Hair We Go

You’re Washing Your Hair All Wrong: 5 Common Myths About Shampoo

Forget everything you’ve ever learned about washing your hair.

Per Winbladh / Getty Images

Odds are that you wash your hair every day. Like brushing your teeth, it’s something you’ve mastered (we hope) and that fits seamlessly into your daily routine. But are you doing it right? Probably not.

Trichologist and hair expert Shab Reslan says there is very much a right way to wash your hair — and that the common myths around shampoo and overall scalp care are doing us all a massive disservice. We tapped Reslan to help us debunk them and get our hair health back in order.

1. Overwashing can ruin your hair.

This is probably the biggest myth of them all. Stylists routinely ask their clients how often they wash their hair to get a sense of their hair-care routines at home.

If you complain of dry hair, you’ll probably be told you’re washing your hair too often. If your complaint is that your hair is too oily, you may also be told the cause is overwashing, as some believe that shampooing too often strips the hair and causes oil glands to overproduce. Reslan is quick to bust this myth when discussing hair habits with her clients, encouraging them to focus on the right products rather than on the right frequency.

“The golden rule of shampoo frequency is to use the correct products based on your washing habits,” says Reslan. Reslan suggests alternating between a daily shampoo and a weekly clarifying shampoo, no matter your routine, and incorporating a scalp exfoliant to maintain a healthy scalp environment or “microbiome” over time.

If you’re someone who has hair that becomes oily quickly after washing (usually the case with fine or thin hair) then washing every day is necessary for your hair's health and appearance. “For those who do tend to wash their hair daily or even every other day, I recommend using a very gentle cleansing shampoo that will not dry out, irritate or overstrip the scalp microbiome. Washing every day or every other day with gentle shampoos can maintain a healthy scalp,” adds Reslan.

2. Sulfate-free shampoo is overrated.

You might notice sulfate-free on labels when you browse the hair-care aisle. It isn’t a marketing tactic — sulfates are actually harmful to your scalp and can interfere with healthy hair growth.

But what do sulfates do? They’re the ingredients that make shampoos easy to lather and foam in order to “better remove buildup and oil” when you wash your hair. The most common sulfates you’ll see in shampoos are sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate.

“Sulfate-free shampoos are free of harsh cleansers such as sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate which can irritate the scalp and affect hair growth over time,” says Reslan. “The irritation can cause inflammation at the root of your hair and make it difficult for healthy hair to grow out. It’s the same reason you want to keep your scalp clear of build-up. Continued blockage at the root from irritation or build-up can weaken and thin-out hair over time.”

Reslan recommends avoiding shampoos that contain sulfates. On the flip-side, she notes that sulfate-free and some of the gentler shampoos on the market these days are simply not enough for an effective cleanse.

This is why she is adamant about adding a scalp cleanse treatment before your shampoo; you’ll be amazed at how easy it is to shampoo your hair once removing any buildup that was there in the first place. For extra cleansing power and better coverage, emulsify shampoo between your hands and add a little water before applying directly to your roots.

3. Color-treated shampoos are only for color-treated hair.

Have you ever tried a shampoo meant for color-treated hair and wondered why your virgin hair looked so good? Shampoo for color-treated hair is formulated as gentler shampoo to preserve one’s color treatment from the salon.

“Color-treated shampoos are basically gentle cleansing shampoos designed to protect the cuticle barrier that protects the color molecules within the hair structure. Anyone can use them so long as they truly feel their roots are cleansed sufficiently,” says Reslan.

If you are someone who struggles with having to wash your hair frequently due to oily roots, you may want to try using a shampoo meant for color-treated hair. It can help you extend your hair life another day or two without having to wash it, especially if you have fine or thin hair.

4. Scalp exfoliants are unnecessary.

As Reslan makes clear, a scalp product is an absolute must in your hair routine to remove buildup.

“To guarantee an effective shampoo, I recommend starting with a pre-shower scalp exfoliant to help break up product and sebum buildup and prepare the scalp for shampoo to help rinse everything out,” says Reslan. The use of a clarifying shampoo weekly does not replace the need for a scalp treatment in your hair-care routine. Scalp treatments serve many other purposes than just removing excess oil, sebum, and buildup.

If you suffer from a dry or itchy scalp, using a gentle exfoliating treatment or scalp cleanse can help unclog hair follicles that might be trying to hang on to conditioning oils. (Without those oils, the scalp can form dandruff and become itchy.)

Using a scalp treatment also stimulates blood flow to your hair follicles, encouraging healthy hair growth and nourishment. Your scalp needs to be taken care of much like your skin’s microbiome to support healthy hair.

5. Double-washing your hair is too much.

Double-shampooing your hair 100% works! Again, it all comes back to buildup and making sure you’re getting an effective cleanse. You’ll notice when you go to a salon, that your stylist will always double-wash your hair when you’re at the sink.

“For those who prefer to shampoo less frequently, it’s imperative to incorporate a clarifying and deeper cleansing shampoo or scalp exfoliant into their routine to avoid the damaging effects on hair growth from chronically clogged follicle openings on the scalp,” says Reslan, recommending shampooing your hair twice every time you wash your hair, focusing the shampoo on your roots and massage gently in circular motions to truly help remove buildup.

After shampooing twice, Reslan says it’s important to thoroughly squeeze out any excess water (or even grab a towel) before applying conditioner as this will help increase absorption. Rinse out all the conditioner only when your hair no longer has the slippery finish, then rinse with cold water to close your cuticles for maximum smoothness and shiny hair.