a freelance writer and an iced coffeeholic. You can find her either binge watching every show on Bravo or rewatching Grey's Anatomy for the 10th time with her twin sister.