Not washing my hair: An experiment

I have curly hair. Curly/wavy, fly-away, infuriating, untameable hair. The kind of hair I can blow dry and straighten and fly with miracle products, but after sitting perfectly still for 20 minutes in an indoor environment with controlled temperature and humidity, it will have gone back to being curly, tangled and wild.

You learn to live with these struggles.

I also have quite oily hair. Oily roots and dry ends. What’s a girl to do? Well, a certain kind of person would tell me this: Stop washing it every day.

I’ve washed my hair daily since I was a young teen. Sometimes twice a day if I washed it in the morning and then want to go out with nice hair in the evening. I deep condition about once a week and I just live with the fact that if I don’t want my hair to be greasy I need to wash it every morning. I do not dry it every morning, usually I just let it air dry. Given that it’s quite long and thick this often means that it’s still damp by noon, or all day if I tie it into a bun.

Not washing my hair an experiment
This is a diagram of how hair works. Those sebaceous glands are why hair gets oily

There are some who would suggest that daily washes are not actually good for it. That the reason my scalp is producing so much oil is because I’m stripping it of oil every morning when I shampoo it, and it’s trying to compensate. Now, I feel like that might be an overly anthropomorphic theory, I’m not sure skin “tries” to do anything, but I can see the logic.

So one day I figured, what have I got to lose? I decided to try to wash my hair as little as possible to see what (if anything) happened. During this I “washed” my hair only with warm water until I had a good reason to shampoo it.

Trial one

Time between washes: 84 hours

Observations: Predictably, my hair got greasy pretty quickly. It didn’t, however, seem to get obviously greasier every day. The day I washed it featured a social event that I didn’t feel I could show up to with greasy hair but honestly, if I’d plaited it or something, I’m not convinced anyone would have noticed.

Not washing my hair an experiment
No one will ever know

Although greasy, my hair didn’t look bad. It looked shiny rather than dull. It also felt quite soft and smooth. I also noticed that less of it was breaking and falling out. I was cautious with these observations, a few days is not enough time to collect enough data to draw a conclusion, but I was optimistic enough to keep trying.

Trial two

Time between washes: 96 hours

This time I when I washed it with shampoo it was partly because I had a meeting with my supervisor and partly because it was starting to get really oily. It was getting a bit gross. Maybe I need to chill out about it – it’s not like it was dirty, just oily.

Incidentally, the night before I washed it I tried some dry shampoo and it did absolutely nothing. At all. Not a damn thing. I guess it’s really intended as a quick stop gap for people who wash their hair every other day or whose hair isn’t as oily as mine. All it did was make my hair smell weird (why does all dry shampoo smell weird?)

Trial three:

Time between washes: 120 hours

This time I washed it because I had an interview (more about that in a future post). However, I was starting to get used to not washing it. I’m not convinced it’s producing less oil but I can handle the fact that there’s a little oil in my hair and I guess it’s doing it good. There’s definitely less breakage and a better shine. It’s also definitely true that if my hair is plaited or in a bun no one can tell that I’ve not washed it in three days. It doesn’t smell bad, there’s nothing stuck in it or anything and it feels softer. I was determined to go for a full week next.

Trial four:

Time between washes: 168 hours

There! For those without a calculator at hand, 168 hours is one week. It’s also long enough to confirm that, although my scalp will produce a little oil every day, and that will end up in my hair, after about 4 days the extra oil makes very little difference to how my hair behaves. I guess I’m removing a little of it when I wash it in warm water, but not much.

Not washing my hair an experiment
I sympathise dog, I really do.

Here I decided to “end” the experiment. In the last three weeks I’ve only washed my hair four times – normally it would be more like 24 times. I’m much more comfortable with washing it less often and I’m convinced that this is good for it (it will certainly help if I decide to colour my hair, which I’m hoping to do soon). My plan is to continue trying to avoid washing it every day and to aim to wash it every second or third day instead – but there’s no pressure to try to go a full week now that I’ve tried that. The nicest outcome is that I no longer feel pressure to wash it constantly.

22 thoughts on “Not washing my hair: An experiment

  1. I like the fun and scientific approach you took to this. It’s a grea tpost, I did a similar thing with shaving some years ago – I only shave once a week now and it’s normally fine doing this – the hairs don’t get too long.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This was realy interesting. I’m definitely of the opinion that you should wash your hair with shampoo as little as possible. Have you looked into co washing? It’s where you only use conditioner, obviously a lot gentler on your hair. I don’t have a lot of hair, but I’m trying it out to see how my scalp feels, and I’m liking it so far (it does feel clean after washing). Might be fun to do another experiment if you’re interested 🙂

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  3. I found out that if you don’t wash your hair it starts of horrible but then after a few months it goes back to normal because your body knows its not going to be cleaned

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve heard this before but I don’t understand how you body “knows” anything – hair folicles don’t have their own memory or intuition. My guess is that by washing your hair you stimulate oil production and if you don’t it produces less because it doesn’t need to compensate for the oil that’s been stripped away. I’ve no idea exactly why this should be, though. Or even if I’m right.

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  4. Haha… Love the post! I’ve got my own hair issues as well… Curly hair plus oily scalp plus very dry ends! On top of it all I go swimming and the chlorine makes my hair sick… But I’ve reduced my swim to twice or thrice a week and I wash my hair only on days I go for a swim… And just before going for the swim I oil my hair and put on the swim cap so the oil seeps into the scalp and moisturizes the length too. And after the swim I wash it with mild shampoo… This way my hair has remained shiny and not-so-difficult to handle! But if course that’s all merely for two days before it’s a nightmare again 😀

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  5. I have a lamb’s wool head of hair also. My best solution is to wash it every other day using Redken All Soft Shampoo and Conditioner. (I also use a leave-in conditioner by Redken called Anti-snap, although I am not sure that’s a good solution for long hair).

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