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Developing a Healthy Shampoo Routine

May 22 2021
6 min read
A woman washing her hair with shampoo in the shower.

Most of us don’t give much thought to whether or not we have a healthy shampoo routine.

After all, washing your hair seems to be a straightforward task—you squeeze shampoo in your palm, lather up and rinse. What else is there to know? You may be surprised, actually. The products you use, how you apply and how often you shampoo can impact how your hair looks and feels, how well it styles and even how healthy it is.

Certain myths abound when it comes to the best way to shampoo and the right products to use. Take a look at some of the most common ones below, then get the facts about how to develop a healthy shampoo routine. By making a few simple tweaks, you will gently cleanse, nourish and revitalize your hair, prevent damage and dryness, and help revitalize your entire look—in short, look as good on the outside as you feel inside.

Myth:: Expensive formulas are more effective and gentle than cheaper shampoos.

Truth: You can develop a healthy shampoo routine with either—what’s most important is choosing a shampoo formulated for your hair type. If you have dry, thick or coarse hair, look for products labeled “moisturizing.” These usually contain hair-smoothing oils; natural butters, such as shea or cocoa butter ; fatty alcohols or dimethicone, which seal hair’s outer layer (the cuticle). This prevents moisture from escaping, increasing shine and manageability and fighting static and frizz.

Those ingredients may be too heavy for people with fine or oily hair, however. If your hair tends to go limp easily or is thin, look for a “volumizing” or “body building” shampoo. These formulas contain lighter-weight conditioners plus ingredients such as protein that add bulk to hair. And finally, if your hair gets very oily, consider using a “clarifying” shampoo (typically a clear formula) which may contain more or higher levels of detergents or ingredients like acetic acid, which help to wash away slickness.

Myth: The more shampoo you use, the cleaner your hair will be.

Truth: Unless you have Rapunzel-length strands, a quarter-size amount of shampoo will suffice. Any extra won’t necessarily improve how well the product cleanses, and too much shampoo can actually be harsh on hair, stripping it of moisture and leaving it dry. Using less not only helps protect hair, it’s a good way to stretch your hair care budget as well.

Myth: When shampooing, suds up the entire length of your locks.

Truth: Concentrate shampoo on your scalp. It may be surprising, but shampoo is primarily designed to remove oil and buildup from your scalp and the portion of hair growing near your scalp only. The rest of your hair doesn’t need as thorough a cleansing; it simply does not get as oily or dirty. In fact, over cleansing the ends can strip away moisture and contribute to dryness and split ends.

Here’s a healthier way to use shampoo: Get your hair soaking wet under a stream of warm water (very hot water can be drying) and gently massage the shampoo into your scalp first, allowing the suds to run down the length of your hair. You can lightly run your hands down your strands, but avoid roughly scrubbing your hair, especially the ends, or piling it on the top of your head in a tangle. Doing so can lift the cuticle, weakening strands or contributing to frizz and dryness.

Myth: A thick, bubbly lather is necessary to get hair clean.

Truth: You may associate more suds with cleaner hair, but a very thick shampoo lather may actually indicate that the product contains harsh detergents that can damage your hair over time. In fact, you may want to avoid products that contain sodium lauryl sulfate, a strong detergent that may irritate skin and strip your hair and scalp of moisturizing and strengthening oils and proteins. Though sulfate-free shampoos may not give you much lather at all (add more water if you want more suds), you can be sure they’re doing their job.

Also, thoroughly rinse all shampoo out of your hair. Lift up sections to ensure that no suds get trapped near your roots or parts of your hair that are particularly thick, since shampoo residue may leave hair unmanageable and could irritate your scalp. You’ll know that you have rinsed long enough when the water in your shower runs clear.

Myth: You should shampoo your hair every day.

Truth: Only very oily hair requires daily washing. Believe it or not, you may find that your hair looks smoother and shinier if you shampoo it less often, as taking a break allows more of the scalp’s natural moisturizers to make their way down toward the ends of strands. Aim to wash normal hair every other day; if you hair is curly and dry or frizz-prone, try every two to three days. Those with very coarse or textured strands should shampoo only about once per week; this hair type is prone to breakage, especially when wet.

Remember that each strand of your hair is a fiber, and its structure and integrity is vulnerable to damage just like any other natural fiber. Develop a healthy shampoo routine by washing it as carefully and gently as you do your favorite “hand-wash only” clothing items, and it will repay you by helping you look beautiful and healthy for years to come.